Cruise passengers
catch flights home

Half of the 2,000 on the
illness-stricken Sun Princess
made flights yesterday

Star-Bulletin staff and wire

The remainder of the roughly 2,000 cruise line passengers who had their vacation cut short yesterday by a nasty virus are expected to leave for home today.

Just more than half the Sun Princess passengers left Hawaii by plane yesterday, mainly heading for Los Angeles. The rest stayed overnight in Waikiki hotels, paid for by Princess Cruises.

The Sun Princess canceled the last five days of its planned 15-day cruise after nearly 300 passengers and crew members were infected by a short-term Norwalk-like virus that caused diarrhea and other symptoms. Sick passengers were treated on the ship.

Most of the passengers stepped off the ship yesterday morning at Pier 2 in Honolulu.

Passengers disembarking from the Sun Princess yesterday lined up to board buses waiting at Pier 2. Nearly 300 passengers became sick with a Norwalk-like virus during the cruise.

About 100 passengers stayed with the ship as it left for Los Angeles shortly after noon yesterday, said Princess Cruises spokesman Tom Dow. They included about 50 passengers who were still sick and another 50 who apparently feared flying more than the illness.

The crew remained onboard to clean the ship during the return trip. "Cleaning is a bit of a misnomer," Dow said. "The ship is clean to start with. We're talking about sanitizing with bleach and other specialty cleaning solutions that will disinfect and sanitize rooms, and also changing out bedding" and so forth.

It was not surprising that some passengers insisted on staying aboard, Dow said, because the Sun Princess offers a Hawaii cruise that starts and ends in Los Angeles, appealing to mainlanders who are wary of air travel but want to see the islands.

Princess Cruises cut the trip short after consulting with the Centers for Disease Control. Although progress had been made in dealing with the virus, new cases kept popping up.

Since passengers lost one-third of their 15-day cruise, Princess Cruises is refunding one-third of the cruise fares. Plus, each cabin is receiving a $500 credit toward a future cruise.

The Norwalk virus is suspected in 21 outbreaks on cruise ships last year, including ships owned by Walt Disney Co., Holland America Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., according to Bloomberg News. On land, there were 23 million cases last year.

Passenger John Stuckey of Dayton, Ohio, took the change of plans in stride, saying, "Princess has done a great job. We'll be back." He was among scores of passengers kept temporarily at the Hawaii Convention Center while flights or hotel rooms were arranged.

Stuckey, who was traveling with his father, Johnny Stuckey of Albuquerque, N.M., said he plans to take a Princess cruise to Alaska in May. Both men said they were sick during part of the Hawaii cruise but had recovered.

Bill Clerkin of Boston, however, said he and his wife were upset about the aborted cruise for which they had paid $6,000. He said passengers who came from all over the United States and some from abroad were being herded around "like cattle."

Clerkin said he and his wife, Sandy, would be arriving back in Boston four days earlier than planned.

"I'm really upset, obviously," he said. "We're losing almost a week of the tour."

Clerkin said he's been on nearly a dozen cruises but had never come to Hawaii.

"Hawaii's great," he said. "We'll definitely come back -- not by ship, though."

Bill Acosta, a Las Vegas entertainer who had boarded the ship one day before the mass departure of passengers, said he thinks the matter was "getting blown out of proportion." Still, cruise officials did the right thing by ending the cruise, Acosta said.

The Associated Press and Star-Bulletin reporter
Tim Ruel contributed to this report

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