BAYONNE, N.J. (AP) — Kim Waite was especially disappointed to fall ill while treating herself to a Caribbean cruise after completing cancer treatment. The London woman thought she was the only sick one as her husband wheeled her to the infirmary — until the elevator doors opened to reveal hundreds of people vomiting into bags, buckets or on the floor, whatever was closest.
"I started crying, I couldn't believe it," Waite said. "I was in shock."
Waite was among nearly 700 passengers and crew members who became ill during a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. The voyage was cut short and the ship returned to port Wednesday in New Jersey, where it was being sanitized in preparation for its next voyage.
Long lines of weary travelers arrived to freezing temperatures in Bayonne, as Waite and other passengers recalled days of misery holed up in their rooms with extreme stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.
"I've never wanted to go home so much in my life," Waite said. "I've never slept so much in my life, and I've got no suntan."
Health investigators suspect norovirus, but lab results are not expected until later this week. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its latest count puts the number of those sickened at 630 passengers and 54 crew members. The ship, scheduled for a 10-day cruise, was carrying 3,050 passengers.
If norovirus is to blame, it would be one of the largest norovirus outbreaks on a cruise ship in the last 20 years, the CDC said. A 2006 norovirus outbreak on a Carnival Cruise Lines ship also sickened close to 700.
Norovirus — once known as Norwalk virus — is highly contagious. It can be picked up from an infected person, contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces. Sometimes mistaken for the stomach flu, the virus causes bouts of vomiting and diarrhea for a few days.