The 1,200 passengers setting out on a world cruise from Dover last night were no doubt happy to be leaving the snow behind, but they could have a few anxious days ahead as they sail towards Madeira, their first port of call.
They will be hoping they can escape not only the British weather, but also the outbreaks of norovirus, or winter vomiting bug, and which have troubled the ship several times during 2009.
A total of 342 passengers and nine crew were on Fred Olsen’s Balmoral hit by the bug during its Christmas cruise, and specialist contractors were brought on board to thoroughly clean and disinfect the ship.
Sister ship Boudicca returned to Portsmouth a day early after a similar outbreak during its Christmas and New Year cruise and was scheduled to depart for the Canary Islands today, a day late, after a thorough deep clean and fumigation.
However, travel chaos caused by the snow is making it difficult for many passengers heading for the ship, and a decision will be taken later today on whether to put back the departure again.
All passengers joining cruise ships in the UK are required to sign a form declaring whether they have suffered from sickness or upset stomachs in the days prior to departure. Ticking the “yes” box does not necessarily mean an immediate end to the holiday – they would be assessed by medical staff and possibly asked to remain in their cabins until the symptoms clear up.
Last September one woman passenger on Balmoral ignored the request, and instead of staying in bed, wandered round the ship spreading the infection.
Ironically, figures released in America yesterday showed that the number of outbreaks of norovirus have fallen to the lowest level in 10 years. All cases on ships calling at US ports must be notified to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, which reported 13 outbreaks in 1989.