By Victoria Cavaliere
BAYONNE, New Jersey (Reuters) - Cheers erupted aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship reeking of vomit and diarrhea as it pulled into its home port in New Jersey on Wednesday, ending a trip cut short because illness felled more than 600 people.
Passengers disembarking the "Explorer of the Seas" recalled the nightmare of getting sick during the Caribbean cruise, being quarantined in their rooms, and putting everything they touched into bio-hazard bags.
"I had three days of sickness and quarantine," recalled Susan Rogutski of Catawissa, Pennsylvania, who came down with gastrointestinal symptoms so severe the first day of the trip that she had to be physically dragged to the sick bay.
Carl Kern of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, said the ship's hallways smelled of diarrhea and vomit.
"Another passenger we became friends with said he went into the men's room and someone had gotten sick right in the floor and he stepped in it. It was bad," Kern said.
More than 600 passengers and crew fell ill aboard the ship that departed Bayonne, New Jersey, on January 21, the Centers for Disease Control reported on Monday. The ship was carrying 3,050 passengers and a crew of 1,165.
Its planned 10-day cruise was cut short by two days when it returned to its home port on Wednesday.
Kern's wife, Fran Kern, was among the disappointed passengers who said the compensation being offered by Royal Caribbean, including 50 percent off a next trip, was inadequate.
"We were really disappointed. We've never been to many of these ports so to pay all this money and not get to the ports is very disappointing," Fran Kern said.
"We aren't cruisers like some people. We should have gotten a full refund," she said.
Other passengers, including Rogutski and her husband, Leonard Rogutski, felt Royal Caribbean responded well to the crisis and vowed to cruise again someday.
"Though it was a bad situation all around, and it was very bad, Royal Caribbean bent over backwards to provide everything we needed," Leonard Rogutski said. "The problem was it happened so quickly, there were so many cases, they weren't ready for what happened."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Monday that the cause of the sickness was unknown but that an environmental safety officer and an epidemiologist boarded the ship in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sunday to try to determine the cause of the outbreak and the proper response.
The ship's crew stepped up cleaning and disinfection procedures and collected stool samples from those who reported feeling ill following the outbreak, the CDC said.
The cruise line said it believes the illnesses are consistent with norovirus, a highly contagious virus spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the CDC.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)