Passengers sick again, cruise line cancels sailing

Last weekend nearly 700 passengers, on three different ships, contracted the flu-like Norovirus causing Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise lines to delay departure of this week’s sailing for extensive cleaning. Now, another outbreak on one of the same ships has caused its cancellation, mid-sailing, and an early return to port for even more cleaning.

Princess Cruises Crown Princess was on a seven-night Caribbean cruise when the outbreak occurred and will skip calling at the ports of Curacao and Aruba to come back two days early.

“In consultation with the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who has informed us that there are widespread outbreaks of Norovirus occurring in the US, it was agreed that the best course of action to stop the spread of the illness is for the ship to undergo a two-day extensive sanitization,” said Princess Cruises in a statement on their website.

To make that happen, Crown Princess, scheduled to return to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, February 11 will come back two days early, ending the current sailing on Thursday, February 9th.

Passengers on the current sailing will receive a full refund, assistance re-booking flights if they had been booked through the cruise line as well as hotel accommodations if necessary and 25% of what they paid as a credit to use on a future cruise.”On the current sailing 114 passengers (3.70% out of 3,078) and 59 crew (5.01% of 1,178) have reported gastrointestinal illness,” said Princess. On the previous cruise, 364 passengers (11.73% of 3,103) and 30 crew (2.57% of 1,168) were affected.

The move by Princess is unusual but not unprecedented. Norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, is a common illness that is easily transmitted in closed environments like nursing homes, schools and cruise ships.

Photo: Princess Cruises

Curacao and St. Maarten become autonomous countries: what it means for travelers

Get ready for two new passport stamps: the former Netherlands Antilles has dissolved, and Curaçao and St. Maarten are now autonomous countries. Smaller islands such as Bonaire will now become Dutch municipalities. Aruba, the biggest of the ABC islands, has been a similarly autonomous state since 1986. It’s not a major status change for residents, as Curaçao has been self-governing for more than 50 years, but it will mean greater independence from the Dutch monarchy and more control over their own finances and local courts.

So what does this mean for travelers? The new independent status means more tax dollars for both Caribbean islands, meaning more money for tourism infrastructure and development. Curaçao, with one of the only UNESCO World Heritage sties in the Caribbean, has already seen huge growth in visitors from North America, up 40% this year. Development so far in Curaçao has been conservative and thoughtful, with many well-kept public beaches and no mega-hotels or high-rises spoiling the scenery. Even the island’s newest resort, the 350-room Hyatt Regency Curaçao Golf Resort, Spa, and Marina, barely makes a dent in the landscape; let’s hope the island maintains its charm.

In other news for Curaçao, the island is planning to enter the space tourism game with flights to space in 2014, perhaps the new tourism revenue stream will speed up the process.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Jessica Bee]

Talk like a pirate, win a trip to Aruba

As you must surely know, today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. This year, while you shiver your timbers, you can also win an amazing trip to Aruba courtesy of our friends over at NileGuide. Simply chart a course over to that contest page, enter to win and you and your first mate could soon could be flying down to Aruba on JetBlue, sailing on a pirate ship, dining inside a replica of a 16th century galleon and resting your head at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and Casino.

That’s quite a booty! Be sure to tell your friends to enter because, if they win, they could share their treasure with you. The deadline for entry is October 19, 2010, so don’t delay. All the information you need is over at NileGuide. Consider it your treasure map.

Now, get out there and talk like a pirate. People may think that you’re a moron (or that saying “arrrrr” means that you’re having a seizure), but you’ll have the last laugh when you’re swashbuckling in style down in Aruba.

Making a wish in Aruba

There is a tradition along the rocky northern shores of Aruba, but it was not inspired by a local custom. This tradition was created and is maintained by the island’s mostly American tourists: wishing on stacks of rocks.

At first, when driving south down the eastern coast from the California Lighthouse at Aruba’s northern tip (right), you’ll see a stack of rocks here and a stack of rocks there — though they don’t look natural, they certainly don’t look like anything special. Drive a little further, as we did in our fabulous off-roading De Palm Tours Land Rover (which they foolishly let me drive), and you’ll find yourself surrounded by stacks upon stacks of wishing rocks. It’s like being a giant in a world of tiny castles.

It works like this: You collect a few rocks you think you might be able to stack. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because the rocks are funny-shaped and it’s windy. Then, one by one, you stack them and make a wish on each one. We saw a few stacks from people who were rather greedy with their wishes. Good luck with that. My stack is the haphazard tricolor masterpiece above. I tried not to go overboard with wishing.

Some people go a bit further with their stack, decorating it with pieces of tire, empty bottles and other found objects. Does this make your wish more likely to come true? No. Is this tradition based in any kind of reality? No. But it’s fun, and there are many philosophies which point to us all being able to make our own magic. Perhaps if we believe that stacking rocks will bring us the things we desire, it will.

If rock stacking doesn’t move you spiritually, keep heading down south until you reach the sign for the Natural Pool. Head down the craggy staircase (below) to the glassy, fish-filled, saltwater pool created by the topography (see it), strap on a snorkel, and if you wished for bliss or peace, you may find it there, floating among the brave parrot fish and shy black crabs.

Either way, it makes a fun day-trip just minutes away from the sprawl of hotels in Aruba — once you get there, you’ll find it’s much harder to think of things to wish for.

My trip to Aruba was hosted by the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, but the opinions and ideas expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

[Photo credit: Annie Scott]

Camera travels 1,100 miles by sea… and turtle

I dropped my waterproof camera into twenty feet of ocean water once while snorkeling off the coast of Mexico. As I watched my camera drift slowly to the rocky bottom I knew I couldn’t hold my breath long enough to retrieve it. Luckily for me a free diver was in our party and rescued my electronic treasure. The thought of a losing a camera can be somewhat sickening. Once gone most never expect to see it again. Royal Dutch Navy sergeant Dick De Bruin never thought he’d see his camera after losing it at a dive site off the shores of Aruba. Yet after six months of travel the camera found it’s way back to him.

US Coast Guard officer Paul Schultz discovered the red Nikon camera, still in it’s waterproof case, banging against the rocks of a marina in Key West Florida. The camera wasn’t marked with any identification tying it to the owner so Schultz looked through the photos and video still preserved on the camera. The pictures held few clues. There were photos of two divers standing beside a truck with a blue roofed building in the background, a family on a couch, and a curious video. It appeared to have been taken accidentally by none other than a sea turtle. The footage shows the strap of the camera hooked on the turtles fin. In the five minute clip the camera is violently thrashed by the turtle’s fin then floats to the surface.

Schultz posted the photos to and and the mystery was solved. Members of the sites recognized a plane’s tail number and tracked it to the island of Aruba. Another site visitor recognized some of the children in a photo and pointed Schultz to Dick de Bruin. “I have a smile on my face. I can’t stop laughing about it,” de Bruin commented. “It’s really big news on the island.”
(Photo: Flickr/NOAA’s National Ocean Service)