The extent of viral outbreaks on cruise ships

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the April 2014 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 458th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. For those of you reading this publication for the first time and wondering what’s in store, here’s what ITN is all about.

Covering destinations outside of the United States, ITN presents letters and articles written by its subscribers, who range from independent travelers to people who enjoy group tours and from those who travel on a tight budget to those who prefer luxury accommodations.

With a love of travel in common, all send in their travel discoveries, experiences and opinions, and ITN’s editors go over the submissions, fact-checking and cleaning things up a bit, etc., before they’re printed.

Rural Cuban taxis take many forms. 2010 photo by Randy Keck

ITN is known for printing travelers’ candid appraisals of tour companies, cruise lines, etc., whether the companies advertise in this magazine or not. When we receive a letter criticizing a travel firm, we first send a copy to the company cited, allowing them a chance to respond. If we then decide to print the traveler’s letter, it is followed by the company’s reply. Fair is fair.

In addition, in each issue of ITN we have columnists writing on particular facets of travel, and we report news items that travelers may find relevant or intriguing. You’ll also see travel firms advertising in ITN that advertise in no other travel publications. Check ’em out.

If you like what you see, we invite you to subscribe. Subscribe here” or call, toll-free, 800/486-4968. Subscribing to the print edition also allows you access to the full text of the latest issues posted on our website.


You probably heard about Royal Caribbean International’s Explorer of the Seas recently. On Jan. 29, it returned to Cape Liberty, New Jersey, two days early from a 10-day Eastern Caribbean cruise because about 630 passengers and 50 crew members had become very ill with a norovirus. 

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks stomach virus outbreaks on cruise ships, and this one, unfortunately, was the single worst outbreak in the last 20 years.

However, before you cancel those cruise plans, keep reading.

The CDC records disease outbreaks all around the US — in settings like hospitals, schools, restaurants and cruise ships — and it reported that in all of 2013 there were only nine outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness aboard cruise ships, all but one of which were determined to have been caused by a norovirus. 

A record of each outbreak and the ship on which it occurred can be found at

Further, as part of the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program, all international cruise ships over a certain size that make port calls in the United States are surprise-inspected twice a year by officials and given scores to indicate how well they meet the standards of cleanliness set to help prevent outbreaks. The Explorer of the Seas has had a very good record, passing with scores of more than 94 in each of its last five inspections.  

In addition, the percentage of cruise passengers who have caught the norovirus is actually very, very low. The Cruise Lines International Association reported that out of approximately 21.3 million people who sailed on cruise ships during 2013, the total number of people who fell ill from norovirus outbreaks was 1,238. That’s approximately 0.006%, meaning only one out of every 17,200  people aboard cruise ships caught the bug.

See you on the Lido deck!


ITN subscriber Marie Smith of Half Moon Bay, California, was ready to fly from San Francisco to Miami to join her tour group on a charter flight to Havana, Cuba, on Oct. 26, 2012, but her flight out of SFO was canceled due to mechanical problems. 

She kept calling the cell phone number of her tour guide in Miami but didn’t get through to her until more than half a day had passed, at which point the guide told her to call the tour company directly. (If you find yourself in a similar situation and cannot reach the contact number you were given, calling the tour company directly is advised.)

Since, by then, it was too late to connect with the charter flight, Marie’s options were bleak: she could, after getting to Miami, purchase a new plane ticket to Cuba (but not at the low, charter-rate fare) and catch up with the group a few days into the tour or she could go on the next-scheduled tour to Cuba a month or so later.

Unfortunately, though the availability of travel insurance had been mentioned to her at the time she booked the tour, Marie had not purchased insurance, and, according to the Terms and Conditions in the tour contract, “in the event of a ‘no show,’ the total land/air package would be forfeited.” (ITN learned that it is common for companies operating tours to Cuba to have to prepay for all flights, hotels, etc., with no refunds offered on cancellations within 30 days of the arrival date.)

So, no matter what, Marie would not be refunded the tour cost of about $3,000, which included the charter flight.

A rescheduled tour would have cost her only slightly less, and the price would have been lower only because, among other things, the tour leader offered to let Marie stay in her own apartment in Havana and share a room in Trinidad, Cuba.

Marie chose to not spend the additional money and insisted that anything short of a full refund was unfair.

Unfortunately, other than taking the prudent precaution of flying to the departure point a day early, little would have helped Marie other than having travel insurance, and, in this situation, only a full-feature policy would have covered her. 

When considering purchasing travel insurance, bear in mind that a full-feature policy may cost 10% to 15% of the cost of a trip, and the chances of there being mechanical failure on a flight are slim. Some people purchase such a policy when there is a likelihood of a health issue among any of the parties covered by the policy or when the cost of the trip is so great that losing that amount would be untenable.

Each traveler must decide what choice she or he will be most comfortable with.


2014 marks 100 years since the start of the first scheduled commercial airline service using winged aircraft.

On Jan. 1, 1914, enterprising pilot Antony H. (Tony) Jannus took his passenger from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Tampa in a Benoist XIV flying boat. He called his company the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line and offered two scheduled flights per day. 

The open-cockpit plane was constructed of wood, wire and muslin, with room on a bench seat for the pilot and one passenger (or two small passengers). The flight took 23 minutes and cost $5 one way. At speeds of up to 64 miles per hour, the seaplane cruised across the water of Tampa Bay at an altitude of only a few feet, close enough for all to feel the ocean spray. 

By 1919, Aircraft Transport & Travel was offering plane trips from London to Paris — the world’s first regular international service. 

In 1920, Aeromarine West Indies Airway offered flights across the Straits of Florida from Key West to Havana, Cuba — the first international airway out of the United States. 

Commercial travel across an ocean didn’t happen until 1935, when Pan American World Airways (later known as PanAm) introduced transpacific passenger service, ferrying passengers from Alameda, California, to Manila in the Philippines and on to Hong Kong, making stops along the way at Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam. 

Four years later, Pan American World Airways was first to offer transatlantic passenger service, with flights from Long Island, New York, to Lisbon, Portugal, and on to Marseille, France.

Today, according to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the number of passengers carried into, out of and within the US on commercial flights each year is more than 700 million.


In this issue are letters from a number of subscribers describing specific items of clothing that they have found most suitable for traveling. They name brands and styles and tell where they bought them. ITN Assistant Editor Chris Wilson helped edit and research that piece and couldn’t resist joining the discussion. 

At 5 feet, 10 inches tall, Chris said she has difficulty finding clothes that fit properly, especially long-sleeved shirts, so she often raids the men’s department, where, more often, she finds clothes that fit. Men’s clothing generally seems to be more durable and less expensive than women’s clothing, she said.

Her favorite store for men’s shirts is Eddie Bauer. For pants, she’s had good luck with Sears and The Gap. And, for shoes, her favorite place to shop is REI, where she’s found good-quality shoes (including hiking boots) and sandals in a wide range of sizes.


It’s that time of year again when we ask you to let us know the countries you visited last year. All subscribers who write in will have their names entered into a random drawing for prizes.

The rules are simple. Write up a list of all the countries you visited anytime in 2013 and e-mail it to or send a postcard or letter to Where Were You in 2013?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Remember to include your mailing address (where you receive ITN).

We’ll announce the country-count results and the prizewinners in an upcoming issue.


We’re planning another going-away party at ITN, this time for Mary Beltran, who has been an Assistant Editor here since 1998. Needing to spend more days caring for her elderly parents, she’s taking a part-time job that won’t require her to commute so far.

I’ve depended upon Mary to provide most of the researched material that you’ve read in this column. In looking for travel news online, some subject would catch her interest and she would gather all the facts she could find on it and compile them into a loosely structured article. I would edit that and send her back to the Internet to look up answers to a bunch of questions. The piece wouldn’t be done until everything made sense to me and I had run out of questions, which could take a while but often brought interesting results.

Mary also spearheaded the entire online advertising framework on ITN’s website, years ago reviewing the many ways other publications were handling their systems, then coming up with what worked best for ITN. There isn’t much she can’t do well.

We are fortunate, however, to have just hired someone who is equally as enthusiastic as Mary and who we are confident is qualified to take over her duties. He is Dan Barr, and, with equal speed, he is tackling everything we’re throwing at him.

Others in the travel and publishing industries have expressed surprise at how much information is put out each month in ITN by a staff as small as ours. (See the full list in our masthead on page 2.) It helps when everyone is devoted to doing their best and is proud of the result.

We appreciate the letters of encouragement, too, along with your input and suggestions. ITN is a group project that includes every subscriber reading this. Your travel reports and extra efforts keep the magazine going.


Judy Pfaffenberger of Toledo, Ohio, wrote, “It’s time for my annual request for sample copies of ITN to pass out at the larger travel programs and seminars where I’m speaking.”

Judy shared her travelogues at the Toledo Metroparks Travel Circle on Feb. 22 (“Cruising the Mediterranean”) and at the Way Library in Perrysburg, Ohio, at the end of February (“Europe from A to Z”). 

Judy wrote, “Often, some of the advice I impart is based on information I’ve learned reading ITN cover to cover each month since I first subscribed back before your 100th issue. I promote your publication whenever I get the chance. Thank you for the excellent information and entertainment you provide to me every month. Two of my favorite trips were ones I never would have done if it hadn’t been for enticing articles in ITN

“One was about France and told of extinct volcanoes and wonderful places to stay (June ’00, pg. 55). I had been to France before and was not overly impressed, so, until I read that article, I didn’t expect to go back. The next year, eight of us did a driving trip there and saw the volcanoes (puys) and had a wonderful weekend staying in Château Pasredon, mentioned in the article.

“I had been to Italy before, but a 2002 article about the area around the heel of the ‘boot,’ the towns of Alberobello and Matera, in particular (April ’02, pg. 94), aroused new interest. My husband and I did a 2-week driving trip there in 2003.

“I have used so much info from ITN. I also enjoy responding to questions in the ‘Person to Person’ section. Keep up the good work!”

The articles Judy referenced currently predate the Archives on our website, but we will always send photocopies for $2.50. Just ask.


A subscription to ITN would make a great retirement gift. Inspire travels.    — DT