'Stay safe': More than 200 passengers fall ill on Royal Caribbean cruise

More than 270 people aboard a 9000-guest Royal Caribbean cruise ship have fallen ill with gastro as staff were reportedly “beefing up sanitising procedures”.

A spokesman for Royal Caribbean, Owen Torres, confirmed to Yahoo a total of 277 guests and crew members had been affected since the ship left Florida, headed toward Jamaica, on January 6.

“Oasis of the Seas will return to Port Canaveral a day early after an episode of gastrointestinal illness,” Mr Torres said, noting those affected accounted for 3.3 per cent of the nearly 9000 guests and crew aboard.

All of the passengers will receive full refunds.

Royal Caribbean has confirmed at least 277 outbreaks of norovirus aboard its cruise ship Oasis of the Seas. Source: Royal Caribbean

“We think the right thing to do is to get everyone home early rather than have guests worry about their health,” Mr Torres said.

“Returning on Saturday also gives us more time to completely clean and sanitise the ship before her next sailing. Our guests sail with us to have great vacations, and we are sorry this cruise fell short.”

People aboard the ship took to Twitter to broadcast the chain of events leading up passengers getting sick.

“We’re docked at Falmouth Jamaica. Level 3 Norovirus outbreak,” passenger Alan Thomas tweeted on Wednesday.

“100+ passengers and a crew member sick. Cancelled shore excursion. Waiting to see if Jamaican authorities let us off the ship.”

Another tweeted: “Me and my girl personally saw 3 locations cut off for vomit…stay safe.”

Passenger Cody Haddap told Orlando news station WESH that vacationers started to get sick hours after leaving their first port of call, Haiti, on Tuesday.

“They started getting sick [Tuesday] night around 10. We’ve been pretty much confined to our rooms,” he said.

Royal Caribbean sent a letter to passengers Wednesday morning in which they assured everyone that staff was “beefing up sanitising procedures”.

“There’s no reason to believe that any illness will have any impact on the remainder of our sailing,” the letter said.

In a statement to Florida Today, Mr Torres said: “Those affected by the short-lived illness are being treated by our ship’s medical team with over-the-counter medication. Meanwhile, we are bringing additional medical staff on board and we’re engaging in intensive sanitary procedures to minimise the risk of any further issues.”

According to WESH, the cruise patrons had to skip Jamaica because the country would not allow them in after they waited hours to be cleared.

Mr Haddap told the outlet that he and his girlfriend had spent most of their time in bed, and he expressed frustration with cruise directors.

“They could’ve opened more facilities,” he said.

“This is a massive ship … 8000 passengers on board. That’s a lot of people to be stuck on a boat when we’re at the port waiting all day.”

He wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

A passenger on the ship tweeted: “Have a contingency plan for how to treat this like a sea day when this happens. Most restaurants and bars closed when they need to be open. Long lines and unhappy crowds which could have been prevented.”

Norovirus is a contagious virus that causes vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach pain, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It can be contracted through direct contact with an infected person, consuming contaminated food or water, and touching contaminated surfaces, then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth.

People often associate cruise ships with acute gastrointestinal illnesses such as norovirus, but acute gastrointestinal illness is relatively infrequent on cruise ships,” according to the CDC.

The misconception, they suggested, could come from the fact that outbreaks are reported more quickly on cruise ships — and spread more quickly due to close living quarters.

Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley told Business Insider in April last year little could be done to prevent a norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship, as “one infected passenger can negate hours of careful cleaning”.

 The number one thing passengers could do to prevent an outbreak, he said, is to regularly wash their hands.