Matthews family was aboard cruise ship that returned after hundreds became sick

MATTHEWS, N.C. — Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas returned to a Florida port Saturday, a day early, and the company gave passengers full refunds of their fare after 475 guests and crew members were hit with an outbreak of norovirus as the ship sailed to Jamaica.

Passengers, including a Matthews family, are glad to be back home and off the cruise ship.

Hundreds got sick, ruining vacations for thousands.

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Pam Decker described to Channel 9 seeing trouble in paradise firsthand.

Decker and her family set sail on their cruise last Sunday, where they saw beautiful sunsets, enjoyed nights out and set foot in Labade, Haiti.

Decker told Channel 9 they had hopes of exploring Jamaica.

"We had the whole day planned, and we were so excited,” Decker said.

Things took a turn for the worse just two days into the cruise.

"They made an announcement that they suspected that there were a few passengers that contracted the norovirus on board,” Decker said.

The cruise ship, with room for 6,000 passengers, is one of the largest in the world.

The illness, spread through contaminated food and drinks, causes terrible symptoms.

Decker's family avoided getting the virus, but they saw many others getting sick.

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"On the elevator, down five flights of stairs, all on the casino tables, they would just be sitting at the casino table,” Decker said.

Passengers took to social media on Wednesday, tweeting they were forced to stay on board after docking in Falmouth, Jamaica, for what was supposed to be a day of excursions.

"Jamaica did not want us to get off with people being sick,” Decker said.

The cruise ship turned around and headed back toward Port Canaveral without making any other stops.

Decker says they still made the most of it, and they, along with the rest of the ship, got some welcome news.

"Then they made the announcement that they were refunding 100 percent of everybody's cruise,” Decker said.

Despite all of that, Decker said it was a great vacation and commended the Royal Caribbean for how it handled the outbreak.

Cruise line spokesman Owen Torres told The Associated Press, "We think the right thing to do is get everyone home early rather than have guests worry about their health."

Torres says returning a day early gives the cruise line "more time to completely clean and sanitize the ship" before it sails again.

Another North Carolina family who was on the cruise said every time they turned around, someone was wiping something down because of the outbreak on board their cruise ship.

Tammy and Doug Henson, from Buncombe County, are not among the passengers who got sick on the ship.

"We've just been careful about going into some of the shows that have been super crowded, and they have cleaned this boat from top to bottom,” Tammy Henson said. “Everywhere you turn around, someone's squirting hand sanitizer in every room you go in."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating.

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