Photo: Wayleebird/Shutterstock

I'm Waiting on the Quarantined Norwegian Dawn. Here's What It's Like.

Mauritius Travel Safety Cruises
by Suzie Dundas Feb 27, 2024

This story was first published on February 27, 9:40 AM Mauritius Standard Time, and will be updated as the story develops.

On Monday, February 25, CBS News published an article reporting that the Norwegian Cruise Lines Dawn ship had been quarantined off the coast of Mauritius due to several cases of cholera and gastrointestinal distress among passengers on board. Several days after the quarantine began, the results came back: no cholera on board, but plenty of cases of what NCL referred to as a “stomach-related illness.” I can change it to “plenty of cases of stomach-related illnesses. Of the frequent stomach-related illnesses on cruise ships, norovirus is the most common.”

That article also referenced more than 2,000 people stuck on the island of Mauritius, waiting to board the cruise.

Well, I’m one of those 2,000 people supposed to sail on the Norwegian Dawn, and three days after my planned departure date, I’m still in my hotel in Mauritius, waiting to get on board. We’ve been told that there were no cases of cholera on board, but it’s been a chaotic situation for guests hoping to take their planned “trip of a lifetime” African cruise.

Guests who arrived hoping to board on February 25 spent hours moving between the cruise port, shuttles, and hotels, with many reporting trouble in finding available hotels and complaining about the lack of communication from Norwegian Cruise Lines, or NCL. Information was sporadic and often came from unofficial sources before official sources, and if we do board (as we are supposed to in eight or so hours), many of the 2,000+ passengers set to depart are less than happy about the changes caused by the delay: the country of Madagascar was cut entirely, and of the now eight-day cruise, four days are spent at sea, not visiting any ports at all.

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In February of this year, Norwegian Cruises made a last-minute itinerary change to a cold-weather cruise after guests had already boarded, opting to sail to Admiralty Bay, roughly 200 miles from mainland Antartica. But that ship wasn’t even landing on mainland Antarctica — guests were just going to see it from afar, but not set foot on the continent.

The Norwegian Dawn, conversely, completely cut a full two days that were supposed to be spent on the island of Madagascar, a country that is quite hard to return to for many of the passengers on board who would consider this a bucket-list trip. It’s home to rare lemurs and some of the most unusual landscapes in the world.

If the fact that guests didn’t get to see mainland Antarctica made thousands of people upset, I can only imagine how fully canceling several days of an entire country is going to make cruise-goers feel.

Here’s what it’s been like on the ground, waiting to know if the cruise will set sail.

The delay was announced last minute and blamed on Mauritian officials

norwegian dawn delay disease

The email sent to gusts the morning of the planned departure date. Photo: Suzie Dundas/Norwegian Cruise Lines

We were supposed to board the ship at 2 PM on Sunday, February 25. Around 7:54 AM that morning, Norwegian sent a text and email to all passengers, saying we couldn’t embark until Tuesday. It said the situation was due to a “last-minute decision made by local government officials.” No more information was given about the cause of the delay though guests were told the situation was “fluid” and that they’d be given a $100 on-ship credit to spend, as well as 20 percent off a future cruise.

However, it didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t the full story on the Norwegian Dawn, as a quick Google showed that the ship had been turned away from its previous port of call, Réunion Island, the day before. And it wasn’t for just any reason: it was for a suspected outbreak on board of cholera, a water-borne disease that can be deadly if not treated right away. Many people on the quarantined cruise, along with cruisers hoping to board the ship, were extremely disappointed in the lack of transparency about the reason for the delay, blaming it on a mysterious decision by Mauritian officials rather than admitting there was some type of disease outbreak.

“We are extremely upset about the change in booking and NCL’s unwillingness to honor their Future Cruise Credit policy, and honestly do not trust NCL to handle another outbreak,” wrote one user on a Facebook group about the upcoming cruise.

“The Captain has been extremely cagey about any information as to when they were aware of the outbreak,” wrote a Reddit post from someone on board the Norwegian Dawn. “I know for certain they knew 2 days after we left Cape Town, the cruise starting port, as I had spoken to ship’s doctor on another matter.”

“The Captain could not been more vague or misleading,” he wrote, “simply saying the ship was denied entry, absolutely no other explanation given. It really is hard to imagine how this could been handled more poorly.”

Norwegian dawn quarantine - suspected cholera

Photo: Facebook

It wasn’t until much later in the day that it was officially confirmed they were doing testing for cholera for a small handful of passengers who were showing unusually serious symptoms. Rumors of the “cholera cruise” persisted among would-be guests, with many of the older and immune-compromised guests especially worried about the lack of transparency from NCL.

NCL didn’t offer comment on why it declined to mention the delay was due to a health issue. In fairness, perhaps it wasn’t allowed, or perhaps the local officials have rules against what can or can’t be shared. Or maybe they were trying to keep it under wraps. Who knows?

Norwegian tried to help stranded guests, but there were plenty of delays and confusion

It seems like NCL didn’t have a solid back-up plan for this type of issue, but from my perspective, it tried, even if it left a decent amount of people hanging. The delay announcement said that all guests would a voucher for two nights in a hotel while they waited, and have their food costs either paid for up front, or reimbursed. However, Mauritius isn’t a huge island, and guests had to go to the port to get the details of their complimentary hotel rooms, which caused headaches for many guests.

Fortunately, I’d already been here a few days, and as a journalist here with the cruise line, I was able to stay where I was instead of going to the port. But guests who arrived the morning of the 25th, only to find their cruise delayed, reported a bevy of problems relating to huge delays and confusion at the port, a lack of available hotel rooms, and a lack of clarity from NCL on what they’d reimburse, or why some people were at all-inclusive four- and five-start resorts, while others were at more humble hotels.

Norwegian mauritius cholera- complaint about trip

Photo: Facebook

Norwegian dawn complaint late hotels

Photo: Facebook

For some people, however, the experience was mostly positive, with a handful of guests at my hotel commenting that they couldn’t think of a better place to be “stranded” for a few days. That seemed to be echoed by some passengers online.

byu/MayonnaiseFarm from discussion

Norwegian put out a statement saying it would cover the costs incurred by the delay, but it came a little late. Around 10 PM on the evening of February 26, when NCL announced that no traces of cholera had been found on the Norwegian Dawn, it clarified exactly what it would be doing for stranded guests:

“Both our shoreside and shipboard teams have maintained ongoing communication with guests currently on board, providing updates as available throughout this fluid situation.  Given the delayed disembarkation, our NCL Air Team has rearranged travel arrangements, at no additional cost, for all guests who originally booked their air through us, with over 400 flights rescheduled within 24 hours.  We have further provided all guests with free Wifi and phone service, so even those who purchased air on their own could rearrange their return flights.”

“We will also be reimbursing guests for reasonably incurred expenses as a result of their flight changes.  Complimentary hotel accommodations were also secured for those guests who have a return flight scheduled for Feb. 28, 2024.  Additionally, to compensate for this unexpected two-day delay, guests were provided with a future cruise credit.” (Sidenote: I didn’t see anything about a future cruise credit, just a 20 percent discount). Update: Wednesday, February 28. A Norwegian spokesperson clarified that the 20 percent off is the “future cruise credit.”

“For guests originally booked on the Feb. 25, 2024 voyage, their embarkation is now scheduled to commence Feb. 27, 2024 in the afternoon local time.  Given the delayed departure, we arranged a complimentary two-day hotel stay in Mauritius for all embarking guests, which includes nearly 1,200 hotel rooms for over 2,000 guests.  They also received a daily per diem per guest to cover the cost of meals and other ancillary expenses, and we have arranged complimentary transfers to the port on Feb. 27, 2024.  Additionally, due to the shortened cruise voyage, they will also be receiving a prorated refund based on the reduced sailing length, as well as an onboard credit and future cruise credit. Over the last several days, we have been keeping guests informed with regular updates through multiple communication channels, including text message and email.”

In my opinion: it tried. But there were probably so many moving parts and so many people involved — port authorities, medical officials, the cruise lines, hotels, taxi drivers — that it couldn’t get information out to people in time, causing quite a bit of confusion with stranded passengers.

People booked the Norwegian Dawn “safari cruise” trip just for Madagascar — which is now cut

norwegian ship cholera new schedule

The revised schedule for the Norwegian Dawn. Photo: Norwegian Cruise Lines

I haven’t ever done a big cruise. But when I saw that this was a safari cruise, and visited hard-to-reach islands like Réunion and Madagascar, I jumped at the chance to give it a try. While we’ll still be visiting three safari ports in South Africa, NCL completely cut the two days that were supposed to be spent in Madagascar and will now spend three days in a row at sea (and four total at sea).

People are not happy.

norwegian cruise change- angry about madagascar

Photo: Facebook

Norwegian Cruise Lines spokespeople did not respond to questions on why Madagascar was cut from the trip or why the option to cancel wasn’t offered to guests. For my part, I’m very happy to still be visiting Réunion, though I am disappointed to not visit Madagascar for any of the planned days.

Monday, February 26, 6 PM

Mauritian Health Ministry officials confirm to BBC News that no cases of cholera were found on board, and the ship will be allowed to dock.

Monday, February 26, 8:34 PM

On the evening of Monday, February 26, NCL sent an email to some customers (not including myself) with updated information, announcing that there was no cholera on board the Norwegian Dawn and we would indeed be boarding as planned on Tuesday, February 27.

“As expected, there were no cholera cases on the Norwegian Dawn,” it wrote, presumably not tongue-in-cheek, despite the fact that it had more or less refused to acknowledge that cholera testing was happening. (It was confirmed to me by a local Mauritian who works at the cruise port in Port Louis, Mauritius).

Guests were told boarding would happen between 11 AM and 3 PM, and that they’d soon be told a departure time for the next day. NCL said it would be arranging rides for guests to the port, though it didn’t tell them at this time when those rides were happening.

Monday, February 26, 11:39 PM

NCL puts out a press statement, stating:

“Upon Norwegian Dawn’s arrival to Port Louis Mauritius on Feb. 25, 2024, there were a small number of guests experiencing mild symptoms of a stomach-related illness.  Despite previous reports and speculations, there were no confirmed cases nor any evidence of cholera on board the vessel.  Although only six guests were being monitored due to mild symptoms of a stomach-related illness, the government of Mauritius required testing in an overabundance of caution, thereby delaying the ship’s original disembarkation scheduled for Feb. 25, 2024.” 

This is also the statement that details reimbursements for stranded passengers, assistance with rebooking flights, etc. It’s unclear if this statement was shared widely with all passengers, or just media.

norwegian ship cholera suspected quarantined ship

Photo: Norwegian Cruise Lines

Tuesday, February 27, 8 AM

On social media sites, waiting passengers started to report that their hotels had notified them of their pick-up times. Most passengers reporting being told around 8 AM that they’d head to Port Louis for embarkation staring in the early afternoon. I’m told that I won’t leave my hotel until 4:30 PM, presumably arriving for embarkation around 5 PM — a bit later than yesterdays 11 AM – 3 PM window, but at least it seems to be happening.

Tuesday, February 27, 9 AM

As of our best knowledge, the 2,000+ passengers quarantined for two nights are now allowed to disembark, and after a thorough cleaning, we should be allowed to board beginning mid-afternoon.

Tuesday, February 27, 4:30 PM

norwegian dawn check in mauritius

Check-in agents on board the Norwegian Dawn, with no waits for arriving passengers. Photo: Suzie Dundas

We left our hotel and arrived to the ship around 5:30 PM. Onboarding was much smoother than reports of past cruises, which mentioned waiting for hours at the port in Mauritius. “Agree with other comments regarding embarkation and disembarkation. For us a 3 hour queue in 30c+ and direct sun,” wrote a reviewer of the Dawn’s previous sailing.

However, for us it was speedy. Staff were very helpful — much more helpful and friendly than I would expect for likely being bombarded with complains over the last three days — and the process only took about 20 minutes. There were dozens of staff members manning the check-in and immigration desks, so the process really moved as quickly as we could walk through the ship.

Tuesday, February 27, 6:24 PM

noro hand sanitizer on cruise

Hand sanitizer on the Norwegian Dawn, following a quarantine for “stomach-related illnesses,” . Photo: Suzie Dundas

We’re still waiting for our luggage to arrive to the room, which is small, but smells like cleaning supplies — which is a good thing. There are hand sanitizers stations outside every elevator, and I’m hoping this is a healthier cruise than normal, given that most people will likely be on high alert.

As of now, we are supposed to leave Mauritius around 8 PM and arrive on Réunion Island bright and early Wednesday, February 28.

Wednesday, February 28, 11:17 PM

NCL released an unspecified statement on why the visit to Madagascar was cut,  to cut the Madagascar port, blaming “local government requirements and restrictions,” but giving no more specific reasons.

As a result of the recent delayed embarkation at Port Louis, Mauritius due to local government requirements and restrictions, we had to make the difficult decision to shorten the sailing and cancel calls to Madagascar. While we could not accommodate the original itinerary, the revised itinerary was created with the guest experience top of mind to include ports of call that offer rich onshore experiences that are highly valued in these destinations. In doing so, we have kept the integrity of the experience by maintaining all other ports of call including Pointes Des Galets, Reunion, and Richard’s Bay, Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay and an overnight stay in Cape Town, South Africa to allow more time to explore this bucket-list destination.

We are committed to providing exceptional vacation experiences, both aboard our ships and by taking our guests to some of the most sought-out destinations around the world. While we try to maintain original itineraries as much as possible, in the event that circumstances dictate a need for a modification, our operations teams work together to carefully evaluate a number of factors including distance, weather, port availability, among other considerations, to revise the itinerary in a way that is still optimized for guest experience.

Saturday, March 2

Following a request for more information, NCL sent an updated statement as to why we skipped Madagascar. It’s quite logical and surprises me that they didn’t announce this upfront, as it’s hard to argue with: the Madagascar ports were the furthest away from the route. You don’t need to be a cruise line captain to see that cutting under Madagascar en route to South Africa would save quite a bit of time.

Given that the itinerary was shortened by two days, the ship did not have the same amount of time to be able to navigate to all ports in the original itinerary.  As such, when making the touch decision, we evaluated the time it would take to navigate to each port, the time we would have available in each port due to the earliest we could arrive, and the type of excursions/experiences that would be available to guests given the shortened about of time.  It was not an easy decision, but we wanted to maximize the opportunities guests would have in port.  Furthermore, we wanted to ensure that guests had the opportunity to call to Richard’s Bay, Port Elizabeth and Mossel Bay, South Africa, which offer the bucket-list worthy safari and wildlife experiences travelers look for when visiting Africa. In addition, with Capetown, South Africa being such a highlight of the itinerary, we wanted to maintain the opportunity for guests to overnight in that destination, delivering them a more immersive experience.

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