May 3, 2009 5:25 p.m. EST
On Friday, 3,000 passengers came down the gangway of the cruise ship Carnival Splendor. But they didn't set foot on Mexican soil, which was where they were supposed to be. Rather, fears of catching the swine flu had forced the ship to change course and head back across the border to San Francisco.
Cruise lines around the United States are yanking their advertised stops to Mexican ports, penciling alternative ports of call as precautions against a disease for which 787 cases have now been reported around the globe. Of those cases, 506 have been reported in Mexico.
On April 29, Carnival announced that it had cancelled all stops in Mexican ports until Monday. The company was searching for alternative stops and was offering the option of rescheduling cruises for a future date.
On Saturday, Royal Caribbean cruise line said it had suspended trips departing from South Florida to Cozumel by four of its ships and would instead spend additional time in Key West, the Bahamas, or Jamaica and add another day at sea. Cruises leaving from Los Angeles have a "fully revised itinerary," according to a company statement, which includes stops along the West Coast and Canada.
The revised itinerary includes a notice to passengers that "the weather on the revised itinerary is considerably colder. Guests should remember to pack clothing that is appropriate for this new itinerary."
While these changes may be disappointing to cruise travelers, they can be a boon to local merchants not accustomed to the heavier tourist traffic. In San Francisco, each cruise ship accounts for about $1 million spent at shops and businesses, notes television station KGO. And the number of cruise ships scheduled to stop there has doubled, from nine to 18.
May 3, 2009 3:36 p.m. EST
Miami, FL (AHN) - Key West is seeing a silver lining in the swine flu scare.
The Southernmost City is reaping about $400,000 in extra disembarkation fees from cruise ships that were destined for ports of call in Mexico, but changed destinations because of the H1N1 virus.
"There is an increase in ships being rerouted to Key West," said Alyson Crean, a spokeswoman for the city. "We're receiving about 19 extra calls this month."
The amount of money the city charges ships to dock in Key West varies depending upon the size of the vessel, but Crean said an average of about $20,000 goes into the city's coffers from each ship. City business will also likely see a bump in income in May from all the passengers that disembark from the extra ships.
Carnival Cruise Lines, which has ships that stop off in Key West, has modified all trips that began April 30 through May 11 that include stops in Mexico, Joyce Oliva, a spokeswoman with the company said.
"Guests who do not wish to sail on a modified itinerary may opt to receive a refund in the form of a future cruise credit equal to the full amount paid for the voyage," Carnival said in a statement.
The credit is good for any trip departing through 2010, Oliva said.
Five Carnival ships destined for Mexico will stop off in Key West instead of the original port of call, Cozumel.
More ships could be on their way if the situation stays dire for Mexico, where the virus has claimed the lives of at least 19 people. Oliva said that for passengers on ships scheduled to leave after May 11, an update will be provided soon.
But being a tourist destination also carries with it risks when dealing with an infectious illness like the swine flu. Any one of the thousands of tourists who visit the Keys, could be introducing the virus to the popuuulaaatiooon. There have been no confirmed cases of H1N1 in the Keys, but local county and school district officials are on guard.
"It is our belief that prevention will be the best defense against this illness," Sunny Booker, the Monroe County School District's safe schools coordinator said in a statement.
The district announced a list of procedures it is taking to try to prevent the virus from impacting students and teachers. Chief among the efforts is to encourage hand washing.
Each teacher will receive a supply of hand soap for their classrooms. Elementary and middle school students will be encouraged t0o build in hand-washing breaks throughout the school day.
Posters will be hung throughout the schools reminding students and staff the importance of good hygiene. Custodians are being instructed to "vigorously wipe down all door handles and desks and other surfaces each night with specialized cleansers."
The school district is also telling its students that if they feel sick, they should stay home. Symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of typical flu viruses, but the district does not want to take chances.
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