Kaizad Irani ‘22

Staff writer

During the week before the start of Spring semester, Davidson’s award-winning instrument ensembles embarked on their annual performance tour. Winners of the 2018 “American Prize for Orchestra Performance,” the Symphony Orchestra, alongside the Jazz Ensemble, continued their 25+ year tradition of performing and promoting their work outside of the Davidson community. 

“Our primary purposes for going on tour are to give the students the opportunity to perform for various audiences outside of Davidson, promote the strength of our music program, connect with high school students who may be starting their college search and encourage them to look at Davidson, and give audiences that we do not see on a regular basis the opportunity to hear great music performed by Davidson College students,” said Orchestra Director Dr. Tara Villa Keith.

This year, 60 students, three faculty members, and one staff member headed on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas cruise ship. While they successfully performed three concerts on the ship, the Royal Caribbean canceled the trip a day early after an outbreak of norovirus affected 475 passengers and crew members. Among the 475 infected, 21 were members of the Davidson College community. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus is a gastrointestinal illness that is extremely contagious and causes vomiting and diarrhea. It can spread through direct contact with an infected person and through food or water. It is also the leading cause of foodborne illnesses in America, according to the CDC.

 The cruise ship departed from Port Canaveral, Florida on January 6th. The first instances of norovirus were reported on January 8th after the ship stopped in Labadee, Haiti. It is not yet known what started the outbreak. 

“The first day at sea went well, and we were able to get off the ship in Haiti,” said clarinet player Bryan Kirk ‘22. “On the third day at sea, we were told that a significant number of people were affected by an illness causing diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Presumably, this illness was norovirus, and the cruise line immediately increased sanitation.”

The cruise arrived in Falmouth, Jamaica on the morning of January 9th. However, the Jamaican government denied passengers permission to disembark from the ship. The ship was then supposed to travel to Cozumel, Mexico, but the next day it was announced the vessel would be heading back to Port Canaveral, ending the voyage a day early. 

Some of the measures taken by Royal Caribbean included quaritining those passengers who were reportedly infected, adding extra sanitizing stations throughout the ship, not allowing guests to serve themselves at the buffets, and ensuring that medical staff met with those who were infected.

“The medical center gave people painkillers, anti-nausea, and anti-vomiting medicine,” said EJ Canny ‘19, one of the Davidson students infected by the illness. “I initially thought I had food-poisoning because my symptoms only lasted four hours. By the time I realized it had been norovirus, I had recovered.” 

Keith, along with the other faculty members, worked tirelessly to inform parents and the school of the events unfolding during the trip. Keith shared the many precautions that Royal Caribbean took and the role she played in monitoring her students. 

“Immediately upon learning about the change of plans, we notified the college about our early arrival and the outbreak of the gastrointestinal illness. Throughout the week, as students were getting ill, I was emailing the health center to keep them as up to date as possible regarding who was ill,” reported Keith. 

“Most of the ill students called the ship’s medic – they were asked to stay in their rooms and the medics came to their rooms to dispense treatment. Some students also went directly to the medic to get treatment. Other students self-quarantined. With the early cases, the medic was certainly overwhelmed, and unfortunately, one student was not able to get immediate treatment but was fully recovered two days later. While the illness initially hit quickly, it ran its course equally as quickly, and most students were asymptomatic within 24 hours,” she continued. 

Keith, Canny, and Kirk all expressed that they felt that Royal Caribbean handled the situation efficiently and ensured that the outbreak did not ruin the overall sentiment of the cruise. 

“I think the cruise staff handled the whole situation as well as they could, and I never feared for my own safety even if I were to get sick,” said Kirk. “Everyone on the cruise also received a full refund for the trip.”

Despite the outbreak, the instrument ensembles successfully performed their pieces. Reflecting on the experience, Keith felt that the trip still was enjoyable and meaningful. 

“While it was certainly upsetting that students got sick and disappointing that we didn’t get to explore two of the three ports, we were still glad to have performed three concerts, presenting the work of our talented students to hundreds of people,” said Keith. “Aside from the performance opportunities, we did experience beautiful weather, a calm sea, and lots of bonding. This cruise experience will not hinder us from continuing our regular domestic tours, although we will certainly think hard about a future cruise.”

The ship currently remains at Port Canaveral and is expected to return back to sea sometime this May.