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Amanda Lamb: Chevy Chase vacation

Posted March 25, 2012 8:51 p.m. EDT

If you're old enough, you will recall the slapstick movie starring Chevy Chase about a family vacation gone terribly wrong. Unfortunately, during the first week in March, my family starred in the 2012 version of this movie.

It promised to be a dream vacation: A cruise in the Caribbean with my entire family including my mother. My husband planned it last year and surprised us with the news at Christmas.

As the big day of our departure arrived, we packed for the trip, anticipating days spent on white sandy beaches in crystal clear waters under sparkling blue skies and nights on deck under starry skies with warm Caribbean breezes. We just knew we would come back the color of toast, maybe a little bit heavier from all the good food, and with a camera full of photographs documenting wonderful memories from our once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Instead, we came back pale and thinner than we left thanks to the norovirus.

We received an email less than 48 hours before our departure saying the ship was having an issue with the virus, and that as a result of intense cleaning, our embarkation would be delayed slightly. Upon researching the ship online, I learned this was its second outbreak in a month. So, we made a tough call and decided it wasn't worth the risk and we would make alternative plans. But, after multiple phone calls over several hours to the cruise line, we learned we would not get a refund or a voucher. In addition, they assured us it would be the cleanest ship in the fleet after the strict cleansing process, and that we had nothing to worry about. So, we decided to go after all.

Clearly, you can see where this is going. I won't get into the gory details, but let's just say it was a pretty traumatic experience. Despite a hyper degree of good hygiene on all our parts, which included constant hand washing, three members of our family, including my 71-year-old mother, contracted the virus. Per Center for Disease Control and Prevention rules, people who get the virus on a cruise ship are quarantined to their cabins for 48 hours.

Believe or not, the worst moment wasn't the projectile vomiting of my child from a top bunk or in a crowded stairwell, but the moment she sobbed as she watched other passengers depart the ship in paradise while she was banned from getting off. She literally sat on the balcony and wept as she watched passengers snorkeling in the pristine water below us. At that moment, there were no words to describe the anguish I felt for taking a calculated risk that turned out to be a very bad call.

My mother didn't leave her cabin for most of the week. And when children are quarantined, their parents are essentially quarantined too. We didn't enjoy white sandy beaches or crystal clear waters, just Jello, old movies and Scrabble within the confines of a tiny cabin.

But I did learn from the experience. I strongly urge cruise ships to take more accountability for these outbreaks. Even under the auspices of the CDC regulations, it is still clearly a big problem, especially for senior citizens and children, and one that needs to be taken very seriously. Ships with continued outbreaks should be taken out of service until the incubation period for the virus living on surfaces has expired. This is the only responsible course of action. People's health should always come before profit.

As for us, we will plan a snorkeling trip in the near future to give my younger daughter the experience she missed. But I can promise you it won't be on a cruise ship or in a wood paneled Country Squire station wagon (a la Chevy Chase).

Amanda Lamb is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including two on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.