NEW YORK – With temperatures dropping across the nation, now would normally be the time when many Americans start thinking about setting sail on a sunny cruise.
But as the mysterious Norwalk-like virus -- which can mean up to 48 hours of severe stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea -- struck a fourth cruise ship on Thursday, travel agents were providing alternative ideas to vacationers in search of warm winter getaways.
For those seeking the all-inclusive feel of a cruise, Liberty Travel said the Caribbean is the way to go.
"Jamaica is the number-one cruise destination," said Liberty branch manager Marat Shkanbin. "Sandals is great for couples. Smaller resorts like Grand Lido and Hedonism are a little more upscale. And all of these resorts will mimic the cruise experience on land."
Shkanbin also recommended Punta Cana Resort on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic.
"It's a humongous 800-room resort with beautiful beaches, casinos, discos -- anything and everything you need," he said.
For the health-and-fitness minded traveler who's wary of getting sick at sea, Shkanbin suggested the increasingly popular spa vacation.
"St. Lucia's Le Sport and Grenada's La Source are both high-rated, all-inclusive resorts," he said. "They have reflexology, Tai Chi, aerobics, pilates and they'll give you the same all-inclusive experience as a cruise -- with one guaranteed spa treatment a day."
For those who wish to stay on the mainland, travel experts at Expedia.com had high praise for Orlando, Fla.
"The experience and price are in the same ballpark as a cruise," Expedia product manager Teri Franklin said. "A family of four could get a flight and hotel for two nights and three days for only $229."
Franklin added that Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios and Epcot Center in Orlando each offer all-day fun for families.
On the West Coast, Franklin recommended San Diego, Calif., for its weather and world-class zoo.
"It's a great deal. And you're just a railroad ride away from Tijuana, which is a little more exotic and great for the Mexican food and shopping," she said.
And contrary to popular belief, Paris is a bargain for couples looking for a romantic getaway.
"For two people to stay in a four-star hotel for six nights, it's only about $1,000 all-included," Franklin said. "Leave the kids at home."
However, despite that fact that more than 1,000 people have recently reported symptoms of illness aboard ships from Holland America Line's Amsterdam, Carnival Cruise Lines' Fascination and Disney Cruise Line's Magic, most ticket-holders weren't letting paranoia rock their boats.
"We have a lot of money and years invested in this trip and we're not allowing this to hold us back," said Bill Bromberg, 79, who is leaving this weekend for a cruise that goes from Miami, Fla., to the Panama Canal. "My wife is concerned, but we're both approaching 80. There won't be many more opportunities like this."
Desiree Fish, a spokesperson for American Express Travel, said despite the unexplained source of the sickness that has affected cruise-goers, she hasn't seen any widespread cancellations in the industry.
"We're getting questions, but people are not switching their reservations," she said.
And Florida resident Elmer Tilden, who just returned from a Princess Line cruise in the Caribbean, said he'd absolutely go again, even right now.
"We had a magnificent time. I'd have no hesitation at all."