BAYONNE - A cruise ship full of hundreds of passengers who became ill while sailing the Caribbean is headed back to New Jersey.

The Explorer of the Seas is returning earlier than planned after the passengers and crew fell victim to an outbreak of severe intestinal illness.

Dawn Kobreek is aboard the ship, and has nothing but praise for the crew who she says has gone above and beyond. She managed to avoid getting sick, though her friend became violently ill.

The Royal Caribbean cruise ship is somewhere off the East Coast, making its way back to its home port of Bayonne, where it's expected to dock around 2 or 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Some passengers are still recovering from a suspected outbreak of the highly contagious norovirus.

"Some nights, it was honestly like a ghost ship," Kobreek says. "I've been all over the world, and I've never seen anything like it."

The Centers for Disease Control says 622 passengers and 50 crew members were sickened, many with vomiting and diarrhea.

Tests are being done, but the cause has not been identified. With the infirmary overflowing, ill passengers were encouraged to stay in their rooms.

In an email to her daughter, another passenger, Michele Stoll of Marlboro, says she and her husband, Arthur are fine. "We had a nice time despite the virus. They're refunding half of what we paid. We are also getting 50 percent off a future cruise."

Kobreek says the Royal Caribbean refund is nice, but she's more concerned about the crew. "They worked tirelessly," she says. "They have not taken time off. Cleaning rooms non-stop. People are screaming about not being compensated for their cruise. Basically, I'm more concerned that the crew gets compensated."

According to the CDC, one in five passengers fell sick and some will still be ill when the ship reaches Bayonne. They may require immediate medical attention.