A cruise ship had to return to the UK prematurely after hundreds of passengers were struck down by a virus. More than 2,000 Britons finally disembarked from the Sea Princess after it docked in the port of Southampton yesterday morning.

The vessel, which is part of the Princess Cruises fleet, left Southampton for a seven-night European tour last Saturday.

But it was forced to turn back and return to England a day earlier than planned after about 200 passengers became ill. They are thought to have contracted the highly contagious norovirus.

Passengers who were affected by the virus suffered vomiting and diarrhoea after contracting the virus, which thrives in semi-closed environments.

Some on board complained of being forced to stay in their cabins for much of the trip to try to prevent the virus from spreading, and said the crew did not have the capacity to cope with the outbreak.

Philip Wilson, 50, from Radstock, near Bath, said his entire family was struck by the virus. He said the ship's staff could not cope because many of the crew had also fallen ill. "It was just a nightmare. It was a holiday from hell," Mr Wilson said.

Another passenger, David Cordon, 40, had married his wife Michelle, 27, on board, but said the outbreak had ruined his wedding. "It also upset my wife because it is supposed to be the biggest day of a woman's life and it was tainted," he said.

A spokeswoman for the parent company, Carnival UK, said passengers had suffered from acute gastroenteritis, with the virus strongly suspected to be norovirus. She added that the ship was being sanitised to try to prevent any future passengers from being infected.

A 30 per cent refund has been offered to passengers and Princess Cruises said that fewer than eight people were still sick. But Suki Chhokar, a travel lawyer, said the compensation offered to passengers was "insulting" and that passengers should at the very least be given a refund for the full costs of their holiday.

"What is of greater concern is the admission by Princess Cruises that the boat had seen a similar outbreak on the last two days of its previous cruise," Mr Chhokar said.

"We would demand to know what measures had been taken to ensure that the boat had been deeply sanitised and completely disinfected, to prevent this extremely contagious virus from spreading, before embarking on this trip."