Do you dream of reenacting the "I'm On a Boat" music video with your dog? Do you yearn to travel the open seas but without the huge bummer of leaving your beloved pet behind? It might seem like an impossible situation, but it actually (somewhat surprisingly) isn't.
Pet-friendly cruise lines
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You might assume that traveling international waters would be the kind of experience reserved for only the most highly trained service animals, but that just isn't the case. There are more pet-friendly cruise lines than you might expect.
This doesn't just apply to shorter cruises either. You can actually cross the Atlantic with your dog. For example, British cruise line Cunard's Queen Mary II offers a kennel program on all trips between New York and Southampton (on the south coast of England). If you're dead set on taking your pup cruising with you, search specifically for dog-friendly cruise lines from the start.
How a pet cruise works
Just because a cruise ship is dog-friendly doesn't mean your beloved dog will be allowed to chill with you on the lido deck. Many pet-friendly cruise ships have kennels for dogs who accompany their owners on an ocean liner. On the Queen Mary II, for example, dogs who travel onboard are kept in one of 24 kennels in a supervised special area with room for playtime.
Don't panic, though. Even if your pup can't accompany you everywhere on the ship, you can still spend plenty of quality time together on most dog-friendly ships. Guests with pets aboard the Queen Mary II, for example, are welcome to visit and play with their pups during visiting hours throughout the day.
Emotional support animals cruise ship rules
If a cruise ship doesn't have a pet-friendly policy, it may be tempting to register your pet as an emotional support animal (ESA) in order to bring her along for the ride. While some cruise lines recognized and allowed ESAs in the past, many of them are cracking down on the standards and limiting furry passengers to trained service animals.
One of the most notable examples of this trend came in 2018 when Royal Caribbean International announced that it would no longer accommodate requests to bring emotional support animals aboard its ships. Royal Caribbean International has updated its policy to differentiate between emotional support animals and service animals assisting individuals with disabilities. While service animals are welcome aboard, emotional support animals are not accepted.
You can take service dogs on cruises
Access rights for service animals in the United States are guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to a 2005 Supreme Court decision, the ADA applies not just to cruise ships run by U.S. companies but also to ships registered in foreign waters if they sail in U.S. waters. This means that as long as a cruise includes travel in U.S. waters, service animals are legally allowed on board.
Rules apply to service dogs
Even though service dogs are guaranteed the right to travel with their owner on cruise ships, it's important to note that there are some limitations and rules that handlers will have to keep in mind.
First, most cruise lines will require the handler (or another member of the party) to remain with the dog at all times, meaning the dog can't be left alone in his handler's cabin or stateroom (or in any public areas on the ship). What's more, there may be some areas on the ship that will still be off limits to a service animal for safety reasons, like pools.
Service animals may accompany port excursions
Many cruise ships include stops and opportunities for adventures at the cities of port. A service animal's ability to accompany her owner on these adventures varies by country, and it's important to do your research beforehand if you're bringing a service animal on a cruise ship, especially if you plan to de-board during stops. While your cruise line may be able to assist you in determining what paperwork or preparation is necessary for your service dog to de-board, the responsibility for making those arrangements still falls on the handler.
Disney Cruise Lines states on its website that you must obtain all import permits needed for each port on the cruise line and have those available at all times. Since obtaining these permits can take weeks or even months, make sure to give yourself plenty of time.
If you do plan to take your service animal off the ship at port, know that your cruise line will likely require that you submit copies of any necessary permits or paperwork before you set sail, so plan this all out well, well in advance. It's possible that some countries won't allow animals to enter.
- Royal Caribbean International: Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed Onboard a Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship?
- MarketWatch: Royal Caribbean Bans Emotional Support Animals From All Cruises
- Disney Cruise Lines: Guests with Disabilities - Frequently Asked Questions
- Cunard: Pets on Board
- NPR: Cruise Ships Covered by Disabilities Law