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Updated January 8, 2020
If you're looking for pet friendly vacations that will let you bring Fido or Fluffy, cruising might not be the best choice. Only one of the major lines allows passengers to cruise with pets, and even that's just on one ship during select sailings. But don't despair, pet-lovers: There are plenty of ways for you to combine a cruise with your affinity for fur babies. Below, we give you more info on cruises that allow pets, exceptions to the general "no pets" rule and ways you can still enjoy pet cruise fun without bringing your four-legged friends along for the ride.
Which Ships Offer Pet Friendly Cruises?
When it comes to cruise ships that allow pets, there's only one: Cunard's Queen Mary 2. On certain transatlantic sailings -- those between New York and Southampton, either direction -- you can bring your dog or cat, but that doesn't mean your fuzzy family members will be able to snuggle with you in your cabin. They'll be confined to their own digs in an onboard kennel on Deck 12, where dedicated crew members feed, walk and clean up after them in addition to lavishing them with treats and toys. Feeding bowls and beds are provided; food can also be provided upon request. Pets will have organized playtime, and you'll be able to visit them during designated hours each day.
If you're interested in reserving a spot for Rover or Whiskers, do it early, as the ship only has room for about a dozen animals. Cunard recommends booking at least 12 to 18 months in advance if you'd like to secure kennel accommodations for your pet. Just be prepared to pay almost as much for your pet to cruise as you'll be paying for yourself. Prices range from $800 to $1,000 per dog and from $1,000 to $1,600 per cat. (Cats require two kennels -- one for the litter box and one for the cat.) Pets are able to share kennels, but the line recommends doing that for small animals (cats and teacup-sized dogs) only.
Are Service Animals Allowed on Cruises?
Although lines ban pets on cruises, exceptions are made for service animals. Various types are allowed, but the most common are those of the canine persuasion. Requirements for traveling with a service dog vary by cruise line, so be sure to ask about the policy for your ship if you'll be bringing a non-human companion onboard. You'll want to find out how far in advance you should contact your cruise line's accessibility department to make arrangements. You should also inquire about provisions: Where will your animal relieve itself? Will you need to bring your own bed or food?
While most lines are required by law to make concessions for specially trained pets that serve a legitimate purpose, there aren't any legal hard and fast verification methods in place for lines to prove that pets listed as service animals actually are. For that reason, the issue of service dogs on cruise ships is hotly debated. Some maintain that, because laws prevent questions from being asked of the owners of alleged service animals, it's easy for passengers to simply lie and claim that their uncertified pets serve an emotional or medical purpose in order to bring them onboard.
Passengers can be quick to judge when pets don't seem to be treated like service animals. "We had a small 'service dog' on our last cruise that was being pushed around in a stroller!" says Cruise Critic member sprockie. "Someone came in with their dog in a stroller, wheeled it up to her table and set his food bowl on the table for him to eat alongside her. I am a dog lover, but I think things are going a bit far."
Apparently, some travelers even admit to flouting the rules. "There was someone on Indy [Independence of the Seas] last week with an ankle biter. Said it wasn't a service dog when someone asked," Cruise Critic member CaribSailor says. And cynbar confides: "We know some people -- an otherwise very nice couple -- who brag that they bought a service dog certificate for their dog although they admit they have no disability."
While we don't condone using devious methods to get your animal companion onboard a cruise vacation, travelers with legitimate service animals should be aware that they might be getting the side-eye from their shipmates, especially if they don't fit the stereotype of a disabled person with a service dog.
What's an Animal-Lover to Do?
So, how else can you enjoy a pet-focused vacation, sans pets? Try booking yourself on a cruise that celebrates all things pet-related. Take, for example, the Meow Meow Cruise. You won't be able to bring Mittens on this oceangoing adventure, but you will be surrounded by lots of other cat-lovers who share your fondness for felines.
Another alternative is to book an animal-centric shore excursion, such as horseback riding, whale watching or a visit to a musher's camp to play with sled dog puppies.