Dog-Friendly Cruising Aboard the Queen Mary 2

Come along as three dog owners hit the high seas on pet-friendly cruises.

By | Posted: August 28, 2014, 6 a.m. PST

Whether it’s the uninterrupted ocean views, unlimited gourmet food, or the chance to spend days relaxing on a cushioned deck chair, one can think of many reasons to take a transatlantic voyage on a luxury ocean liner. As if those perks weren’t enough, here’s one that may top them all: One of these ships allows dogs.

Queen Mary. Photo by Nikki Moustaki

That vessel is the Queen Mary 2, the flagship of the Cunard Line of luxury ocean liners. Many people use the QM2 as an alternative to flying overseas with a dog, which can be a hassle at best, a dramatic tragedy at worst. Traveling by ship allows you to ease through time zones with the comfort of knowing that your best furry pal is safe, nearby, and accessible.

Meet owners and dogs who have sailed on the QM2, and learn how you and your pup can book your own voyage, should the high seas beckon.

The "For Work” Movers

When Sarah Richey of Tampa, Fla., and her husband had the opportunity to move to the Netherlands for new jobs in 2013, they never gave a thought to leaving behind their 5-year-old Bulldog Berkley. Richey called an airline to book a ticket, only to find out that Bulldogs were banned from flying on many commercial flights because of breathing issues and the high rate of fatalities this breed has suffered when flying in cargo.

Richey also looked into booking a private plane, but her budget quashed that idea. Finally, she discovered that Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 had a kennel on board that could provide Berkley with a secure way to travel across the Atlantic Ocean. The problem? The kennel had a waiting list of over a year. Richey called Cunard almost every day, hoping for a cancellation, and finally got lucky after about a month, scoring Berkley a space.

Berkley and his family set sail from Brooklyn, N.Y., on Jan. 3, 2013, arriving in Southampton, U.K., a week later. "Throughout the cruise we overheard people talking at dinner or at teatime about the Bulldog on board and how ‘you should go see him,’” Richey says. "Berkley was the talk of the cruise because he was always on the kennel deck waiting for other passengers to walk by and gawk at him, and lean over the fence to pet him. He was the only Bulldog on board, and quite fitting that he was an English Bulldog on an English cruise line.”

Richey says that she felt confident about Berkley’s care because of the professionalism of the crew and the ship’s dedicated kennel master. This crew member feeds the pets onboard, walks the dogs, and cleans the QM2’s kennels. The dogs stay in this kennel area and are allowed to roam — always supervised — in a temperature-controlled play area and on a generous part of the deck, where they do their important business.

"Berkley loves other dogs, so he was happy just being around his kennel mates, and it was a treat when we visited him multiple times a day to play or give him a good scratch,” Richey says.

The World Travelers

In September 2009, Akila McConnell of Atlanta and husband Patrick quit their jobs to travel around the world. They left behind their two dogs —  Chewy, a Cocker Spaniel who has now passed on, and Abby, a 10-year-old Beagle-Border Collie mix — for an entire year. But they became heartsick without their canine friends, and decided that travel did not have to come at the price of excluding their pups. They called Cunard and booked passage for their dogs in two of the ship’s 12 kennels from Brooklyn to Southampton.

"The most challenging part was getting the dogs used to the new environment,” says McConnell, a freelance travel writer at The Road Forks blog. "Every owner was on ‘poop watch’ for the first few days to make sure that their dogs got back on a regular schedule.”

McConnell enjoyed getting to know the fellow dog owners during the week-long voyage, as everyone sat in deck chairs in the kennel area and chatted.

"All of the dogs on our crossing got along quite well, though,” McConnell says. "One of the dog owners had taken the Queen Mary 2 with his dog several times, and he said that he only had one crossing where one dog was temperamental.”

The first day on board is the most difficult, McConnell says, but then the dogs settle in to the kennel’s routine. She recommends carrying a collapsible water bowl and some treats on the day of departure, because the wait to board the ship can be a while.

"The dogs were treated extremely well, we spent a lot of time with them, and we never worried that they would be unduly stressed or harmed from the journey, as we would worry if we had to put them into the cargo hold of an airplane,” McConnell says.

The Regulars

Benny the Cocker Spaniel crossed the Atlantic on the QM2 16 times, and Teddy, a 3-year-old Cocker Spaniel, has made the voyage five times. Their owner, Cate Minot of Boston and London, has come to know all of the kennel masters by name, even though they’re rotated out of the kennel every few months.

Benny would protest quite a bit during each first day in his kennel on the QM2, but would adapt to the cage after one or two days, Minot says. He acted very good otherwise, she adds, and had fun playing the other dogs.

"Teddy is more laid-back and not stressed by the experience,” she continues. "Both of them (have adored) all the attention they (have received) from other pet owners and visitors throughout the day.”

In December 2012, a storm occurred during Minot’s voyage from Southampton to New York on the QM2, and the kennels were closed to everyone except the crew. The howling winds, lurching of the ship, and various loud banging noises caused Minot to become worried about the animals in the kennel. They fared well, however.

"The dogs seem to weather storms even better than the crew,” Minot says.

Dog-Friendly Fun Without Your Own Dog

If you don't think your dog is up for the voyage or maybe your don't have a dog, you can still enjoy the novelty and fun of dogs on a cruise.

Dogs are celebrities on the Queen Mary 2, as evidenced by all the "fans” that come to see them near the kennel area. It’s a novelty to have dogs aboard an ocean liner, so dog-loving passengers are welcome to visit with them.  

"For anyone who misses their own pets while on vacation, the chance to interact with others’ pets, even from a distance, is heartwarming,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown of Pennington, N.J., editor in chief of and a former passenger on one of the QM2’s transatlantic voyages.

If you’re not traveling with your dog, seeing the onboard kennel and watching the dogs can help you decide whether or not to take a furry friend along the next time. Spencer Brown says she probably wouldn’t bring her 2-year-old Labrador Retriever-shepherd mix Connor just for fun, preferring to leave him with a pet sitter, but that she would bring him if she anticipated a longer stay in Europe.

"The kennel was certainly a draw for us,” Spencer Brown says. "Only passengers who have pets on board were allowed in the area, but we lingered outside the gate and chatted up the kennel master.” 


Booking a Voyage

If you’d like to take your dog for a trip on the Queen Mary 2, call Cunard for pricing and information. You must book by phone if you’re planning on reserving a spot in the kennel — one kennel space for a dog under 55 pounds, or two spots for a dog over 55 pounds.

The fee is approximately $500 to $700.

Before You Board

All dogs traveling on the Queen Mary 2 must be in compliance with the Pet Travel Scheme, a system that allows dogs to enter and re-enter the U.K. from other countries without being quarantined, as long as they follow certain rules. Cunard will likely go over these conditions with you in detail. They include the following:

  • Your dog must have a microchip.
  • Your dog must have received a rabies vaccination sometime after receiving the microchip, followed by a 21-day wait.
  • You must present veterinary documentation, meaning your vet needs to fill out a stack of paperwork regarding your dog’s health and vaccine history.
  • Your dog must be treated for tapeworm no more than five days before the trip.

Having this documentation properly filled out can mean the difference between a lovely voyage and the ship leaving without you or your dog. Cunard makes every effort to help dog owners get through this process easily.

Final advice: "Being organized is key,” Richey says. "If you have a good team at your vet’s office to get your paperwork done and you work with the representative at Cunard who manages the kennels, then taking the trip is super easy.”

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