Taking Your Dogs on the Queen Mary 2
Last week, I received a lovely Facebook message asking about my transatlantic crossing with our dogs. I’ve been meaning to write about our trip on the Queen Mary 2: what we liked, or didn’t, and how we prepared. If you’re also curious about floating across the Atlantic instead of flying, read on.
The short version is: We loved the QM2. But it wasn’t cheap.
For starters, the QM2 is the only ship in the world that does transatlantic crossings with dedicated kennels on board.
But the crossing takes eight days, which is, honestly, more time than we wanted to spend traveling. It starts in New York City and ends in Southampton, England, which was quite a ways off from our destination – Lisbon.
So why’d we do it?
Well, our girls, Macy and Tillie, aren't good candidates for flying. They're about 26 pounds each, so they’re too big to go in the cabin of an airplane. Because Macy is nearly 16 years old, and on the frail side, we weren't sure she'd get vet clearance to travel in the plane's cargo area. Even if she was cleared by the vet, we didn't feel great about that. And Tillie is an anxious girl who reacts badly to loud noises, so air travel is a no-go for her as well.
Otherwise, they have no major health issues and are pretty sociable ladies, so after exploring commercial planes, cargo ships, and even private jets, we decided the QM2 was our best option by far.
Note: The kennel reservations fill up fast and far in advance!
I had to book 17 months out (that was the first opening for two kennel spots from the time I called). There are waiting lists, but we didn’t want to take the chance, since we needed two spots. If you only need one kennel, others have said they’ve booked 12 months out with ease.
We had to call to book the kennel spaces — no online booking — but customer service was great. They followed up the reservation call with an email asking for all kinds of information about the girls – exact sizes, weight, what they eat, everything. They also sent details on how to prepare the girls’ paperwork for entry into the EU. Very helpful – because that was the most confusing part!
Our cost per dog was $800 per kennel space. I believe it may be $1,000 per space now – and large dogs need two spaces (think big, big labradors, for instance), as the kennel master can connect two spaces to make one big one.
For myself, I booked the least expensive cabin possible, since I was traveling alone and spent most of my time with the girls. I ended up being upgraded to a cabin with a sheltered balcony, which was amazing. This upgrade is apparently not all that uncommon for first-time cruisers but it was a complete surprise to me, and very much appreciated.
To prepare for the trip:
Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.
The best online explanation of the papers needed to take your U.S. pup into the EU is on the USDA APHIS site. We prepared everything for the UK, since that was our landing point and, since it's still part of the EU at least for now, the rules were the same as for Portugal anyway. Once we arrived in Lisbon, we had a mobile vet check both girls immediately.
We also worked with a local vet clinic that was well versed in foreign travel paperwork. The most difficult part was timing. Once our vet completed the paperwork, we had a small window of time to get it endorsed by a separate APHIS vet, as well as a small window to do the girls’ required tapeworm treatment.
The closest APHIS office to Boston was in Albany, NY. It seems most people overnight their papers with a return envelope included – but we had already sold our house and were living in a hotel for our last few days. We didn't want to risk mailing everything, so we drove to and from Albany in a day. The APHIS office knew exactly what to do, and did it quickly – we were there maybe 20 minutes.
We were finally ready!
Once we'd jumped through the paperwork hoops, all I had to do was show the papers during our check-in process for the QM2. A nice woman wrote down all the details for each dog and sent us on our way. Easy peasy.
Now the tricky part. We had to figure out how to get the girls from Southampton to Lisbon. Mike wasn’t interested in the QM2 experience, but he loves road trips, so…
We drove from Boston to New York all together. Once in New York, Mike took me, the girls, and our 14 suitcases to the cruise port. I got checked in with the girls, and finally got to relax a bit.
Getting on the ship was flawless. There's a quick security line and a quiet-ish area where the dogs and owners wait to embark together. That's where papers get checked and Oliver the kennel master comes to introduce himself. Once everyone was there, we all got on together. It's a bit like a parade through the ship, all the dogs and owners, and attracted quite a bit of attention.
Meanwhile, Mike flew out of New York to Lisbon later the same day.
Once in Lisbon, he picked up a rental van and drove up through Spain and France to meet us in Southampton. Because the QM2 crossing takes eight days, the timing worked perfectly. He got to visit wine country, and arrived in Southampton the night before we docked. He was waiting for us when we disembarked the next morning.
It’s important to note that owners are absolutely not allowed to bring their dogs anywhere on the ship outside the kennels (unless they’re service dogs). This means that I spent most of the trip in the kennel area, as did the other dog parents. It's fairly roomy, and we all got to know each other, chatting, reading, and playing with our dogs. As a solo traveler, I enjoyed having someone to talk with, and it was nice that we already had something in common.
I brought along the girls’ blankets and stuffed toys – one each – so they’d feel at home in their kennels. If you’re going, definitely bring lots of dog snacks! I wish I’d brought more, but didn’t really think of it until I saw everyone else with theirs!
In all, the girls loved it so much.
We went in mid-December, so it was gloomy weather and rough seas. One particularly rough night at sea had both girls (and myself) a little queasy, but even so, they had the absolute time of their lives.
Regarding my time on the trip, I'll just add that the food was delicious and plentiful. My cabin was clean and well appointed. The bed was incredibly comfortable. And the steward assigned to my room was helpful, courteous, and unobtrusive.
Every day’s schedule is booked full of opportunities, like ballroom dancing lessons, trivia, or lectures from fascinating experts. You can do everything or nothing. I spent some time in the spa, which was a delight.
The kennels have set hours during which owners can visit. From memory, I think they were something like:
8:00am to 12:00pm
3:00pm to 6:00pm
7:00pm to 8:00pm
The kennel area consists of:
The kennel room itself, which is two walls of kennels, separated by a curtain. Small ones up top (for tiny dogs or cats), larger ones down below. I believe there are 22 in all.
Two indoor playrooms -- maybe 12' by 12' each -- separated by a gate. There are chairs and a couple of small couches.
An outdoor deck, fairly narrow but very long, closed off at either end by a gate. The dogs can run at will along this deck. There's also a lamppost (for British pups) and a fire hydrant (for American pups).
Only dog owners are allowed in the area -- but lots of people stop by the gate to admire the dogs. Tillie became very protective of "her" deck by the end of the week, and would bark when someone approached. Brave girl. Ha.
All of this space is managed by Oliver and his assistant, Aaron. They were fantastic. Whenever a dog does her business -- because the dogs have to go right on the deck -- Oliver or Aaron would run to clean it up and wash the deck. Insert your own “poop deck” joke here.
Oliver and Aaron obviously love dogs, and are very affectionate with them, learning their names and personalities. I cannot speak highly enough about their professionalism and care. They were just great.
The one glitch in our trip happened in Southampton.
Our experience getting off the ship was not smooth, unfortunately. Dogs and owners are supposed to disembark first, and our luggage is held in a special area so we can get in and get out quickly.
I'm sure it's very easy, normally, but for unknown reasons, our group’s disembarkation was delayed by more than an hour, so we were right in the thick of things with all the other passengers when we did get out. It was a bit chaotic, and I hope it was a one-off occurrence.
I understand that *sometimes* there is an inspector at the other end of the trip as well, but not consistently. We were not asked to show the pups’ papers to anyone upon arrival, so I'm not sure how that process works. We just walked off and headed out.
Mike had the rental van ready nearby. Once reunited and loaded into the van, we all headed for the Eurotunnel.
Let me just say, planning is everything. We had booked the Eurotunnel in advance, and had mapped out the road trip both ways. We booked hotels and Airbnbs along the way, so everything was set up ahead of time.
We gave ourselves a week to get back, so overall, the trip took two weeks (one on the ship, one in the van). We visited Chinon, France, as well as a wildly remote area of Basque country, and a couple of other charming areas we never would have seen otherwise.
I do have to add, the girls loved loved LOVED their journey. They had more attention and snuggles (and snacks) than they ever could have imagined, and the other dogs were a lot of fun.
And to remember our journey, each girl got a special QM2 fleece coat and a lovely portrait taken by the ship's photographer. Ours, as you can see, was pure comedy. Wonderful.