Moving to Europe with Dogs: Kennels on the Queen Mary 2

Spoiler alert: Our dogs loved the Queen Mary 2 — which is good, because it’s the only transatlantic ship with kennels.

I’ve been meaning to write about our experience taking the dogs to Europe for awhile now — what the Queen Mary 2 kennels were like, what we loved about the trip, or didn’t, and how we prepared. If you’re curious about how to cruise across the Atlantic with your dogs, read on.

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Tillie and Macy, ready for their transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2.

The Queen Mary 2: A great way to move pets overseas

As I mentioned, the QM2 is the only ship in the world that does transatlantic crossings with dedicated kennels on board.

But the cruise takes eight days, which is more time than I had originally wanted to spend traveling. Also, our QM2 crossing started in New York City and ended in Southampton, England. This left us quite a ways off from our destination: Lisbon, Portugal.

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The Queen Mary 2 is a much more relaxed way to cross the Atlantic. Courtesy Cunard.

So it takes some time and it’s on the spendy side. Why did we do it? Our two pups, Macy and Tillie, aren’t great candidates for flying.

They’re about 26 pounds each, so they’re too big to go in the cabin of an airplane. Macy was 15 years old when we moved, and on the frail side. We weren’t sure she could even get vet clearance to travel in the plane’s cargo area — and even if she could, we didn’t feel great about it. Tillie, on the other hand, is physically healthy but has serious anxiety (as rescue pups often do). She gets nervous without us and straight up panics at loud noises, so air travel was a no-go for her, too.

Otherwise, they have no major health issues and are pretty sociable ladies, so — after exploring airlines, cargo ships, and even private jets — we decided the Queen Mary 2 kennels were our best option by far.

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The Queen Mary 2 leaving New York City. Courtesy Cunard.

QM 2 kennel reservations: Book in advance

This is the most important piece of advice I can give you: Book your QM2 kennel space as far ahead as possible.

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 that chance, since we needed two spots. If you need just one kennel, others have said they’ve booked the Queen Mary 2 a mere 12 months out with ease.

We had to call Cunard to book the kennel spaces — no online booking for the dogs — but customer service was fantastic.

Cunard followed up my reservation call with an email asking for all kinds of information about the pups: exact sizes (I mean really exact), weight, what they eat, everything. The QM2 staff also sent details on how to prepare the girls’ paperwork for entry into the EU. Very helpful – because that was the most confusing part!

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There are so many enriching activities on the Queen Mary 2 — from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Book through CruiseDirect.com for great deals on transatlantic cruises on the Queen Mary 2.

QM2 kennels: What does it cost?

Our cost per dog was $800 per kennel space. I believe it’s more like $1,000 per space now – and keep in mind that large dogs need two spaces (think big, big labradors, for instance). For those bigger pups, the QM2 kennel master can connect two kennel 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. To my surprise, Cunard upgraded me to a cabin with a sheltered balcony, which was amazing! I learned later that this upgrade is not all that uncommon for first-time cruisers — but it was an unexpected delight for me, and very much appreciated. 

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Preparing your dogs for the Queen Mary 2 kennels

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. 

The best online explanation of the papers needed to take your US pup into the EU is on the USDA APHIS site. We prepared all of our paperwork for entry into the UK, since that was our landing point (and it was still part of the EU at that point, so the rules were the same as for Portugal anyway). Once we arrived in Lisbon, we had a mobile vet check both girls immediately.

Before we left the US for Portugal, we worked with a local vet clinic in Boston that was well versed in foreign travel paperwork. I can’t stress enough what a relief it was to have someone who understood the process of moving a dog to Europe. Even if you have to look around a bit, it’s worth the effort.

The most difficult part of getting the dogs ready to travel was the timing. Once our vet completed the paperwork, we had a small window of time to get the papers endorsed by a separate APHIS vet, as well as an even smaller window to do the girls’ required tapeworm treatment.

QM2 paperwork for dogs: Find your closest APHIS vet office

The closest APHIS office to our home in Boston was in Albany, NY. I found out that 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 in the US. We didn’t want to mail the paperwork and risk losing it, so we drove to and from Albany in a day. A pain, yes, but on arrival, the APHIS office knew exactly what to do, and did it quickly – we were there maybe 20 minutes.

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Dogs enjoy a plush life aboard the Queen Mary 2. Courtesy Cunard.

Boarding the Queen Mary 2 with your dogs

Once we’d jumped through the paperwork hoops, we were ready.

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. The Queen Mary 2, by the way, is really an impressive ship, even from the dock.

The boarding process for the Queen Mary 2 was flawless. There’s a quick security line and a quiet-ish area where dogs and owners wait to embark together.

Once we’d gotten through security (where, by the way, Macy got so excited she tried to board without me), I sat with the girls waiting for our papers get checked. That’s when Oliver, the Queen Mary 2’s kennel master, came to introduce himself. He was friendly and relaxed, and put us all at ease from the minute we met him.

Then I only had to show the vet’s papers to a lovely woman who was checking in all the dogs. She wrote down details for both girls and wished us a happy voyage. Easy peasy.

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The Queen Mary 2’s opulent grand lobby. Courtesy Cunard.

Once everyone had arrived, we all boarded together. It’s a bit like a parade through the ship, all the dogs and owners together, and attracted quite a bit of attention from our fellow passengers.

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, once I saw how many everyone else brought along.

Travel from Southampton to Lisbon after our transatlantic crossing

There was one tricky part to our trip overseas: We had to figure out how to get the girls from Southampton to Lisbon. Mike wasn’t interested in the transatlantic crossing experience, but he loves road trips, so…

Shortly after the pups and I embarked on our cruise, Mike caught a flight from New York to Lisbon. Once in Lisbon, he picked up a rental van and drove north to meet us in Southampton.

Because the QM2 crossing takes eight days, this 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. 

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The sheltered balcony stateroom, which I very much enjoyed. Courtesy Cunard.

QM2 transatlantic crossing with dogs: What to expect

First, 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 crossing in the kennel area, as did the other dog parents.

I definitely had time to enjoy everything Cunard had to offer: the really extravagant meals, gorgeous Christmas decorations (including a huge tree!), on-board shopping, cozy nooks for reading, and more. I even booked myself a spa day. But, by far, I still spent more time in the kennels than anywhere else on board.

The good news is, the Queen Mary 2 kennels are fairly roomy, and we all got to know each other, chatting, reading, and hanging out with our dogs. As a solo traveler, I enjoyed having people to talk with, and it was nice that, as dog owners, we all already had something in common.

My cabin, by the way, was delightful. I was greeted with sparkling wine on arrival, and my bags (all 14 of them) arrived promptly. The bed was incredibly comfortable. And the steward who attended to my cabin was charming and got to know my routine as if by magic.

Queen Mary 2 kennels: Hours and layout

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.

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.

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Group shot with Oliver the kennel master onboard the Queen Mary 2.

QM2 kennel masters: Oliver and Aaron

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.

Room for improvement: Cunard’s disembarkation process

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 to check the dogs’ papers, but not consistently. We were not asked to show papers to anyone upon arrival, so I’m not sure how that process works. We just walked off and headed out.

Our Queen Mary 2 takeaway: Worth the money

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.

Mike had the rental van ready nearby. Once we finally got off the ship and loaded into the van, we all headed for the Eurotunnel

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, a wildly remote area of Basque country, and a couple of other charming areas we never would have seen otherwise. 

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.

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