One of the unique things about Queen Mary 2 is that she offers passage for pets. The ship not only has a dedicated section for its four-legged travelers but also a trained crew member in charge of these guests. We spoke with Kennel Master Jojo Bulabon about this unusual program. The animal area is located high on the ship on the starboard side of Deck 12 and includes outdoor as well as indoor facilities. The outdoor area is a stretch of open deck where the animals can run, play and take care of business. It is fenced off so that uninvited two-legged passengers do not intrude upon the animals' privacy.
Indoors, the area includes two large rooms. One is a playroom in which the furry ones can frolic and/or spend time with their “parents.” The other room is the sleeping accommodations - - 12 kennels arrayed in two tiers.
As a general rule on passenger ships, the higher your cabin is on the ship, the higher the price. However, here the lower row of kennels commands a higher fare than the upper row. They are somewhat larger and do not require the passenger to be lifted in and out.
The dividers between one kennel and its neighboring kennel can be removed so as to create more spacious accommodations. Thus, 12 is the maximum number of animals who can travel on a given voyage. Often because guests have taken more than one kennel for their pets, there are fewer animals. Of course, an owner seeking to give the pet more room must pay for the second kennel.
Passage is restricted to dogs and cats. While most are small to medium-size breeds, large dogs such as German shapards and golden retrievers have been accommodated.
The dogs and cats do not spend much time in the kennels. Most of the day, they are allowed the freedom of the indoor areas and, weather-permitting, they are allowed out on deck for considerable periods. “I want them to have the feel that they are having a vacation also.”
Like human passengers, the animals spend their time doing different things. When we visited the kennels, all of the passengers were dogs. Some had made friends with other dogs and were playing together. Like the people by the ship's outdoor pools, a beagle just stretched out on the open deck and slept in the sun. Other dogs were interested in playing with various toys. “I have toys here but they like their own because they smell like home and so they are more comfortable.”
One dog sat near the fence that marks the border with the human area patiently waiting for his owner to appear. “Some have separation problems. The first and second [days of the voyage] is very hard for them because it is a big adjustment. They think that they are being ignored, abandoned. So I try to suggest to the [owners] to keep visiting them. [The dogs] know the [visiting] hours so they sit here.”
There are visiting hours in the morning, afternoon and the evening. All told, they add up to six and a half hours a day. There is also a photo event each voyage where owners and pets assemble for a complementary group photo. “Most of the day they are out, their parents are here so that they do not feel lonely or feel abandoned for seven days.”
All of the dogs appeared fond of Mr. Bulabon, often encouraging him to play or coming up to him for a pat on the head. Mr. Bulabon explained this popularity. “You need to observe their behavior. But you need to ask the owners first [about] their behavior. Are they okay with other people?”
He also has to be vigilant to ensure that his guests get along with each other. “They like it here. They all get along but I always have to be on the lookout. Sometimes they get a little bit rough with their play. If one becomes aggressive, the others will become aggressive as well. When they have already started, I keep them separate for many hours so that they will forget the emotions. I have to watch for that always.”
Some more aggressive breeds are not allowed in the kennels. “Pit bulls are not accepted here because they are very snappy. It is very risky for other dogs.”
Above: The outdoor section of the kennels area.
Below: The sleeping area.
Above: The playroom.
Most dogs and cats are good sailors and have no problem with the motion of the ocean. “They have fresh air, they are playing around, they can run so seasickness is very rare.”
Consideration has also been given to what will happen to the pets in case of emergency. Each owner is given written instructions on the procedures to follow under such circumstances. There are even special animal life jackets.
Dining is an important part of any ocean voyage. Sometimes the passengers bring the food for their pets. “Sometimes they request a chef's food - - cheese, paddies, fresh meats, vegetables, carrots, chicken breasts. On the Queen Mary 2, they are called VIP.”
Indeed, the animals receive VIP treatment from embarkation to disembarkation. “I fetch them from the terminal, I am always with them during the embarkation and disembarkation. I escort them here and going out.”
In contrast to the past, there is no quarantine upon arrival at the destination. “Before they come here, they must have papers showing they have had all their vaccinations. [Papers showing that they have met] all the requirements must be shown to the Chief Purser. And before they can depart the ship, all papers must be set.”
Cats and dogs are only allowed passage on transatlantic crossings. Thus, there are no furry passengers on QM2's annual world cruise or on her occasional summer cruises. This is primarily due to the fact that different countries have different requirements regarding animals and compliance with the requirements of each port of call during a cruise would be difficult. Besides “I think seven days is enough for [the pets] here. Seven days is fine with them. It is not stressful to them.”
There is considerable demand for the transatlantic crossings. Guests seeking to bring a cat or dog aboard typically have to book a year in advance and there is often a waiting list. Nonetheless, some animals are experienced cruisers. One cat has done 12 transatlantic crossings. “That Jack Russell over there has nine crossings.” Mr. Bulabon pointed to a small dog who was gathered with several of his fellow travelers.
Dogs and cats are not allowed outside the kennel area. An exception is made for service dogs who must be with their owners in order to do their job. “I just give them the life jacket and I prepare some boxes in the crew stairways for them to make a poo-poo. That is all of my [connection to the] service dogs. The service dogs and the passenger dogs have different regulations.”
Cruise ship interview - - Cunard Line - - Queen Mary 2 - - Kennel Master Jojo Bulabon