A cruise is a wonderful option for travelers looking for an adventurous, yet relaxing vacation. However, while their all-inclusive accommodations can make life easier for humans, they can be more restrictive when it comes to animals. If you are an owner of a service animal and plan to take a cruise, be sure to research the company’s policy relating to service and support animals.
Policies for pet travel are not consistent across cruise lines, and since some are owned and operated by international companies, there may be differing definitions of what is considered a service or support animal. For most cruise lines across the world, service animals are allowed for persons with disabilities. The acceptance of emotional support animals, on the other hand, may vary depending on the cruise line. Additionally, as most cruises stop in multiple international locations, it is also important to research the policies of the places you will visit. Depending on the port of call, different government policies may require extra documentation for service animals.
Traveling to different countries with your animal can be particularly complicated when you consider the vaccination and documentation requirements. Each country is different, and you don’t want to be in a situation where you have entered a country with your pet, only for the authorities to stop you at the port. Unvaccinated animals may be quarantined, and you could even be fined if you don’t do your research and provide the necessary documentation.
In any case, if you talk with your cruise line ahead of time and research the regulations at each port of entry, you can avoid headaches during your vacation. But you’re probably wondering which cruises are the most “pet-friendly,” and what makes them so. We will take a look at a few of the best cruise lines for animals, but first, let’s look at the differences between pets, service animals, and emotional support animals.
Pet, Service Animal, or Emotional Support Animal — What Are the Differences?
Obviously, everyone knows that a pet is simply an animal that you or your family owns for companionship. They are not used to treat any particular condition, and you did not need to get special permission from your doctor to obtain them. They are simply an animal that lives with you and provides you with love and company.
That said, it is important to note the differences between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. Service animals (typically dogs) have been trained to perform specific tasks that a person is incapable of performing on their own. For this reason, service animals are allowed in public spaces where other animals (including emotional support animals) may not be allowed to go.
Alternatively, emotional support animals are not trained in specific tasks, nor are there as many limitations on the types of animals that qualify; dogs, cats, birds, and even miniature horses can qualify as emotional support animals. In the United States, the Fair Housing Act covers the legal definitions of emotional support animals. This law helps protect emotional support animals and their owners when attempting to rent a living space. So, if you or someone close to you suffers from asthma, but the condition is not considered to be severe, an emotional support animal may be the best option for you.
Those dealing with asthma also have the option of seeking treatment with a therapy dog, but this is a little more complicated, as therapy animals are often used exclusively in treatment facilities. To put it simply, a therapy dog is any dog that meets certain criteria required to provide psychological and emotional support to an individual. However, by this definition, most dogs would probably qualify. Many people adopt dogs for this very purpose: to provide emotional support and companionship. In reality, therapy dogs are used for specific intervention treatments for those suffering any kind of mental pain or debilitation.
Therapy dogs can be used for a variety of circumstances. For example, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospice care facilities often use therapy dogs to combat loneliness and depression among the residents. When children (or adults) suffer the loss of a close family member, therapy dogs are a great way to encourage healing and help the individual cope with emotional trauma.
It is important to note that there are different kinds of therapy dogs that all serve different purposes. Generally, therapy dogs can be divided into three categories:
- Therapeutic Visitation Dogs – This is the most common type of therapy dog. These pets and their owners visit hospitals, mental health facilities, and other healthcare centers to prevent patients from feeling lonely, disconnected, or hopeless.
- Animal Assisted Therapy Dog – This type of therapy dog is generally reserved for rehabilitation clinics. Under the guidance of a trained physiotherapist, these dogs help patients regain mobility through various motor-control activities.
- Facility Therapy Dog – These dogs are often used exclusively in elderly care facilities to alert staff of any issues with the patients. They also provide companionship to the residents, many of whom do not have any living friends or relatives outside of the facility.
What Constitutes a Pet-Friendly Cruise?
People may have different definitions for what can be designated as a “pet-friendly cruise.” For example, since the regulations regarding travel can vary by company, you might consider any company that allows service animals or emotional support animals to be pet-friendly. Others might only consider cruises to be pet-friendly if they allow for any kind of pet (regardless of medical needs). Still others might want to consider the accommodations and services that cruises provide specifically for pets and their owners.
So, in order to bring some clarity to this issue, we have outlined a few criteria that help differentiate pet-friendly cruises from non-pet friendly cruises. Let’s take a look at how you can tell the difference:
This is by far the most important criteria. Whether or not a cruise will allow you and your animal onto the boat is vital when trying to determine if the cruise is pet-friendly. In this respect, there are generally 4 different policy types that vary by cruise line:
No pets allowed
These cruises have a zero-tolerance policy with pets. They do not allow any kind of pets, service animals, or emotional support animals onto their ship. This is generally specific to international cruise lines that are not beholden to US laws regarding travel accommodations for service animals. However, since many cruise lines are based outside of the US, you may find quite a few that do not allow any animals on board.
You may think that this kind of policy is overly harsh or restrictive, however, these cruise lines have their reasons. First of all, not all pet owners are responsible for their animals, and this can lead to safety issues if the animal is allowed to roam free. Additionally, other passengers may be uncomfortable having an animal on board, especially if they are allergic to animal dander.
Service Animals Only
This type of policy is common among US cruise lines. However, this is not something that the cruise lines have a choice on. By law, service animals must be allowed to travel with their owners, so cruise lines based in the US are simply following the rules, and nothing more.
Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals
This type of policy is more open, as it allows any kind of animal that is needed for medical or emotional assistance. This is an additional step that cruises must take, as emotional support animals are not protected under the law. For example, airlines are not required to accept emotional support animals on their flights.
All Pets Allowed
An “all pets allowed” policy is the most open and accommodating, but is also extremely rare. This is usually reserved for “themed” cruises that are designed specifically for animal lovers. However, even with such an open policy, there will certainly be restrictions on the size and type of animal that you can bring onboard. For example, you may have an emotional support horse, but most cruises would not be able to provide the necessary accommodations for such a large animal.
Pet Related Services, Amenities, and Accommodations
Generally, if any kind of travel business allows for pets, they will have policies and services in place to ensure that the animals can be safe and relatively comfortable. However, some cruise lines are more accommodating to animals than others. For example, a truly pet-friendly cruise will provide amenities like baggies to help clean up after dogs, as well as designated areas for animals to play.
That said, when it comes to your animal’s specific needs, most cruise lines leave the responsibility to you. Most cruises will provide you with information related to items that you must bring with you (pet food, crate, medications, etc) before you board the ship.
Major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, and Disney Cruises all accept service animals but have different policies depending on the ship and where it takes you. Let’s take a look at a few of the best major cruise lines and how their pet policies compare:
Royal Caribbean defines a service animal as a dog that helps tend to a person with disabilities. While documentation is not required to show proof the animal is a certified service pet, they do specify that the service animal should be a dog. Service dogs are allowed in public areas, including dining areas, however, Royal Caribbean does not provide food or care for service animals. Small relief areas filled with mulch are available on the ship, and there may also be shared areas if multiple service dogs are onboard. For more information, please review the Royal Caribbean Cruise Policy.
Carnival only permits working service dogs onboard their ships, which does not include service dogs in training, other service animals, or emotional support animals. Guests are required to have all the proper documentation and immunizations for their service animals in hand as they board the ship. This information will be reviewed and validated prior to boarding. A complete review of the Carnival Cruise Policy is available.
Norwegian accepts service animals under the ADA guidelines but they do not accept emotional support animals. For service dogs to board the ship, guests must provide up-to-date vaccination records as well as a USDA or International health certificate for their service dog. Guests must also bring their own food, medication, and life jacket for their service dogs as Norwegian does not provide these items. Norwegian’s detailed policy is available on their Accessibility Assistance site.
Disney Cruise Lines
Lastly, Disney Cruise Lines permits service animals onboard their ships that are in control and on a leash at all times. There are some areas that service animals are not permitted such as the pool or other wet areas, and service animals are not allowed to be left alone in their room. The cruise line accepts no responsibility for feeding and caring for the service animal, so guests must plan to bring dog food, toys, and other necessities. Additionally, Disney Cruise requires that all permits and documentation, including those for each of the ports of call, be submitted prior to the sale date. For more information, check out the Disney Cruise and Service Animals Policy.
While the policies may differ slightly on where service animals are permitted and what documentation is required, all of these cruise lines need to know in advance if there will be a service animal onboard, sometimes as much as 30 days prior to sailing. It is your responsibility to bring all of the documentation you need, not only for the ship but for the various ports as well. Nonetheless, each of these companies has representatives available who would be happy to assist you!