Managing editor Rebecca Tobin spent seven days onboard the remastered Queen Mary 2, on a transatlantic crossing from New York to Southampton, England.
ONBOARD THE QUEEN MARY 2 __ One might think the Queens Grill is the most exclusive section of the QM2, but it's not. A small section of the vessel is off-limits to all but two dozen passengers and their VIP handlers.
I'm talking, of course, about the kennels, which is the home for passengers' dogs, and occasionally a feline or two.
The QM2 is unique in this respect, since it's the only passenger vessel (never say "cruise ship" around a Cunard officer) that accommodates pets aside from service animals. And the kennels, which were expanded from 12 to 24 crates during the ship's recent refurbishment, are in high demand: One dog owner said there was a three-month waiting list for an eastbound slot.
Of course, there are quite a few regulations to bringing a pet onboard. The animals are fitted with microchips and vaccinated against rabies and tapeworm, among other requirements.
A berth is about $1,000 per crate per voyage, and just like with humans, the food is included: a selection of kibble, plus daily-baked biscuits (or a room-service order, if that's what they prefer). Onboard preferences are related in advance, but kennel masters also meet with the owners on the first day to map out the expectations and wishes, both human and canine.
But in case you get the idea that these pooches all have papers and bloodlines more extensive than the Windsors, think again. More than one pet on this journey was a rescue dog.
The reasons for transporting a pet via the high seas can be varied. Susanne Frantz said she didn't want to bring her dog, Samuel, to England in the cargo hold. Short-nosed dogs are often banned from commercial aircraft because of breathing complications; there were three bulldogs onboard this sailing.
Oliver Cruz, one of two kennel masters on the Queen, got down on the floor and playfully wrestled with one of the affable bulldogs while the pooch's owners beamed from the sidelines.
The kennel masters are many things, Cruz said, "Clown, chef, waiter," but most importantly, he said, "We are like daddies."
There are four banks of visiting hours throughout the day, and many of the owners take advantage of all four to hang with their dogs. There's an exercise area on Deck 12 aft, complete with a red fire hydrant and a lamppost that are meant to appeal to American and British dogs, respectively.
The kennels are strictly off-limits to regular passengers. On the other side of the gate, however, there is a strong sense of camaraderie, both among the canines, crew and the owners.
In fact, as part of the pre-sailaway socialization routine, Cruz said he and his partner "introduce the dogs to each other, one by one," by name.
Correction: This report was updated to correct the location of the kennels and exercise area: It is aft of the ship's funnel, not around it.