Hubby, service dog, and I all cruised from San Francisco down to Mexico this month. While I'll address other aspects in other posts, this will be about the service dog aspect. I travel with Hugo often, but this was his first cruise.
There are a few different standards to be met when traveling with a service dog. The further ahead you plan, the better and cheaper. For example, we had to schedule 2 separate vet visits to meet the timeline requirements... Rabies vaccine needed to be more than 10 days prior to travel, while the health certificate needed to be within 72 hours of travel.
1) AIRLINE REQUIREMENTS
Book the ticket and mark the special services spot
Call the airline to verify your request went through, and to ask if bulkhead is available
Correct them a million times, that he is a Trained Service Animal, not an Emotional Support Animal. (This distinction is important because psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals have an additional form to be completed by the handler's physician or psychiatrist.)
They tell you to log into their app or website to upload your vaccination record, health certificate, and some statement that you sign attesting that your dog is properly trained. I actually didn't do that, I just showed up at the airport with my 2 forms and it was fine, but that isn't a risk I'd take again.
2) CRUISE SHIP REQUIREMENTS
Email special services with a description of your dog, their task, and what that task looks like when it is being performed. Be detailed.
Receive email with all the rules you have to follow while on ship. Sign, scan, and email that back to them. ASK FOR VERIFICATION OF RECEIPT. My first attempt did not go through.
Really read the rules.
3) FOREIGN COUNTRY REQUIREMENTS
Vaccination Record - with Rabies more than 10 days prior to entry
Health Certificate - less than 72 hours before departure
Veterinarian statement that dog is on regular heartworm, flea, and tick preventative
APHIS 7001 form, signed by a USDA veterinarian. My vet is NOT, so it had to be mailed to the state veterinarian for a signature. This process added a week.
It's easy to assume that you won't need anything extra to to "to the US, from the US", but you do! Cruising to Alaska, you need this form to get off at Port of Juneau! Hawaii has special forms too. Check your destination requirements.
Also, make a grooming appointment as close to travel as possible.
MY DOG'S PACKING LIST
Portable Cup/Bottle We have this one
Tug/Throw toy (not super bouncey like a tennis ball)
Lovey toy (avoid squeakers)
Chewies (use in room only, as they can be stinky)
Vest, Collar, Walking Leash
30 foot leash (for exercise, playing on the beach, etc)
Life Jacket - the cruise line has some on hand, but I ordered one for peace of mind that it was a proper fit.
Training materials & treats
Boots if appropriate to your destination
Halt dog spray (in case of aggressive street dogs)
Artificial Grass panel (to put in the potty box)
ACTUAL FLOW DURING TRAVEL & OTHER NOTES
Airline Counter: can't use the kiosk to check in due to your flight record being marked as needing special services, so go straight to the counter. They want to see your ID and the dog's health certificate and vaccination forms. They don't keep a copy.
Security: can't use the "stick 'em up" scanner, have to go through a metal detector and have your hands swabbed. Your carry-on will also be searched, as they can't tell what the dog food is from the images. I use a kurgo 6 in 1 leash and it has never set off a metal detector. Flight: get on with pre-boarding so you have time to settle your dog. Also, with a dog at your feet there's never room for a bag, so this way you ensure having space for your bag in the overhead compartment. (I've only been denied preboarding once, by someone who thought I looked too able-bodied.)
Shuttles/Ubers/Lyft: cannot legally deny you boarding. However, some Uber drivers have canceled the trip upon pulling up and seeing my dog. Keeping a thin blanket in your bag for the dog to sit on can help keep their vehicles hair-free.
Cruise boarding: Every single person who worked at the port seemed to have been briefed ahead of time, as my dog was greeted by name at every turn. We gave them one of our documentation packets and boarded as normal. Purser's Desk: This is your first stop after boarding. Give them a packet as well. Find out where the dog bathroom box has been placed. Go find it first thing. If you can't locate it on your own, go back to the Purser's Desk and ask to be escorted to it. Potty Box: This was placed on the promenade in a spot that was sheltered from the wind. It was a wooden box approximately 2 feet wide and 5 feet long, lined with thick black plastic, and filled with large mulch. We added artificial turf we brought from home. It took him almost 20 hours to use it the first time, but everything was fine after that. When they poop, you just pick it up in a poop bag as usual, and deposit the bag in the trash can wisely placed there by staff.
Passengers: Even more popular than "what does he do?" is "where does he potty?"
Neighbors: I put a sign on our door saying "service dog inside". While everyone was on their balconies, I said "hello neighbor! Just want to let you know we have a dog with us, in case you see a nose under the barrier I don't want it to freak you out!"
Dining: our breakfasts were at the buffet. Hubby would sit with Hugo while I went and got a plate of food. Then he'd go get his own while Hugo checked my meal for allergens. (I still haven't figured out how I would do this solo, as no one is paying attention to where their feet are going when they're at the buffet. Perhaps room service.) For lunch and dinner we ate in the anytime dining room, but almost always went first thing. We found a table that worked for us (it had a pillar in a good position) and requested to have it every night. While many service dogs stay under the table during meals, Hugo's tasking has him beside me. Having a wall or pillar handy keeps him from getting stepped on and also prevents a lot of distraction from other passengers.
Immigration: The Purser's Desk left us a voicemail on our room phone telling us when and where to meet with immigration. You only have to do it once. In our case, we met in a dining room at 7:45 in the morning. They get a packet too. They do a quick physical inspection of the animal, looking at their eyes, teeth, ears, and checking for any signs of ill health or parasites. Tenders: as Hugo is small, we just carried him over the part where the tender and the ship meet. Depending on the boat, he sat either on the floor between our legs, or on a bench next to me. Other people are *very* close on tenders and will often sneak a petting. Note: only one stop on our four-port route had tenders rather than docking. That's something you can check ahead of time. In Port: You have to keep in mind that other country's laws are not the same as the US when it comes to service animals, and you have no right to expect things to be the same. As is, we were only turned away from one restaurant. We found it easier to walk in the middle of residential streets, as the dogs for each home would rush at us when they saw Hugo. I carried a can of Halt! dog spray - basically doggy mace - in case of any issues with street dogs, but they were pretty much all mellow and responded to a stern tone. In fact, then only trouble we had was when a young kid went to kick my dog, and his dad grabbed him.
Dear fellow handler,
As this was Hugo's first cruise, I definitely was freaking out a little beforehand. I even had a nightmare about it. But people cruise with service animals every week. If they can do it, and I did it, you can do it too. Make a list of all the requirements for each step. See where they overlap. Note the timelines for each, and make yourself a master timeline. Breathe.