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How to Bring a Service Dog on Cruise Ships

How to Bring a Service Dog on Cruise Ships - ServiceDogCertifications

Your service dog can go with you almost anywhere, and this includes the open seas! Bringing your service dog on a cruise ship allows you to enjoy your vacation safely and comfortably, without extra worry about your health. Want to bring your service dog on a cruise ship? Keep reading to find out how you can have a cruise ship vacation with your service dog.

Service Dogs on Your Vacation

A service dog is there to give you more options for living your life safely with your disability — including on vacation. You deserve to have the vacation you want. And you can have the vacation you’re dreaming of because you have a service dog.

Traveling on vacation with your service dog takes some planning ahead. You’ll have to consider the needs of your service dog, opportunities for play, and keep in mind the environment you need for your service dog to be comfortable. Also, remember that, like on an airplane, physical space (especially within the cabins) is exceptionally limited. Practical issues like whether the size of an animal can be physically accommodated must factor into your vacation plans. 

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Going On a Cruise With Your Service Dog 

Most cruise ships are not pet-friendly. However, exceptions are made for service dogs, because a service dog is not a pet. Service dogs assist people who have a disability; therefore, most cruise ships make exceptions for service dogs. 

Cruise ships are a convenient way to travel with your service dog, as long as you plan. Because cruise ships have smaller rooms than hotels, you may need to factor the size of your service dog into your travel plan. It’s best to contact the cruise line before purchasing a ticket to inquire about their accommodations for people with disabilities and their service dogs. 

Cruise ship at a port in the Carribean
Before booking tickets for your vacation on a cruise ship with your service dog, make sure to check all requirements. Our FAQs below can help you prepare.

Not surprisingly, first-timers on cruises with their service dogs often have a lot of questions. Here are the most common questions about going on a cruise with service dogs:

Where do service dogs relieve themselves on a cruise ship?

themselves. After all, cruise ships don’t have vast swaths of grassy areas made for dogs! Fortunately, most cruise lines have areas designated as service dog “relief boxes.” The service dog owner can request a service dog relief “box.” This box is typically filled with mulch, sod, wood shavings, or faux grass and kept in a private service area. 

Can a service dog go anywhere passengers go on a cruise ship?

A service dog may accompany their owner anywhere other passengers have access. However, some cruise ships may prevent service dogs from entering areas where their presence might pose a health hazard, like the medical bay or swimming pool area. For the most part, service dogs can accompany their owner to the cruise’s shops, restaurants, and onboard ship activities.

Will the staff watch my service dog for me? 

As much as anyone would love to spend time with an adorable service dog, cruise ship staff are not obligated to watch a service dog. Furthermore, many cruise ships don’t allow owners to leave their service dogs unattended, even in their cabins or staterooms. 

Cruise ships often stop at various ports, and passengers disembark for land activities. If a service dog owner disembarks, they must either take the service dog with them or make arrangements for the dog to be cared for. Grooming, walking, and relieving the service dog are also not the responsibility of the cruise ship staff. 

Does my service dog have to be registered or certified?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require documentation for a canine to be a service dog. However, doing so can make traveling less stressful and much more enjoyable. A readily available document can enable a service dog owner to avoid misunderstandings. 

Under the ADA, third parties can ask two questions to verify a service dog:
1. Is the service dog required due to a disability? and
2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

While documents like registrations, service dog certificates, ID cards, tags, and vests are not required, you probably have seen many service dog owners carry these items. That is because they can be incredibly helpful in indicating to others that a dog accompanies you due to your disability. 

It can be especially helpful on a cruise ship to have service dog accessories, so other passengers understand why a dog was allowed to board. 

Does the cruise ship offer dog food for my service dog?

The cruise ship does not carry dog food, so service dog owners must bring enough food for their dogs to last the duration of the trip. Even all-inclusive cruise ships do not offer food for service dogs.

Does owning a service dog require a letter from a doctor? 

Owning a service dog does not require a letter from a healthcare professional. Although a healthcare professional may be necessary to determine whether you have a qualifying disability. For that reason, some owners of psychiatric service dogs do obtain PSD letters.

A PSD letter is from a doctor or therapist who has determined whether a person has a qualifying mental health disability for the purpose of owning a psychiatric service dog

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Other Factors to Consider When Going On a Cruise with a Service Dog

The same concerns that come up when traveling with your service dog also apply to cruise ships. These are a few other factors you may need to comfortably travel with your service dog.

1. Your Service Dog’s Behavior

Although the ADA protects your rights as a service dog owner, the cruise ship can still ask you to keep your service dog out of common areas if your trained service dog does the following:

  • Growls or barks excessively
  • Bites guests or crew members
  • Relieves themselves in areas other than the designated relief station 
  • Aggressively lunges at guests or crew 

Cruise ship guests may have to “tender” to get on or off the cruise ship. A tender is a smaller boat used to reach a larger ship. These tenders have limited space and may be shaky and unsteady. This experience can be unsettling for a canine, so be aware of your service dog’s emotional state. 

How Service Dogs Should Behave - Infographic - ServiceDogCertifications

2. Vaccinations and Yearly Physical

Cruise ships may ask for your trained service dog’s vaccination papers and last check-up. To simplify the process, ensure you keep up-to-date with your dog’s vaccinations and veterinary appointments. 

3. International or Interstate Documentation 

Service dog owners are responsible for gathering all mandatory documents for the animal, and this includes documents to depart the ship in ports of call and at the ship’s final destination. 

For more information on document requirements for a few destinations, visit:

Cruise Ships with Your Service Dog 

Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, and Disney Cruise ships allow legally defined and trained service dogs. Each cruise line has parameters regarding booking and registration for service dog owners. 

For example, Norwegian asks its guests with special accommodation requests to complete a Guest Special Needs Request form at registration and must book two weeks in advance. Traveling with your service dog is your right, but make sure you complete the appropriate procedures with your particular cruise line. 

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