“Service” is a watchword aboard the whole RCL fleet and is also a key requirement for any dog that accompanies a guest while cruising.
Much has been made recently regarding “emotional support” animals and various transportation industries, including cruise lines, and Royal Caribbean recognized a need to clarify things.
“Basically the company changed a policy regarding emotional support dogs in order to provide a seamless cruise vacation experience for everyone,” says Ron Pettit, RCL director of Disability Inclusion & ADA Compliance.
Essentially an exclusion from the “no pets” policy on all of its vessels, it comes with very specific requirements. Only service animals, usually dogs, are permitted.
“They are trained to perform a function or task or benefit for a person with a disability,” Pettit explains. “For example, they guide people in walking around, navigating their environment. They retrieve objects from the floor. Sometimes they may turn lights on and off; sometimes they open doors.”
Others may be trained to alert their owners to such impending problems as low blood sugar levels in diabetics or oncoming seizures for those with epilepsy. Some may alert those who are deaf or hard of hearing to a knock at the door or a ringing phone.
While the most familiar service dogs may be those that assist someone who is blind, “in fact, they help more people with types of disabilities other than blindness,” Pettit explains.
Those guests who plan to bring service dogs on board also must be familiar with the restrictions in place at their ports of call, such as health documentation for rabies or even import licenses.
“Many of these countries don’t distinguish between pets and service animals, so they apply the requirements unilaterally, regardless of the type of dog it is,” Pettit says. “At times dogs may not even get off the ship. For example, it’s virtually impossible to travel with a service dog and get off the ship in Jamaica.”
Even in the U.S., he notes, Hawaii has much stricter requirements than the rest of the country, and the UK also has tight controls. Links to various sources of such information are included in the online posting of RCL’s policy regarding service animals.
If the dog must remain aboard during a port call, it’s the guest’s responsibility to provide for its tending, perhaps by a companion or a family member on the cruise. Although an onboard staff member may occasionally agree to handle the chore, the crew is in no way required to do so.
“The other thing that people talk to me about is ‘Where do they go potty?’” Pettit adds. “We do provide areas on ships for that, generally with mulch.”
Broad exceptions to the policy have been made in extraordinary circumstances. During its relief and evacuation efforts after last year’s hugely destructive hurricanes in the Caribbean, RCL allowed evacuees – including staff from its Miami headquarters – to bring animals with them. In all, 127 pets were evacuated while the cruiseline provided 13,050 pounds of animal supplies for them and those that remained.