Somewhere over the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, in the North Atlantic Ocean, it is dinnertime on the Queen Mary 2. Per the dress code for four of the seven nights of this transatlantic crossing, men are in tuxedos and women in evening gowns. The table next to mine has already consulted with the sommelier and has been served appetizers. A waiter in a jacket and cummerbund is about to place the entrées on the table when one of the men, in a commanding British accent, instructs the server to hold the entrée, the cheese course, and the dessert until he gets back from the kennel, on deck 12, where he must now go to give his dog “a good-night hug.”
The waiter does not blink an eye. He whisks the plates back to the kitchen and assures the man that after his dog is settled in for the night the food will be remade and brought to the table. Dogs and their owners on the Queen Mary 2 expect to be catered to this way.
This tender nautical scenario could happen only on the Queen Mary 2, a ship that is remarkable in many ways. A mere 118 feet shorter than the Empire State Building, it is one of the largest passenger ships ever built. It is the only transatlantic ocean liner currently in service, and its foghorn can be heard from ten miles away.
The stately QM2 is more like a floating English manor house than a vessel plowing its way across an endless blue-gray ocean. Even in the stormiest seas, the QM2 cuts through the waves like a warm knife through butter. But better than anything else, the QM2 is the only major cruise ship that accommodates dogs. Because what is a British queen without dogs?
The British-American shipping line Cunard, which operates the QM2, has a long and venerable history of ferrying animals across the ocean. Long before refrigeration, the ships had a cow on board to provide fresh milk and cream for the passengers. On the maiden voyage of the Britannia, in 1840, there were three guest cats, and shortly thereafter, like a posh Noah’s Ark, the menagerie grew. Circus elephants, canaries, a monkey, and even a boa constrictor have traveled Cunard.
As it does for its clientele of human royals and movie stars, Cunard has rolled out the red carpet for notable pets. On the roster was Mr. Ramshaw, the world’s only trained golden eagle, who made at least 21 transatlantic crossings on mid-20th-century liners. Rin Tin Tin, the German shepherd star of dozens of silent films, traveled on the Berengaria; Tom Mix and his horse Tony, of the 1930s Western series The Miracle Rider, were frequent passengers. Tony’s hooves were fitted with rubber shoes to prevent him from slipping on the gangplank.
There’s a famous photograph from the 1950s of Elizabeth Taylor leaning over the rail of the original Queen Mary with her little poodle in the crook of her arm. A regular transatlantic voyager, Taylor frequently exercised her dogs by strolling around the sports deck with them. She also consulted with the chef to provide her dogs’ favorite seafood dinners. Not to be outdone, the dog-mad Duke and Duchess of Windsor often traveled with their pugs. At the duke’s behest, Cunard installed a lamppost beside the kennels to facilitate the royal lifting of the legs.
I am on the vast open deck 12 of the QM2, where the kennel is located. I am tightly holding on to my puppy, Ivy. A gale-force wind is blowing so strong I am afraid Ivy will become airborne, like Dorothy en route to Oz, with me dangling at the end of the leash.
Ivy is now six months old. A week after she was born, she was found in an animal hoarder’s house filled with garbage and dead dogs. She was rescued by animal control, sent to a shelter, and then adopted by me when I saw her sad little face on an adoption website. No one knows her exact breed (best guess: a cross between a Chihuahua and some sort of wire-haired terrier), but at five pounds she is a mere scrap of a dog, gentle and accepting. I thought that the Queen Mary 2 would be a good counterpoint to her pitiful beginning.
Taking Ivy as my travel companion required an enormous amount of time and paperwork. Dogs entering the U.K. are no longer quarantined, but I would advise anyone who plans to make the crossing with a dog to start the process a good four months ahead of the trip.
If you are coming from the United States, you will be expected to fill out a byzantine array of forms that establish everything from your ownership of the pet to the markings on its fur. The dog will also need an easily readable microchip, an official pet passport or equivalent identity papers, a recent rabies vaccination, and a tapeworm test that must be taken a few days before the trip.
Know that your pet’s documents (I had 22 pages of signed and certified forms) will be scrutinized at length by customs. No matter how cute your dog is, or whether it just came off the Queen Mary 2, it will not be allowed into the U.K. unless every item and requirement is checked. There are no exceptions (except possibly Queen Elizabeth’s corgis).
Now that Ivy’s fully certified and legal, she and I are welcomed on board by Oliver Cruz, “the first official kennel master in maritime history,” as he describes himself. Except for service animals, all pets must stay with Oliver in the kennel. This is not a hardship. Owners can visit throughout the day and evening, relaxing in a comfortable lounge with couches, chairs, plaid deck blankets, and every kind of dog bowl and toy imaginable. Cunard is currently updating and expanding the kennel facility, scheduled to be completed in time for the New York–Southampton crossing on July 6. In addition to the 22 kennels, ranging in price from $800 to $1,000, the upgraded deck will feature a larger communal dog run, as well as a streetlamp post and a fire hydrant for target practice.
Oliver could not be more excited about his job. It takes him away for months at a time from his family in the Philippines, but the dogs and cats he cares for are his other family and his passion. He finds it almost hard to express how much he loves dogs. “You know the place right behind the ear?” he asks me after five minutes of chitchat. “That is the best smell of all!” I say that I like the smell between the pads of the foot, and he heartily agrees. Obviously we speak the same language.
He tells me about his own homegrown remedies for dogs that get ill on the ship. (Boiled pumpkin chunks work like magic on diarrhea, he’s found.) He is keen on observing dogs that may be having anxiety in their new environment. When a dog seems especially gloomy, he will serenade it with his medley of Beatles songs. Oliver is scrupulous about introducing each dog to the others, formally, by name: “Ivy, this is Mauri; Mauri, this is Ivy.” He remembers the name of every dog on board. If he has favorites he is too diplomatic to say.
When Oliver puts on his spiffy kennel-master outfit, he resembles a bellhop from The Grand Budapest Hotel. We guests take turns posing with him and our dogs for the ship’s official photographer. Oliver hoists an old-fashioned life ring with Queen Mary 2 stenciled on it. Our dogs will never have to depend on such outdated gear, because the first day aboard they are fitted for state-of-the-art canine life jackets. In this animal-loving atmosphere, it is easy to imagine “Women, children, and dogs first!” being called out as we are guided to the lifeboats. At the conclusion of the voyage, our dogs are issued diplomas from Cunard attesting that they have completed a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2.
In my dog-rich life, I can honestly say I have never met a group of people who love dogs as much as the passengers and crew of the Queen Mary 2 do. All day and into the evening, non-dog-owning passengers brave the very windy deck where the kennels are located to stand behind a gate and watch dogs run around and relieve themselves. At times the onlookers are ten deep. Cameras flash and squeals of delight issue forth. It is like preteens catching a glimpse of Justin Bieber.
This appears to be a very British thing, and the few times I sneak Ivy out of the kennel for a stroll around the deck in my arms—a no-no per Cunard rules—it is as if I am cradling a bird of paradise or a basket of emeralds.
“Please, may I see her?”
“Oh, she is so beautiful.”
Ivy is, of course, the best and most extraordinary dog in the world, but before boarding the Queen Mary 2 I thought I was the only one who knew this. “What is she?” I am asked repeatedly. I learn to call her a “mixed breed” rather than a “mutt” to avoid getting death stares. I also learn not to share her sad shelter background because on a few occasions when I do, old dears in their pearls, tweeds, and gum-soled sensible shoes begin to weep.
It is the final night of the voyage. I am rigged up in one of the four formal dresses I have bought for the trip. I am not a formal-dress person; the last time I wore one was at my high school prom. I am desperately trying to remember how to walk in heels.
At the Grand Britannia dining room, I am seated at a table with three couples. Two men are in tuxedos and one is fully arrayed in a kilt and all the finest accoutrements, including a silver dagger in his knee sock. The ladies are equally splendiferous. “Are you traveling alone?” one couple politely asks me as the waiter removes an extra place setting. I feel awkward. There is a long silence. “Actually, no,” I say. “I am traveling with my dog, Ivy. She is in the kennel.”
As if avoiding the proverbial iceberg in the North Atlantic, I have safely navigated my way around social disaster. Manicured hands reach into purses and pockets. Pictures of cairn terriers, Yorkies, corgis, and scruffy dogs like Ivy are thrust at me: “This is Smithy; here is Mr. Biggles and his sister, Ruggles.” Under the table I kick off my high heels. I am having real fun with my new friends.
Transatlantic crossings from $1,250 for an inside room, $1,700 for a room with a balcony; 661-753-1000; cunard.com.
An American Dog in London
After docking in Southampton on the Queen Mary 2, my puppy, Ivy, and I continued on to London, and to the exquisite Rosewood Hotel (rooms from $540; 252 High Holborn; 44-20/7781-8888; rosewoodhotels.com). When we arrived, we found Pearl, the hotel’s resident golden retriever, splayed out in the middle of the stylish lobby.
To say the Rosewood spoils its dogs is like saying a Bentley is a cute little car. In my room there was a wicker hamper overflowing with dog food, cookies, treats, and toys. There was a big, soft dog bed and beautiful walnut bowls for food and water. In front of Ivy’s bed was a starched linen mat embroidered with her name. It was changed daily.
The only thing to do after luxuriating in such stellar digs is go shopping. Below is a selection of the delightful canine salons and haberdasheries we discovered.
Since 2002 Holly & Lil (103 Bermondsey St.; 44-20/3287-3024; hollyandlil.co.uk) has been the maker of the most beautiful bespoke leather dog collars and halters. Unable to restrain myself, and without a shred of buyer’s remorse, I ordered a black leather halter with a skull and bones on the chest plate and a hand-stitched leather Union Jack collar.
At Bow Wow (50A Earlham St.; 44-20/7240-0818; bowwowlondon.org) you will find a perfectly curated collection of unusual dog items, from French dog perfume to whimsical beds in the shape of log cabins, garden homes, and sports cars.
With locations in Notting Hill, White City, and Chelsea, Purplebone (purplebone.com) offers gentle grooming services and a variety of dog paraphernalia all expressing the house credo, Bold Statements. Especially charming are the tartan and lumberjack-checked collars.
With prices starting at about $1,400, LoveMyDog (36 Ermine Mews; 44-20/7739-4337; lovemydog.co.uk) creates custom coats and outfits in a vast array of tweeds, velvets, trimmings, embroidery, and fabrics. The process involves a design consultation with a staff designer and, after the approval of sketches, at least two fittings. Clothing is usually ready in eight to ten weeks.