“Coco has sailed across the ocean more than 70 times.”

I am standing on Deck 12 of the Queen Mary 2. Above us the sky is clear and the sun is bright, below the North Atlantic is blue and rolling, around us the air chilly and fresh.

A few minutes earlier, on one of my midafternoon walks around the enormous ocean liner, I had happened upon a group having their picture taken below the huge letters that spell out Queen Mary 2 atop the great ship.

This was not just any group of tourists either. It was the 10 dogs and one cat sailing on the QM2 with their owners. After much petting and shuffling and barking, the group finally managed to hold it together long enough to get a collective shot, and then they were off again, dragging their owners this way and that, happy as … dogs can be on the open sea.

Soon my attention is captured by a small gray and white dog and its owner, dressed in gold platform sneakers, a white fur stole, and sparking Chanel logo earrings. I quickly discover that the dog, Coco, is the veteran of the lot. According to her owner, Coco is Cunard’s most popular dog, having sailed more than 50 times, and judging by his calm demeanor as the ship rocks gently to and fro, it’s clear he’s the definition of a, er, salty dog.

Like many pet owners, the ones sharing my passage from New York to Southampton, England, loathe the idea of flying their beloved pets long distance. Or any distance at all. Plane rides, especially for larger animals required to fly in the cargo section, can be tough. By boasting the only kennel at sea, Cunard aims to offer a kinder, gentler alternative to getting your pet from here to there.

Located way up on Deck 12, the Queen Mary kennels can hold up to 10 pets. During an upcoming refit, Cunard will add 10 more kennels, as well as a lamp post and fire hydrant for sniffing and the doing of business.

Adjacent to the kennels there is a small, private deck where the pets and their owners can walk around, as well as a separate inside room with comfortable chairs where they are able to hang out. As one owner who had spent most of the cruise in the pet quarters pointed out to me, if you are going to take the trouble to sail your pet across the ocean, you are probably a person who likes to spend a lot of time with them.

However, much like many of the human passengers I spoke with, these dogs were not simply out on the ocean for a few days of fresh sea air. With the exception of Coco, the über-sailing pooch, every one of the owners I met was moving from North America to Europe and had opted to sail their dog (or cat!) instead of flying. (Because of quarantine rules, the kennel is only available on the QM2 route between New York and Southampton, and sometime Hamburg.)

This is no easy feat. Getting a spot in the kennel takes some planning; you will need to book at least a year in advance, and up-to-date vet papers, signed off on shortly before disembarkation, are a must. One owner I spoke to had put deposits on three sailings to ensure their pup got a spot. This may change a bit in 2016 as the QM2 goes through an overhaul and expands its kennel. It’s not cheap either. An upper kennel is $800 and a lower kennel $1,000.

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