TOP 10 REASONS TO TAKE YOUR GUIDE DOG ON A CRUISE
Cruising these days has become one of the best bangs for your buck vacation experiences. For those of us with out of the ordinary travel challenges taking a cruise can be the difference of having a fabulous fun time or a way less than spectacular experience.
There are lots of reasons to go on a cruise and we can go into those at a later time but for now I want to focus on those of you out there who have guide dogs and are wondering if cruising is a good choice.
Let me just simply say right off the bat that yes, cruising is absolutely a great option to consider. Especially if your desire is to get unplugged and way far away.
If your concern has been that cruising with a guide dog will be difficult nothing could be further from the truth. Having your furry friend with you will make your experiences on the high seas and in exotic ports cascade over the top. I have been on many cruises where I’ve seen many blind passengers enjoying all the fun events that go along on a cruise with complete independence.
Here’s my list of the top 10 reasons to go cruising with your guide dog
GETTING AROUND ON THE SHIP CAUSE YOUR DOG WILL REMEMBER PLACES YOU;VE BEEN
Getting around on a cruise ship for those who can see better than us is easier. Boy, there’s an understatement for you. But I am here to tell you that I have seen more confused fully sighted folks getting turned around than blind people. I think that’s cause sighted people rely so much on what things look like than we do. For us, it’s easy once we get the directions figured out. The cool thing about being in a self contained environment, like on a cruise ship, is that your dog will remember places you’ve been before and take you there kind of on auto-pilot. For your guide dog it’s really no different to them whether you’re on a ship or on land. You know, cool places, like the ship’s version of Starbucks is just like taking you to the actual Starbucks at your local mall. Even better at the end of the day, your cabin, after a night of sing-along at the piano bar.
GIVES YOU MORE FREEDOM TO EXPLORE ON YOUR OWN
Let’s face it, you work hard for your money and you deserve this vacation. You deserve to make the most of your cruise. You can sleep when you get home. So you want to enjoy all that your ship and those exciting shore excursions have to offer. So how you gonna do that if you simply stay in your cabin? Well, you can’t. So grab that harness and head out the door. OK, now the good thing once you do that is there are mostly only two directions to go. One will take you forward towards the front of the ship and the other will take you aft towards the back end of the ship. You’re now out of your cabin and you start to think where’s this or that. Yes, you do have to think a little. A destination does help. Do I need to go up or down? Here’s something to remember about cruising; whether it is a crew member or fellow passenger you always have someone who is willing to lend a hand. There have been many times when I found myself wondering if I were headed in the right direction only to find another passenger who was wondering that exact same thing. Many a new friend has been made navigating the Dolphin Deck while on our way to the Lido buffet. But I did say that you have the freedom to explore on your own. What I mean to say is that there are lots of things to do while on a cruise ship. And having a guide dog with you allows you to roam freely and safely in all the public spaces. If you want to go to the theater to watch a show you can do it. If you want to enjoy a meal with friends in one of the specialty restaurants, you can do that too. And if you and your dog want to do those things on your own with independent confidence you can do that as well. And lots more.
GOOD WILL AMBASSADORS THAT HELP YOU MEET NEW FRIENDS
One of the things that I am always reminding folks of is that there are a lot more people out there who misunderstand what it is like to be blind than those who do. It is education of the masses my friends. But it is more than that. It is representing all blind people. Remember that saying about how you only get one chance to make a first impression? In this regard a blind person is no different from a person with perfect vision. When you navigate around the ship with your guide dog, expertly getting from one place to another you are seen as a confident and competent individual. Almost everyone I meet on a ship loves dogs. Passengers always want to know your stories as they relate to you and your guide. And they love to tell you stories of their own as well. Conversations get started because of you and your dog. Friendships are made because of you and your wonderful canine companion.
ON SHORE EXCURSIONS AND WALKING TOURS USING A GUIDE DOG MAKES IT EASIER TO KEEP UP WITH FELLOW EXPLORERS
Sometimes shore excursions can be pretty confusing due to the sheer numbers of participants to say nothing being in a totally foreign place. But having a guide dog along can really enhance the experience. In many cases tours are broken up into smaller groups. Typically, for example, on walking tours 20 or so cruisers may be guided at a time. In most cases the tour guides will take special care to help blind folks by allowing them to walk near them. That’s awesome for a number of reasons. One of the best ones is that you can allow your dog to work in a sort of normal way by sticking with the tour guide and you get to hear every word the tour guide is saying. By working your guide with someone who is very familiar with an area you can enjoy much the same experience as everyone else. One of the best tours I’ve been on was a walking tour of Dublin in which our group of both blind and fully sighted passengers were treated to some wonderful Irish stories. By the end of our tour all three guide dogs were just as full of blarney as the rest of us. And, yes, pubs were involved.
GREAT PHOTO OPS WITH THE CAPTAIN, CRUISE DIRECTORS, CREW AND FELLOW PASSENGERS
If you’ve never taken a cruise before you will be amazed how many opportunities there are to be photographed. And as photogenic as you may be when it comes to a waggly tail, big brown eyes and flopping ears you probably can never compete. I have sailed many times with many guide dogs and it is always a treat to have their pictures taken with everyone from the Captain to Santa. Any photo with your pup in it taken while you’re on a cruise or shore excursion will become an instantly treasured keepsake. Smile for the camera, Fluffy!
SPECIAL MEMORIES FOR CREW WHO ARE FAR FROM HOME AND MISS THEIR POOCHES SO MUCH
And it is not just passengers that look on lovingly as you and your guide dog navigate the Promenade Deck. Think about this. Imagine having to leave a pet you love so much for nine months or more without any opportunity of seeing them. You’d miss them terribly with all your heart. Cruise ship crew members are under usually about a nine month contract and stay on the ship most of the time while they remain far from home. So now, imagine how exciting and heart warming it is for them to be able to watch your dog. And I can tell you from experience that if it is appropriate and you are able to allow them to interact with your guide those will be truly special moments for them and your act of kindness will have absolutely made their day.
COMPANIONSHIP IF YOU’RE TRAVELING ALONE
If you are a person who is on their own then you already know what a great companion your guide dog is when he or she is off duty. You know that when the harness comes off they turn into true dogs. By day; a super guide! Capable of navigating huge obstacles in a single swerve to keep you on the right path and earn that praise or little treat. By night; a roley poley, legs in the air, ball chasing, eating and slobbering machine who would do anything for just one more scratch of the ear or tickle on the tummy. So here’s the thing; on a cruise ship it’s no different. They are there for you. Their master, their mate, their friend. To them, it’s simply a new, exciting adventure. For you, there’s no reason to put off a cruise cause you think you have to have a room mate. Not true. You’ve already have one. Granted, they may have more legs and a little bit more hair than you do but they’re still a friend and room mate.
WHILE YOU’RE AWAY YOUR DOG WILL MISS YOU
Well, you’ve decided to take that well deserved cruise you so richly deserve. You vacillate on whether or not to take your guide dog. Will it be a hassle cause a cruise ship is a boat out on the water? Where will I take her to potty? Where will he sleep? Can my guide dog handle the new situations for a week or more away from home? A cruise ship is just like a floating hotel with a mall in the middle and night time entertainment venues. Think of it from your guide dog’s perspective if you decide not to take her. Mom, where you going? Can I go too? What do you mean you’ll see me in a week? I don’t want to stay with Aunt Judy!! Take your dog with you. You might not miss him so much since you’ll be having so much fun. That is, of course, till you have to navigate with your cane. But, consider this, your dog will miss you. And even though upon your return there will be lots of tail wagging, rest assured, there will also be pay back.
NO NEED TO FIND AND PAY FOR A DOG SITTER
Let’s face it, nobody likes to pay more than they have to. Even though airline fares and cruise prices are pretty affordable these days those dollars can add up. Adding the cost of boarding your guide dog on top of your cruise costs can pretty much just wipe out that “good deal” you thought you were getting. The good news is that taking your guide dog with you on a cruise is easy and fun. By deciding that your furry friend can wag along with you instantly create another benefit. When your guide goes with you on your cruise this translates into dollars that you can use that would not be available to you if you had to pay for someone to watch and care for your dog during your time away. Plus, she’ll always have the best care in the world since she’s with you cause you know where her favorite snuggle spot is. You know that feeling where you think nobody can take care of my dog as good as I can? Well, taking your guide dog with you on your cruise is a way for you to avoid wondering if your best friend is being cared for in the best way possible.
YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO TAKE THE FAST LANE THROUGH SECURITY AT THE AIRPORT OR CUSTOMS AT THE CRUISE TERMINAL
You know, just about everybody loves dogs. And that includes TSA and Customs agents. Just like a white cane is recognizable to many people as an indication that its user may need some special assistance. Guide dogs, even more so, often allow others to realize that you’re a person that may be appreciative of some additional direction. There have been many times when I’ve arrived at an airport and because I had a guide dog with me was allowed to take the fast lane through the TSA checkpoint. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I was still scrutinized like other passengers but the wait time and the endless and confusing zigzags through endless lines got over with in much less time. Does this scenario always happen? No. Every airport is different and every TSA entry point seems to have its own nuances. But when it happens in your favor, and we can sure use those any chance we get, it makes for a great day. And since we’re talking about cruising with your guide dog we could also add here that coming back through customs, even before you do that airport thing, can also be a lengthy navigational nightmare. Having your guide dog with you as you make your way back onto dry land can certainly be a blessing. Remember how big your cruise ship was? Well, the cruise terminals are basically massive metal and concrete structures that aside from providing shelter for all those people from the ship. They also do one other thing real efficiently. They echo like crazy! Talk about sound overload! So having a guide dog with you to help you navigate through the barrage of sounds is a great thing indeed. I can say from one who’s been through cruise terminals both with and without guide dogs that having one with you will get you through the re-entry process much faster.
BONUS TIP: CRUISE LINES LOVE TO MAKE YOU AND YOUR GUIDE COMFY AND COZY
You know how after a while of being together married couples can finish each other’s sentences? Well, over time, it’s kind of that way for you and your guide dog too. You, as a team, become symbiotic. She knows when you need loving and you know when she needs food. And now we have arrived at the most popular question we get when we bring guide dogs on the ship. It’s like one of those NASA Space Shuttle type questions. Got it yet? “Where do they go potty?” Over the years I’ve come up with some pretty descriptive and funny answers. Like, “Why do you think they call it a poop deck?” But the truth is that as long as the cruise lines know you are coming ahead of time they will make arrangements for your dog to take care of business. Usually they provide, in a discreet and private place, a wooden, plastic lined box that is about 4 foot square. It is filled with absorbent materials like cedar wood chips. They will also provide trash bins and bags for you as well. The good news, too, is that after awhile, when things start to get a little fragrant, the crew will change out the wood shavings as well. This is true whether you are cruising with a group or even if you cruise alone. As long as they know you’re coming they will accommodate you and your dog’s needs. Don’t you wish you had this kind of service at home?
These are some of the reasons why it is great to have a guide dog sail the high seas with you. I hope to see you and your best friend sometime out there on the ocean. It is a great way to experience the world! And if you can do it with your furry friend, why not? If you have any ideas you’d like to share feel free to send us a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.