Monday, June 30, 2014

Dog Friendly Tour in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

This was our second happy adventure with the Victoria Pedicab company (  Asta loves the wind in her hair as we fly down the hills, and all of us like the personal tour and view.

Dog Friendly Tour of Victoria, BC with Victoria Pedicab Company
We arrived on a cruise ship in the port of Victoria on a lovely Sunday afternoon.  Who wanted to go into a stuffy old bus for a tour?  No way.

I emailed Andrew (the owner) ahead of time, and arranged for a 2 hour tour around the city to show my mom and me the sites.

We had Soren as our tour guide - he picked us up right at the pier on time, and at my request, dropped us off at the Empress Hotel (where we had afternoon tea).  Soren had great stories, and showed us some of the most beautiful and historical parts of town.  We were able to get out when we wanted (I stopped at Rogers - one of the oldest candy stores in Victoria - to buy some chocolates!).  

My mom is spry, but not able to walk that far, so this was a perfect alternative to see the town at a leisurely pace.  We also got some nice sun and fresh air.  I highly recommend Victoria Pedicab for a fun way to see the city with knowledgeable tour guides - with your dog, or not.

Emergency Stop for Pet Food in Victoria, BC

We were travelling on the Star Princess from Alaska on our way back to San Francisco.  After 9 days I was running out of my dog's special food (Stella & Chewy's) - bad planning on my part!

Emergency stop at a lovely pet store:  Paws on Cook, Victoria, BC
I knew we'd be in Victoria and emailed a couple of pet food stores that looked as though they carried high quality food.  Jodi at Paws on Cook emailed me back almost immediately. They didn't have that brand in stock, but gave me information on a couple of high quality brands that had similar ingredients.  Wow.  Ok, Sunday afternoon, we set off for Paws on Cook.

I met the proprietress, Jodi, who was personable, knowledgeable and gave me her honest assessment and experience with several foods.  The store also had a great selection of dog squeaky toys, leashes and carriers.

In sum, Paws on Cook is a very pleasant store with a great selection of high quality dog (and cat) items, and owned by a very knowledgeable and helpful proprietress!

Lesson learned - bring extra dog food, and a little research on the internet can save the day!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jumping through the Hoops to Get your Serviced Dog Admitted – Be Self-Reliant!

We are on a fabulous cruise for the holidays: San Francisco to Hawaii roundtrip on the Grand Princess.  For the first time in our experience, two other service dogs are aboard!  A merry trio of Asta the Shih Tzu, Cupcake the Miniature Poodle, and Riley the Border Collie.  We just had our “inspection” from the veterinarian from the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture.  Asta went first.
Microchip number on the documents matched the Microchip number of the chip she carries.

 Original Signature on Health certificate dated within thirty days of our arrival (Frontline application within 2 weeks).

  Documentation of Rabies Vaccination received with 3 year window.

  Rabies Titer documentation (blood test that shows Asta’s antibodies against rabies are properly activated).

  Original note from my mom’s doctor stating that Asta is needed by my mom for medical reasons and what the reasons are (in general).
Asta sailed through with flying colors, and the vet thanked us for getting all our paperwork to them ahead of time.  Note it was sent directly to the Department of Agriculture about ten days before we arrived, and also to the cruise line, so that the port agent could easily pave the way for our arrival.

Cupcake went next.  Unfortunately, Cupcake’s paperwork was not in order.  She was not microchipped.  The vet might have overlooked that, but it got worse.  The latest rabies vaccination information was there, but not the information on the 2 previous vaccinations.  The “killer,” though, was that the test results from Cupcake’s rabies titer did not come through.  Long story short, Cupcake is quarantined to the ship for the duration of our stay in Hawaii.  No grass for her.

Cupcake’s human father was frustrated and angry, and thought the cruise line should have informed him. 
Bottom line, it is not the cruise line’s problem.  If you want your service dog to be able to get off the ship with you, you need to do the leg work personally with the governmental authorities.  Check the website, call them, email them and get confirmation that you have all the paperwork and tests complete.  Then, also, inform the cruise line of what you have done and sent.  It is all up to you!

To finish the story, Riley’s paperwork was in order and he had a wonderful time, especially in the rain in Hilo.  Riley’s human mom told me of their past experience of how they were set to go on a cruise that stopped in Samoa (a U.S. territory).  Riley was confirmed by the cruise ship to go.  She told me that when she checked with the Samoan governmental authorities about clearing Riley to disembark, she was advised that if Riley got off the ship, he would be confiscated and destroyed.  (Even though a U.S. Territory, evidently they do not have to comply with the ADA).  Anyway, unsurprisingly, they did not go on that trip.

Special thanks to the awesome port agent, Paul, from Transmarine.  I met him two years ago on our first cruise to Hawaii with Asta.  He did a lot to train me on this process.  Just saw him again on this trip.  Alas, all of us may not be so lucky to have such a fellow help us through every time. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How to Tip and How Much on a Cruise

How to tip the staff that help make your cruise fabulous is always a challenge.  When you are travelling with a service dog, or otherwise need a bit of extra help and attention, tipping is a "must" in my view.

Specifically, I tip our room/housekeeper staff at the beginning of the cruise (about two thirds), and then a final third at the end.  Same for wait staff in the dining room.  This helps ensure that we get a quiet table out of the way, where Asta the service dog won't get stepped on, and won't disturb other diners.

I do not profess to be an expert on tipping, so I refer you to this article on Cruise Critic:

Here are some of the highlights that I use as a guide (note that this assumes no tips are included in the fare):

Whom to Tip and How Much

Cabin Stewards
cabin stewards $5 a night
For attentive service by butlers who have served as valets, brought trays of tea or hors d'oeuvres, and kept the liquor closet filled, $5 a night at the end of the cruise.

Room Service Stewards
room service stewards $2 per visit.


I give my regular bartender $5 a day. 

If I go to different bars, I leave $1 per drink with the bill -- on top of the automatic gratuity (usually 15 percent).

Wine Stewards If the wine steward has done nothing more than produce and pour the wine I have ordered, I tip him $10 for a one-week cruise.
If the bottle is mine, I tip $10 per bottle, in addition to the corkage fee.

Maitre d's and Head Waiters

I usually do not tip the maitre d'.
On the other hand, I tip head waiters $1 for each night I am in the dining room.

 If, however, the head waiter has promoted ordering off-menu items, prepared special dishes tableside or provided a cake for a special occasion, I would add an additional $5 per person, per service.

Dining Room Waiters

I tip dining room waiters $5 for each night I am in the dining room.

If I dine in an alternative restaurant, I tip the waiter $5 in cash on top of the service charge, which cruise lines tell us already includes gratuity. Dining room waiters usually work in teams of two. I allow the team in an alternative restaurant to divide my tip as they choose. In the main dining room, I divide my tip between waiters (equal amounts) or between waiter and assistant waiters (2/3, 1/3), and put each one's name on an envelope.

Baggage Handlers $20

If I am in my cabin when my bags are delivered, I give the handler $1 per bag, just as I would a bellman ashore. Likewise, if I am escorted to my cabin by a steward I'll never see again, I give him/her $2.

Spa Services

If the spa has added a 10 or 15 percent gratuity to my bill, I round it up (in cash) to between 18 percent and 20 percent, which is what I would normally tip at home.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Letter to the Hawai`i Department of Agriculture, Animal Quarantine Service

We are off to Hawaii for Christmas on Princess Cruises.  Here we are in August, and I have already received preliminary approval from the cruise line for Asta, the service dog, to come on board for our 2 week cruise from San Francisco roundtrip to Hawaii.  Next, I need to get preliminary approval from the Animal Quarantine Service (AQS) in Hawaii for Asta to enter the state under the Modified Program for service dogs, and arrange for her "inspection" in our first port of call, Hilo.  It is essential to get pre approval for entry well in advance.  Also, Hawaii only allows dogs entering the state by airplane to enter into Honolulu.  As we are on a cruise ship in Hilo (not Honolulu), special arrangements must be made.  Here is my letter just faxed to AQS:

Legally Blonde
1234 Main Street
San Francisco, California 94111
Tel. (123) 456 7891
Email. Email @email . com

August 24, 2013

PAGES: ___ (including this letter and 4 attachments)

Hawai`i Department of Agriculture
Animal Quarantine Station
99-951 Halawa Valley Street
Aiea, Hawai`i 96701-5602

Re:  Admission of Service Dog to Hawai`i of Legally Blonde; Asta Microchip#123456789123456

Dear Madam or Sir:

By this letter and accompanying documentation, I am requesting entry of “Asta” my service dog, under the "modified" program for Guide and Service dogs.
I will be arriving in Hawai`i via cruise ship on the Grand Princess on Friday, December 27, 2013 in Hilo on the Island of O`AHU.  This is Princess Cruise # A401 / 15 Days Hawai`i/Roundtrip San Francisco California, Cruise Booking Number:  123456  (Departure Date:  Dec 20, 2013) 

In accordance with the requirements listed on the website, and the instructions emailed to me from your department, I am faxing this information to you requesting entry into Hawai`i of my service dog, Asta.    
Here is our itinerary in Hawai`i:
Fri, 12/27/13  Hilo, Hawai`i   7:00am –  5:00pm
Sat, 12/28/13  Honolulu, Hawai`i   7:00am –  11:00pm
Sun, 12/29/13  Kauai (Nawiliwili), Hawai`i   8:00am –  5:00pm
Mon, 12/30/13  Maui (Lahaina), 7:00am –  6:00pm

In support of this request, please find attached:
·         a letter on letterhead from her physician (Dr. Spock) stating the need for the animal and what it does for me to mitigate or service my disability. 
·         USDA Form 7001 signed by Asta’s veterinarian, Dr. Doolittle
·         Laboratory Report showing Asta passing the OIE-FAVN blood test (matching Asta’s HomeAgain Microchip)
·         Veterinarian’s  vaccination certification (including rabies) (Dr. Doolittle)
Also please find a copy attached of Asta’s formal Assistance Dog tags issued by the City of San Francisco.  I will send you an updated USDA Form 7001 closer to our date of arrival attesting that the dog was treated within 14 days of arrival with a product containing Fipronil.

Yes, I do understand I must give the inspector an original health certificate issued not more than 30 days before our arrival.

Please advise whether Asta will be admitted entry with me, and how we need to proceed logistically upon arrival in Hilo.

I look forward to hearing from you. 
Legally Blonde

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Regent Seven Seas - Best Dog Potty

We returned from a wonderful cruise to Alaska on the Regent Seven Seas Navigator.  The staff was very professional and courteous. 

I have to say that our fellow ship mates were some of the nicest and most understanding of any we have met.  No snide comments about Asta being a service dog.  Very pleasant. 

Of course, we always get loads of questions on how to take a service dog on a cruise - the most frequent being:  where does your dog go potty?  Hands down, Regent provided the best dog potty of any cruise line so far!  Real grass and cedar chips. 

Some special thoughts for travelling with your service dog to Alaska in May:
  • It is cold - really cold.  Dog parka recommended.
  • Seas can be rough - we hit 15 to 20 foot swells.  Bonine or similar motion sickness medicine recommended (check with your vet).
  • The ship docks far away from some towns (like Sitka).  Check how long the shuttle ride is if you want to go out for a quick walk.

Friday, September 7, 2012

San Francisco to Vancouver – Service Dog Rules for Canada

We are planning our next trip with Asta, my mom’s service dog!  This one is on the Regent Seven Seas sailing out of San Francisco to Alaska, and disembarking in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  We booked directly with Regent Seven Seas, and I have to say the booking agent, Mark Langley, was outstanding.  It was truly a pleasure to work with him, and have him take the laboring oar in getting Asta cleared to board with us. 

The clearance to get on the ship is virtually identical to that of Princess and Cunard.  You will need to sign a letter acknowledging that only qualified service dogs are allowed on board, and that certain documentation (such as a doctor’s note and proof of vaccinations) need to be provided.  See my earlier blogpost for details: Health Certificates and Other Required Documentation.

Having survived the drama of getting clearance for Asta to disembark in Hawaii, I peppered our agent with questions on how we can disembark in Vancouver (and fly home).  We both called around, and long story short, a registered service dog in the United States does not face barriers to entry in Canada.  No special documentation is required, other than proof that the dog is an official service dog.  It is against the law and against Human Rights Code for anyone to refuse you. Click here for a service dog website, not a government website, but the law quoted is British Columbia Law. It appears at first to be about guide dogs, but if you read, you will see it includes dogs for other disabilities as well, a.k.a. service dogs.

Note that official service dogs are welcome.  That means that you have proper certification from an authority that requires proof that you need your dog for medical reasons.  Asta is officially registered with the State of California as an Assistance Dog, for example.  See my earlier blogpost for proper certification.  Note that you can purchase “service dog” ID tags over the web without proof.  These are not sufficient in Canada to prove your dog is a service dog.  (I do note that these tags can be helpful as easily visible indications that your dog is indeed a service dog, but you should have an official certification, too.  See my earlier blogpost on Identification.)