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.