By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
PORT AUX BASQUES — Before the summer rush, Marine Atlantic announced a new amenity to several of their vessels, much to pleasure of passengers sailing with their furry companions. Darrell Mercer, Corporate Communications Manager with Marine Atlantic, said the response to the new pet friendly cabins so far has been quite positive.
“It’s basically a service that pet owners have been asking for, for quite some time. They wanted to have the ability to bring their animals into their cabins during the crossing. Over the last number of years we have listened to the feedback, we’ve looked at what options could be made available — recognizing we could have infrastructure limitations — but last year we initiated a pilot project to see how the response would be from pet owners. It was very positive, so we expanded it this year, and on June 6 it was made available to customers on the Blue Puttees, Highlanders, and Atlantic Vision.”
Currently there are eight pet friendly cabins available on each of those vessels.
“We don’t have any pet friendly cabins on the Leif Ericson at this point in time, simply because it is primarily our commercial vessel, and the demand just hasn’t been there from our commercial customers. So on the three passenger vessels, we have eight cabins dedicated to customers traveling with their pets,” explained Mercer.
It seemed the demand was definitely high for the passenger vessels as each of the pet friendly cabins booked up very quickly over the summer months.
“As soon as we announced that they would be available this summer, we started to receive a significant amount of calls from customers who wanted to avail of the pet friendly cabins. Obviously, the cabins in general were very popular this summer. We saw a significant increase in traffic coming out of COVID-19, but from a pet friendly cabin perspective, they were booked up fairly quickly. A lot of pets travelled with us over the summer and the feedback we did get from customers was very positive. They really liked the option of bringing their pets to the cabins during the crossing,” confirmed Mercer.
Marine Atlantic will continue to offer them on its three passenger ferries at least throughout the rest of this year.
“It wasn’t just a summer initiative. It is something that will continue on into the fall and winter. We will continue to receive feedback to see what improvements we can make, whether it’s still popular with customers in the off-season. So we will continue to gather that information, but right now, every bit of feedback we received from the customers who’ve used those cabins say they are a welcome addition.”
When it was first announced, Mercer said there were some concerns voiced by individuals with pet allergies, but the Crown corporation took the necessary steps to ensure the safety of those passengers.
“The cabins that are designated as pet friendly are the same on every crossing. They are the pet friendly cabins and are all in a section where they are next to each other,” said Mercer. “When we first initiated this back in June, we did get concerns from customers with allergies who were worried this would impact their ability to travel, but what we said to those customers is that those pet friendly cabins are specifically for those travelling with pets. They are in an area that is away from a lot of the other cabins, so we did accommodate people who did have those concerns in areas that were not close to those cabin options. We do recognize that some people had concerns, especially those with allergies, but we try to work around that as best we can.”
Mercer said there is a kennel area on all of the vessels where the animals are able to go relieve themselves during the crossing.
“In the kennel area there is a pet relief section so the animals can go out there to relive themselves and that seems to function fairly well for most animals. There haven’t been any significant problems with that. Obviously some animals are a little more sensitive to the environment than others, but we are trying to make it work for as many animals as possible and where there are issues, we try to overcome those as best we can.”
Mercer said there haven’t been any significant concerns since the implementation of the pet friendly cabins over the summer season.
“Overall it’s been fairly well received. Obviously when you have that many crossings over the summer with that number of pets, you will have some additional circumstances where you may have to clean up some animal waste that may have happened, those types of things, but for all intents and purposes, our customers looked at the policies we have in place and the guidelines, and they abided by those guidelines fairly effectively. So from our perspective it was a success, and we will continue to monitor coming out of the summer and into the fall and winter season. We are certainly happy to have that option available to customers.”
Marine Atlantic does plan to include pet friendly cabins on its newest vessel, projected to enter service in 2024-2025, but until it gets the necessary feedback from this fall and winter season, it remains too early to say whether or not any additional cabins will be designated as pet friendly on existing ships.
Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News