Royal Caribbean International’s Ovation of the Seas had an unexpected passenger aboard a late October sailing, one that required immediate quarantining. Much to the surprise of the ship’s crew and local biohazard officers, a cat was discovered onboard.

A pet cat was found aboard the 168,666-gross-ton, Quantum-class Ovation of the Seas on a recent cruise while the ship was sailing a one-way voyage from Honolulu, Hawaii to Sydney, Australia. The 19-night cruise departed Hawaii on Sunday, October 15, 2023.

According to The Post, the cat was discovered in a guest’s cabin, though the guest has not been identified, nor have there been any details released of just how the furry traveler was smuggled aboard through security checks. The cat is believed to have originated from Arizona.

New Zealand biosecurity agents in Wellington, where Ovation of the Seas had diverted when foul weather meant the ship could not visit Auckland as planned at the end of October, found the cat during an otherwise routine inspection of the ship.

These inspections are always carried out when ships enter from foreign destinations to ensure that no invasive or dangerous animals, insects, plants, or other possible environmental hazards could be introduced.

Photo Credit: Venturelli Luca / Shutterstock

The cat was “bonded” to the vessel’s captain, meaning the captain is officially caring for the animal and ensuring it did not leave the ship without authorization. While it remained on the vessel, the cat was kept in a secure area of the ship and was checked by biosecurity inspectors.

Once Ovation of the Seas reached Lyttelton on November 18, the cat was taken into quarantine to ensure it is healthy and not carrying any pests or diseases that could be devastating to local animal populations.

The passengers who brought the cat onboard are not being prosecuted for violating live animal import regulations.

Royal Caribbean International has taken responsibility for the cat’s expenses, and will pay for transporting the cat back to the US once the quarantine period is complete and the cat is cleared for travel.

Most likely, the cat will be returned to its owners, who have undoubtedly learned a great deal about why pets are not permitted on cruise ships.

Service dogs are welcome aboard all Royal Caribbean ships, but pets are never permitted.

According to the cruise line’s Service Animals webpage, “A service dog is defined as ‘any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.’ Service dogs are not considered pets.”

It must be clear that an “emotional support animal” is not legally defined as a service animal, which must be task-trained beyond simply providing comfort. Emotional support animals are still considered pets.

Cat on the Deck (Photo Credit: garageofh)

When guests travel with a service dog, they are responsible for meeting all requirements of any destination where they may debark with their animal, whether at ports of call or if on a one-way repositioning cruise. This may include meeting specific vaccination requirements and providing appropriate permits to travel with the animal.

While cats can be trained as service animals, it is very unusual to do so as most cats do not have the temperament to reliably perform disability-related tasks. Cats can make excellent emotional support animals, but they are not classified as service animals with that designation.

There is no indication that the cat aboard Ovation of the Seas was considered any type of service animal, therapy animal, or emotional support animal.

While service animals do sail regularly on cruise ships – Carnival Cruise Line recently addressed its service animal policy – other animals tend to stow away without authorization.

Most often, these stowaways are birds, such as the masked booby that recently took refuge aboard a Disney cruise ship, or the burrowing owl that set sail with Symphony of the Seas in March.

One famous animal – also a cat – does have authorization to sail. That is Bug Naked, the pet Sphynx cat of Captain Kate McCue of Celebrity Beyond. Her pet cat (a very special exception to onboard animal policies) has been fully vetted and immunized for international travels and is kept under strict watch at all times, including when strolling about the ship in a special pet stroller.

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