Cruising is an increasingly popular way to travel, but if you travel with your dog, there’s virtually no options available. Yes, you can take a Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2, but it’s far from affordable and often kennels can book out a year in advance.
Most regular cruises, whether in the Mediterranean or Caribbean, don’t allow dogs on board. I’ve heard it’s due to hygiene reasons, but I believe it’s just a matter of time until some offer the option.
However, if you want to cruise already with your dog, one of the best options is a 2-night Baltic Cruise within Europe. My discovery occurred when taking the Tallink Silja Line ferry between Stockholm and Helsinki.
See, this wasn’t just a regular ferry, not even like ones I had previously taken on overnight voyages. It was a mini-cruise ship, and many of the passengers on board were taking a two-night cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki, with a day ashore in Helsinki.
And just like one-way passengers could take their dog along (an affordable option for getting between the cities on the Baltic, once a night’s accommodation is considered), passengers on the mini-cruise could also bring their dog!
So let me tell you more about this dog-friendly Mini-Baltic Cruise…
Potential Cruise Itineraries with Tallink Silja Line
Tallink Silja Line currently operate overnight cruises between Stockholm and both Helsinki and Tallinn. Previously, they also operated overnight cruises to Riga, but these are temporarily on hold. You can take an overnight trip in either direction.
The ships between Stockholm and Helsinki sail daily, while the ships between Stockholm and Tallinn currently sail every 2nd day. Double check the latest schedules on their website.
Each of the overnight voyages departs late afternoon (our cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki departed at 4:55pm), then arrives in port the next morning after breakfast (we arrived in Helsinki at 9:55am). Allowing time for disembarking and re-boarding, you’ll have up to 6 hours on-shore at your chosen destination.
There are also shorter round-trip cruise options available between Helsinki and Tallinn, plus Stockholm and Turku, in southwestern Finland.
Booking a Mini-Cruise with Tallink Silja Line
To book your mini-cruise on the Tallink Silja Line website, click on the Roundtrip Cruise option and the relevant pair of cities. Select your departure date and number of passengers, then click “Book Your Trip”.
To find the dog-friendly cabins, scroll almost to the bottom of the page to the “Traveling with Pets” section, and choose your preferred cabin option. (I explain more about the cabins below.) The price is per cabin (not passenger), and is slightly more expensive than the regular cabins.
Make sure you also click to add your pet to your booking. There’s a standard fee of €32 per pet, per roundtrip journey (or €16 each way), no matter what the class of cabin. There’s a maximum of 3 pets per cabin, with no size restrictions, although “dangerous” dogs are not permitted.
I recommend booking at least a few weeks in advance, ideally a few months. There are a limited number of pet-friendly cabins on each ship (about 10 on our ship, out of hundreds of cabins), so they often tend to book out quicker. Booking early will also usually save you money, like when booking a flight in advance.
Building Your Own Cruise Itinerary
It’s also possible to make up your own cruise itinerary, rather than just spending a single day in a single destination port. For example, you could spend a night in your destination, then return the following day.
As Tallink Silja Line also offers a ferry service between Helsinki and Tallinn, you could create your own cruise visiting Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn. However, the prices for one-way trips are often more expensive than roundtrip prices.
Also, there’s the issue of what to do with your luggage. (With a roundtrip cruise, you leave it in your cabin during the day.) But it’s possible!
The Pet-Friendly Cabins on Tallink Silja Line
When it comes to pet-friendly cabins on the Tallink Silja Line ships, there are three classes available on most ships: A-class, B-class and C-class. In total, there are about 10 pet-friendly cabins on most ships, although the Baltic Queen has 18 pet-friendly cabins.
Pictured below is the B-class cabin that we had on the Silja Serenade travelling between Stockholm and Helsinki. Our cabin had two separate beds (plus unused bunk beds above), but no window (just a “painted window”). It was located on the upper deck of cabins, just one deck below the dog exercise area (nice and handy for late-night and early-morning toilet stops!)
The A-class cabins were located in the same area, but had windows. While the C-class cabins were on a lower deck and sometimes just have a single pair of bunk beds (for 2 people). All cabins have an ensuite toilet and shower, although it’s nothing fancy. The rest of the cabin though was nicely decorated, including a table and stool, multiple power points and plenty of lighting options.
My recommendation would be to choose an A-class cabin if possible. As dogs aren’t allowed in all areas of the ship, you’re probably more likely to spend time in your cabin with your dog, compared to the average cruise passenger. And when you board in bright sunshine, entering a cabin with no window doesn’t make you want to spend time in it, at least in my experience!
On a few of the routes, pet kennels are also available. I wouldn’t recommend using this option, as it’s much nicer to have your pet in your cabin, especially as the price is the same. Although we did use the kennels on the short 2-hour crossing between Helsinki and Tallinn, as we didn’t want to book a cabin, and were quite happy with them.
However, if all pet-friendly cabins are booked out on the date you want to travel, they may be an alternative option.
The Facilities On-Board the Silja Serenade
What makes the voyages on the Tallink Silja Line a cruise, rather than a mere ferry, are the facilities available on-board. There’s not just a single large restaurant like I’ve encountered on most ferries, but instead multiple dining options, a pub, a wine bar, a casino/nightclub and even a New York-style lounge, complete with late-night karaoke.
Be warned that prices are not cheap, although when you’re sailing to or from ports in Scandinavia, the prices aren’t that unusual. It’s currently possible to book the buffet dinner online for €43 (as of 2022), with the buffet costing more onboard. You can also book breakfast in advance for €15 or €22.
Other facilities include a children’s play area, a spa with private saunas, multiple shops including a large airport-style duty-free shop, and a large sun-deck up on top.
Dog Facilities & Rules On-Board
While there some rules for dogs, travelling with a dog onboard the Tallink Silja Line was quite laidback. We boarded with no special arrangements, walked through the main promenade to the lift to our cabin, and could take our dog in and out of the cabin as we pleased.
The main place we took our dog to was the upper deck, the designated dog exercise area. At the rear of the deck is a gravel filled sandpit for dogs to do their business, along with plastic bags and a bin.
It was great to have a proper dog-relief station, compared to other ships I’ve travelled on where my dog was expected to go on a section of open deck. However, it can get quite windy up on top, and it wouldn’t be the nicest trek to the end of the deck in inclement weather.
When the sun is shining, the upper deck and its outdoor bar makes for a nice spot to relax with your dog. There’s plenty of large tables and a relaxed vibe. Naturally dogs are not allowed in the other restaurants and bars, indoors on the ship.
The rules are slightly different for small and large dogs. Larger dogs over 8kg must be leashed and wear a muzzle when outside the cabin, and are not allowed in the indoor public areas. Smaller dogs in a carry bag are allowed in indoor public areas, except for the bars, restaurants, pub and kids zone.
Dogs are not allowed to be left alone while the ship is in port, but can be left alone for short periods while cruising, such as when you have dinner and breakfast. If you’d prefer not to do this with your dog, the alternative would be to grab some take-away food at the more casual cafes.
Additionally, no dogs are allowed in beds.
Paperwork for Your Dog
To travel with your pet aboard the Tallink Silja Line ships it is expected your pet has an EU Pet Passport, including a rabies vaccination done at least 21 days beforehand. However, at no point was our dog’s passport checked. Additionally, some countries have specific requirements.
If you are travelling to Helsinki (Finland), your dog is required to be wormed by a vet between 24 hours and 5 days before your arrival in Helsinki. We prepared for this in Stockholm, visiting a vet in the suburbs, which cost about €50. However, this was not checked at any point.
If you are travelling to Stockholm (Sweden), you are required to report the arrival of your dog to Swedish Customs. This can be done by passing through the red “something to declare” lane when you arrive in Stockholm. Alternatively, you can fill in a form online.
For more information, click here. I actually only found out about this when leaving Stockholm (when I saw the signs at the port), so missed doing this, luckily without any consequences.
There are no special requirements for Tallinn (Estonia) or Riga (Latvia).
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