WHEN super-luxury Queen Mary 2 that's currently in our neck of the woods gets back to Southampton in a few weeks' time, there'll be one small group in particular waiting most-excitedly to go aboard the first of the very popular sailings she makes across the Atlantic between Southampton and New York every May to December.
For these special dozen it will most likely mean doing the crossing in both directions – Southampton to New York and New York back to Southampton – providing a chance to catch up with old mates from crossings past.
And so VIP are they that they'll have a choice of bed sizes and blankets awaiting them, nightly bed turn-down, gourmet cookies fresh-baked every evening for supper, a personal QM2-logoed warm coat in the event of cool days on deck at sea, and a memento group photo to take home 'til next they meet…
But sadly they'll not be able to really communicate their appreciation of all this indulgence with the you's and me's… For they're in fact the pets of human guests who regularly take their best-friend companions along with them on their own annual QM2 trans-Atlantic holidays.
And there are plenty who do so, year in, year out, and quite often more than once in the season.
QM2's owners Cunard Line have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure pets' comfort and well-being on these sailings, including an air-conditioned Pet Centre with a dozen kennels/cages, a full-time "Pet Master," additional "Pet Walkers," and even poles and posts for scratching and other matters.
And a "playroom" full of pet toys, their very own food dishes for feeding-times – even individually-fitted lifejackets.
And in the event of an emergency, a one-on-one crew member nominated to get each pet safely out of the Pet Centre day or night.
Food is premium-brand only, of course, and there's an exclusive section of deck set aside for dogs to meet-up at different times daily with their owners for socialising and walkies in the fresh air (but cats are confined to the Pet Centre, being more Houdini-capable in the outdoors than dogs.)
And while pets today on QM2's Atlantic Crossings are confined to cats and dogs only, Cunard in the past allowed all manner of critters aboard their vessels until a decade or so ago.
The Line's first ship, Brittania had three cats on her maiden voyage in 1840, and other pets have ranged from canaries to a boa constrictor.
Travelling circuses have also put their fair share of the unusual on board, including elephants, lions, tigers, monkeys, horses and others needed for shows in England one month, and across the Atlantic in America the next. Try that with Quarantine today.
Britain's Duke and Duchess of Windsor never travelled anywhere without their beloved pugs Mr Disraeli, Mr Chu, Trooper, Imp and Davy Crockett, and at the Duke's behest the company would even install a second-hand London lamp-post on the deck of whichever of their ships the Windsor's were next booked aboard with their dogs.
Actress Elizabeth Taylor in the 1950s took her puppies with her whenever she travelled with Cunard, exercising them several times daily around the Boat Deck… and giving the galley recipes for different seafood dishes each night for her pups, and not hesitating to drop in to ensure they were getting what she'd ordered.
Silent-era cowboy movie star, Tom Mix and his horse Tony were amongst the most-regular "pardners" on Cunard's Atlantic crossings in the 1930s, as they travelled between America and England to perform their "Miracle Rider" western shows – Tony having special rubber "galoshes" over his hooves so he wouldn't slip on the gangways and polished decks.
And the world's only trained golden eagle, Mr Ramshaw made twenty-one trans-Atlantic voyages with his British falconer owner/trainer and exhibitor Captain Charles Knight, while canine super-star Rin Tin Tin was another regular Cunard trans-Atlantic passenger.
Today birds, horses, boa constrictors and animals other than cats and dogs are a No-No, and for cats and dogs Cunard has strict conditions, including requiring a vet's Certificate of Good Health, all manner of vaccinations – and a Pets' Passport.
And it costs owner's US$500-$700 for their dog's 7-night one-way crossing, and $1000 for their cat's (as cats need one cage to sleep in, and another for litter.)
 SPOILED for choice: pets on QM2 get a choice of bed size and blanket and other treats. (The Road Unleashed)
 TUCKED-in for the night. (The Road Unleashed)
 ELIZABETH Taylor took her pups with her on Cunard crossings from New York to Southampton – giving the Chef recipes for the pups' favourite dishes. (Cunard Line)
 A DOG Walker takes Cunard Line's mascot, British Bull Terrier, Handsome for walkies on the deck of QM2. (Cunard Line)
 OWNERS meet up with their dogs for socialising several times a day on QM2's Atlantic crossings. (The Road Unleashed)
 PETS have their own lifejackets on QM2 and a one-on-one crew member to get them to safety in the event of an emergency. (Nikki Moustaski)