Let's Go to Stonehenge! Part II Cruises: Pets and MOOCs

This is the second in a new series of blog posts about travelling....starting with a place I have actually visited before: STONEHENGE!

If you missed my first post about my dream vacation, here is the link:
Let's Go to Stonehenge! Part I Ocean Liner to the UK: Pet Friendly

My dream vacation is to take my dogs on a walk at Stonehenge, and I want to travel to England on The Queen Mary 2 Cruise Ship by Cunard. I have two small dogs and, much as I'd love to train them to go on kitty litter that I could change in my cabin, ships rules prohibit fraternizing with pets in most areas on board. Pets have their own space, their own "poop deck",  and their own kennel and attendants. Apparently, ship pets have a life of their own. Maybe there's something to learn from that.

According to online resources, kennel space is in high demand. Some people suggest booking kennel space as far in advance of the trip as 8 months to 2 years. That's a long time, even for one kennel space, and I might need two spaces. It's not that my dogs don't get along. They do. In fact, sometimes they behave like a loving married couple...until meal time. That's when the competitive streak comes through.

Can my two little dogs stay together in the same kennel space, and have the attendant feed them separately? I'd have to contact the cruise line and ask.

Cunard suggests contacting the cruise line directly, through their main telephone number at Cunard.com, to make kennel arrangements for pets when booking a cruise. According to the Cunard website, the cruise line has experience sending all the required paperwork to potential clients including details of the international rules of pet travel, as every dog and cat on board must have all of the paperwork for the Pet Passport Travel Scheme.

So how to get the best price on tickets, if I have to contact this exclusive cruise line to book the cruise? According to Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompete/Compete Ventures, LLC:

Anytime you book a cruise directly with the cruise line, you have the opportunity to transfer that booking to an agent for a certain period of time. When that window is depends on the cruise line, but it's often 60 days. In this scenario, the customer could book with Cunard, then put a request into CruiseCompete for competitive quotes, and then transfer the booking to the agent with the best offer.

The transfer process is very easy. The agent does all of the work and you can keep the same cabin and booking number.

If I can expect a bunch of regulations and paperwork to be coming in for my dogs, it might be a good idea to take a look at what I'm going to need for my own passport and visa too...and in the meantime, the idea of taking my dogs for a walk at Stonehenge is getting a little daunting. After all, I live in California. Miles from Stonehenge. And the idea of filling out a lot of boring paperwork doesn't sound very fun. Fortunately, there is a perfect solution for energizing my dream vacation planning. Perfect, that is, if I can find a MOOC about Stonehenge.

What is a MOOC?

For my readers who haven't experienced a MOOC, it's an acronym for massive open online course. MOOCs have been around for about a decade as of the date of writing this post. I discovered MOOCs a few years ago, when one of my peers mentioned a free course about Roman Architecture on social networking.

Roman Architecture was an amazing course and one of the most amazing things about it was it was offered, for free, by Yale University...not by someone who uploaded their own video while wearing a Yale t-shirt. The course was offered to anyone, anywhere who had an internet connection. After years of weeding through questionable online content, I found MOOCs to be both refreshing and interesting.

There are numerous MOOC provider websites, and open courses on practically every topic imaginable. I've participated in MOOCs about architecture and metaphysics, as well as horses, traditional healing methods, computer programming, business and more. (Here is the link for an embarrassingly long list of MOOCs I've experienced.)

For a nominal fee (usually less than $100 USD for most courses) a course participant may receive a certificate as proof of taking the course online, but usually will not receive college credit. Certificates may be helpful for proving continuing education and other career-focused coursework. The fees may help defray some expenses for the MOOC provider website and/or the sponsoring Universities.

One of my favorite online course providers is FutureLearn, a website based in England that offers courses on a variety of topics including health, business, languages, and history.

At the time of the writing of this blog post, FutureLearn offers the first two weeks of a course for free, and unlimited access for upgraded courses. With unlimited access, a participant can go at any pace, taking as long or as little time as desired.

The cost of upgrading varies slightly with each course, and is paid by credit card. When upgrading a course, as of the date of writing this post, FutureLearn requests the upload of a traditional, government issued photo ID and respects an honor system of client integrity.

Unlike some other MOOC provider websites, FutureLearn does not experiment with personally invasive identification technology. For example, FutureLearn makes no attempt to identify clients based on their typing style, nor to require tests to be taken under gaze of a live streaming camera.

When an upgraded course is substantially complete, FutureLearn will send an email confirmation. This is followed up by an impressive certificate on quality paper, sent by regular mail from the United Kingdom. I believe that receiving a certificate postmarked from overseas is one of the most exciting parts of the FutureLearn experience.

A Certificate I received from FutureLearn
for a MOOC sponsored in 2016 by
Royal Holloway, University of London
One of the nicer aspects of taking a MOOC at FutureLearn is that the focus is on friendship, and not on competition between learners. None of the courses I've taken on this platform have calculated out a final grade for course participants.

Instead, FutureLearn emphasizes the learning process by honor system, counting the percentage of steps a learner checks off in completing in a course. The steps may include short articles and videos, downloadable handouts, and quizzes that give the answers if a learner hasn't figured them out after a few tries.

Like most MOOC websites, FutureLearn includes a student forum, but with a twist. FutureLearn integrates conversation into each page of the course, with prompts that encourage participants to talk with each other about the topics presented, after watching a short video or reading an article.

The easy-going environment at FutureLearn encourages lots of honest communication, sincere questions, answers and opinions between participants as well as from the course mentors.

I enjoy sharing opinions about a topic as I learn it...without having to search on another page for a topic thread. I have found FutureLearn forums to be both friendly and blissfully free of the trolls and flamers that online forums sometimes attract. I don't know if it's because the casually integrated forum design invites a pleasant chat or there is some superb moderation going on behind the scenes.

FutureLearn makes it easy to like, bookmark and reply to comments, follow mentors and instructors in the course discussions, and follow those who write comments I appreciate. I enjoy chatting on a friendly basis, and having an opportunity to meet like-minded people who share my interests on an international level. FutureLearn attracts engaging participants from all over the world and, not surprisingly, many of them live in England. I might even make friends with people who live near Stonehenge and already know the area.

To find out if there are any courses about Stonehenge, I might use the search bar at the FutureLearn website.

I'm in luck...for now anyway. As of the date of writing of this post, University of Reading is advertising an offering at FutureLearn of Archaeology: from Dig to Lab and Beyond, described as an introduction to studying archaeology, exploring exciting discoveries in the Vale of Pewsey, near to Stonehenge and Avebury. Perfect! FutureLearn has provided the inspiration I need to continue designing my dream vacation.

To be continued...


Inspired, by Cunard. It's a dog's life on the North Atlantic.
 www . cunard . com/cunard-experience/articles/its-a-dogs-life-queen-mary-2/

How to Travel with Pets Aboard Queen Mary 2 Kennels
cruisemaven . com/travel-with-your-pets-aboard-the-queen-mary-2-kennels-to-england/

Taking a Dog On the Queen Mary 2 - Pepper in Paris
betterwords . typepad . com/pepperinparis/taking-a-dog-on-the-queen-mary-2.html

Queen Mary 2 dogs
www . beyondships2 . com/queen-mary-2-dogs.html

Take an Inside Look at the New Queen Mary 2 Kennel - Cruise Maven
cruisemaven . com/new-queen-mary-2-kennel/

Let's Go to Stonehenge! Part I Ocean Liner to the UK: Pet Friendly

All the news about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle touring around the UK has inspired me to do a new series of blog posts about travelling...and I'm starting with a place I have actually visited before: STONEHENGE!

A quick note before we begin:

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If you have an experience you'd like to share or a suggestion to make, post a comment below, and come back to my website often. I'll be posting more material soon!

Now...back to STONEHENGE

Like the former life of the Duchess-to-be at Windsor Castle, I also live in Southern California and I have two small dogs. They love basking in the warm California sun, and going for walks in the park.

My dogs basking in the sun
My dogs basking in the sun
My dream vacation is to take my dogs on a walk at Stonehenge. This might be easier if I actually lived in England. It might even be impossible for a California girl. But what is life without a dream?

According to the internet, there are people who walk their dogs near Stonehenge, although dogs aren't allowed inside the monument or inside the visitor center. These dog-owners are probably UK residents.

Unfortunately for me, here in Southern California, some territories are kind of strict about bringing in pets from other countries, including pets from USA. It's not that they don't love dogs. People all over the world love dogs. Pet quarantine laws are usually about proving that pets coming in are healthy, and will continue to be healthy over period of time.

I found out about pet quarantine laws when I was a kid, because my family traveled extensively. Faced with the specter of months of quarantine in a foreign country, Mom and Dad chose to re-home our family dog stateside before a departure to New Zealand years ago. Apparently both our dog and his new owner, an old lady who needed companionship, were delighted with the arrangement at the time.

Of those countries that have pet quarantine laws, England is definitely included. Although some options are available for people who want to bring a pet directly into the UK, the regulations that allow this are complicated and involve working with approved veterinarians, vaccinations, waiting periods, paperwork, and even a pet visa. The UK Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the USA Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service websites have lots of details.

Obviously, if "Plan A" is taking my dogs to Stonehenge, I'll need a "Plan B" if I miss any of the vital steps for approval. I definitely won't enjoy my vacation very much if I'm worried about my dogs being in quarantine where I can't be with them, and I definitely don't want my pets stuck in customs.

Obviously, travel by airplane is out. Which is fine with me. I'm not the hugest fan of travel by airplane, and I'm really not sure it's very good for my dogs either.

As any dog owner knows, the adventure of travel is at least as important as the final destination. Cruise ships are a slower, more enjoyable, more relaxed way to get from one place to another. For this dream vacation, we'll definitely choose to go on board a ship.  That way, if for any reason my dogs can't come ashore, they can stay safely on board while I do my sightseeing.

If you haven't experienced a cruise vacation, I understand. It's been a long time since I've been on a cruise. The pace of life, work deadlines and vacation allowances, and even the anticipated costs associated with a lifestyle of luxury may have seemed like great excuses at the time. Honestly, though, that's all they are: excuses. And not really very good ones.

Cruise ship vacations can be a surprisingly affordable way to combine travel with lodging, and falling in love on (or with) a cruise ship is probably one of the most romantic experiences of all time.

I fell in love with travel over water, and with those big, white ships, many years ago in my early teenage years. I was aboard P&O's iconic SS Canberra ocean liner, travelling my family, and was granted full run of all the publicly accessible parts of the ship until bedtime. It was a big ship with lots of levels open to explore, accessible by the ship's elevator wherein a polite, handsome uniformed operator would push buttons too high for littler children to reach.

Me and Mom at a Hawaii party aboard the SS Canberra
Me and Mom at a Hawaii party aboard the SS Canberra
(vintage photo)
It was that liminal phase in life where I was still young enough to imagine sea monsters hurtling out of the depths of the ocean, as I peered innocently out from the ship's decks at eerily luminescent waves under the moonlight.

Mysterious, swarthy workmen lived in the lower levels, lurking around mysteriously as I explored the inner sanctum of the ship's bowels before returning like Persephone from the depths of the underworld.

Upper levels were places of daylight and activity filled with shops, bars, a swimming pool deck, a children's recreation area for the younger kids, and more.

I soon found a restaurant with a grand piano, where I independently negotiated permission to perform my practice at playing Mozart and attempting to sing like Barbra Streisand at odd hours during the day, much to the apparent amusement of any elderly patrons who happened to be seated at the tables at the time.

Life, for a few weeks, was exciting.

There were parties to attend, ballroom dance lessons to take, and a night life so full of energy that my glamorous mother's only concern was choosing which events she and Dad would get the most out of, and how many they could attend before they both pooped out.

The Canberra, herself, was an exciting ship. Born in the 1950s, she was not only a cruise ship for vacations, she also helped during a war and was featured in a James Bond movie. Sadly, after many decades of entertainment, adventure and fame, she was finally put to rest just before the turn of the 21st century. By all reports, she went out fighting the ship breakers for months on end.

Travel by water on an enormous ship can be an exciting love affair for anyone, but despite my fondness for the Canberra in days of yore, I won't be booking a cruise with P&O just yet. It's not because the new fleet is lacking in itinerary. P&O still commands a strong presence in many international ports.

It's not because of sustainability either, although cruise ships have a history of not being very friendly to the oceans. Contemporary cruise vacations are a much greener experience now than they were in the past, and contemporary, eco-friendly cruise lines have both new and upgraded cruise ships. Even staunchly traditional P&O has chosen to enter greener waters with a design for a new, environmentally friendly ship to add their fleet, with an expected launch date in 2020.

But, unless P&O designs dogs kennels into its new ship blueprint, my Stonehenge dream vacation will be taken with a different cruise line. Internet search turns up only one cruise ship, and only one passage that allows pets aboard to England: the Atlantic crossing from New York to Southampton, England by Cunard cruise line's Queen Mary 2.

To be continued...


www . sscanberra . com

P&O Cruises new ship - Coming 2020
www . pocruises . com/cruise-ships/new-ship

Cruises that Allow Pets - USA Today
traveltips . usatoday . com/cruises-allow-pets-100496.html

Green Cruising - Cruise Critic
www . cruisecritic . com/articles.cfm?ID=528#cunard

USDA APHIS | Pet travel from the U.S. to the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
www . aphis.usda . gov/aphis/pet-travel/by-country/eu/eu-echinococcus/pet-travel-echinococcus-treatments-uk

EU and non-EU listed countries | Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
www . daera-ni . gov . uk/articles/eu-and-non-eu-listed-countries

United Kingdom Pet Passport - Current Dog and Cat Import Requirements for Transport
www . pettravel . com/immigration/UnitedKingdom.cfm