11 Must-Have Things to Pack in Your Cruise Carry On

If you’re preparing for your trip, there’s always the question of what to pack for your cruise… but just as importantly, what do you pack in your carry on?

Similar to traveling via airplane, on a cruise your luggage can take two different paths. Either you can check it in or carry it on.

If you check your bag, it will be taken by a porter before you go through security and board the ship. You bags are taken, x-rayed, loaded onto ship and then delivered to your room later on the first day.

In total, it can take several hours until your bags are delivered. That means you’ll have to go without whatever you have packed in them for some time.

On the flipside, you can also carry on some (or all) of your luggage. In this case you’ll have your bags with you at all times. On the downside, you have to carry these bags with you as you board. If your luggage is heavy or bulky, this can be a stressful way to start your vacation.

As a happy medium, many people choose to check their larger bags and then take a smaller bag with anything they might need for the first day. This way they have some items for the first few hours of the cruise without having to carry a large heavy bag. (Need ideas on the best luggage for a cruise? See our article here.)

So if you’re going to bring a carry on with you for your cruise what exactly should it contain? As a general rule, you want anything with you that you might use for the first day of your cruise. In particular, be sure to pack the following items…



It goes without saying that you should pack any medications with you in your carry on. This goes even if you don’t plan to need them the first day. Why? With something as important as medication, you don’t want to risk any chance of it being lost. Lost luggage on a cruise is rare, but even so, it’s best to hedge your bets and have your medicine in your carry on so it’s never out of your possession.

Passport/Birth Certificate

Of course, packing your passport or birth certificate is a no-brainer. These documents are what allow you to travel on your trip, and enter the United States when you return home. As well, passports are hard to replace quickly should they get lost, stolen, or damaged. The safest place to pack them is with you in your carry on so that you always have them when needed. Also, you’ll need these documents to register when you arrive at the ship, which is after you hand off any checked baggage.


Cruise lines allow you to bring on a bottle of wine or champagne for your trip, and it’s a smart way to save some cash versus buying drinks on the ship. If you do bring on alcohol, you’ll want to pack it in your carry on luggage. If packed in your checked bags, you run the risk of bottles breaking when they are being handled behind the scenes. Bottles are much safer being packed in bags that you bring on the ship yourself.

Flip Flops

As you board the ship, it’s a smart idea to wear sturdy shoes. Between parking lots to stairs to boarding the ship (not to mention all the suitcases rolling around), it’s a good idea to have closed-toe shoes. But once you are on the ship, who wants to wear regular shoes? Pack a pair of flip flops so that once you are on vacation you can let those feet breathe… especially if you decide to spend some time poolside on your first day.


Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale… most ports that you sail from are tropical locales of their own. That means warm sunshine that can quickly burn you. To be safe, you definitely want to pack some sunscreen with you as you board the ship. Even a few minutes without protection can lead to a quick sunburn for some people. You don’t want to get a burn on day one simply because you left your sunscreen in your checked luggage.


Toothbrush, deodorant, feminine products, a hairbrush, etc. If you might need it the first day on the ship, pack it in your carry on. The last thing you want is to be without a toothbrush because your luggage doesn’t arrive at your cabin. Or to be walking around the cruise ship with some offensive body odor because you don’t have your deodorant on a hot day.


Wallet with cash

Once you board the cruise ship, you don’t have any need for cash or ID. Any purchases you make are done using your room keycard like a credit card. Still, you don’t want to just store your money, wallet, or purse in your checked baggage. It’s too much risk to be separated from your valuables — especially small items that can be pocketed easily like cash money. Just to be safe, keep your valuables with you as you board.


Hopefully the weather when you sail will be bright and sunny, meaning that you’ll already be wearing your sunglasses when you board. If not, pack them in your carry on luggage. Just like sunscreen, having sunglasses is an important piece of protection for you against the sun. You don’t want to be on the bright upper decks of the ship without something to help cut down the glare and protect your eyesight.


As a rule of thumb, if it’s valuable, it’s best to pack it in your carry on. This includes all the electronics that are so common today. Items like phones, cameras, computers, tablets, and the like are too easy to quickly snag when no one is looking. Instead, keep them with you as you board instead of in your checked bags that are out of your possession for hours. As they say, and ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


Want to hit the pool when you board? It’s a popular spot to be when the weather is warm and sunny on sailaway day. But forget to pack a swimsuit in the bags you bring aboard with you and you won’t be getting wet anytime soon. The good news is that a swimsuit isn’t heavy and doesn’t take up much room if your luggage is already bursting at the seams.

A Change of Clothes (or at Least Underwear)

Just in case, it’s a good idea to bring a change of clothes. Most of the time, you won’t really need them to be honest. But it’s always nice to have some as backup. You never know when an errant pool splash… or a dropped ice cream cone… will mean that you need a new shirt.

But what you are more likely to need a change of clothes for is in the rare case that your checked luggage gets lost somewhere before it reaches your room. Should it be delayed, it’s always nice to have some extra clothes just in case.

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