Packing for a cruise?
It’s a bit different than any other vacation that you might have taken. Most other vacations don’t have you packing for everything from hanging out poolside to formal dining, while also packing things to make your room more comfortable.
To some people, it might be overwhelming. Not to worry, we have some of our top cruise-packing tips below.
As well, be sure to see our list of useful things to pack for a cruise, and our full checklist for cruise packing.
Now, let’s get to the tips…
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You Can Pack More Than You Can on a Plane
Compared to the hassle that comes with taking luggage on a plane, packing for a cruise is refreshingly easy. There is no reasonable limit as to how much you can bring on your trip. If you want to pack a couple of large suitcases, that’s fine. You also don’t have to worry about things like baggage fees or weight limits on your bag.
That said, it’s a good idea to keep it within reason. Remember that you’ll have to carry your bags to get to the port, and you don’t want to pack luggage that is too heavy for you to handle. Also, keep in mind that if you have to fly to your departure port, then you’re going to have to follow those pesky airplane luggage rules.
There Is No “3 Ounce” Rule for Liquids on Cruises
Have a favorite bottle of shampoo you want to bring? Or maybe you are bringing a full-sized bottle of sunscreen? Unlike airplanes, cruise ships don’t have limits on the size of liquids that you can bring. You also don’t have to pack all your liquids into a small Ziploc bag like you do when flying.
Go ahead and take advantage of the rule. Things like sunscreen, aloe, and toiletries are expensive on the ship. You want to bring these from home and take advantage of the fact that you can bring as much as you need.
Pack Wine or Champagne to Save Money
You aren’t allowed to pack beer or liquor on most cruise lines (ships prefer that you buy your drinks on board). One exception is that all the major lines let you bring on at least one bottle of wine or champagne.
Different cruise lines have different rules, but the amount will either be one bottle per adult passenger or one bottle per cabin. Take full advantage of this policy. A glass of wine can easily run $8-15, with gratuity added on. In other words, that bottle of vino or champagne can save you a nice chunk of change during your cruise.
Some Lines Let You Pack Non-Alcoholic Drinks; Take Advantage
Are you a soda drinker (or have kids that are)? Or maybe you have a favorite brand or beverage that isn’t likely to be served on the ship. In many cases you can pack a small amount of non-alcoholic drinks to bring with you.
Most notably, Carnival and Royal Caribbean allow you to bring your favorite drinks with you. Between the relatively low cost of soda packages and the fact that individual sodas are $2-3 on the ship, you likely won’t save a ton of money by bringing your own from home (but you will save some!). Instead, if you have a favorite drink, it’s nice to be able to bring it with you so that you can enjoy it during your vacation.
You Can Leave the Hair Dryer at Home
Sometimes the best tip on packing for a cruise is what not to bring. If you use a hair dryer, then know that just like a regular hotel, you’ll have one in your cabin. It’s small, but should be able to get the job done for a week on the ship.
One thing to note is that the hair dryer usually isn’t in the cabin bathroom. Instead, you’ll often find it in the built-in vanity that’s in your room. If you want, you can still pack your hair dryer from home (they are allowed), it’s just not needed.
Skip Packing the Beach Towel
If you’re going to the pool or the beach, you need a towel, right? The great news is that these are provided for free on a cruise. That means you don’t need to pack them. That should save you a ton of room in your luggage.
You’ll find the towels either already in your cabin when you board, or you can pick one up from the pool area. They are free for you to use by the pool or even take into port. Just be sure to return it or you will be charged for missing towels. Also, make sure that you are using the beach towel and not just the regular towels you’ll find in the bathroom.
Pack a Nightlight if Sailing an Interior Room
If your cabin will have a window, then there will be at least some light that can enter the room at night. In an interior cabin, however, it will be pitch black. That’s why we suggest packing a nightlight.
Picture yourself in a completely black room and you need to get up to use the restroom in the middle of the night. You’re likely to bump into everything.
Yes, you could leave a light on in the bathroom, but that can seem too bright when your eyes adjust for the darkness. As well, turning on a lamp will likely disturb anyone else trying to sleep. Instead, a cheap nightlight can make things much easier should you have to get up.
Bring Along a $5 Outlet Adapter
Sailing on a new ship? If so, then they have gotten much better about putting in more outlets. Older ships (those built more than five years ago) will often have only one or two places to plug things in.
In that case it’s smart to bring an outlet adapter. These plug in and give you several more outlets in place of one. That way you can charge your devices all at once, use a curling iron, or plug in a nightlight. Packing one of these is worth its weight in gold, and it’s something you don’t want to forget.
Just be sure that it does not have a surge protector. Devices with surge protection are prohibited on cruises.
Small Fans Can Provide Circulation/White Noise
Not everyone needs a fan to sleep, but many people prefer it. In cruise cabins there are no fans. If you are the sort of person that needs air constantly circulating to feel comfortable, your only options are to open up the balcony door… or pack a small fan.
Personal fans are allowed on ships and can provide some air movement so that you don’t feel stuffy. One other bonus is that fans provide some nice white noise when you are trying to sleep. That can be especially helpful on a ship where noise in the hallway can creep into the cabin.
Don’t Pack Cheap Flip Flops
You know that you should bring some flip flops for your cruise. They are practically part of the dress code while on the ship! One thing not to pack, however, are those cheap sandals that have no tread on the bottom.
All shoes can be worn down to where the tread is gone, but cheap foam flip flops seem to be the worst culprit. The reason it is important is that you will be wearing sandals quite a bit on a cruise, and in many places there will be slick surfaces, like near the pool.
With no tread on your shoes, those wet decks may as well be ice they can be so slick. Pack sandals with plenty of tread and leave the cheap flip flops at home.
Make a Copy of Your Passport to Bring
We always suggest sailing with a passport, so don’t forget to pack it. As well, we suggest making a color photocopy of the first page of your passport (the one with your photo and passport number) to pack as well.
Having this copy can be handy. Most of the time you don’t need your passport while in port (some ports do require photo ID to get to the ship, but you can use your driver’s license). What we like to do is keep the passport in the cabin safe and bring the photocopy with us. That keeps our passport safe and should you need it (which is rare), you can at least show the copy until you are able to get back to the ship.
Pack Lots of Over-the-Counter Medicine
It’s a good idea to pack light. It just makes things much easier when you don’t have to lug around a couple of oversized, heavy bags. That said, one area that it’s a good idea to pack more is with medicines.
On a cruise ship you can be hundreds of miles from shore. If you have a headache or an upset stomach, you don’t want to be without relief. Yes, there will be a small store on the ship that sells OTC medicines, but they can be expensive. We’ve seen prices of $17 for a bottle of cold medicine.
Instead, be liberal in packing for any situation that might come up. It won’t seem silly bringing a whole medicine cabinet if something comes up and you have just the thing you need to feel better.
Packing Lighter Is Better
One of the great things about cruising is that there aren’t really restrictions on how much you can pack. If you want to bring a couple of suitcases you can.
That’s a blessing, and a curse. It also means that many people overpack for their trip. The issue with packing too much is that you still have to carry your suitcases to and from the port and around the ship.
Instead, try to pack lighter if you can. For instance, on a seven-day cruise, you really only need 3-4 outfits as you can wear the same thing twice. There’s still plenty to pack, but don’t let it be so much that you can’t handle your bags yourself.
Bring Empty Gallon-Sized Ziploc Bags
One of the handiest things you can bring on a cruise? It’s something that’s already in your pantry. Packing a few gallon-sized Ziploc bags is a smart idea because they have so many uses.
You can use them to keep small items (like medicines) together. They are also great for keeping wet clothes separate from dry. We also like to put liquids that we bring onboard in the bags in case they accidentally spill.
No matter what you might need them for, Ziplocs are a great thing to have and take up practically no room in your luggage.
Don’t Forget That Cool Weather Gear
If you’re taking a cruise to the Caribbean, you might think it’s nothing but sun and warm weather. But nights can get cool. Add to that the fact that the ship sails from port to port in the evenings, and that means it’s also breezy. Even if you head inside, the ship’s air conditioning can freeze you out.
All you need to do is be sure to bring some layers with long sleeves. You don’t need a winter coat, but a light jacket or hoodie is a good thing to bring with you, along with some pants.
Towel Clips Are a Smart Things to Pack
One of the most popular things to do on a cruise is lay your towel out and get some sun poolside. On a day at sea it can seem like everyone on the ship is topside, soaking in rays.
On sea days the ship is also moving as it sails to port. That means there’s a constant breeze. Considering that some ships can sail at 20 miles per hour, it can be downright windy. If you’re trying to relax in a lounger, expect your towel to be whipping around in the wind.
Towel clips are cheap and can clamp each corner down. That means no towel corners moving around and hitting you as the wind blows.
Let the Porters Take Your Bags (But Carry Them Off)
Similar to an airport, you can check your bags at the cruise terminal when you arrive. The porters will take them and the bags will be delivered to your cabin later that evening. Anything you need for the first day — as well as valuables and things like prescriptions — should be in a carry-on that you bring with you. But it’s a smart idea to leave any big bag with the porters.
This allows you to board with much less to carry to your room, which might be several decks from where you get on the ship.
When you get off the ship after your return from your cruise, you can choose to let the staff take your bags the night before and they will be waiting in the terminal. But if you carry everything off yourself, then you can use the “Self-Assist” debarkation, which is the first group to get off the ship.
Bring “Versatile” Clothing to Pack Less
One way to pack less is to bring versatile clothing that can be worn in multiple instances. For instance, a shirt that can be worn around the ship during the day, but is also nice enough that it can be worn to casual dinner.
By having clothing that can be worn in multiple instances, it means you have to bring less overall, making your packing much lighter.
Don’t Forget Walking Shoes!
Head to the Caribbean or Bahamas and you won’t forget your sandals. But don’t forget walking shoes and socks. There can be a lot of walking on a cruise. First, ships are big and going from the cabin to breakfast to the pool to lunch to the casino to the cabin to the theater and dinner… well, it adds up to lots of steps.
As well, when you head into port and explore there can also be a lot of walking. The piers alone can be more than a thousand feet long before you even hit dry land.
In other words, you can wear sandals if you want but your feel will thank you for bringing a good pair of walking shoes and then switching the sandals when you hit the beach or the pool.
Pack Your Carry-on Smartly for the First Day
No matter if you let the porters take your bags at the terminal, you should always board the ship with at least a carry-on bag.
This carry-on needs to have anything you might need for the first day, plus anything that’s important. Checked bags are delivered to your room that evening, but bags do get delayed or lost sometimes.
That means you’ll want things in your carry-on like:
- A change of clothes
- Your boarding documents
- Any medications you might need
- Your passport/birth certificate
If you are bringing on liquids like wine or champagne, you should also pack those in your carry-on. You don’t want them to accidentally break in checked luggage and soak everything.
If It Makes Heat, Leave It At Home (With a Few Exceptions)
As a rule of thumb, don’t bring anything on the ship that can cause a fire. It’s one of the biggest risks on a cruise ship and lines take the threat seriously. Things like candles and incense are banned.
You can pack some items such as curling irons or hair dryers. As well, cigarette lighters are allowed as well. Just be smart about what might start a fire if it were left unattended. If it could, then leave it at home.
You can see more on prohibited items on a cruise here.
4-Wheeled Luggage Is Ideal
If your suitcase only has a couple of wheels (or no wheels at all) go ahead and do yourself a favor. Upgrade to a 4-wheel version. This type of luggage is more easy to maneuver around narrow hallways and in crowded elevators. As well, it doesn’t constantly hit your heels when walking. We’ve found them to be much easier to handle on a cruise.
Do NOT Pack Marijuana or CBD
There’s been a revolution in the legality of marijuana and CBD in many states, but they still aren’t allowed on a cruise ship — even if it is sailing from a place where it’s legal.
That gets especially confusing when sailing from a place like Seattle, Washington to Alaska. Both of those are legal recreational states. Even so, cruise lines follow federal rules, which don’t allow the substance.
Keep in mind that cruise ships can also sail to several different countries, which might have different laws. For that reason anything tied to marijuana, including recreational, medical, and CBD isn’t allowed on ships.
Need Somewhere for Empty Suitcases? Put Them Under the Bed
Space is tight in a cruise cabin, and a couple of empty suitcases taking up room can make it feel even more cramped. There is plenty of room at the bottom of the closets in the cabin, but an even smarter place to store your unpacked luggage is under the bed.
Beds typically have empty space underneath them that is the perfect height to fit your suitcase. It keeps them out from under your feet and in a space that would otherwise be empty. Best of all you don’t have to worry about forgetting them. After all, you’re not going to go home without your bag.
Wrinkle-Release Spray is a Smart Thing to Pack
No matter how carefully you fold your clothes, when they spend a day in a suitcase, they are going to come out wrinkled. Due to fire-risk, cruise cabins don’t have irons. If you want something ironed, you usually have to send it to the ship’s laundry room.
Instead, you can pack a small bottle of wrinkle-release spray. Simply spray it on, smooth out the fabric, and the wrinkles will disappear. It’s much easier than having to send something to the cleaners. Best of all, they sell small bottles of the stuff that are perfect for a few days at sea.
Don’t Forget to Pack Cash
On the ship you usually don’t use much cash. All your spending is done on your room keycard, which acts like a credit card linked to your onboard account.
Even so, it’s smart to pack some cash. It can be used in the casino, is great for tipping, but most importantly, you’ll want it in port.
Off the ship (except for private islands) you don’t use your keycard at all. Many people smartly don’t want to use credit cards in a foreign port, leaving cash the best option for things like drinks, restaurants, and shopping. Cruise ports in the Caribbean and Bahamas will accept U.S. dollars, so you don’t have to worry about exchanging money.
For the recommended amounts of cash to bring on a cruise, see our article here.
More about packing for a cruise:
- 39 Useful Things to Pack For Your Cruise (Including 17 You’d Never Think Of)
- Luggage and Baggage Rules For Taking a Cruise
- THE Cruise Packing Checklist: 85 Items to Bring (Printable)