When it comes to cruising, packing is a bit different than any other vacation. Where else do you have to pack for all sorts of situations — including everything from hanging by the pool to having dinner on formal night — all while being in the middle of the ocean?
That means if you forget something, you are either out of luck until you reach port, or hope that the ship’s store has what you need!
The good news is that cruise ships are in the hospitality business, so many small things that you might forget like a toothbrush or deodorant are easily available on the ship (albeit expensive). But there are a number of things that you have to pack yourself or risk going without.
We have a full packing list here, as well as a number of unique things you don’t want to forget. As veterans of cruising, however, there are a few things we can suggest that we hate to cruise without. From things that make our trip easier and more comfortable to must-have items you cannot forget, these items should be part of your next cruise…
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Sailing a new ship? They are getting better about having more outlets to accommodate all the electronics that we carry today. If you’re sailing on an older ship (more than a couple of years old) then the odds are high you will have only one or two plugs in the cabin.
That means if you want to charge a camera, or use a curling iron, or charge your phone, tablet, computer, or plug in a nightlight, it’s a scramble of plugging unplugging. A simple $5 outlet adapter like this one can make life much simpler.
These adapters plug into the outlet and give you more places to plug. One tip is to not bring an adapter with a surge protector. Those aren’t allowed on ships.
The Cruise Line App
These days all the major cruise lines have apps. We understand that many people want a break from their phones during vacation, but the apps are extremely helpful on the ship and are free to download.
With these apps you can get your schedule of activities for the day, have deck plans for the entire ship, even a chat feature where you can keep in touch with others on the ship (this feature is usually an extra charge). We also like that you can check your onboard spending account from the app to see what you’ve spent.
A Passport (Not a Birth Certificate)
First things first, on most cruises you can sail with a birth certificate and a photo ID. If a sailing departs a U.S. port and returns to the same port, it usually falls under the label of a closed-loop cruise. The government allows you to sail on these without a passport.
That said, we never sail without a passport. Yes, a passport is nice to have if something goes wrong during your cruise and you need to leave early to come home. Frankly, that’s pretty rare.
Instead, we think it’s more convenient to sail with a passport. Many ports (not all) have implemented facial recognition processing. If you have a passport, you walk up, scan your passport and then take a quick photo, and then you are on your way when you return from your cruise.
Those with a birth certificate and photo ID still need to stand in line and meet with an agent. It’s a much slower process when you’re ready to get home or have a flight to catch.
Sandals with Tread
Head on a cruise and you’re no doubt going to bring some flip-flips. But too many people get those cheap foam ones that cost about five bucks. They may be comfy, but the tread on them wears out quickly, leaving bald spots where you step.
No imagine a slick sandal on a pool deck where kids have splashed around or the crew has recently cleaned. It can be like walking on ice.
That’s why we always wear a decent sandal that has real tread on it. Not only do they hold up better than cheap flip-flops, but they also make it much safer in case you run across a slick spot on the deck.
If you go anywhere, you know to bring your prescription medicines. But what about things like pain relievers, medicines for an upset stomach, or cold medicine? You might forget these items, but being at sea and having to get through a headache because you forgot to pack ibuprofen is a pain (literally!).
The good news is that these items are commonly for sale on the ship. The bad news is that they can cost a fortune. We’ve seen a bottle of cold medicine selling for $17! That’s why we recommend bringing a wide assortment of anything you might need. It’s better to have it an not need it than to need it and not have it.
If you are packing for your cruise, then chances are that you are putting everything into a suitcase. We always like to have a backpack as a carry-on or one of those lightweight packable backpacks to put into our luggage.
These bags are ideal for port days when you have your towel, a change of clothes, sandals, and anything else you might need for the day. Instead of having to carry them in a large bag that you have to hold with your hands, a backpack makes it simple to bring everything you need with you into port.
In fact, on shorter cruises you might be able to pack everything you need into a backpack and even leave your heavy suitcase at home!
With the scare and disruption of the coronavirus, it’s not hard for people to see the value in having some travel insurance. But even when things are less disruptive, insurance for cruising just makes sense.
Cruises take you to several different countries, can be hundreds of miles from the nearest hospital, and follow a strict schedule.
All that adds up to a vacation where if something goes wrong, it’s easy to be out a lot of money. You could miss the ship, have to pay for a foreign hospital where your health insurance isn’t accepted, or even have to be evacuated from the ship. These are all rare, but do happen.
That’s why we now hate to cruise without travel insurance. It’s normally only about 3-5% the cost of the cruise and can offer peace of mind — and protection — that’s worth way more than its cost. For more details, see our guide to travel insurance here.
What Other Things Should I Pack?
You need a lot more for your cruise than just the seven items listed above. Of course, you know to pack a swimsuit and underwear. But what about those handy items that you might not think about like a nightlight (for dark cabins), a dry pouch, and even towel clips for windy days.
Be sure to see our article on helpful things to pack here: 39 Useful Things to Pack For Your Cruise (Including 17 You’d Never Think Of).
Is There a Checklist for Packing?
Want even more detail on what to pack for your cruise? We have an entire 85-item checklist of everything you need to bring. It covers all the bases, from hanging out by the pool to formal night. Get the printable checklist here.