Heading to Port? The 9 Must-Have Things to Bring With You

Wondering what to bring with you when you head out from the ship into a port of call. You’re not alone.

If you’re heading into port on a cruise, there are a number of items you want to be sure to bring along with you.

On a cruise, there are two very different types of days. The first is a sea day. These are the days when there isn’t a port of call — the ship is sailing to its next destination. The other type of day is a port day. This is when the ship visits a port of call and most people get off to explore.

The truth is, the time in port is relatively short. On a 7-day cruise, you might have only three port days, and you may be docked for only eight or ten hours each day. In other words, on port days it’s a rush to make the most of your time ashore.

One thing you might not realize, however, is that when you head to shore, you’ll want to bring everything you might need with you. Yes, the ship will be docked while you are in port, and you can return at any time you want. However, on most excursions you can’t easily go back to the cabin. And even if you stick near the port, making the trek back down the pier, through security, and back to your room can take 20 minutes.

In other words, you want to be smart about the things you bring with you on your port days. Below, we’ve featured nine different things you should never leave the ship without.

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A Carry-All Bag

We like to use a lightweight backpack like this one. It makes it easy to carry everything without taking up a lot of space.

Maybe it’s a big purse — or we suggest a lightweight backpack — but no matter what you bring, packing for port all starts with a bag large enough to carry everything you need. The key is to find a bag that’s large enough to carry everything, but not so large that it’s a hassle to carry.

We like bags that are made of lightweight material. These bags can fold down to take up almost no room in your luggage but open up to carry a ton. Even better, they quickly dry if they happen to get wet and they don’t weigh a lot, making your sweat in the warm sun.

A Photo ID (License, ID Card or Passport)

When you leave the ship, in many (not all) ports you’ll be asked to bring a government-issued photo ID with you. This is required by authorities to check your identity as you head back to the ship.

The easiest thing to do is just bring your driver’s license. Some people bring their passport into port with them. Personally, we would be more worried about losing the passport or having it stolen. That’s why we prefer to use a license.

One thing to know is that a photo ID not issued by a government agency won’t cut it. So don’t think you can bring your Costco membership card. Whatever you use to prove your identity when you boarded the ship at home will be sufficient in port.

Room Key

Your room key is used constantly around the ship. But you’ll want to bring it with you when you leave as well.

The good thing is you don’t have to worry about accidently leaving the ship without your room key. Modern cruise ships require you to scan the key to exit the ship. You’ll also need the key to scan back in when you return to the ship from port. Your room key is your most important item while on the cruise ship. Be sure to pack it with you and don’t lose it.


Many of the major ports like Cozumel will take credit cards, but you still want to bring plenty of cash with you into port. Credit cards aren’t accepted universally — especially in smaller ports. As well, it’s nice to have cash for tipping and you also don’t need to worry about your card be compromised.

So how much cash should you bring to port? That depends on how much you like to spend on souvenirs, meals, and the like. For most people $100 per person in assorted bills should be plenty, unless you are a big spender.

And if you are sailing the Caribbean or The Bahamas then bringing U.S. dollars is just fine and they will be widely accepted.


Bringing a bottle of sunscreen into port is a must. We like to use smaller squeeze bottles instead of packing an entire tube.

It doesn’t matter if you are headed to the beach or to the wilderness of Alaska — you need to pack sunscreen with you. This isn’t just the same old medical advice about the damaging effects of the sun. It’s about enjoying your vacation.

In many places, especially the Caribbean, you can burn in as little as 15 minutes. If you are out for an extended period of time and receive a bad sunburn, it can ruin the next several days. Instead, just do the smart thing and pack sunscreen, reapplying every couple of hours.

A Wide-Brimmed Hat

Just like sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat should be a requirement any time you step off the ship. With the sun bearing down, the best remedy for sunburn is to not get burned in the first place. A hat keeps the UV rays off your sensitive head and face altogether. Ballcaps are better than nothing, but don’t be surprised if you end up with a burnt neck. Wide hats will full coverage are ideal.


If you’re headed out on an excursion, be sure to pack a water bottle with you. Even just sitting on the beach you can sweat in the heat and humidity. It’s easy to be dehydrated without even realizing it. Just bring a water bottle and keep it filled with water from a known source (like the ship). You can also just fill it with ice so that you always have some cool to drink no matter how long you are in port.

Water will also be widely available in shops in port if you need to refill or just want to grab something cold to drink.

Ship Towel

Headed out to the beach or an excursion? Bring a beach towel from the ship. At first it can feel like stealing to take a towel from the ship, but cruise lines expect you to take them into port. In fact, many excursions specifically tell you to bring a ship’s towel.

You’ll find beach towels provided in your cabin or you can head to the pool deck to check them out. One thing to note is that they are tracked via your cruise keycard. So if you check out two and only return one, the ship will know and charge you for the lost towel.

A Watch (Phone Works Too!)

Maybe it’s a watch, or maybe it’s just your phone. No matter what you bring, you should always have some way to keep an eye on the time. Ships run on a tight schedule and it’s not a myth that passengers have been left at port for arriving too late. Get a watch, use your phone, build a sundial. Just don’t lose track of time, no matter how much fun you are having.

We’d also suggest making sure you head back to the ship with plenty of time cushion just in case.

Have something else that you always bring to port? Let us know in the comments below.

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