• Updated May, 2017 •
Cruise packing takes a special skill. Cruise ship cabins average 175 square feet, while hotel rooms average 300 square feet. (Source: NBCNews.com). With limited space, smart packing matters.
Add in other issues, like transporting all that luggage and increasing airline baggage fees, and smart packing matters even more.
Even more important, you just don’t need much to cruise well! Really, I’ve never heard of anyone under packing for a cruise vacation. However, I have heard many people comment on how much they overpacked.
With the right cruise packing tips and strategies, you’ll be cruising like the pros.
What to pack for a cruise
Since Caribbean cruise destinations are most popular, that’s what I’m focusing on in this article: Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Mexico. For cruise packing tips for Alaska, this article should help.
On recent cruises, I used different cruise checklists and cruise packing lists, and one that really works to travel really light is Packing Tactics: Wear and Recycle. On our last 7-day cruise, my husband and sons used this approach with some skepticism… but it worked. Perfectly! I didn’t use their list myself, though I agree that women can recycle outfits by dressing them up or down with scarves, jewelry or sweaters.
These cruise packing hacks can also help prevent overpacking:
- • Pack in a uniform color scheme.
- • Remind yourself that the more you take, the more might lose. (It happens!)
- • Remind yourself how heavy that luggage gets! 🙂
After trying out several different Caribbean cruise packing lists, I came up with my own. It’s included here so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! (AKA, I did the cruise packing list research so you don’t have to!)
Cruise Packing List. Save and print a copy for your own use. It’s FREE! I included bonus cruise packing tips and a cruise planning sheet as well.
What NOT to pack for a cruise
On all cruise lines, weapons, illegal drugs, flammable liquids, irons, candles, and most small electrical appliances are banned.
Let me say this again: You CANNOT take an iron on a cruise ship! It’s a fire hazard.
Cruise lines generally ban large coolers, though they generally allow a small, personal cooler (not the Disney fleet — coolers and food are not allowed on board, unless needed for medical reasons). Most cruise lines also prohibit sports equipment like hockey sticks, baseball bats, frisbees, pool floats, pool noodles, and surf boards. Because cruise line policies change and each cruise line’s rules vary, check what’s allowed before you go.
Here’s a link to the four major family cruise lines’ lists of prohibited items:
- Carnival Cruise Lines Prohibited Items List
- Disney Cruise Lines Prohibited Items List
- Norwegian Cruise Lines Prohibited Items List
- Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Prohibited Items List
Cruise packing tips for your carryon
When packing, some items should go in your carry-on bag. Cabins are generally not available until after 2:00 p.m. (sometimes even later), so these cruise packing hacks will help.
Be sure to include these essentials (this information is also included in our printable Cruise Packing List)
- ALL cruise boarding documents (boarding passes, photo ID, passport, and anything else the cruise line requires).
- ALL medications. If checked luggage gets lost or delayed, you can’t easily replace prescriptions.
- Swimsuits. HINT: Have boys wear their swim trunks as shorts! If girls have 2-piece suits or tankinis, they can wear theirs under clothes too. Simple cruise packing hacks make life so much easier, don’t you agree?
- All valuable electronics. If you must bring a computer, carry it with you. Cruise lines have computers available on-board, so consider using those instead. It’s a whole lot easier!
- Camera. Make sure batteries are fully charged so you don’t have to carry those.
- Valuable jewelry if planning to bring any. (I don’t recommend it. Simplify with a few costume pieces and pack in checked bags.)
- Diaper bag for younger kids with enough diapers and wipes, baby food/bottles, and a couple toys to get through 6 hours.
Things you don’t need to carry:
- A change of clothes. You’ll have access to your cabin before dinner so you can change. And if your luggage arrives late, don’t worry! Dinner the first night is quite casual.
- Beach towels. Towels are provided for guests by all major cruise lines.
- Chargers for electronics. Make sure phones, cameras, e-readers and computer are fully charged the morning of the cruise and pack the chargers in your checked luggage. Less is best for cruising carry-ons.
Cruise packing tips: Big hint!
When I travel, I always take a photo of my checked luggage. If my luggage gets lost — or held by cruise security — I can show staff exactly what the bag looks like, making it quicker and easier to retrieve.
On a cruise with my mom, security held one of my bags because something apparently didn’t look right to them. When my bag didn’t arrive in my cabin, I went to guest services with photo pulled up on my phone. They quickly identified the bag and explained it needed a hand search. There was nothing in it, but apparently the x-ray machine didn’t make that clear. Two minutes later, I had my bag and enjoyed a lovely vacation.
The bottom line on cruise packing tips
Cruises should be relaxing and carefree. You may think you’ll change outfits throughout the day and spend hours primping for fancy dinners, but that’s not what usually happens. Experienced cruisers know that and pack light. Now you can, too!
Read these articles for more on cruising.