• Updated February, 2018 •
When we took our first cruise back in 1993, I knew cabins onboard were small. We went to celebrate my husband’s graduation from medical school, so we had a teeny tiny cabin to fit our teeny tiny budget! I learned that the only way to pack for a cruise is with a cruise packing list. Nowadays (what a word), airport baggage restrictions make careful cruise planning even more important. Who wants to spend extra money on airport baggage fees when they could use that money for cruise souvenirs? Am I right?
Do you know what you need to pack for a cruise? How about what not to bring on a cruise ship? If you answered no to either of those questions, then you have found the right place! No more asking yourself what to pack for my cruise! This post — and the included cruise packing list pdf — explains it all. Now, let’s get to packing for a cruise, shall we? (This post focuses on what to pack for a cruise to the Bahamas, packing for a Caribbean cruise and packing for a cruise to Mexico. The same list will also work for packing for a cruise to Bermuda, since the weather is similar.) Without further ado, here are all the cruise packing tips and hacks you need to cruise like a pro, whether you’re cruising on a budget like we were or you’re in a luxury suite.
Cruise wardrobe essentials: What clothes should you wear on a cruise?
When we took our first cruise, everyone dressed up for dinner each night. Freestyle cruising, which translates as casual cruising, didn’t exist yet. Cruise ships were smaller, with fewer amenities. So, we needed to pack more than we do now. Cruise lines do not allow tank tops or swim suits in the dining room, and shoes are required in all dining areas, so keep that in mind when planning which outfits to wear on a cruise. I’ve learned a lot of tips to pack for a cruise since that first trip and know the best items to bring on a cruise. I’m focusing on what to pack for a seven day Caribbean cruise. If you’re going on a shorter trip, take only one formal outfit and take out at least one (or two) casual outfits. You won’t need them!
Women’s cruise packing list
Generally, when you pack for a 7 day cruise, take one “formal outfit,” a semi-formal outfit, five day’s worth of casual clothes to wear on a cruise, two swimsuits, essentials and accessories. I go for simple, a flowy dress with some costume jewelry for formal night and a bright, fun dress for semi-formal night. Other nights, I wear a skirt and blouse or sundress. Packing within a color palette so you can wear the same cute sandals with each dressy outfit is a great way to pack light for a cruise. (Our cruise packing list downloadable has everything listed item by item to make it easy for you to plan!)
Men’s cruise packing list
We use a great strategy to pack light for the guys, even when we pack for a seven day cruise! Wear a casual shirt to dinner (except on formal nights), then wear that shirt another day later in the trip for a shore excursion, so the shirt is used two days not one. That way you avoid over packing for your cruise vacation. For formal nights, my husband wears the same suit. On formal night, wear the tie and jacket. On semi-formal night, go with a fun tie (or no tie) and skip the jacket. Pack two swimsuits, five casual daytime outfits, essentials and accessories.
Cruise packing list for kids
If you really want to enjoy your kids, let them be kids! Pack nice outfits for formal night, but something they can be comfortable in. Pack five or six outfits (a couple extra for babies), two swimsuits, a jacket, sweater or hoodie, and comfortable shoes! I recommend comfortable sandals with a heal strap (flip flops with a strap that goes behind the heel so they don’t trip on slippery pool decks or on the stairs) and tennis shoes. Comfort rules!
Besides clothes, what do you need for a cruise?
Cruises are almost all-inclusive, so you don’t need to bring a whole lot of extras. We bring sun essentials, like a beach bag, sunscreen and sunglasses. We also bring our cell phones and chargers, though we try to leave the computers at home! Books or Kindles are great to relax on sea days. It’s also important to bring all required cruise documents: boarding passes, reservation confirmations (including any shore excursions booked before the cruise), required identification (a passport is best) and cash/credit cards. That’s about it! Have I convinced you that a cruise travel packing list is a great place to start?
Prohibited items on a cruise: What to leave at home
When working on your cruise planning checklist, it’s almost as important to know what not to pack for a cruise! If you pack something that is not allowed, it will be confiscated at the luggage screening. After you go through the screening area, look for the tables full of confiscated items. If nothing you own ends up over there, you packed well! On all cruise lines, weapons, illegal drugs, flammable liquids, irons, candles, and most small electrical appliances are banned. Curling irons and flat irons are allowed for hair (but I mostly go with a pony tail!)
Some questions I’ve been asked about what is banned on a cruise ship.
- Can you take prescription drugs on a cruise? Yes! Prescription medications are allowed on a cruise. I recommend that you bring all medications in their original packaging. That way, if you get sick or injured, the ship’s doctor has easy access to your medical information.
- Can you bring an iron on a cruise? No! Irons are strictly forbidden because they pose a fire hazard. (Instead, use this, one of my favorite cruise packing hacks: bring a spray wrinkle releaser. Spray your garment and hang it in the bathroom while you shower. It works like magic. Or, send your clothes to the cruise ship laundry to be ironed. It’s not expensive.)
- Can you bring weed on a cruise? No! While marijuana is legal in some states, it is not legal on a cruise ship. Sorry, people. You’ll have to find another way to mellow out — and I suggest a lounge chair on the upper pool deck.
- Can you bring alcohol on a cruise? Probably. Most cruise lines allow you to bring one or two bottles of wine onboard, but the uncorking fee is pretty hefty! Check with your specific cruise line to make sure you know what’s allowed (see below for a link to the most popular family cruise lines)
- Can I bring my sports equipment? Nope. Leave the baseball bats and golf clubs at home. On the ship, all sports equipment is provided. Pool noodles and frisbees are banned also. Sports related shore excursions include equipment; they know you can’t bring them. We have brought kids’ snorkels to use at the beach, but that’s all.
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
What are my luggage limitations?
Most cruise lines don’t have a set limit on luggage, but when you’re trying to figure out how to pack for a cruise to the Bahamas or things to take on a Caribbean cruise, remember that less is more! Just don’t take more luggage than you can store under the bed, and you’ll be fine. (Though, remember airline restrictions. Those might be more restrictive!) Some cruise lines allow small coolers, but others don’t. So, check the cruise lines prohibited items lists to be safe. If you’re packing for a Disney cruise, just leave the cooler at home. It’s not allowed (unless you have a medical need.)
About your cruise carryon luggage
On our first cruise with the kids, I made a huge mistake and brought way too many items in carryon luggage. Since cabins aren’t available for hours after boarding, everything you carry on with you stays with you until the cabin is available. Juggling kids, a buffet lunch and luggage is no fun! Trust me!
So, what are the best items to bring on a cruise carryon?
- ALL cruise boarding documents (boarding passes, photo ID, passport, and anything else the cruise line requires). When I say what the cruise line requires, I mean requires! If you don’t have the required documents, you can’t cruise!
- 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. (Of all the family cruise tips, this is my favorite. Think of what you’d normally pack for a one day outing. That’s all you need for your carryon diaper bag.)
Things you don’t need to carry on to the cruise ship:
- 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. You can use them for shore excursions, but remember to return them to the ship or you’ll be charged for them.
- 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.
Some final cruise tips to make packing easier
Tip One: 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 Carnival 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. TIP TWO: If traveling with someone else, divide your checked items into two suitcases. That way, if one is lost or delayed, you both have something to wear. This is a great tip for all travel, not just cruise travel. TIP THREE: When packing, ask yourself, “Do I need this?” If the answer is no, leave it out. If the answer is, “But if XYZ happens, I might need….” leave it out. [bctt tweet=”Experienced cruisers know to pack light! Less fuss = More fun! Get our free cruise packing list to make it easy. #cruising #packing #traveltips”]
Our cruise packing list printable!
Download our Ultimate Cruise Packing List PDF now. It’s free! The last page includes space for notes so you can personalize your list to meet any special needs you have. And a special note to first time cruisers: Cruise ship packing isn’t a whole lot different from other vacations. If you use this as a first time cruise packing list, you’ll be the pro on board — and you’ll have a great time. The articles below will help you learn more about cruising. Bon voyage!