Cruise packing! YIKES! Since cruise ship cabins average only 175 square feet, much less than the average US hotel room of about 300 square feet, smart packing is important (Source: NBCNews.com). Lots of stuff crammed into a small space can be hard to manage.
Even more of an issue is lugging all that stuff. Airline fees keep skyrocketing. Pack two outfits per day, and expect to pay $50 extra baggage fees for the luxury of a second suitcase. If you’re driving to the port, remember the more you bring, the more you have to keep track of coming and going.
Beyond those issues, though, the truth is you just don’t need all that much stuff on a cruise! Really, I’ve never heard of anyone under packing for a cruise vacation. Though, I have heard a lot of people laugh about how much they overpacked. Apply some great cruise packing tips and advice and you’ll navigate that ship like a pro.
What should you pack?
I’ll be addressing southern cruise destinations like Bermuda, Bahamas, the Caribbean and Mexico in this post. For cruise packing tips for Alaska, this article should help.
There’s an abundance of cruise packing advice online, and I’ve tried a few different approaches. The one that works — really works — 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! As the author of that post points out, women can recycle outfits by dressing them up or down with scarves, jewelry or sweaters. I wore the same basic dress for three different dinners but with different accessories and no one noticed. And wearing the dress for just 3-4 hours, it was easy to wear again.
Some hints to make packing easier, especially for women:
- • Pack in a uniform color scheme.
- • Remind yourself that the more you take, the more you risk losing.
- • Remind yourself how heavy that luggage gets! 🙂
Here’s my recommended cruise packing list. Please, print a copy so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
What shouldn’t you pack?
On all cruise lines, weapons, illegal drugs, flammable liquids, irons, candles, and most small electrical appliances. You CANNOT take an iron on a cruise ship! Cruise lines generally ban large coolers, though a small, personal cooler is allowed on most ships (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 policies change and each cruise line has different rules, be sure to check what’s allowed before travel.
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 the carry-on bag
When packing, some items need to go in your carry-on bag. Since cabins are generally not available until after 2:00 p.m. (sometimes even later), wise packing of the carry-on bag will make your first hours on board more enjoyable. A friend told me recently that someone she knows was refused boarding on a cruise because she did not have her paperwork with her. Her passport and ID were packed in her checked luggage. Can you imagine that? Use this list and you’ll have no problems!
Be sure to include these essentials:
- • ALL cruise boarding documents which includes boarding passes, photo ID, passport, and any other papers the cruise line might require.
- • ALL medications. You should always carry your medications anyway, because if checked luggage gets lost, 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. Less for you to carry!
- • Sunscreen.
- • Sunglasses.
- • Baseball hat, sun hat or sun visor if you use those regularly.
- • All medications.
- • All valuable electronics. If you must bring a computer, carry it with you. There are computers available on-board, so if you need to get online, consider using those instead. It’s a whole lot easier! I pack my e-reader in my checked luggage since I’ve got other things to manage and have never had a problem with it. If that makes you uncomfortable, carry your e-reader.
- • Camera. Make sure batteries are fully charged so you don’t have to carry those.
- • Wine or other beverages, if the cruise line allows. Beverages and food packed in checked luggage are likely to be removed and held. See your cruise line’s policy for more information.
- • 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, whether by air or on a cruise, I always take a photo of my checked luggage that day. If my luggage gets lost — or held by cruise security — I can show staff exactly what my bag looks like, making it quicker and easier to retrieve. When my mom and I cruised last November, one of my bags was held by security 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
Cruise vacations are meant to be relaxing and care-free. 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 cruise vacations are all about relaxing. There’s no rush, no fuss. Have fun dressing for formal night, but otherwise keep it simple.
Read these articles for more on cruising.
Five mistakes first time cruisers make (and how to avoid them)
A beginner’s guide to days at sea (from beach towels to drink specials and more!)