What do I really need to pack for my cruise?

Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas

Whether it’s your first or tenth cruise, do you really know how to pack for your cruise? Do you pack everything and realize you need a bigger suitcase? Do you get to the cruise port and wonder how will you ever manage a bag so large?  Instead of struggling at the airport and cruise port, consider what it is you really need to pack before you go and narrow your list down.  You’ll have a better vacation and you’ll be glad that you didn’t need to jam everything inside the teeny tiny closet inside your cabin.

When packing for my cruise, I generally aim to bring a carry on suitcase and one carry on bag.  This way, I won’t need to check any items in at the airport.  If you’re not flying, sure you can bring a larger bag, but remember you’re responsible for lugging it on and off the ship all on your own.  Nothing is worse than the morning of disembarkation when everyone with a suitcase is using the elevators.  Try to bring something you can carry down the stairs to avoid the long lines – you’ll thank me later. Keep in mind that cabins on a cruise ship aren’t huge and as such, the closets in those small cabins are on the miniscule side as well.  The less you have to pack, the less there will be to unpack and to squeeze into that tiny closet.

Must Haves

Balcony cabin on the Norwegian Dawn.
  • Your passport and photo ID along with a credit card for check in
  • Your cruise ticket or paperwork
  • Suntan lotion
  • Swimsuit (at least one, preferably two) and a cover up
  • Clothing for during the day as well as evening attire
  • Shoes, sandals, sneakers
  • Camera, iPad, laptop, Kindle, etc. plus headphones, chargers and/or books or magazines
  • Shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, makeup, comb/hairbrush, flat iron  – yes, ladies might appreciate this list more than men!
  • Medications including prescription and over the counter drugs like Dramamine
  • Glasses/contacts (solution, case, etc.), and sunglasses
  • Plastic hangers: I always bring at least a dozen because there never seems to be enough in my closet.  Afterwards I simply leave them for the crew, which means more space in my bag for my trip home.
  • One dollar bills: I always bring enough to leave tips not only for the crew, but on land as well in places that take US currency.
  • Small backpack or sports bag: These come in handy when traveling into a port or going up to the pool.  Throw all your belongings into the small bag and head out hassle free.

Leave These Things Behind

Port of Miami Baggage Claim after a cruise.
  • Clothing iron
  • Hair dryer
  • Beach towel: The cruise line will provide every passenger with a pool towel, which can also be used at the beach.  Remember to exchange them when they’re wet and be sure to return them to your cabin or you’ll be charged..
  • Travel alarm clock: Most of us have cell phones these days.  I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t.  Leave the travel alarm clock home and use the clock on your smartphone instead.
  • Alcohol unless the cruise line allows it.  Some cruise lines allow a bottle of wine per person.  Check with your cruise line first.  Is it really worth sneaking alcohol onboard?
  • Too many shoes and clothes: Remember to pack for the number of days you’re actually traveling.  If you’re going on a 7-day cruise you really don’t need 21 changes of clothing and 21 pairs of shoes.
  • Over the door shoe storage: The first time I saw this I laughed.  Yes, it could probably serve double duty for storage of other items, but the valuable real estate it might take up in my suitcase to pack to bring along with me could be better served with clothing or shoes.
  • Fanny pack:  Please, please, please – leave this at home.  These don’t look good on anyone and it dates the wearer considerably.  Try an alternative like a small bag or a bag that crosses over your body, but please – no fanny packs.
  • Tuxedos and evening gowns: Cruising has changed a lot in the past decade.  If you have never cruised or haven’t in a while, depending on the cruise line you might not even see anyone sporting fancy clothing.  This can save significant space in your luggage.

Think ahead of all the fun you’ll have and don’t worry about what you might have forgotten.  Worse case scenario is that you’ll have to buy it in port.  No one wants to do that, but it won’t be the end of the world.  Now go on and plan your next cruise vacation and start packing