Open suitcase on a bed with sweater, swimsuits, sunhat, flip flops, and sun glasses.
The first step to packing for a cruise is to figure out what destinations you'll be visiting and finding out if there is a dress code on board.
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Get Ready to Set Sail with These Essential Cruise Packing Tips

Preparing for Your Dream Getaway Just Got Easier

When it comes to cruising, there’s a lot more to packing than throwing some of your favorite outfits and accessories into a suitcase or going with your travel must-haves. You’ll need to think about the various weather conditions you’ll encounter between homeports and ports of call, as well as dress codes and the like.

What you bring, or fail to bring, can impact the enjoyment of your experience. We hope to make the cruise packing challenge less challenging, and less stressful, with these helpful tips.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Many people aren’t fond of packing, but putting it off until the last minute often means rushing, and rushing means you’re a lot more likely to forget something.

There are bound to be a few things you haven’t considered. By packing ahead, you’ll have more time to think about what you really want, and need, to bring.

Start planning at least a week advance – you can begin by putting travel essentials into your suitcase, or just piling them up in a corner. Then a day or two before you leave, you can organize them inside and add whatever else you want to take.

What to Pack

In order to determine what to pack, you’ll need to consider the destinations and the dress code. If the cruise you’re taking hosts formal nights and requires formal wear, some lines offer tux rentals so you don’t have to bring your own.

These days, however, passengers tend to dress more informally, such as suits for men and cocktail dresses (think: little black dress) for women. Even jeans are acceptable in many cruise ship dining rooms.

You’ll also need to consider the various places you’re going to — if it’s a tropical destination like the Caribbean, Hawaii or the Mexican Riviera, it’s likely all about beach-casual. But if you’re traveling to Europe you may need more resort-casual kind of wear.

And, if you plan to visit religious sites, be sure to bring some modest clothing that covers your knees and shoulders.

Packing Light

When it comes to all types of travel, the lighter you pack, the less you’ll have to lug around. For cruising, it also means more space in those confined rooms.

If you tend to over-pack, lay out all the clothes you initially think you’ll want to have with you, and then pack half that amount. Try and choose items that can be re-used, and keep in mind that cruise ships have laundry and dry-cleaning facilities.

Not all have self-laundry services, however, which means fees can be steep on those cruise lines. You can save on costs by bringing travel-size detergent and washing items in your cabin’s bathroom.

To save space, don’t fold your clothes, roll them. Purchase trial- or travel-size items of toiletries, and pack those in your carry-on to save room.

Just remember that when going through airport security, they need to be 3.4 ounces or less and placed into a quart-size Ziploc-style bag, which also helps to contain any spillages that can occur. Check the TSA carry-on limits for other tips on what you can bring.

If you’re going to be flying to the port city and aren’t sure whether your luggage weighs less than the airline’s limits (typically 50 pounds, but check with the your particular airline), you may want to invest in a luggage scale to avoid what can be very steep overweight baggage penalties. Of course, if you’re truly packing light, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Save Room for Souvenirs

You’re probably going to pick up at least a few gifts or souvenirs during your cruise vacation, which means you’ll need some room to bring them home. If you’re limited on space, pack a foldable duffel which takes up little room — you can use that for your newly acquired goods and then check it for the flight home, which is usually cheaper than paying overweight luggage fees.

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Pack a Carry-On with Must-Haves

As your carry-on will be with you at all times, be sure to pack it with necessary must-haves in case your luggage is lost or delayed. Include items like one change of clothes, toiletries (as mentioned), and any prescription and/or over-the-counter medicines, as well as any travel documents.

You may want to include an outfit for dinner and/or a bathing suit so you’ll be able to take advantage of all the on-board activities immediately, rather than having to wait for your bags to show up.

Convenient Cruise Packing Checklist

This cruise packing list includes the essentials along with some other items you may not think about.

  • Clothing that can be mixed and matched, appropriate for various ports according to weather and specific destinations, and one or two more formal outfits with different accessories. Bring two bathing suits so you’ll have a fresh one to wear when one is still wet; comfortable walking shoes for excursions, sandals and/or water shoes, and a pair of more formal shoes, depending on your particular cruise. An exercise outfit may also be needed if you plan on utilizing the ship’s fitness room.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses for sun protection.
  • Toiletries and personal care items like toothbrushes, razors, deodorant, cosmetics, etc.
  • Passports and copies of all passports in case one or more are lost
  • Driver’s license
  • Other travel documentation, such as cruise tickets, airline tickets, vaccination certificates (if needed for certain cruise destinations like the Amazon)
  • Medical insurance cards, including any travel insurance you may have purchased
  • Small first aid kit with bandages, aspirin, anti-diarrhea and other minor medications
  • Sea sickness prevention, like Dramamine, essential oils or ginger candy
  • Addresses of family and friends for post cards
  • A power strip for charging your electronics (if you plan on sharing a cabin with several family members)
  • Camera
  • Cell phone
  • Waterproof phone case for water protection as well as taking photos near or in the water
  • Batteries, memory cards, chargers, etc. for cameras and other electronics
  • Reading materials
  • Wet wipes for messes and avoiding germs
  • Deck of cards to prepare for a rainy day on a cruise
  • Small toys, books, coloring books and crayons, iPad with games, etc. for those traveling with kids
  • Bug repellent for tropical cruises
  • Binoculars
  • Foreign language book and/or destination guide book
  • Your favorite snacks
  • Small backpack for excursions

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