Cruises can be an effortless vacation for families. Once you are onboard, you’ll already have much of your entertainment, meals, and other vacation plans settled. The family-friendly lines offer kids’ programming, including kids’ clubs and amenities, so you’ll probably even have some free time during your vacation.
Packing, however, is extremely important. You’ll have limited access to shops to purchase things you may need. But, cruise staterooms are also notoriously small, so you’ll want to be efficient with what you bring. The luggage you bring on the cruise is important because the bags do get handled quite a bit. You’ll want to make sure you can pack effectively, still leaving some space in your bag.
There are loads of good options for luggage, at varying price points. The best luggage for a cruise will depend on a number of factors. This post will help you figure out the best luggage for your vacation, including information about the different types of luggage that you’ll need for your trip.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. A purchase and/or click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own.
Make Sailing a Breeze With the Best Luggage for a Cruise Vacation
Here are some factors you’ll need to consider before deciding which luggage to bring on your cruise. Keep in mind that all of our tips will also apply to other vacations as well – so your purchase will last well beyond your cruise.
When sailing on a cruise, all of the cruise terminals offer the opportunity for you to drop your luggage off with a porter before sailing. These pieces of luggage are delivered to the cruise cabins later in the day. The porters at the cruise terminal aren’t cruise line employees, so be sure to have tip money available.
If your cruise line provides you with luggage tags, be sure to put them on before you sail, but after you fly. Some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, let you print your own tags. We like these plastic luggage tag holders which can keep your luggage tags secure to your bag.
Length of Cruise
We’ve been on a number of cruises – from quick two-night sailings to a 7-day cruise. What you need to bring with you will vary dramatically for a longer sailing. When taking a short cruise, you’ll be able to carry your luggage on yourself – limiting how much handling your bag gets. You’ll still want to make sure your bag is easy to carry around – because your stateroom may not be ready the minute you board the ship.
Takeaway: The shorter the cruise, the less concern about the quality of the bag.
How You Are Getting There
Because I like to fly to the Caribbean and typically sail out of Florida, I need to fly in for my cruise vacation. Flying in for a cruise can be stressful. With flight delays and potential weather concerns, you’ll want to make sure you arrive with plenty of time.
Most cruise experts recommend arriving at least the night before your cruise. On our post-Christmas cruise, our checked bags didn’t make it onto our flight. Because we arrived the day before, we were luckily able to get the bags the next morning. It definitely made for a stressful 12 hours.
If you are flying, I highly recommend packing carry-on bags with lots of essentials. At a minimum, you’ll want enough underwear and outfits for a day or two, as well as a swimsuit (for a Caribbean vacation). That way, you’ll at least have some clothing in case your bags go missing, as ours did. For this purpose, I pack roller bag carry-ons, rather than duffel bags.
Takeaway: If you are flying, have some larger carry-ons filled with essentials.
Where To Store Your Bags
Staterooms are often small, so you’ll want to make sure you have enough room in your cabin to store your empty bags. While some cruise guests prefer to live out of their suitcases, I like to fully unpack. One of the first things I do is unpack, and then I store my bags under the bed in the room. Storage space can sometimes be limited, so it’s best to keep the bags out of the way during your trip.
Takeaway: Don’t pack more bags than you are able to easily store in your room
You’ll find luggage in almost any general merchandise store you visit – from mass merchandisers and department stores to off-price retailers. If you want to use your luggage for multiple trips, I highly recommend splurging on a high-quality luggage set.
We’ve all seen broken bags on the luggage carousel. From torn and busted zips to broken handles, damaged luggage can put a damper on the start of your family cruise. While purchasing a more expensive bag isn’t a guarantee that something won’t happen, those bags often have warranties and are less likely to break.
Takeaway: You’ll get more long-term value with an investment in high-quality luggage, but cheaper, more affordable options are available.
Regardless of whether you choose a pricey bag or a more affordable option, you’ll want to consider the different luggage features available.
Wheels: I prefer 360-degree spinner wheels, so the bag can be easily moved in either direction. Cruise ships also typically have lots of carpeting, so a roller bag with spinner wheels is easier to pull or push.
Hard-sided: Soft-sided bags can be more easily stuffed, but hard-shelled bags are more sturdy. It can also be easier to compress items in these bags.
Expandable: While an expandable bag can be useful, keep in mind that when expanding it you may make it too large to be a carry-on.
Colors: Almost every bag on the luggage carousel is black, making it difficult to identify your specific bag. Purchase a unique color, and you’ll be easily able to find your bag as soon as it comes out.
There are other features you may want to have, including a water-resistant material, a lock, and an interior or exterior pocket for easy access to travel documents and other essentials.
Takeaway: Consider the features you may want before purchasing. For a cruise, the type of wheels can be important.
When you arrive for your cruise, you can give the porter any luggage that you’d like to check-in. This may or may not be the same as the checked bags that you give the airlines. Cruises don’t have the same liquid carry-on bag restrictions.
Keep in mind, however, that you will need to carry any luggage that you don’t check along with you until your cruise ship stateroom is ready.
When you are done with your cruise, you can also have your luggage taken directly off the ship and to the port. Typically, you’ll need to pack and leave your bags out at night. Crew members take them from outside your stateroom and deliver them to the port.
We have two favorite larger suitcases that are great for checked luggage.
Hideo Wakamatsu: This line offers a soft-sided bag that can really be stuffed. It’s water-resistant and lightweight. It doesn’t have spinner wheels, however. I’ve had this bag for years and love it, but the color I have – blue – is no longer available.
Away: One of the most popular luggage brands is Away, and for good reason. It’s a hard-shell suitcase but has really great spinner wheels making it easy to wheel around an airport.
I almost always bring a wheeled carry-on bag with me, even when I check luggage. That way, I have some clothes in case my luggage is delayed. However, I always check this bag at the port so I don’t have to drag it around as I start to explore the ship.
Recommendations: I recommend the counterparts to the checked bags listed above. While there are different sizes, I really like the “bigger carry-on” size of the Away bag – it holds a ton of stuff with a compression pad and is the perfect size as a carry-on.
While some cruise lines have formal nights with a formal dress code (where you’ll need to get very dressed up), the trend seems to be toward more casual cruising. In general, I’d only recommend a garment bag if you really need one, because they aren’t very versatile.
As an alternative, Away offers a garment sleeve, which can be used in the bigger carry-on. That can be a great option without adding a separate piece of baggage to your allowance.
Because you won’t receive your checked baggage until later in the day, you’ll want to have a day bag packed with essentials. I include my important documents, electronic devices, sunscreen, valuables, medication, chargers, and anything else I need for the first day. Some people choose to pack swimsuits so their kids can go right to the pool, and you may also want a change of clothes.
You’ll want to make sure anything important is in this bag, but won’t want it to be too heavy. To save space, I usually use my beach bag (if I have a beach day as part of my planned shore excursions) as my day bag. Just keep in mind that a tote bag can get heavy.
My favorite beach bag is by Aloha Collection, which can be purchased on Amazon. They also have great pouches to hold your essentials and can be used for packing your wet bathing suit when you go home.
Within Your Bag
To stay organized, I’d recommend using packing cubes. These are especially useful if you are staying at a hotel the night before your cruise. You can pack the items you need for this first day separately from the other items for your cruise.
The Amazon basics brand is a great choice. There are many different colors offered, so you can get a different color for each member of your family. That way, you can use them for the entire family and stay organized.
A toiletry bag is a travel essential. It will keep everything clean and separate from your clothes and can be easily moved from your suitcase to the stateroom bathroom. If you are a frequent traveler, you may want to keep a stocked toiletry bag ready to go for any trip. Just check it before you go to make sure there is enough of each product and that nothing is expired.
If you use an iPhone, AirTags can be a great way to keep track of your baggage. This post offers some essential information for using an AirTag on your luggage. It’s a good idea to have them on your bags to keep track of them during your flight and on embarkation day.
Considering a family cruise? Check out our guide to family cruising, with posts about popular cruise terminals, cruise ships, and cruise lines, as well as tips for cruising.