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Cruise packing can be complicated. Cruise staterooms are typically pretty small, so you don’t want to bring too much stuff. You simply won’t have enough room to overstuff the limited drawers and closet space. However, you want to make sure that you bring enough stuff, since you won’t have access to endless shops to purchase anything you may have forgotten. I struggle so much with bringing everything I may ever need for my trip, without packing too much. It’s definitely a challenge. If you are going on a cruise and are wondering what things to bring on a cruise, here are our suggestions based on what we’ve learned over ten cruises.
Cruise Checklist: Things to Bring on a Cruise
Day Bag/Carry On Bag
Cruise ship passengers disembark and embark on the same day, making the room turnover very fast. Because of that, you won’t be able to get into your room right away. In addition, you won’t be able to access your checked luggage until it is delivered to your room later in the day. Therefore, you’ll need to carry a day bag that is filled with what you need for the day, but isn’t too heavy that you won’t be able to carry it. I typically bring a lightweight backpack or tote bag with the following items:
- Cell phone (this is the last time I’m usually able to access data until we are back on US soil)
- A change of clothes for dinner (per person)
- Bathing suits (if the kids want to swim)
- Valuables that you don’t want in checked bags
- Passports/travel documents/credit cards
- Camera since you’ll want to take pictures on the first day
- Cruise door magnets/decorations (for cruise ships with magnetic doors – we like to decorate our door right away)
- Sunscreen/sun hat
Citizenship documentation requirements will vary depending on your destination, so make sure you find out what the requirements are well in advance. If you need a passport, you’ll want to apply for that with plenty of time to spare. You may also need cruise documentation, like the cruise booklet that the Disney Cruise Line sends. I print everything out and put it in a travel wallet so that it’s all available at my fingertips when I check in.
There are many different types of cruises (with countless different itineraries), so what you pack for clothing and shoes will vary. Any cruise packing checklist will tell you not to pack too many clothes – there aren’t many extra hangers in the closets, and drawer space is limited. So, if your trip includes any sort of beach or pool time, you may be able to limit the amount of outfits you bring. For instance, on the Caribbean cruises that I’ve been on, I typically wear my bathing suit and cover up for most of the day during our days at sea. So, I only need an outfit for dinner that day. I try to rewear outfits and mix and match items so that I don’t have to bring too much.
For shoes, you’ll want to have flip flops (for the beach/pool area), comfortable shoes (you’ll do a LOT of walking, even on the ship), and dress shoes. It’s also a great idea to check on any special events/evenings on your ship. For instance, some of the Disney Cruise Line itineraries offer pirate night during the cruise, and families often dress up in pirate garb. Some cruise lines have formal nights for dinner, and you’ll want to have something special to wear that night.
Most cruise lines also offer laundry facilities on the ship. While I don’t typically like to spend my vacation doing laundry, it’s always nice to know that you have options in case you do run out of clothes. Make sure that your cruise ship does have these facilities before packing, however.
Toiletries in the cruise ship shops are pretty limited (and expensive), so you’ll want to bring everything that you need. But, cruise ship bathrooms are generally small, with only a bit of counter space. I like to pack my hanging toiletry organizer with travel sized items. Since I travel so much, I usually keep the organizer packed with stuff all the time, so that it’s easy to grab and throw in my suitcase.
You’ll receive a minimum of soap, shampoo, and conditioner in the room, so you’ll need to pack personal toiletries and makeup. If your vacation plans include any sort of beach or pool time, you’ll also want to pack plenty of sunscreen and after sun lotion. Bug spray is also a good idea, especially for your shore excursions.
Cruise ships do have medical facilities in case of an emergency, as well as some basic medications. We have been lucky on all of our cruises – no one has gotten sick at all. I still like to travel with medications, however, just in case. I bring all of our prescription medication in my day bag, so that I have it with me, and also bring along any over the counter medications that I may need. We have some things that we occasionally need, like Children’s pain reliever and my son’s inhaler (which he only needs when he gets a cold), as well as essential medication like EpiPens. Everything goes into the day bag, and we cross our fingers that it stays there for the duration of the trip.
Fish Extender/Door Magnets
If you are traveling on the Disney Cruise Line, you’ll want to know about the fish extender and cruise door magnet traditions. Neither are required at all, but it’s good to know about them in advance. If you do decide to decorate your door, you’ll want to make or buy magnets in advance. Not traveling on the Disney Cruise Line? Check in advance to see if the stateroom doors are magnetic. I’ve been on a cruise before where I was disappointed to find that the magnets I brought were useless since the door wasn’t magnetic.
If you go on a cruise and don’t Instagram it, have you been on a cruise at all? You’ll probably want to bring along some sort of camera equipment. I usually bring my iPhone X as well as my Olympus TG-5 waterproof camera. Once the ship leaves the US, I turn my phone on airplane mode, so that I don’t accumulate data charges while I’m taking pictures.
Be sure to bring along all required chargers, as well as memory cards for your camera. I once traveled internationally without my charger for my underwater camera, and didn’t realize it was out of power until I was in the water trying to take a picture. Make sure things are charged up before heading out.
I’m always concerned with which bags to bring, and you’ll likely need several different bag types. In addition to your suitcases and day bag, you’ll want to have bags for your specific activities on the ship.
You’ll want to have a beach bag for any beach plans you have. I also like to bring along a small handbag to bring to dinner, so that I don’t have to carry my huge tote. If you’ve got shore excursion planned, you may want to bring a tote or backpack to bring everything that you need for the day.
What Not To Bring
You’ll also want some extra space in your luggage for purchases during shore excursions, as well as things you buy on the ship. So you don’t want to bring too much. There are some things that you won’t need to bring. Check with your cruise line before you go, to see what restrictions that have. Some cruise lines don’t allow surge protector/power strips. You also won’t be able to use an iron in the your stateroom, although you’ll probably have access to an iron in the laundry room. Beach towels are also usually not necessary. There should be plenty by the pool, as well as at any excursion you have planned.
To prevent the spread of illness, most cruise lines prefer you to use fresh, disposable cups at the beverage stations. So while I typically recommend packing reusable water bottles, you may not need them for a cruise. You’ll also likely have a hairdryer in the room, and won’t need to bring one.
Before You Go…
- Check with your cruise line for item restrictions, documentation requirements, laundry facility availability, and special events/dinners.
- Create a packing list
- Shop for any thing you may need
Have you been on a cruise before? Is there anything you’d add to this “things to bring on a cruise” list?