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What To Pack in A Cruise Carry On Bag

Are you planning to go on a cruise? Packing for a cruise can be stressful, because you’ll want to have everything you need, but won’t want to overpack. It’s a delicate balance and one that you have to plan for.

You’ll need to pack carefully, and it’s especially important to know what to pack in a cruise carry-on bag. This is the bag you’ll bring with you on the cruise and will contain everything you need before your checked bags are delivered to your room later in the day.

The key to packing appropriately for a cruise is to make sure you are prepared. Before you get ready to go, check with the cruise line so that you know what the guidelines are for baggage.

There are usually some restrictions on what you can pack (often there are restrictions on power strips and alcohol). You’ll also want to know what the dress code is, what types of dinners there are, and what you’ll be doing at the various ports of call.

Set up a packing list, so that you know exactly what you’ll want to pack. That way, you won’t want to forget anything. While there are some shops onboard cruise ships, they typically don’t have a huge selection of items. Prices can also be high, and the shops aren’t always open, so it’s best to bring everything you need.

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Beach bag sitting on table on cruise stateroom balcony  - what to pack in a cruise carry on bag

What To Pack in A Cruise Carry-On Bag

What is Cruise Carry On Luggage?

If you haven’t been on a cruise before, you may want to know why cruise carry-on luggage is so important. When you go on a cruise, you’ll check most of your luggage at the port. It will be delivered outside your stateroom later in the evening.

However, like with a flight, you can bring a bag with you on the ship on embarkation day. This bag will stay with you until you can enter your room. So while you’ll want to have a lot of items with you, you won’t want your bag to be too heavy because you have to carry it until your stateroom is ready.

Types of Bags To Use as a Cruise Carry-On

If you are flying in for your cruise, you probably already have a carry-on bag (or several carry-on bags) packed. I’d recommend, however, that you consider repacking these for your cruise. You won’t want to be wheeling around a suitcase on the ship, especially because it’s often easier to take the stairs rather than an elevator.

I typically like to either pack a tote, a duffle bag, or a backpack as a cruise carry-on bag. It all depends on what I’m already bringing for my trip, as well as the number of things I need to pack. If you are to be visiting a beach on your cruise, you may also consider using your beach bag as a carry-on day bag.

When my kids were younger, my husband and I each brought a backpack to store everything we needed on our first day. Now, we all carry a smaller bag with our belongings.

Remember that you’ll need to tote around this bag until you can get into your room. On my first cruise, I made the mistake of carrying a very heavy bag that hurt my shoulder until I was finally able to get into my stateroom. If your cruise check-in time is later in the day, you won’t be carrying this bag for quite as long.

Beach bag on bed with white linens

What to Pack in Your Cruise Carry-On Bag

Diaper Bag Essentials

If you are cruising with a child in diapers or pull-ups, you’ll need to bring all of the diaper bag essentials with you on the ship. You won’t necessarily know when your regular luggage will arrive, so make sure you have a change of clothes for your child(ren), and enough baby food, bottles, diapers, and other supplies to last for the full day. Keep in mind that the cruise shops cannot be open while the ship is in port, so you won’t even be able to purchase those things right away.


Even if you don’t need your medication for the day, it’s still important that you pack all medication and first aid supplies in your carry-on bag. That way, if you do need them, you’ll have them available to you. If for some reason you don’t get your luggage right away, medication is something that isn’t easily replaced. It’s best to have it with you at all times.

Valuables and Fragile Items

Just like when I fly, I always make sure my valuables and fragile items (like iPads, jewelry, e-readers, etc), are with me when I board the ship. You never know if your luggage will fall or if anything will break, so it’s best to keep these things in your carry-on bag.

Passport in hand in front of beach

Cruise Documents

When you check in to your cruise, there are some items that you’ll need to show. These essential items of travel documentation may include your passport or other citizenship documentation, vaccination record (although most no longer require this), QR code for boarding, photo ID, and any specific items that the cruise line requires. Keep these easily accessible because you’ll probably need them when you get to the port.

If you are traveling on the Disney Cruise Line and plan to decorate your stateroom door, you may want to pack your stateroom door decorations in your day bag so you can decorate right away. It’s always fun to put those magnets right on the door so you can identify it.

Bathing Suit and Flip Flops

The first day of your cruise vacation starts right when you enter the ship. If you’ll want to visit the pools, hot tubs, or spa right away, it may be a good idea to pack your bathing suits and flip-flops in your day bag.

While you may not be able to get into your cruise cabin, you can probably change into it in a restroom. Another option is to wear your swimsuit on the ship (under your regular clothes), but be sure to pack underwear to change into.

Dinner Outfit

Depending on your time for dinner, you may not receive your luggage in time to change. I typically wear the same outfit all day on my first day. However, if you’d prefer to dress up, you may want to bring that change of clothes in your day bag. I have found that most cruise lines have a casual dinner dress code on the first night so guests don’t have to worry about changing.

Portable Charger

With all of the various uses for your mobile phone, you may find that the battery drains before you can charge it in your stateroom. I recommend traveling with a fully charged portable phone charger so that you are always prepared. Most cruise lines heavily rely on their apps now, and you’ll want to be able to access it to make any plans.


I always pack a lot of sunscreen on my vacations whenever I’m in the sun. While these are typically large bottles, I also like to have some small travel-sized bottles in my carry-on bag. That way, I can make sure that I have enough sunscreen for the first day. This is especially important for cruises that leave from warm weather states like Florida and Texas.

Refillable Water Bottle

Many cruise ships offer refillable water stations on board. It’s easier and cheaper than purchasing bottled water, with less waste. Bring your refillable bottle with you to fill it right away when you get on the ship.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to keep liquids to a specific size for a cruise carry-on bag?

The TSA rules don’t apply to a cruise ship. You’ll want to check for restrictions with your cruise line but in general, you don’t need to worry about toiletry sizes.

Is there a size restriction for cruise carry-ons?

Your carry-on bag will need to fit in the X-ray machine, but generally, if you can carry it, you can bring it. Check with your cruise line for specific guidelines, however.

More Packing Tips Resources: Looking for more packing tips and recommendations? Here are all of our posts including packing lists, product recommendations, and ideas for specific trips.

White and black bag on a table on a cruise balcony

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