Cruise Packing List

Packing for a cruise can seem like an intimidating task. Days at the beach, gala nights, excursions ranging from snorkeling, museums, and nature hikes. Environmental challenges include chilly dining rooms and humid ports.

Before we get to the top cruise packing tips, here are some things to think about as you create your own cruise packing list. All of these things will make a difference to what you decide to pack for your cruise vacation.

Whether your goal is to avoid checked or excess bag fees by packing light, reserve your in-port shopping for souvenirs rather than necessities, or simply make sure you take everything you need on your next vacation, here are a few tips for how to pack for a cruise.

  • What will the weather be like; hot or cold, or both?
  • What is the cruise lines dress code?
  • Will you be flying or driving to the cruise port?
  • How many people are in your cruise cabin?
  • What excursions and cruise ship activities do you have planned?

Passports and Government ID

First and foremost, have your cruise documents and your passports on you, in your purse or wallet, not packed in your suitcase. You will need them as part of the boarding process and you can be declined boarding if you do not have the proper ID and documents. So, under no circumstances should not be placed in your suitcase – keep them on your person at all times.

Tip: As soon as you get to your stateroom, put your passports in your small cabin safe, along with any other valuables and cash you’ve brought on the trip.

Proof of Vaccine and Negative COVID test results

Most cruise lines are requiring cruise passengers to be vaccinated, as well as show a negative COVID-19 test result to board your cruise. Make sure to check your cruise line’s current requirements and health protocols, and continue to check for updates.

Keep all important documents with you

As mentioned above, always make sure you bring your necessary IDs and cruise documents and never pack them in your checked luggage. You will want your photo ID and cruise ship boarding pass on hand. I keep mine in a special document wallet. Make sure you have the correct type of identification for your cruise destination, whether it’s a passport or birth certificate and photo ID. Cruisers without the correct documents have been turned away for various reasons, such as, for having just a copy of their birth certificate and not the required original or a passport with a name that doesn’t match the one on the ship’s manifest. If you need visas or immunizations for your cruising region, carry those documents with you, as well.

US currency – small bills

You won’t need cash to pay cruise ship tips or gratuities; these can be charged to your credit card during your cruise. You can even prepay gratuities before your cruise for convenience, if you like.

However, it’s a good idea to have small bills to tip the luggage porters as you drop off your luggage on embarkation day, or if they assist you for disembarkation. You may also want to tip tour guides in a cruise port and make small purchases in a shore side market.

Keep in mind that US dollars are welcome in most Caribbean cruise ports. However, when you cruise in Europe or outside of North America, local currency is preferred.

Pack your carry-on bags wisely

Pack a change of clothes and important meds or toiletries in your carry-on bags you will take on the plane and personally transport onboard. This is important for two reasons:

  1. If your luggage gets lost by the airline on the way to your cruise, at least you’ll have some essentials with you. It can take a while for your luggage to be found and then shipped to the next port of call.

  2. In case your suitcases are delayed in being delivered to your cabin, you’ll have a bathing suit or dinner attire on hand and can enjoy all the onboard activities right away, rather than waiting for your bags to show up.

Pack your checked luggage wisely

As with your carry-on bags, be smart about your checked bags also. If you tend to overpack, follow my example; lay out all the clothes you think you’ll need, then only pack half the clothing and three-quarters of the shoes.

If you’re traveling with family, consider packing half of your things in one suitcase and half in a separate one and have your spouse and kids do the same. That way, if one bag gets lost, then everyone will have some clothing – rather than one person having nothing. I save space by roll my clothes rather than fold them. Plus, I have learned to embrace packing cubes as really convenient space savers.

Finally, never pack valuables in your checked bags, as they could be stolen. Carry all cameras, electronic games, jewelry and prescription medicine in your carry-on.

Know the dress code

If you love to dress up, some cruise lines do offer tuxedo rentals so you don’t have to pack your own. But, while some folks still dress in formal gowns and tuxedos for the ship’s formal nights, most people dress more informally, such as suits for men and cocktail dress or flowing pantsuits for women. “Resort casual” is now the ubiquitous evening dress; think date night, with men in slacks and buttoned shirts without jackets and women in everything from sundresses to skirts or slacks with cute tops. I typically wear an Aloha shirt and khaki trousers. On some cruise ships, jeans are now frequently seen in the dining rooms.

Consider doing laundry onboard

If you plan do laundry while on your cruise to decrease what you pack, make sure to do your research; not all ships offer self-service laundromats. Those ships that do have such facilities usually don’t offer them for free, and doing laundry on a cruise ship can get expensive. Cruise lines often offer complimentary laundry and pressing services to suite guests and top-tier past passengers, so it pays to be loyal.

You can always save on laundry costs by bringing travel detergent and rinsing out underwear and shirts in your cabin’s bathroom, or packing a bottle of travel-sized Febreze® to get one more day’s use out of gently worn clothing.

Don’t assume your favorite toiletries will be in your cabin

Your cruise ship will always have basic toiletries onboard, such as soap and shampoo. In main cabins on some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Carnival, toiletries offered are limited and, in some cases, are a pump bottle of something resembling soap affixed to the shower wall. You might want to make room in your luggage for your favorite brands; I am allergic to scented soaps so I pack my own.

The same goes for hair dryers. Most staterooms come with weak dryers, so if you’re picky, pack your own. Here’s a good tip: I never unpack my toiletry kit. I leave mine filled with travel-sized bottles and an extra toothbrush and razor. When it’s time for our next cruise, or any other trip, all I need to do is top off or replace the bottles; keeps me from wasting time collecting items and possibly forgetting something.

Dress for your destination

Some places are more formal than others. Expect to pack more resort-casual wear if traveling to Europe or Bermuda. Other cruise itineraries, such as Hawaii, the Mexican Riviera, the Caribbean, and French Polynesia, are more casual.

Don’t forget to think about your in-port activities. Flip-flops are fine for a beach day, but you’ll want more comfortable shoes for long days of sightseeing or active excursions like hiking or biking. If you’re visiting religious sites in the Middle East or some parts of Europe, you’ll want modest clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, even if it’s quite hot.

Note: Golf courses in certain areas, Bermuda for example, have strict dress codes.

Remember the basics

Most cruise ship cabins don’t come with alarm clocks, so bring your own. If you’re like me, you’ll be using your cell phone for this job, but remember to put it in airplane mode so you don’t incur roaming charges in foreign waters. Other items you might want to pack because they’re not provided or super-expensive to buy onboard include:


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