What to Pack for a Cruise Vacation

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When deciding what to pack for your cruise, vacationers are often surprised at the type of items to take compared to other types of travel, especially for rookie cruisers. Some of the more unusual items include sealable plastic bags, outlet adapters, magnetic hooks, and even an over-the-door shoe organizer! These and other recommendations will protect your personal belongings, keep your tech running, and maximize your cabin space.

Below are some of our favorite items, hacks, and tips for making your voyage comfortable.

Let’s Talk Tech on What to Pack for a Cruise

When it’s time to decide which tech items to pack on your cruise, we often think we must take it all. Keeping in mind that luggage and cabin space can be limited, here are our suggestions on the ‘must-have’ gadgets.

Newer smartphones have excellent cameras that will capture all your cruise vacation memories – suitable for framing later. Remember to pack the charger. And, if you are traveling with kids or want to get in a bit of work while you are away, then a small laptop or tablet should make the voyage with you. Bring a list of your passwords!

Other items to help keep the tech going are headphones and an outlet adapter. The former is helpful when someone wants to watch a movie or listen to their own music. And for the latter, cruise ship cabins are notorious for having only a small number of outlets.

Shop online for an inexpensive adapter, and keep in mind that it should not have a surge protector. These types of adapters are not allowed on board a ship. Also, the portable (external) chargers are quite handy.

Laptop on Cruise Ship
Laptop on Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: SvetikovaV)

More plug-in items that will make your cabin more comfortable include a small-size fan (the folding types are great space savers) and a tiny nightlight or two. The fan is good for circulating a bit of air and ‘white noise’ for sleeping. The nightlights will help you safely navigate the cabin spaces in the dark.

This last suggestion will be appreciated by your cabin mates if you put one in the bathroom. The bathroom light switch is usually in the main cabin, so everyone gets a blast of light during nighttime visits to the loo.

Read Also: How to Text on a Cruise Ship for Free

In addition to the hardware items, plan ahead of time for some tech entertainment. Download e-books and/or movies (Netflix allows this) so that you can read and watch without the need for an internet connection. The latter can be quite costly and is often priced per device.

Additionally, consider using a VPN (virtual private network) service to browse the internet. This will offer a layer of protection for your passwords, credit cards and other critical information that public access Wi-Fi will not.

To Your Health

When packing medications for your cruise vacation, leave them in their original pharmacy bottles with the labels. Also, consider making a small first-aid kit with any over-the-counter medicines you might need.

Motion Sickness
Motion Sickness (Photo Credit: Maridav / Shutterstock)

Specific for a voyage at sea, pack seasickness remedies, Band-Aids, alcohol swabs, antibiotic cream, bug repellant spray or wristbands, a small bottle of hand sanitizer (these are located all over the ships, but it is convenient to have a pocket-size with you), cough drops, wet wipes and, of course, sunscreen.

A note about sunscreen: SPF 30 is currently the minimum recommended strength to protect your skin. Also, consider a waterproof variety for general use. If you are planning to snorkel while on your cruise, many tours now require that your sunscreen be eco-friendly. All these items may be available on the ship. However, they can be exorbitantly priced.

What to Wear

Most cruise lines today, like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and others, have a dress code that is ‘cruise casual.’ The days of tuxedos and fancy dresses are fading into a fashion of smart casual dresses for women and collared shirts and slacks for the men – good news for the goal of packing small and light! For luxury cruise lines, formalwear is still the fashion for evenings and special events.

After selecting your cruise line, destination and itinerary you will have a good idea of the specific types of clothing to pack for your cruise vacation. For example, at a sunny beach destination in the midst of summer, shorts, a lightweight pair of pants, a swimsuit, t-shirts and a couple of nice polos will do.

What to Pack for a cruise

On a cruise to Alaska or other northern locations, plan for layers since it can be chilly at night and/or rain. The easiest way for everyone to mix and match wardrobes is to limit the number of pants and shorts and choose basic, neutral colors. Then, pack more shirts and tops for a fresh look each day.

For your feet, we recommend a good walking shoe for onshore, slip-resistant flip flops for on deck and one dressier (comfortable) shoe/ sandal for dinners.  Our personal favorite ‘must-have’ footwear is a mesh water shoe. It slips on easily, has a grip sole, dries quickly and is perfect for water, beaches, trails and towns. Your outerwear should include a light rain jacket, no matter your destination; and, perhaps a warmer long sleeve shirt, jacket or hoodie.

Worth Reading: Best Types of Shoes for Cruises – For Any Need

Everyone should have a hat regardless of where or when you are taking a cruise. It is necessary sun protection. The wider the brim, the more sunburn you can prevent. (And, a warm winter hat for cold weather cruises – the wind is always blowing on the deck.) Also, every person should have a pair of sunglasses. Polarized UV sunnies are the best for good outdoor viewing and protection.

Bags and More Bags

This group of items is often overlooked when packing for a cruise – bags. Lots of activities on a cruise are water-related. And, this means that you will have lots of wet items, some of which you do not want to get wet. Ziploc bags in a variety of sizes are perfect for keeping your phone, passport, and wallet dry.

Or, consider purchasing a ‘dry pouch’ online, which is made specifically for these items. Larger baggies can be used at the end of your voyage to keep wet clothes separated from dry ones.

While onshore, what do you do with your valuables? Grab a waterproof dry bag online. Keep in mind when shopping that ‘water resistant’ is not the same as ‘waterproof.’ These will keep all your items (including your phone) safe and dry in a small carrying pouch.

Cruise On Bag
Cruise On Bag

Consider pairing this with a small lightweight backpack for shore excursions. This backpack can also double as your carry-on if you are traveling to the port by airplane. Both items are also great to have poolside while on the ship. Also, fanny packs are back – and they are a great, hands-free way to carry your things.

If you are a fan of buying souvenirs, bring along a folding duffel-style bag and use this to collect all your purchases. (It is unlikely that they will fit in your suitcase on the way home!) Also, bring some type of laundry bag (scented kitchen trash bags work perfectly here) for dirty (wet) clothes until you can address them.

On a side note, wrinkle-release sprays, small bottles of Febreze, and travel-size washing liquids can save time and money when refreshing your clothing.

Notes on Currency

Simply stated, carry cash. This type of currency will be accepted at any and all establishments along your journey. And, if necessary, it is easily exchangeable (for a fee) for whatever the local currency is at your shore destinations. You will also want to have along a credit card and an ATM card. But, be advised that neither of these may ‘work’ for certain purchases at various stores and/or restaurants.

Cruise Currency
Cruise Currency (Photo Credit: Jaime Garcia M)

Also, the ATM machines on the ship charge (what many consider) a high fee for cash withdrawals; and, this will also be true for any foreign country ATMs on shore. So, the best plan is to have enough cash on hand for whatever you might need throughout your cruise vacation.

Nifty Items and Hacks for Your Cabin

One challenge on cruise vacations is the amount of space in the cabins. While most of your voyage will be spent in other areas of the ship or on shore excursions, it is nice to return in the evenings to a comfortable space. We have a few items, tips and hacks that are popular with folks who take lots of cruises each year.

Ask for Extra Hangers

After unpacking, put small luggage pieces into the larger ones and store them all under the bed. Ask your stateroom attendant for extra hangers, if needed. And, bring along a travel clothesline to solve the age-old question about how to dry your wet clothes without losing them off the balcony or filling up the bathroom every day.

Magnetic Hooks

The walls and ceilings of cruise ships are metal. This means that you can create extra places to hang things by using magnetic hooks. You can find them online for only a few dollars and they are perfect for hanging jackets, hats, bags, lanyards or anything else.

Magnetic Cabin Hooks
Magnetic Cabin Hooks

These can also be used to drape a ‘privacy curtain’ across sections of the room – a neat idea for siblings. They are available for differently weighted items. For the shower area, suction cup hooks will work since these walls are not metal.

Over-the-Door Show Organizer

One particularly popular (and unlikely) item that many cruisers use is an over-the-door shoe organizer. Now, this is not because they bring a dozen pairs of shoes! The multiple small see-through pockets are ideal for holding toiletries, medications, sunglasses, small electronics, chargers and any other small item. Counter surfaces in a ship’s cabin are also a premium. The organizer folds flats for packing, too.

Make it Your Own

Did you know that you can ‘redecorate’ your cabin? Once you get settled in, move the furniture around based on how you will be using the space. To make more floor space, for example, push the bed into the corner, if possible. However, make sure you check with your room steward first.

Carnival Cruise Line Stateroom
Carnival Cruise Line Stateroom (Photo Copyright: Cruise Hive)

Also, if there are small or large items that you will not be using, request that they be removed from your cabin. For example, if you are not someone who sits at the desk to use your laptop, ask that the chair be removed and use the space under the desk for shoes, luggage or your dirty clothes bag. You can also request that the mini-fridge be clearly of any food or drinks you will not be consuming.

Your Own Water Bottle

A refillable water bottle has become somewhat of a necessity on cruise ships. While there are plenty of bottles of water to buy onboard, this is an unnecessary expense and just adds additional plastic to the waste stream. The solution: your own water bottle.

Collapsing Tote bag

Again, there are multiple options to purchase online. Our favorites are the type that collapses and fit nicely in bags and totes when empty. They are convenient when moving around the ship and particularly so during shore excursions.

Towel Clips

While you need not bring towels on your cruise vacation, there is a related item that you will be glad you packed – towel clips. These are larger-size plastic spring clips used to keep your towel ‘attached’ to your deck or beach chair.

There are breezes on the ship. There are breezes on the beach. And, there is always a competition to keep the towels in place! Additionally, these clips can serve another purpose in your cabin. Use them to hold your curtains together (particularly useful for Alaska cruises when it is still light outside at midnight!).

Last Minute Check for These Important Items

In the midst of all the packing fun, be sure you have these important documents:

  • Cruise papers/digitized documents with everyone’s information
  • Passport, enhanced driver’s license or birth certificate – whichever is mentioned in your cruise line’s requirements
  • Vaccination certificate – if required
  • Your medical insurance card/information on additional travel insurance and list of medications you are currently taking
  • Payment methods
  • For convenience, a lanyard so that you can wear your ship keycard and other items around your neck

Finally, some cruisers find it useful to make lists and check off items once they are packed. This is particularly helpful when traveling with children. That way, everything you need to pack for your cruise vacation is sure to make it on the ship with you.

Angela Minor
Angela Minor
Enchanted with cruising from my first voyage in the Bahamas on the SS Emerald Seas to Alaska’s Inside Passage. Professional freelance writer and published indie author. Find out more about us here.


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