Packing for any trip takes some planning, but cruise vacations present a unique challenge – one that’s especially overwhelming for those taking their first cruise.
For starters, ship staterooms are typically smaller than most hotel rooms (though new cruise ships are changing that), so storage space may be limited. On top of that, you may be unable to purchase accidentally forgotten items once your voyage begins, either on the ship – where gift shops typically have limited inventory – or in other countries, as stores may close on Sundays, for holidays or during lunch hours.
To help you decide what to pack for a cruise vacation, U.S. News has compiled a cruise packing list with essentials that will simplify and organize your packing experience or be useful to have on the ship or in port. You’ll also find a list of items to leave at home.
Note: All photos below are courtesy of Amazon.
Cruise packing list
Regardless of whether you bring checked luggage, you’ll need a carry-on bag – such as a small rolling bag, a duffel or a backpack. Since checked bags need to go through security as they do at airports – and because you may need to wait for your stateroom to be ready, just like at a hotel – you’ll want to be able to access any necessities pre-cruise. These might include a swimsuit, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat for the pools; medications; a bottle of water; and your cellphone, of course. You’ll also want to keep your credit card, passport, and any other important documentation or valuables close by.
A surprising fact: Cruise ship cabin walls are made of metal, which means you can optimize your storage space by hanging some of your belongings on magnetic wall hooks. The hooks are perfect for holding bulky coats or boots if you’re traveling to a colder climate. You can also use them for wet gear on expedition ships and adventure cruises, or for drying out bathing suits after days at the beach or pool. Purchase a set of magnetic hooks for less than $10 on Amazon.
If you’re prone to (or think you may be prone to) motion sickness on cruise ships, put a pair of Sea-Bands on your cruise packing list. These soft wristbands use acupressure to prevent and minimize nausea and vomiting on board. They are a reusable, drug-free alternative to anti-nausea medications like Dramamine. You can purchase Sea-Bands on Amazon or at most drugstores.
Travel steamers and irons are prohibited for safety reasons on most ships, so the next best thing to bring is a travel-size bottle of wrinkle release spray, such as Downy Wrinkle Releaser Spray. If you combine a spritz or two with the steam from your shower, you should be able to smooth out some of the wrinkles in your clothing.
Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival host formal evenings in which guests are required to dress up for dinner. Check your cruise itinerary to see which nights this policy may apply to you and what the dress code will be.
For most cruise lines, formal wear generally means cocktail dresses, dress slacks, dress shirts, jumpsuits and pantsuits. Many people also wear sports jackets, suits, tuxedos and full-length gowns.
Since many dress clothing fabrics tend to wrinkle easily, consider investing in a garment bag, which allows you to hang clothes, secure them in place and transfer them directly into the cabin closet on the ship. Many garment bags also have pockets and storage for additional accessories.
If you pack right, you can make this your only suitcase, in addition to a carry-on bag. However, most staterooms have storage space for two to three suitcases, so the garment bag will still fit under the bed if you choose to bring another checked item.
In addition to formal wear, pack a variety of mix-and-match items, also known as a capsule wardrobe. To do this, choose a base color – black or navy blue – for your wardrobe. Next, pack plain, neutral-colored items, then add a few patterned items to the mix. Also consider reversible clothing and outfits that can easily transition from day to night.
Another must-have for your cruise packing list is a swimsuit cover-up or two. These are great for wearing over your bathing suit during days at sea, as well as on excursions – especially if you’re going on a Caribbean cruise. Amazon sells a variety of stylish, affordable cover-ups.
A reusable water bottle is useful for filling up at water and beverage stations on your cruise ship; it’s also a necessity for shore excursions. If you’re in the market for a new water bottle, check out these well-rated, insulated options from Takeya, YETI and S’well.
Most major cruise lines allow each guest to bring one to two bottles of wine or champagne on board, while some luxury cruise lines allow even more than that. Disney Cruise Line also gives guests the option to bring a six-pack of beer instead of wine or champagne. Be sure to consult your cruise line’s policies when packing for your trip. Also check to see if your cruise ship charges corkage fees at restaurants; it may be cheaper (and more enjoyable) to sip the wine or champagne from your stateroom balcony.
Some cruise lines host themed voyages or parties on select nights where passengers can dress up to participate in the fun. You’ll want to review your cruise itinerary before you go so you’re prepared for the festivities. Bring your buccaneer gear if you’re sailing aboard Disney Cruise Line; ships host fun events like Pirate Nights, pirate-themed dinners and a “Pirates in the Caribbean” show. On “The Love Boat”-themed cruises offered by Princess Cruises, pack your platform boots, glittery dresses, bell-bottom pants and halter tops for the line’s 1970s-inspired disco party on the deck.
Over-the-door organizers have clear pockets that allow you to find your feminine hygiene products, makeup, jewelry and other small items quickly – without having to hunt through multiple drawers or a tight stateroom closet. It’s also a good idea to bring an over-the-door shoe organizer to maximize floor space. Choose from a wide selection of organizers in a variety of colors, designs and sizes for around $20 on Amazon.
It goes without saying, but to say it anyway: A toilet spray like Poo-Pourri is a must for your cruise packing list. Any smell – pleasant or not – will travel quickly in small staterooms with small bathrooms. Buy a small bottle to throw in your over-the-door toiletry bag.
Bring a notebook to use as a travel journal during your trip. It’s fun to look back on memories of the best meals or cocktails you had on board or in a port of call. You may also want to jot down details about the places you’ve visited or activities and events that took place on the ship. While smart devices are handy for recording the same information (and taking photos), it’s extra special to have a book to pick up and read after your vacation. Public-Supply sells 5-by-8-inch softcover notebooks in a variety of colors. Prices range from $12 to $16 each, and 25% of the company’s net proceeds are used to benefit public school classrooms.
If you’re planning to take a lot of shore excursions, be sure to pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Even if you never step foot off the ship, there is still plenty of walking to do between bow and stern. Closed-toe shoes or sandals with straps are safer than flimsy flip flops when boarding a slippery tender into port (if your ship can’t dock directly).
Ecco’s Yucatan sandals come in several colors and are available for both men and women for approximately $135 on Ecco’s website. Naot’s Arataki closed-toe slingback shoe is another excellent choice for women navigating the cobblestone streets in Europe, thanks to the shoe’s slip-resistant design. The Arataki shoe costs about $180 on Naot’s website.
[Ready to plan a cruise? Find the best value sailings on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Just like some hotel rooms, cruise ship cabins can feel dry – especially in the colder months. A portable humidifier can help relieve dry skin and may create a better sleeping and breathing environment. The small GENIANI portable USB-powered humidifier (about $25 on Amazon) only weighs about half a pound, so it will fit neatly into your checked bag or carry-on luggage. The quiet machine features two mist settings and has an automatic shut-off option, plus a night light to help you see around your cabin in the dark.
You’ll want to pack a lightweight beach bag for daytrips to the beach, visits to your cruise ship’s private island or afternoons at the pool. The lightweight, oversized F-color mesh beach tote with nine pockets (approximately $15 on Amazon) is a great choice to carry your sunscreen, flip-flops, a book, your smartphone, a water bottle, a bathing suit cover-up and more.
If you’re hitting the streets instead of the waves, you might want to opt for a backpack instead. The Pacsafe Metrosafe L3S350 anti-theft travel backpack has plenty of interior and exterior storage options. There’s even a pocket featuring RFID technology to secure your ID and credit card information from contactless magnetic wave transactions. The backpack is large enough to accommodate a sizable camera, a sweater, an iPad and other items you’ll need for the day. It weighs about 1.5 pounds and is priced around $95 on Amazon. For a lighter backpack, consider purchasing the Amazon Basics ultralight packable day pack. This option, which weighs about a third of a pound, costs less than $20 and folds down into a neat little cube, making it easy to stow away when not in use.
Sea days are the perfect time to kick back and relax with a book you’ve been meaning to read. Find an oceanfront lounge chair in a shaded area on the pool deck, or you can grab a latte or cup of tea and settle into a quiet nook indoors. You might want to pack your book, Kindle or other electronic reader in your carry-on bag for easy access. Just don’t pack more than one book, as many cruise ships have libraries.
Cruisers may need more than a passport to fly and board a cruise ship these days, so it’s best to stay organized and keep everything in one neat package. The slim TIGARI combination passport and vaccine holder has a clear slot for your CDC-issued COVID-19 vaccination card. It’s made of water-resistant faux leather, comes in various colors (including options like lavender and teal) and costs about $10 on Amazon.
A first-aid kit is a good thing to have on hand no matter where you go. You can make your own using supplies you already have at home – Band-Aids, Neosporin, Cortizone 10, Aquaphor, tweezers and the like – or buy a pre-made first-aid kit on Amazon for less than $20. While all cruise ships have medical facilities, it’s useful to have these items with you on shore excursions, especially those involving active adventures.
You might be surprised how much sun you get while on a cruise, even if you’re not traveling in the summer months and lounging poolside or on the beach. If you’re trying to limit the number of toiletries you pack, opt for a sunscreen that will double as a light moisturizer during the day. There are many options available, but the Anthelios ultra-light fluid facial sunscreen (SPF 60) by La Roche-Posay is highly rated by dermatologists. The fragrance- and oil-free formula does not contain parabens and oxybenzone. You can purchase the sunscreen on the company’s website for about $30 or in many drugstores and retailers, including Ulta and Target. The company also makes a mineral-tinted face sunscreen with SPF 50 protection.
There’s no better way to recharge after a long day exploring in port than to enjoy a restful night’s sleep. While the rolling waves of the ocean may lull some passengers into a blissful slumber, other people may need total silence to fall asleep. QuietOn 3 active noise-canceling earbuds block out snoring spouses and late-night partiers returning to their staterooms. They may also come in handy for an afternoon snooze. You can purchase these earbuds for around $270 on the QuietOn website.
Packing cubes are one of the best ways to organize your clothing on the go, especially if you’ll be on an extended cruise or traveling through a variety of climates. You can keep your shirts, pants and sweaters separate so it’s easy to find what you need. The cubes are also great for keeping accessories like travel wraps and scarfs in one place, so you don’t have to search through drawers when you’re in a hurry to get ready. After wearing them, stow away dirty clothes in one or two cubes to separate them from your clean items.
All electronic devices seem to come with different cords, plugs and attachments, so it’s important to keep them organized for easy access. The BAGSMART electronics organizer bag – available on Amazon for about $20 – stores all your cables, plugs, SD cards and earphones in one zippered, compact bag that will fit easily in your carry-on luggage. Despite its small size, it can still hold bulkier items like a small laptop charging cord, such as one for a MacBook Air. With this accessory, all your gadgets’ attachments and cords will take up less space on the desk or bedside table in your stateroom.
A well-made, versatile travel wrap may become one of your favorite travel pieces. Wraps will keep you warm on planes, as well as in chilly cruise ship restaurants, bars and theaters. They are also easy to throw on for an evening stroll on board or a late-night deck party, when temperatures can drop and the sea breeze can pick up. These pieces change the look of whatever you’re wearing and are great for accessorizing. If you’d like to splurge on a cashmere wrap, consider MERSEA’s The Luxy Wrap: It comes in soft colors like taupe and rose for around $200. A more affordable option, Coolibar’s lightweight Sanibel beach shawl, is offered in several colors and a striped pattern for about $35.
There are more expensive options for digital luggage scales, but the compact Etekcity scale – approximately $10 on Amazon – can weigh bags up to 110 pounds with no issues. This handy scale gives you a heads-up before you leave for the airport so you can avoid overweight baggage fees, which can add up quickly once you start adding souvenirs to your bags. Every airline has its own weight and size restrictions for carry-on luggage and checked bags, so be sure you know the rules before heading to the airport.
If you like to shop on vacation, bring an extra bag with you to avoid overpacking your primary luggage. The Hanke expandable foldable suitcase is an excellent option if you need a bag that can expand to several different sizes. If a soft-sided bag will do, consider bringing an inexpensive duffel bag such as this option by bago, or a reusable shopping bag with a zipper, for dirty clothes and anything else you don’t mind checking in with the airline on your way home.
When cruising internationally, consider getting small amounts of each country’s currency to have on hand in port. Depending where you go, some local markets may only accept their own country’s currency, not U.S. dollars or credit cards. Travelers who want to pick up authentic souvenirs, such as French-milled soaps in southern France or novelty fish in Bergen, Norway, will need to have euros or Norwegian kroner on hand, respectively. It’s also nice to leave cash gratuities for cab drivers, tour guides or servers; in the European Union, 1- and 2-euro coins are convenient and appropriate tips. In ports with vendors that do accept credit cards, be sure to carry a Visa or Mastercard, as some shops and restaurants do not take American Express.
Washing your hands and/or using hand sanitizer has always been key to staying healthy while traveling (especially cruising), and due to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever. If you’re looking for a sanitizer that won’t leave your hands chapped, try the moisturizing sanitizers from By Humankind. These hand sanitizers are made with 65% alcohol (which still meets CDC standards) but are less drying than other sanitizers. The pocket-size, 2.4-fluid-ounce aluminum bottles are designed to eliminate single-use plastic waste and come in two refreshing scents, plus an unscented version.
Pill organizers may be the preferred way to travel with your daily medications, but it’s best to bring personal medicines in their bottles (especially on an international cruise such as a European river cruise). While it’s not likely that TSA agents will stop you regarding unidentified pills, it’s best to be prepared by having your prescriptions. To make traveling easier, consider requesting smaller bottles from your pharmacist that are suitable for packing in your carry-on luggage. You’ll also want to bring at least two weeks’ worth of extra medications, and consider packing other ointments, creams or over-the-counter medications you might need, in case they’re not readily available in port or on the ship.
Cruise ship staterooms have basic toiletries, including body lotion, but you may still want an extra dose of moisturizer if you’ve been basking in the sun. Sun Bum makes an after-sun cool-down lotion that you can purchase on Amazon for around $10 or in drugstores. This soothing lotion cools and hydrates the skin with vitamin E, aloe and cocoa butter. The scent is reminiscent of a pina colada – perfect for a tropical getaway.
Cruise lines homeported in international locales may have ship staterooms with different electrical sockets and voltage strengths than you are used to in the U.S. If you purchase a reliable travel adapter with Australian-, Asian-, European- and U.S.-compatible options, you should have all your bases covered for trips around the world. BESTEK’s universal travel adapter (available on Amazon for about $35) features a direct EU plug, adapters and a converter that will change the voltage as needed. It can also charge up to seven devices at a time, so you can keep your smartphone, camera, computer and other electronic devices ready to go.
If you’re a parent, you know that your infant or toddler needs a very specific size – and in some cases brand – of diapers, which may very well be unavailable to you on your cruise ship or in the ports of call. Bring more than enough diapers to play it safe at sea.
Most cruise lines also require that non-toilet-trained infants and toddlers wear swim diapers in the children’s water play areas. For the sake of sanitation, kids must be toilet-trained to use any other pools on cruise ships.
Many cruise lines do not permit power strips as they present a fire hazard, while others allow them as long as they are non-surge-protected. Instead of a power strip, purchase a USB charging block such as this highly rated one by Anker, which can power up multiple devices at once. This can be especially useful for shore excursions. When packing for your cruise, also think about your luggage: If it has an included charging port, you may not even need to purchase an additional USB charging block.
Weapons and restraints
Firearms, handcuffs and the like are not permitted on cruise ships. This rule also includes toy guns on most cruise lines.
While most major cruise lines allow guests to pack a limited amount of wine or champagne per person, they do not permit hard liquor. Of course, those of age can purchase cocktails at any of the bars on board.
Irons and steamers are not permitted on cruise ships, which is why the aforementioned garment bags, wrinkle release spray and packing cubes are recommended for keeping clothing tidy and neat. Coffee makers and mug warmers are also prohibited.
CBD and marijuana
CBD that’s derived from hemp and contains 0.3% THC or less is legal at a federal level. However, each state interprets and enforces this law differently; for example, many states require a prescription for it. Due to the ambiguity of the laws, most cruise lines continue to ban CBD in any form.
Marijuana is still illegal under U.S. federal law, which means you cannot bring it on a cruise ship – even if you’re legally able to purchase it in your home state for recreational or medical use.