Packing, especially for your first cruise, can be a bit daunting.
How many pairs of shoes? Will it get chilly? What will fit in the cabin? What will I miss?
It can be easy to overpack or forget crucial items you’ll need.
No worries, this seasoned cruiser is here to help.
1. Read the rules of your cruise line.
Cruise lines make their money off of beverages – both soft drinks and alcohol – so they prefer you don’t bring your own on board. They frequently provide glasses of water, lemonade and iced tea, as well as coffee and hot tea for free.
Still, they usually allow you to bring a certain amount and kind aboard with you in your carryon (not checked baggage). Read the fine print of your cruise details.
On a Carnival ship we recently went on, lots of folks took advantage of the ability to bring on a couple of 12-packs of soda cans, or the one 750-ml bottle of wine or champagne.
Bottles of water generally aren’t allowed any longer, but you can purchase them in advance from your cruise line and have them waiting for you in your stateroom on the first day.
We advise at least one 12-pack of bottled water and two liters of bottled water per person as the ship’s desalinated water is likely to puff and bind you up because of its high sodium content.
2. Pack for the weather.
This may seem like a silly thing to say, but there was a fella who went on an Alaskan cruise with shorts and Hawaiian shirts.
He didn’t look ahead at the weather, and looked at a map of the U.S. and saw that Alaska was near Hawaii… and Hawaii is warm, so figured Alaska would also be warm. This is a sad, but true story.
If you’re going somewhere like Alaska or the Baltic Sea, you want to pack layers, preferably with synthetic and wool layers, not cotton. It may get warm during the day, and then chilly at night.
Also pack an outer layer that is a windbreaker and breathable yet waterproof. Hats, earmuffs, and gloves are also appropriate, depending on the day.
If you’re going to the Caribbean or Mexico, shorts, capris, sun dresses, short-sleeve shirts and sandals are great. Make sure to pack nicer clothes – dresses, pantsuits, pants/button-down tops for the men – for the dining room in the evening.
Most cruises have at least one elegant night, where you’ll see people in cocktail dresses and suits or tuxes. You don’t have to dress to the nines these nights, but you should look and feel well-dressed.
3. For ease of boarding, disembarkation and plane travel, pack light.
Full disclosure: I’ve overpacked. And it turned out to be a real pain in the behind, especially when I didn’t wear a third of what I’d packed.
At max, plan on one medium or large (less than 50 pounds, though) suitcase per person, and maybe a small carryon.
You can always have your steward do a load of laundry for you halfway through your cruise (or do self-laundry), and a lot of the synthetic clothing dries quickly, so you could wash it in your sink and hang to dry.
Take an empty duffel bag in your luggage to fill with dirties so you can easily unpack when you get home, shuttling this bag right into the laundry room.
4. Consider worst-case scenarios.
You’re likely to come through your cruise just fine, but there’s a chance you or your companions may get ill, stung by a bee, blisters or cut.
Start with prevention first. Take hand sanitizer with you, and use it after restroom use and before eating. Actually, use it anytime you think about it or see sanitizer containers throughout the ship.
Also, take a pack of Clorox wipes with you and wipe down every door handle, drawer handle, phone, TV remote, light switch, and any other surface you might touch in your cabin. Do this before you unpack.
While there is a medical bay on every ship, and a ship gift shop with triple-price cough drops, it’s best to come prepared.
We always pack a first-aid kit that includes small amounts of the following: Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, Bonine, Dramamine Natural Ginger capsules, wrist acupressure bracelets, Benadryl, Xyrtec, Dayquil and Nyquil gel caps, cough and sore throat lozenges, alcohol prep pads, antibiotic ointment, anti-itch cortisone cream, a variety of Band-Aids, tweezers, a bottle of aloe, and a roll of Ace bandage for sprained ankles.
We’ve put it to use on nearly every cruise.
5. Plan for sun and bugs.
Always pack sunscreen and bug spray. Pack more sunscreen than you think you’ll need, and then apply every morning, and reapply throughout the day and after swimming.
This is especially the case for those of us whose skin doesn’t see the sun all that often.
I prefer Australian Gold Botanical 50 SPF waterproof, sprayable sunscreen as it smells good, is easy on undersea wildlife, and doesn’t make my skin greasy and gross. Consider Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen face cream specially formulated for your noggin as well, to avoid breakouts.
Sun hats are also helpful. You can pick these up in almost every port, but we prefer ours as they have under-chin strings to keep them in place even when the wind picks up.
Likewise, if you’re going places where mosquitoes or biting flies are problematic, don’t be afraid to take bug spray along. You might just prevent you or your companions from getting Zika or an equally awful mosquito-borne disease.
6. These are the odds and ends that make life better.
You might not think to bring these items, but we’ve found them to be super helpful.
- Packing tape (for putting your cruise ship tags on your luggage and for stuffing laundry in those super-thin laundry bags on the all-you-can-fit-in-the-bag laundry days.
- Duffel bag for dirty laundry (mentioned previously)
- Post-it notes for putting on the mirror to let the steward know you need something, or to let your cruisemates know where you took off to in the wee hours of the morning
- Extension cord with USB
- Your own hair drier (theirs are low powered and take twice as long)
- A few packaged granola bars for those excursions where you might need a snack to keep you going
- Magnet hooks so you can hang towels, clothes, hats on the walls
- Extra clothes hangers (cheap plastic ones that don’t weigh much and you won’t mind tossing at the end of the cruise)
- Towel clips for keeping your towels on your lounge chairs as the wind will blow them about otherwise
- Headphones for music listening on deck, or a Bluetooth speaker for listening in your cabin (keep noise level within reason)
- Windex wipes for making the glass on your balcony sparkle (it will be spotted up… just be careful wiping, don’t fall!)
- Nightlight for the bathroom – although some cruise lines have these built in
- Poo-pouri because, well, it’s a small cabin and a small bathroom with limited ventilation
- Envelopes for extra tips for your steward, wait staff
- Sealable plastic bags, quart- and gallon-size, for collecting shells, and double packing your toiletries for the return home
- Good bar of soap as the soap that’s provided is beyond generic
- Reusable bottles for filling up on lemonade or tea as the free beverage stations are typically limited to the buffet area
- Small stashable zippered pouches that can either be buckled securely around your waist or clipped onto your belt loop so you can take some cash, your ship cards and a credit card with you when you’re out snorkeling or swimming at the beach
- Photocopies of your passports should always go with you off the ship as you leave the real things in the cabin’s safe
- Your trusty lanyard for your cruise card
While this isn’t an all-inclusive list, it sure it a great start and has served us well. Feel free to comment with any other tips and tricks you’ve discovered!