17 Top Cruise Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring (2018 Update)

What should I bring on a Cruise?

Cruises are the best of both worlds: you often get to see many destinations and attractions – sometimes in many different countries – and still have the same accommodations, comforts, and services every night. What you pack for a cruise depends a lot on where that cruise takes you. Since the majority of cruises are chartered for warm destinations, many of my recommendations will reflect that.

Below you’ll find my list of 17 top items to bring on your cruise, what to wear and what NOT to pack. Bon voyage!

1) Universal Waterproof Phone Case – Travelers who embark on cruises are bound to have all sorts of experiences and adventures, and often those adventures involve water or other messy activities. Most travelers like to keep their phones with them at all times as well, so how do you do both without ruining your phone? This inexpensive – less than $10! – phone case is the answer. It’s waterproof, scratch-proof, impact-resistant, and will allow you to continue to use your camera and touchscreen while your phone is safely protected inside it.
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2) Flotation Straps These flotation straps for your camera and phone will save you a lot of worry and potential misfortune. You’ll be around water a lot, obviously, and you don’t want to drop a heavy device into the water without something there to keep it from sinking. Flotation straps are inexpensive and work well to keep these small devices afloat, and double as a gentle wrist strap to help you avoid dropping anything in the first place.
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3) Affordable Underwater Camera – I like this little camera. It’s waterproof and shock-resistant, and takes pretty great photos so that you don’t miss out on the best snapshots to remember your adventures by. It’s lightweight and versatile, and pretty hardy so you won’t have to worry about damaging it while adventuring, plus it’s a thriftier option if you don’t have the budget to spend bigger on a GoPro or a DSLR camera.
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4) Activated Charcoal – You’ll be visiting places with a lot of variation in food, drink, and hygiene, so it’s best to have a backup plan should your digestion take a turn for the worse. Activated charcoal absorbs any toxins in your system, allowing your body to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. It can even help with food poisoning and common travelers diarrhea!
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5) Travel insurance – No, it’s not fun to think about, but yes it’s crucial. This is one of those situations where you’d rather have the insurance and never need it than have even one big issue without insurance coverage. Emergencies of many kinds (urgent trips home, medical problems, thefts, etc.) are taken care of with affordable plans, so it just makes sense to be safe instead of potentially sorry.
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6) Motion-Sickness Wristbands – It may seem counterintuitive since you’re on a HUGE boat, but a large percentage of people don’t actually get motion-sickness on cruises as long as the weather is fair. Maybe it has to do with the sheer size of the ship? Even still, it’s a great idea to bring motion-sickness bands or dramamine with you in case you do have a problem. These bands are tried and tested, and they work pretty well! An entire trip can be ruined if you’re feeling ill, so it’s much better to be prepared.
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7) Passport pouch – You’ll be on the move a lot, and you’ll want to have your passport with you. This pouch allows you to carry your ID documents with you, along with the necessary cash and cards for any purchases you make off of the ship. The pouch also tucks securely under your shirt and has multiple zippered pockets to ensure total safety of your items while exploring.
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8) Quality sun hat – Hats are a key piece of clothing when doing outdoor activities, especially ones in the sun. Keep your scalp and face protected from the sun’s rays, all while looking stylish and rugged. This hat is perfect for men or women and is incredibly well-reviewed and affordable!
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9) Packing cubes – Organization is key when packing for a trip These storage “cubes” are flexible and zippered so that you can pack them full and place them neatly into your luggage. They compact your items down and keep them contained so that you never have to rummage around for what you need. They also free up space for that duty-free merchandise you may be bringing home!
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10) Sarong – I recommend sarongs for almost every destination. They’re easily the most useful item on my lists due to the sheer number of things you can do with them. Need a blanket on a chilly ferry ride or airplane? Check. Pillowcase not up to par? Use your sarong! How about a privacy screen or beach cover-up? That’s what they’re made for, after all! A good sarong will last for years and will serve you well.
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11) Reef-Safe Sunscreen – Did you know that sunscreen is actually quite harmful to plants and animals? The effect is especially prevalent in aquatic ecosystems like reefs and near beaches. You’ll definitely need sunscreen, so opt for a brand that is reef-safe like this one. It’s effective, proven safe, and doesn’t have a nasty smell that would make it unappealing to wear.
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12) Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger – You’ll really only be able to charge your devices while on board the ship, so it’s nice to carry a device like this with you. It can be charged in your room while you sleep or do other activities, and it’ll hold multiple charges throughout the day. This means that you can recharge your devices on-the-go while you’re exploring an island.
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13) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – A good VPN gives you an additional layer of encrytpion to your data while browsing the Internet. This means that if you’re using the ship’s WiFi or the Internet provided by a beachside restaurant, you don’t have to worry about the security of your information being compromised by public access. A simple button on your phone or computer is all you need to activate the VPN, and you can browse worry-free. Plans are incredibly inexpensive, so it’s really a no-brainer.
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14) Day bag or small backpack – Daybags are important when on a cruise, because you really can’t go back to the ship very easily if you need something. You’ll have to carry your necessary items with you, like your sunscreen, water bottle, phone, money and passport, and any merchandise you pick up along the way. This bag is great, and nice and light to keep your load bearable. It’s best to also bring waterproof bags to keep water-vulnerable items safe while they’re stored in your daybag.
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15) Slip-on Mesh Water Shoes: Women’s and Men’s – In tropical locations it’s likely that you’ll be in and out of the water while you’re exploring or taking part in activities, and flip flops are not going to cut it. You’ll want something comfortable that can go from land to sea so that you can wear them while walking around beachside towns or trails and then hop right into the water for some snorkeling. You don’t want to have to worry about getting sand or water in your best hiking shoes, and there are many beaches and reefs where it’s really not a good idea to go barefoot, so these mesh water shoes are a great solution.
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16) Hanging toiletry bag – Ships – even really big, stable ones like cruise ships – tend to move a bit and can rock back and forth. Because of this, leaving your toiletries or makeup out and on the counter in your room is not a great idea. A hanging toiletry bag makes packing extremely easy, and keeps items organized and in-place so that you always have access to what you need. When you’re ready to pack it away, all you do is fold it back up and go!
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17) Deet-Free Mosquito Repellent Bracelets – Mosquitoes are an issue in most of the places frequented by cruise lines, simply because tropical locations are perfect for mthese flying pests. To protect yourself, be sure to bring mosquito-repellant of some kind. I always recommend a deet-free option to keep chemical exposure to a minimum These wristbands are safe and effective, and are easy to wear without having to reapply a spray over and over.
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Other Things You Might Need


What to wear on a Cruise

Your clothing will depend largely on the weather in the destinations you’ll be at port in. Don’t forget your swimwear and other beach supplies, particularly if your cruise will be stopping at a lot of these destinations. It might even be a good idea to take an extra swimsuit so that you have one to wear while the other dries. I also recommend bringing along a sweater or scarf and a long pair of pants on any trip you plan on taking. This will keep you from being cold if you wind up in a chilly spot, either in port or on the boat.
You’ll definitely want to take along a few nicer outfits and accessories for evenings when you choose to eat in one of the ship’s fancier restaurants.

Also remember to bring along closed-toed shoes and a couple of pairs of socks, particularly if activities like rock climbing walls and hiking are going to be part of the fun. When possible, research the dress codes practiced on your particular cruise line and those practiced by the locals in the places you will be traveling. You obviously need to dress in a more modest fashion when visiting religious sites than you would if you planned on spending all your time on the beach. Adjust your wardrobe accordingly. Finally, if you plan on visiting the gym or working out while you’re on the boat, don’t forget to take an exercise outfit or two.


What NOT to take on a Cruise

1) 🚫 DON’T PACK too much: An overstuffed suitcase is always more trouble than its worth. Avoid bringing along things you’re not going to need like excessive amounts of clothes or shoes. Besides, a suitcase that’s already crammed full of stuff leaves you with no room for souvenirs.
2) 🚫 DON’T TAKE expensive jewelry: Although there might be some nights where you’re expected to dress up a bit, you’re better off leaving any expensive or heirloom jewelry at home. After all, it’s far too easy to lose things when you’re constantly moving around, and the risk of theft is not worth taking.
3) 🚫 DON’T BRING uncomfortable shoes: This one is a bit obvious but it also goes for pairs that haven’t been properly broken-in. If you plan on buying brand new shoes to wear on your trip, start using them a couple of weeks prior to your departure date. Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with painful blisters when you should be enjoying yourself instead.
4) 🚫 DON’T PACK basic grooming products: You can leave the shampoo, conditioner, and soap at home since these will be provided. The same is true for things like hairdryers and irons. The only reason you’d want to bring your own along for the ride is if you’re picky about these products or you need more generous quantities of them than most hotels normally provide.
5) 🚫 DON’T TAKE anything prohibited by the cruise line: The vary widely but the lists are ALWAYS made available to travelers, so you’ll be able to research the items you can’t take. Fire hazards, certain chemicals, weapons… the logical items that you can’t normally travel with anyway.
6) 🚫 DON’T BRING heavy items: You’re already going to be lugging around bags so save yourself (and your back) some trouble by leaving heavy books and electronics at home. If you’re a reader (and there’s a lot of lounge time on the ship!), opt for a Kindle or a similar e-reader.

FAQs about going on a Cruise

1) How long do most cruises last?

It can vary greatly. There are overnight trips to nearby destinations and then there are some round the world cruises that can take a year to complete. However, most cruises run about a week, give or take a few days. Longer cruises often have a majority of their days at ports, of course, but there may be a couple of travel days where you’re on the water and have to seek entertainment on the ship itself. Don’t worry – cruise ships are infamously well-stocked with various entertainment.

2) What is included in the basic cost of a cruise?

The basic fees typically include a cabin on the boat, most of your food, some onboard activities, and water-based beverages like tea, lemonade, hot chocolate, and basic coffee drinks. The quoted rate doesn’t usually include things like sodas or alcoholic beverages. Some cruises do include alcohol and excursions but others don’t – the ones that do will charge higher fares, so you’ll have to consider how much you’ll be taking advantage of those free drinks. For some, it’s well worth it, but for others it’s wiser just to plan on paying for each drink out of pocket. Be sure to carefully read over the official documents so that you know precisely what your money is going to get you.

3) How much should I budget for additional expenses?

Of course, travelers will need to factor the cost of transportation to and from the port. This might also include airfare and baggage fees for folks that can’t drive to where the ship departs. How much you want to budget once you get on the boat varies based on what activities you want to try out. Depending on how many places a ship docks, the port fees can also vary from trip to trip. Some shore excursions are naturally pricier than others. In additional to those things, there’s often an additional charge for internet usage while you’re onboard the ship so you may need to factor that into your calculations as well.

One of the best things about cruises is that you’re largely in control of how spendy you need to be – you can do activities at every port that cost money, or you can lounge around at inexpensive or free beaches and chill in the sand.

A number of cruise lines even have onboard restaurants that are not included in their meal plans so you have to pay separately for them. If you plan on going to the spa or doing some shopping while you’re on the cruise, you’ll need to adjust your budget accordingly. Most American cruise ships also charge gratuities per guest on a daily basis. The rate does vary slightly from company to company. Travelers should also be aware that onboard spas and bars automatically charge extremely high percentages as “tips” when it comes to their services. If you plan on using them, be prepared to pay more than the listed rates.

4) Is it better to arrange my own excursions or take the ones offered by the cruise line?

Arranging your own excursions is certainly cheaper than taking the ones sponsored by the cruise line. However, if the port is located far enough away from the nearest city, you might be better off to take the cruise’s official excursions rather than risk missing your boat. Budget travelers might instead choose to walk around the port city for free, or head to the nearest available beach rather than go on prepackaged excursions. Some people might even opt to stay on the boat during their stay in port in order to have all the ship’s attractions to themselves.

5) When is the best time of year to go on a cruise?

It depends entirely on where you’re going. Different destinations are at their peak at different times of the year. Read up on the places that your cruise ship will be visiting and adjust your plans accordingly.

6) Do you have tips for making a cruise more enjoyable?

Perhaps the most sensible tip is to arrive at the city nearest to your departure port a day or two ahead of time. This will give you enough time to recover from your flight, possibly enjoy the city itself, and not worry so much about getting to the boat before it leaves. You’ll also want to check and double check to be sure that you have the proper paperwork that you need to embark before you get to the gangplank. When the boat is on the move, there are a number of things you can do to improve the quality of your stay. If you’re not a big fan of children or crowded spaces, check out the adults-only
areas. These spots tend to be less crowded and less noisy than areas where families are welcome. If you don’t like making conversation with strangers, you might want to dine out while you’re in port rather than eat in the main dining area. Night owls might also want to check out the discos on board, even if that’s not normally their scene, since not much else happens on the boat after midnight. Also: check out this article as well as this one for even more tips.

7) Do I need a passport to go on a cruise?

Americans don’t need a passport if the cruise they’re going on begins and ends in a US port. For cruises that end or begin in a foreign port, you’ll need a passport.

However, most cruises do require an official ID of some sort before they let people onboard so make sure you see what documentation they will expect.

8) What about for shore excursions?

If the cruise will be stopping in other countries and you plan on disembarking while you’re there, you probably need a passport. American-run territories like the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico are the main exceptions to this rule.

Of course, you can still get off the boat at any port stops in the United States if you’re an American citizen.

9) How can I avoid spending a fortune on drinks?

The easiest way to do this is to take as much as you’re allowed with you. The amount does vary by company so read the fine print. Most cruise lines will typically allow travelers to bring one or two bottles of wine. Or you can drag along soda or beer, if that’s more your speed. The restrictions tend to apply more to alcoholic beverages than soft or sports drinks. Therefore, you might be able to keep bringing more on as your supply runs out. Just keep in mind that some cruise lines won’t allow this.

As was pointed out here, using flavored powder for the complimentary water onboard is another good way to get around the bizarre drink regulations. You can even take your preferred brands of coffee, hot chocolate, and tea to brew up the drink of your choice. All the same, most of these drinks are available for free so there’s really no need to bother, unless you have very specific beverage preferences. Another good idea is to buy a bottle of wine and have it marked with your room number so that you can drink the rest of it later.

You might even want to look at getting a beverage card that allows you to pay a flat rate per day instead of paying for them individually. However, do the math to make sure that it will save you money. It often doesn’t. This can likewise be the case with the daily drink specials, which might not actually be any cheaper than they were originally.

10) How can I avoid other sneaky fees?

Do your internet browsing while you’re in port instead of on the boat to avoid paying for pricey service while you’re onboard. Switch your phone to airline mode (which turns off the internet features) in order to avoid scary roaming charges. Meanwhile, take advantage of the free activities and food. Don’t pay for “special” meals or snacks that are just going to cost you extra. You’ll also want to minimize your participation in any activities that require additional funds like visiting the casino or seeing onboard shows.

11) How can I get a good deal on a cruise package?

Keep in mind that shorter cruises tend to be cheaper overall and they often have a lower per-night price rate than longer ones. It’s no secret that inside cabins tend to be cheaper than ones with a view or a balcony. Prices also tend to be lower for groups, especially since these travelers can share cabins and buckets of overpriced beer. It’s certainly not surprising that it’s cheaper to traveling during hurricane season since the itineraries at such times change based on where the storm is going. (Relax! It’s not headed where you are.)

Prices also go down when school is in session and you’re far less likely to encounter wild children running loose in the hallways than you might be at other times of the year.

12) What are some ways to stay within my budget?

You’ll want to bring along everything that you’ll need so that you don’t have to purchase anything from the pricey stores onboard or deal with the limited selection in some ports. Of course, it’s always a good idea to avoid visiting any shipboard stores if you’re low on funds. The same is true of places like the casino where, like in the Hunger Games, the odds are definitely not in your favor.

Don’t go overboard when it comes to purchasing souvenirs either. Get only one or two affordable items while you’re in port. It’s even better if the things you buy can be used later.

I personally like to buy cooking supplies or clothes as mementos because they don’t collect dust at my house. Seashells from the beach are likewise good (free!) souvenirs, and you can bring them back on the airplane if they’re cleaned up and there are no animals still living inside them.

However, check the local laws before you do this. Some places won’t let you pick up shells off the beach and you certainly don’t want to get slapped with a scary fine for what was supposed to be a free souvenir.


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