Updated on January 25, 2021 by Asher Fergusson
Since the majority of cruises are chartered for warm destinations, many of our packing recommendations will reflect that.
Below you’ll also find suggestions on what to wear on a cruise, our list of 17 top items to bring and what NOT to pack. Bon voyage!
What to Pack for a Cruise – 17 Essentials
These things are absolutely incredible! I normally get seasick and the days out at sea can be quite hard for me. I’ve tried so many different sea sickness remedies from sea bands to homeopathic pills to Dramamine (which has quite horrible side effects). But these new motion sickness patches work like magic. On our last cruise I was getting so so sick and then remembered I had them. I simply stuck them behind my ears and BAM! I wasn’t sick the rest of the trip!
Often your cruising adventures involve water and sand. Even if you are just hanging with the fam on the beach it’s likely you’ll want to keep your phone with you… So how do you ride a zodiac to a private secluded beach without soaking your phone? Use this super inexpensive phone case! It’s awesome to have because waterproof, sand and scratch proof, scratch-proof, and will allow you to continue to use your camera and touchscreen while your phone is safely protected inside it.
Whenever you leave the boat you will be told to bring your SeaPass (your room key) and a photo ID like your license or passport. This convenient little pouch safely stores you passport, drivers license, cash, credit cards and travel documents. If you happen to be stuck in a traffic jam (this happened to us!) or your taxi breaks down on the way back to the port and you miss your boat you’ll be happy you have your passport with you!
Alcohol and sun are not a good combo and when you’re cruising you may find yourself getting a lot of both. These natural hangover prevention pills made with vitamins, electrolytes and other safe ingredients like Dihydromyricetin actually help a lot! Dihydromyricetin has even been studied by the National Institutes of Health and shown to “counteract acute alcohol intoxication”. The one we like is called Cheers and was featured on Shark Tank. Even if it’s a placebo, it worked for us!
Cruises often take you to crystal clear water and underwater cameras are really fun to have in tow. We got so many great pics of my little son in the waves, my hubby snorkeling, and me hanging on the beach thanks to ours. We really like this little camera because it’s a fraction of the price of a GoPro but still works beautifully. This camera will help you document all those breathtaking moments or that priceless underwater family selfie.
Organization is key when packing for a cruise because unless you can afford a penthouse your stateroom will be tiny! These storage “cubes” are flexible and zippered so that you can pack them full and place them neatly into your luggage and then into the tiny drawers and compartments in your room. 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!
Do not leave home without these charcoal tablets. Cruising often offers a false sense of security. You think, “oh I’m on a boat, food will be safe. there shouldn’t be any problem with food poisoning or stomach virus, right?” Wrong. You will most likely be visiting foreign countries like Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras, Greece etc. and all of these places are known for serious travelers diarrhea. And cruise ships are notorious for folks getting sick at the buffets. These puppies will save the day. The moment you start feeling sick, take the suggested dose and you will be so much better off. No one wants to spend their whole cruise in the tiny ship’s bathroom. Trust me!
Most cruises all go to ports that experience a surprising amount of rain. On the several cruises we’ve done, there have always been rainy days where we wished had a travel umbrella because we got drenched! When you’re out at sea it’s often windy too so you’ll want an one that is windproof! The additional benefit of an umbrella is you can also use it for sun and UV protection on those really hot days that will likely burn you otherwise.
The sun in Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean is harsh. I almost never burn and I turned red like a tomato on our first trip. It was a good reminder of the importance of covering up whether on the boat during cruising days or lounging at the beach. My husband is fair skinned and cannot go to the beach without using a men’s rash guard. This one (pictured) is super stylish and flattering for women while offering serious UPF/UV sun protection. You can’t go wrong with it in my opinion.
10. Beach Bag
If you’re on a cruise, you’re gonna go to the beach. Having a good beach bag will make your life much more enjoyable. This one from Aruba Mesh is perfect for carrying swimsuits, snacks, changes of clothes, snorkels etc and even comes with an insulated cooler at the bottom for keeping your drinks nice and cold. Plus it’s compact and weighs next to nothing when empty.
When stopping at ports you’ll likely want to get on various WiFi’s at restaurants and beachside hangouts but if you don’t have a VPN then there is a chance you’ll compromise your security. This means potentially putting your passwords, credit card details and online identity at risk of being stolen by hackers who prey on unsuspecting tourists.
A simple tap on your phone or click on your laptop is all you need to activate the VPN on-the-go, and you can then browse the Internet worry-free. Plans are incredibly inexpensive, so it’s really a no-brainer for any kind of travel.
I seriously love this cover up! It’s my go to whenever cruising. I just throw it over my swimsuit and feel totally comfortable traveling through the boat to the beach or on an excursion. It’s sexy but modest and comfortable enough to wear while walking around the cruise ports or walking around the boat. The lightweight material makes it dry super quick and it’s breathable – plus it’ll take up no room in your suitcase.
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.
Mosquitoes are an issue in most of the places frequented by cruise lines, simply because all of the most sought-after tropical locations are perfect for these flying pests. To protect yourself, be sure to bring mosquito-repellent 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.
A good quality beach blanket is super helpful when cruising. The towels provided by your cruise lines will not really be suited for the beach because it’ll fill with sand and will be hard to dry at the end of the day. However, this one by Wellax is made of parachute like material that drys in no time and sand can’t stick to it. It folds up into a little carry bag and even has a pocket for your belongings such as keys and cell phones.
Having good coverage is absolutely critical. Again, cruising often makes you think that you’re still in America (or home country) because that’s often where the boat starts its journey. But think about where you’re going and if you’d like to be in a local hospital in an emergency. This is one of those situations where you’d rather have the insurance and never need it than have even one big issue without coverage. Emergencies of many kinds (urgent trips home, medical problems, thefts, etc.) are taken care of with very affordable plans, so it just makes sense to be safe instead of potentially sorry. We know from experience.
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!
Other items to remember for a Cruise vacation
Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger
Leave-In Hair Conditioner
Notebook or Journal
Kindle and Cover
Extra Flashlight Batteries
Steripod toothbrush cover
Rainjacket: Women’s and Men’s
Umbrella or Rain Poncho
Travel-Size Air Freshener
Other cruise packing lists you may like: Mediterranean cruise | Caribbean cruise | Disney cruise
What to wear on a Cruise
There are cruises that go to almost every corner of the globe. No matter where you’re going, get ready to pack your bags, hop on board, and set sail.
On your cruise, definitely keep it casual during the day. You’ll be spending your days outside mainly, so dress for the weather (hopefully tropical!). Bring swimsuits, tank tops, loose shorts, cover ups and sundresses. Make sure to bring the right accessories, like sunglasses, sun hats, or visors. Sandals are a cruise staple. Bring some athletic clothes and comfortable closed-toed shoes to wear while exploring the cities you’ll dock in, and in case there is a rock climbing wall
on board! Dining attire is usually “cruise casual” in ship restaurants, so bring some casual-cute clothing like simple dresses, and nice flats. Make sure to bring a beach bag to take to the pool or out sightseeing.
Men should wear casual and comfortable clothing on a cruise. Bring swim trunks, tank tops, cotton shorts, and loose button-downs. For day trips to explore port cities, bring walking shoes and clothes that are comfortable to hike in. As far as shoes, you should pack slip-on sandals, athletic shoes or sneakers, and
maybe a pair of loafers to wear around the ship. If you’re planning on dressing up for dinner, bring a nice pair of khakis, and a few good shirts.
Knowing what to pack for different types of cruises can be tough – we go into detail about the most common cruise types below.
Luxury Cruise – Higher-end cruises come with all sorts of special amenities. Depending on the ship, some come with rock climbing walls, ziplines, ice and inline skating, surf and skydiving simulators, water slides, and basketball and volleyball courts. Pack a wide variety of clothing for these, including athletic gear and fancier dinner attire. Dresses, suits, dress shoes, and heels are a good call.
Adventure Cruise – Some cruise lines seek out exotic itineraries in the Arctic, Antarctica, Galapagos, Amazon, and other less mainstream destinations. If you’re going on one of these once-in-a-lifetime adventures, check the weather and pack accordingly. This may mean packing rain jackets, waterproof pants, wetsuits, etc.
Disney Cruise – Disney really understands what parents and small children need on vacation, from entertainment and dining to childcare. If you’re headed on a Disney Cruise, check out this packing list for all our tips.
Pools – Almost every cruise ship has at least a few pools and hot tubs. Bring your swimsuit, obviously, and a few cover-ups. Sun hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are must-haves.
Ship Restaurants – Going to dinner on the ship is a great excuse to dress glamorously. Keep it classy with a little black dress, sundress, or nice jeans and a tank top. For men, chic slacks and button-downs are key.
Outdoor activities – – If you have any outdoor activities or tours planned during any of your cruise stops, make sure you pack accordingly. Consider bringing comfortable walking or hiking shoes, and workout attire. It may be a good idea to bring some athletic clothes, in case you want to rock climb, spelunk into a cave, or pursue any other outdoor adventure on your trip
What NOT to take on a Cruise
FAQs about going on a Cruise
1) How long do most cruises last?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
13) Are cruises safe?
Yes. News about cruise mishaps has cropped up in the past few years, but believe it or not it’s extremely rare for big problems to occur on cruises. They’re quite safe, they’ve been operating for decades, and they seldom have big problems. That said, it’s always better to opt for the more reputable cruise lines when possible, and travel insurance is a good idea no matter where, when, and how you’re traveling.
One factor to take into consideration is which destinations your cruise will be stopping in: if there are issues or travel warnings about those countries, it may be better to choose another cruise route. Cruise services, though, are actually quite good about modifying their routes to avoid any danger, so it’s not a huge issue.
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