Cruise packing list essentials – 26 great tips

While packing for your cruise shouldn’t be complicated, there many great tips we can share to make life easier on board and for those all-important excursions on shore that you will want to do. Here are your cruise packing list essentials. And further down on the list, we have top tips if you are packing for children too!

1. Climate-friendly clothing in your cruise packing list essentials

Pack for the climate of your cruise destination. Where are you heading to, and at what time of year? A cruise to Scandinavia may require warmer clothing for those evenings on the deck while cruising in peak season in the Caribbean will most likely result in a lighter suitcase.

You may find a combination of light and warmer clothing is needed. A good example is if you choose a Canada and New England cruise out of New York in the middle of a hot summer and visit Novia Scotia five days later to be met by considerably cooler and windy weather.

2. Shore excursion clothing

Remember that life on board the cruise ship is only half your vacation you must pack comfortable walking shoes and clothing for on-shore excursions.

Sandals or deck shoes are fine for wandering around the local town, but if you plan a hike to a National Park, a more robust alternative is a must!

For clothing, think of layers and pack a backpack in your suitcase so you can carry an extra sweater or rain jacket on your outing.

3. Theme-night clothing

Many cruise lines have theme nights on board. Most popular are “White Nights,” where everyone wears all white, or “Hawaiian Night,” where you can color it up.

Check with your cruise line about what your particular cruise offers so you don’t miss out on joining in the fun. Theme nights are great fun, so include the proper clothing in your cruise packing list essentials.

4. Luggage tags protectors

The cruise line will send you a luggage tag by email to print out before your leave home. Alternatively, you download them from its website when you log in.

Your cabin number is printed on this tag. It ensures that cruise personnel gets your suitcase to the correct cabin.

Attach the tag to your suitcase once you get to the port for check-in. Do not attach it before you board an airplane if you are flying to your port.

Place the luggage tag in a plastic luggage tag holder before you attach it to your suitcase. They are the ideal size, protect the label from getting torn or wet, and ensure your luggage is safely delivered to the correct cabin.

5. Beach bag or backpack

Pack a lightweight cloth beach bag in your suitcase to use poolside or for beach excursions where you want to carry sunscreen, a camera, and swimwear. You do not need to bring linens or towels from home; everything is available on board. You can take towels from the pool area for beach days on shore.

If you plan an adventure or full-day excursions, packing a backpack is a smart idea. For your day in port, you can carry all your essentials – a light sweater, sunscreen, a water bottle, etc. We also recommend packing a small squeezy bottle of liquid soap from home for those essential bathroom breaks on land where you find there is no soap in a dispenser when you need it!

6. Wrinkle release spray

Are you worried about those wrinkles in your clothes? No irons are allowed in your cabin, but a wrinkle release spray on your clothes before you hang them will help. Or you can make your own by mixing one cup of water with one teaspoon of fabric softener plus one teaspoon of rubbing alcohol (astringent) mixed in a small spray bottle. Used best if you spray on and hang your clothes in the bathroom while showering, the warm steam helps release the clothes’ wrinkles. (And if you are desperate, there is a laundry service on board that can help you out for a fee).

7. Water Bottle

Pack a water bottle – empty, of course – in your suitcase. You can always fill up from drinking water stations around the ship to take with you on your shore excursion. Some guests bring their coffee mugs to fill up with a cup at the start of their day.

8. Key cardholder or lanyard

Your key card is issued to you when you check in at the port for your cruise. This is your room key and ID for purchases made on board or when ordering drinks on board that is included in your beverage package. It is also your exit and re-entry ticket when you arrive in port. You will need your key card with you at all times; therefore, a key card holder or lanyard is a great idea to keep it safe and dry and has fast become one of those cruise packing list essentials that many guests swear by!

9. Beach towel clips

A few of these are helpful for those windy days on deck to stop your towel from flying off your sun-lounger when you are swimming!

10. Hat Clip

Protecting yourselves from the summer sun both on board and on land means you can enjoy your vacation without sunburn. If you want to take your favorite sun hats but don’t want to ruin them by squashing them into a suitcase, then purchase a hat clip.

This allows you to securely clip your hat to the outside of your hand baggage or backpack.

11. Self-adhesive or magnetic hooks

These are great to put on the walls of your cabin or bathroom for extra hanging space, especially for those wet swimsuits!

Some of the walls in your cabin should hold magnetic hooks but take a packet of both magnetic and self-adhesive just in case. These are great for hanging up jackets, bags, or towels.

12. Hanging closet organizer

Pack a nylon hanging closet organizer to hang on the inside of your bathroom door. It’s convenient for all small items you can grab quickly before leaving without turning your cabin upside down looking for them!

Think, earplugs, chargers, key cards, medicine, and hand sanitizer. Prepack the compartments at home before your travel, so you simply hang it onto the bathroom door when you unpack.

13. Hand baggage essentials

Most importantly, carry your passports and travel documents in your hand baggage. Do not pack them into your suitcase.

Suitcases will be taken to your cabin by cruise staff. But you will need passports and travel documents at the check-in desk.

Take essential toiletries or medicines, hand sanitizers, wet disinfectant wipes, several face masks, and a change of clothes in your hand baggage.

You will also want to pack swimwear too. While you would have to be unlucky for your luggage to go missing, it is not unheard of. And if you must to wait a while for your luggage to reach your cabin, a change of clothes is good. And packing some swimwear in your hand baggage means you can at least enjoy the pool.

14. Cruise power strip with multiple USB hubs

Think of all the gadgets you want to take with you – cell phones, Ipad, etc. If you are traveling with family, you may all want to recharge at the same time. So pack a power strip with multiple outlets that is approved for use on board a cruise ship. Choose one that has no surge protector and is without an extension cord. They are lightweight, inexpensive, and take up little room in your hand luggage. And, of course, don’t forget those chargers.

15. Sea bands for motion sickness

Sea bands or similar should be part of your cruise packing list essentials if you are a sufferer. Most of the time, you will probably not even feel you are at sea on the big cruise ships especially if you have a cabin located in mid-ship. But for those occasions where it does get a little choppy, you don’t want to miss out on the fun just because you feel queasy.

16. Earplugs

Are you a light sleeper? You may need the help of some earplugs to dull the sound of other passengers going past your cabin door late at night. A cabin under the theatre or pool area can also get noisy late in the evenings. Ear plugs also work great if you want a lazy morning!

17. A basic first aid kit in your cruise packing list essentials

Always a good idea to have on your cruise packing list when going away from home. Pack the basics – seasick tables, band-aids, antiseptic lotion, sunscreen, diarrhea tablets, painkillers/fever medicine, and tummy settlers.

You will find most things available on board to buy but at a considerably higher price. There is a doctor’s station on board for anything more serious. Be sure your travel insurance covers you for medical treatment away from home.

18. Passport, travel documents, credit cards, and cash

Seems obvious? Not always! Check before you leave home that you have these items. And even when booking your vacation, you must check the validity date of your passport.

If your passport expires before or during your vacation date, you will need to renew it before you travel. Many countries require passport validity of a minimum of 6 months after the date of your home journey.

Check the rules of the cruise line and the countries you are visiting regarding proof of vaccination – do you need it? The cruise line can also help with this information.

Pack all these items into your hand baggage, not into your suitcase.

19. Drinks and bottles of wine

Many customers ask if they can bring bottles of wine or soda from home in their check-in luggage. The answer is you need to check with your chosen cruise line. Rules vary depending on which cruise line you travel with.

If you have a beverage package, you may be less likely to bring your own. Taking a glass of wine from the bar onto the deck or to your cabin is never a problem. But if you are bringing your own, remember screwtops bottles or bring a corkscrew!

20. Travel Insurance Documents

You will be surprised how many families still think they can travel without insurance. You shouldn’t! Especially post-covid, now more than ever, for any illness or accident, however big or small, get good travel insurance. We recommend you also have extra cover in case of lost or damaged baggage.

Speak to your home insurance provider or insurance company and ensure all family members are covered. Print copies of your insurance company’s contact information and your policy number.

21. Packing Cubes for easy access to your outfits

Packing cubes are small containers made of fabric used for packing clothing. They then fit into your suitcase. It’s a great way to keep whole outfits together, and each traveler’s outfits separate if sharing a bag. Purchase different color packing cubes for each family member, then pack each day’s outfits, including accessories.

It makes unpacking once in your cabin a breeze too. Take a packing cube that is your color from the suitcase! They can keep you organized, especially when traveling as a family or with kiddies.

22. Coloring packs for kids at dinner time

Sometimes it’s just not easy for younger family members to sit and wait for dinner to arrive at your table after you have ordered. And let’s face it, with the menu choice, you want to relax, take time, and enjoy each course.

Make it easy on your children and pack coloring book sets or small “dinner bags” with pens and stickers to keep them busy at the table. Great sets are available on Amazon, or you can put together your own at home, one pack for each night and each child. They will fit easily in the bottom of your suitcase.

Tip! Ask you waiter the first night if they could bring out a plate of mixed fresh fruit ready cut up for little hands to enjoy while waiting for the dinner courses. Our kids loved the assortment of strawberries, grapes and cubes of fresh pineapple. And from that night on our waiter always brought bite-sized fruit pieces almost as soon as our family were seated.

23. Lightweight strollers, travel high chairs, booster seats, chair wraps, and portable travel potty

Many parents buy these items, such as lightweight strollers that pack easily and are light to carry, specifically for vacations. Especially if the ones you have at home are too heavy and bulky to bring, models such as 3D Lite Convenience or the City Mini GT are popular for strollers.

High chairs are available on board in the dining rooms, so you don’t need to bring your own. Some parents like carrying a portable padded safety harness they can use on regular seats or portable, inflatable booster cushions for toddlers.

24. Waterproof Dry Bag, Phone Case, and even Slip-on Water Shoes

All these things are not essential but are very handy if you are an active, sporty family planning to do shore excursions in or around the water. Slip-on water shoes are also great to protect feet in stony shallows.

25. Zip Lock Bags

Zip locks are great for many reasons. Bring them from home to put inside your beach bag – great for keeping sand out of mobile phones. Also suitable for storing snacks in a backpack if you are on an excursion or for placing wet swim gear at the end of your cruise if it doesn’t have time to dry before you pack your suitcase again.

26. Snorkels and swim goggles

If you love to swim and are planning on shore excursions to a beach or anything that involves getting in the water, you will want to pack snorkels and goggles for the whole family with your swimsuits and beach gear. This will save trying to find these on board or in local shops when you get there.

Find more help, advice, travel info, and tips here:

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How much cash should you take on a cruise?

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Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..