Cruise Packing List Essentials – 26 Great Tips

Whilst 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 in 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 deck, whilst 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 when we cruised out of New York in the middle of a hot summer and visited Novia Scotia 5 days later to be met by considerably cooler and windy weather.

2. Shore excursion clothing

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

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

For clothing think layers and pack a backpack down in your suitcase so that 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 for example “Hawaian Night” where you can color it up.

Check with your cruise line what your particular cruise offers so you don’t miss out on joining in the fun. It’s a shame to miss out on this theme nights which are great fun, so include the right clothing in your cruise packing list essentials.

4. Luggage tags protectors

The cruise line will send you a luggage tag by epost to print out before your leave home.

Your cabin number is clearly printed on this tag. It ensures that cruise personnel get 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 and protect the tag from getting torn or wet and ensures your luggage gets safely delivered to the correct cabin.

5. Beach bag or back pack

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

If you are planning on adventure excursions or full day excursions then packing a back pack is a smart idea. For your day in port you can carry all your essentials – a spare sweater, sunscreen, a water bottle etc. We also recommend packing a small squeezy bottle of liquid soap from home. For all those essential bathrooms stops on shore where you find suddenly there is no soap in a dispenser when you need it…

6. Wrinkle release spray

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 you own to take – 1 cup of water to 1 teaspoon of fabric softener plus 1 teaspoon rubbing alcohol (astringent) mixed together in a small spray bottle. Used best if you spray on then hang your clothes in the bathroom while showering so the warm steam helps release the wrinkles in the clothes too. (And if you are really 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 own coffee mug so they are able to fill up a cup of coffee at the start of their day.

8. Key card holder or lanyard – a must-have in cruise packing list essentials

Your key card is issued to you when you check in at port for your cruise. This is your room key and ID for purchases made on board or when ordering drinks on board that are 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 and 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 useful for those windy days on deck to stop your towel 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 you 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 clip your hat to the outside of your suitcase or backpack securely.

11. Self-adhesive or magnetic hooks

These are great to put on the walls of your cabin or in your 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 very handy for all types of small items that you can just grab easily before leaving your cabin without having to turn your cabin upside down looking for them!

Think, earplugs, chargers, keys cards, medicine, hand sanitizer. Prepack the compartments at home before your travel, so when you unpack on board you just hand it onto the bathroom door and you’re done.

13. Hand baggage essentials

Most important of all carry your passports and travel documents with you 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.

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

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

14. Multiple USB hubs – a smart item on your cruise packing list essentials

Think of all the gadgets you want to take with you – cell phone, Ipad etc. If you are travelling with family you may all want to recharge at the same time. So pack a multiple USB hub, they are lightweight, inexpensive and take up little room in your hand luggage. And of course don’t forget those chargers.

15. Seabands for motion sickness

If you are a sufferer then seabands or similar should be part of your cruise packing list essentials. 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 fun just because you feel quesy.

16. Ear plugs

Are you a light sleeper? You may need the help of some ear plugs to dull the sound of other passengers going past your cabin door late at night. If you have a cabin under the theatre or pool area it can also get noisy late in the evenings. Ear plugs work great if you also 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 anywhere away from home. Pack the basics – seasick tables, band-aids, antiseptic lotion, sun screen, diarrhoea tablets, painkillers/fever medicine and tummy settlers.

You will find most things available on board to buy, but at a considerably higher price. For anything more serious there is of course a doctor’s station on board. 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, check and double check before you leave home that you have these items. And even at the time of 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 a passport validity of minimum 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 vaccaination – 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 which cruise line you travel with.

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

20. Travel Insurance Documents

It may be obvious but you will be surprised at 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.

Speak to your home insurance provider or your insurance company and make sure all members of your family are covered. I usually pack printed copies of our insurance company’s contact information and our policy number.

21. Packing Cubes for super-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 travellers outfits separate if sharing a suitcase. Purchase different color packing cubes for each family member, then pack each day’s outfits in them including accessories.

It makes unpacking once in your cabin a breeze too. Simple takes a packing cube that is your color from the suitcase! Quite simply they can keep you organized, especially when travelling as a family or with kiddies.

Try them out if you haven’t already. Many cruisers won’t travel without them and have become packing cube addicts when they travel! Be sure to buy packing cubes with one side made of mesh, so that you can see into the cube to see which outfit is in there!

22. Coloring packs for kids at dinner time

Sometimes it’s just not easy for younger members of the family 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 really want to relax, take your time and enjoy each course.

Make it easy on your kiddies and pack coloring book sets or small “dinner bags” with pens and stickers included 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 for 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 all came out with a 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 choose to 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 just too heavy and bulky to bring with you. 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 really need to bring your own. Likewise if you are booking hotel stays for pre- or post cruising. Just check with your hotel that they can provide these.

But some parents to like to carry a portable padded safety harness they can also use on regular seats. Or like us when our children were toddlers, we travelled with portable, inflatable booster cushions as they had outgrown high chairs. They were perfect – weight and portable, they just deflated and fit into our handluggage and backpacks.

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

All these things are not really essential but are very handy if you are an active, sporty family and planning on doing shore excursions in or around the water. By far our best buy as a family were slip-on water shoes to protect our 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 keep sand out of mobile phones. Also good for storing snacks in a backpack if you are on an excursion, or for placing damp swim gear into 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 swim 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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Meet the Author

Mattias has nearly 2 decades of travel industry expertise, working with cruise lines, tour operators, airlines, IT providers, hospitality suppliers and everything else in between that makes the travel industry tick. more..