View of luggage being packed for a vacation

The Essential Packing List for Your Cruise Vacation

Going on a cruise vacation is an exciting way to explore new destinations and create unforgettable memories. Being away at sea means that you will not be able to stop at a local department store to pick up any items you may have forgotten. And while there are items available for sale on board many cruise ships, they come at a premium cost. One of the best tips for cruising that will help you have a stress-free and enjoyable time, is to pack wisely and thoughtfully. Whether you’re setting sail for a tropical paradise, or a Transoceanic adventure, here is an essential packing list of items to bring on your cruise vacation.

Travel Documents

Your travel documents should be at the top of your essential packing list. Without the required travel documents you will be denied boarding. The travel documents you need will depend on the type of cruise you will take. If you are on a cruise that starts and ends in different ports then a passport book will most likely be required. There are other instances where you might need a passport book as opposed to other documents.  This list is a general guideline. You should take the time to verify what type of documents are required for your cruise with your cruise line

View of two United States Passports lying on a map of the world. Your travel documents should be part of your essential packing list.

Types of Documents Accepted for Travel:

  • US Passport Book or Passport Card: A Passport book is the preferred document to use on your cruise. A passport card cannot be used for international flights and certain sailings.
  • US Birth Certificate and valid government-issued ID
  • Permanent Resident Alien Card and Passport from Country of Citizenship
  • Enhanced Driver’s License: This type of ID is not the same as a Real ID. The Enhanced Driver’s License is only available in a handful of states.
  • Boarding Passes: If required, your boarding passes will be made available in your cruise portal by your cruise. You will be required to present your boarding pass on embarkation day. You should download, print, and bring a copy of your boarding pass on embarkation day.

Types of Clothing to Pack for Your Cruise

For the most part, you will find yourself spending the majority of time in comfortable casual clothing or pool wear. There are a few nights where you will need more formal wear. How many outfits you will need to bring will depend on the length of your cruise, whether or not you would like to take photographs, and whether or not you want to participate in formal night festivities. Which ever way you decide, having clothes that make you happy on your cruise should be part of your essential packing list.

Casual Attire

Pack comfortable clothing for daytime activities and lounging onboard, such as shorts, t-shirts, and sundresses. We spend the majority of time on our cruise vacations in shorts and t-shirts. I usually take extra t-shirts, especially if we are traveling during summer time.  

Formal Attire

Depending on the cruise line and itinerary, you will need formal attire for evening dinners and/or special events. For more casual cruises such as Carnival, you will need 1 formal outfit such such as cocktail dresses or a suit. If your cruise is longer than 7 days, there will more than likely be more than one formal night. Additionally, if you will be enjoying some of the specialty dining, you might consider bringing dressier clothes that are not quite formal. For special events, such as if you are attending an on board wedding, a tuxedo or cocktail dress might be in order.

Sleepwear

Remember to pack sleepwear. This is an item that I tend to forget to pack. Luckily I usually travel with extra t-shirts that can double as sleepwear. I also always carry a pair of slippers in my luggage. Slippers are part of my essential packing list as I find these handy for walking around my stateroom.  

Swimwear

You will more than likely spend some time enjoying the swimming pool on your cruise ship, you might even go on an excursion that involves visiting a local beach. You should bring a minimum of 2 bathing suits. This way you can hang one to dry (in your shower) and have one ready for the day.

View of luggage being packed for a vacation

A Sun Hat or Cap

Chances are you will be spending most of your time outside lounging on on of the decks. Having a sun hat or a cap to protect you from the sun is ideal. If you are walking on a top deck you will want to protect your hat from flying off as the top decks usually have more wind.

Swimwear Coverup

Packing a coverup for your swimwear is a good idea. Coverups come in handy as you make your way back to the ship from a beach. They are also handy and many cruise lines prefer that people cover up and not wear bathing suits in the buffet area.

Water Shoes

Without question water should should be part of your essential packing list. While spending time on a soft sand beach is always the preferred type of beach, this is not always the case. Some beaches are rocky or have a thicker sand that can hurt your feet. Taking a pair of water shoes will ensure that you are prepared for every type of beach you might encounter. They are also very helpful and protect your feet as you make your way in the ocean.    

Outerwear

You should bring a light jacket or a sweater for cooler evenings and windy days at sea. There is a chance you might not use it, especially if you are sailing in the Caribbean. However, you never know what the weather will bring. I find that having a warmer sweater is helpful when sailing in Baja or the Mexican Riviera. The evening wind can be colder in this area. 

Activewear

If you plan to participate in onboard sports or fitness activities, pack activewear and athletic shoes. It helps to bring two workout outfits so you have a clean one for the next workout. If your athletic shoes take up too much space in your luggage, you can wear them on travel day to save some space. There are laundry facilities available if you need to wash your workout outfits. 

Shoes

Bring a variety of footwear, including sandals for the pool deck, sneakers for shore excursions, dress shoes for formal dinners, and comfortable shoes for walking around the ship. I try not to take too many pairs of shoes, but I find that I usually pack around 5 pairs of shoes between sandals, formal shoes and comfortable footwear.  

Toiletries and Personal Care Items

There are a variety of toiletries and personal care items that you should pack. It is also helpful to get creative when packing toiletries such as shampoo bars instead of liquid shampoo. Also, it is a good idea to bring a first aid kit with general medications. These items can be expensive if purchased on board.   

Travel-sized toiletries

Many cruise lines have shampoo and body wash available in the shower, however they do not always have conditioner. If you have a preferred shampoo and conditioner then you should pack the type you like to use. You can also decide to switch to shampoo and conditioner bars. These types of products are much lighter and easier to travel with.  You should also remember to pack toothpaste and sunscreen in travel-sized containers to save space. And don’t forget your cosmetics. 

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

You should remember to pack any prescription medication you may need during your cruise. You should consider taking extra in case there is a delay in your travel arrangements when returning home. I also advise you to pack your prescription medication in your carry-on luggage and not in your checked luggage as you want to make sure your medication arrives with you and is available to you when you need it. This is also a good place to remind you to pack any over-the-counter medications for common ailments like headaches or seasickness.

You should also pack a small first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic wipes, and any other item you might need. These items are available on board your cruise ship for purchase. However, you will find that they are more costly to purchase on the ship. It is a better idea to bring them from home.

Electronics and Accessories

Nowadays, bringing our electronics and all needed accessories is a must. Bringing your camera is ideal for taking photographs. While we can get incredible photos with modern smartphones, sometimes it is better to use a camera to capture the perfect moment. Other times, your smartphone will be sufficient to capture your wonderful cruise memories. 

Along with cameras and smartphones, do not forget your chargers. You can purchase chargers on board your ship but it will be more costly. You can also purchase most chargers in port. However, by packing them beforehand you will not have to worry about running out of battery. 

View of a man holding a cell phone with a cruise ship in the background.

Cruise Approved Power Strips

Staterooms on cruise ships generally have limited outlets. This will keep all your electronics fully charged. You can ease this problem by bringing a cruise approved power strip. If you do decide to bring a power strip, it will need to be one that is cruise compatible. Power strips that include surge protection are prohibited on cruise chips. Surge protectors pose a fire risk when used on a cruise ship. If a surge protector is detected in your luggage it will be confiscated and returned to you at the end of your cruise. Check the packaging of your power strip to see if your power strip is cruise compatible.

Miscellaneous Items to Pack For Your Cruise

There are many miscellaneous items that you can add to your essential packing list. Many items are helpful to bring with you on a cruise. The items that you decide to pack will depend on the type of cruise you are taking. For example, you might decide not to pack a snorkel if your cruise is taking you to a cold region. Either way, this list of miscellaneous items could be helpful on your cruise.

Reef Safe Sunblock

Reef safe sunblock should be at the top of your essential packing list. Reef safe sunblock helps protect the earth’s delicate reefs. And on the ship the sun can be very strong and sunburns will occur especially if you spend a lot of time sunbathing by the pool. Having and using sunblock will help protect you from getting sun burns. Also, while sunblock is available for purchase on board, you will be paying a premium for it. It is best to bring enough sunblock for use during your cruise vacation.

Waterproof Bag

A waterproof bag will help protect your belongings from water damage during beach outings or water-based activities. You can also use your waterproof bag on your cruise by the pool to protect your items from swimmers splashing water or water that might splash out of the pool due to ocean waves.

Backpack and a Beach Bag

Taking a backpack and a beach bag are extremely helpful. A backpack is perfect for port days. It is a great way to carry all of your items such as a camera, snacks, and a water bottle during your shore excursions. 

A beach bag is perfect for packing your towel and carrying swimming essentials for beach days. It is also a great place to store and snorkel gear you have brought with you. 

A Refillable Water Bottle 

Many cruise ships have water filling stations. It is a good idea to pack a refillable water bottle so you can stay hydrated especially on shore excursion days. 

Snorkeling Gear

If you plan to snorkel at tropical destinations, bring your own snorkel, mask, and fins. Renting these items can be costly. Bringing your own equipment will save you money. It will also give you peace of mind knowing your equipment such as the snorkel, has only been used by you.

View of snorkeling gear on a soft sand beach

Underwater Action Camera

If you want to capture underwater scenes then a camera such as a GoPro is the perfect camera to have with you. There are some smartphones that are waterproof, however, using a camera made for use in the water will protect your phone from potential damage. 

Binoculars

For wildlife spotting or scenic views from the ship’s deck, consider bringing binoculars. Having binoculars would be especially perfect for cruises to Alaska.

Magnetic Hooks

Magnetic hooks are a great travel hack. Most cruise ship staterooms have walls that are made of metal. There is limited closet space and drawer space in a stateroom. Magnetic hooks can help ease that problem. You can use them to hang a sweater, a purse, or a backpack. To hold heavy items, make sure you bring heavy duty magnetic hooks.

Magnetic Clips

Magnetic clips are a great way to keep paperwork in order. During your cruise, you will receive daily itineraries and shore excursion tickets. Magnetic clips are a great way to keep these documents in order, especially shore excursions. It is great to have them handy and in a place where they will not get lost. Magnetic clips are the perfect solution for keeping things organized. 

Bathroom Odor Eliminator

Cruise ship staterooms tend to be small. The bathroom in a stateroom is no exception. Additionally, the ventilation in most stateroom bathrooms is not great. Bathroom air fresheners are great to have on hand and should be part of your essential packing list. Alternatively, you can also use an item like Poo-Pourri. Most odor eliminators come in small sizes which are perfect for travel and can easily fit in a toiletry bag.

Detergent and Fabric Softener

If you are on a long cruise you might find the need to wash some clothing. It is a great idea to pack detergent to wash clothes. Many cruise ships have laundry facilities available for washing and drying clothes. There is detergent and fabric softener available in the laundry room but you will have to pay for it. Packing your own will save you a few dollars. It is a good idea to check whether the ship you will be on has laundry facilities. Some cruise lines have eliminated laundry facilities from a few of the newer ships while other cruise lines offer laundry service for a fee.

Packing Takeaways 

By packing these essential items, and items that you will need for your comfort during your cruise vacation, you’ll be well-prepared to enjoy every moment of your journey at sea. Remember to pack light if possible, prioritize comfort and convenience, and most importantly, embrace the spirit of adventure as you set sail for new horizons. We hope this packing list has helped you in planning your cruise vacation! Bon voyage!

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