Packing for any trip takes some planning, but cruise vacations present a unique challenge. For starters, ship staterooms are typically smaller than most hotel rooms, so storage space may be limited. On top of that, you may be unable to purchase accidently forgotten items once your voyage begins; some stores in other countries are closed on Sundays and holidays (or during lunch hours), and they may have different products than you are used to. Cruise ship retail shops also shut down while docked in port, and many of them – especially on smaller vessels – have limited inventory to begin with.
While you don’t want to pack everything in your bathroom or closet at home, it’s nice to have what you need before you board the ship. To help you decide what to bring, U.S. News has compiled this list of items to pack for your next cruise. Some will simplify and organize your packing experience, while others are handy to have on the ship or in port. Once you have these items securely stowed in your luggage, you can enjoy what your cruise is all about – relaxing, having fun and seeing the world one port at a time. (Note: Some sailings may be affected due to the coronavirus pandemic. For the latest information regarding COVID-19 rules and requirements, please visit the CDC website and each individual cruise line’s website.)
Themed party attire
Some cruise lines host themed voyages or parties on select nights where passengers can dress up to participate in the fun. It’s best to check with the cruise line before you go so you’re prepared when the evening’s festivities begin. Bring your buccaneer gear if you’re sailing aboard Disney Cruise Line; ships host fun events like Pirate Party Nights, pirate-themed dinners and a “Pirates in the Caribbean” show. On Princess Cruises‘ “Love Boat”-themed cruise, pack your platform boots, glittery dresses, bell-bottom pants and halter tops for the line’s 1970s-inspired “Love Boat” Disco Deck Party.
If you’re headed to the Caribbean or another warm-weather destination, you’ll want a hat to protect your face from the sun. This $30 packable straw hat by FURTALK (available on Amazon) is a stylish women’s option that features a broader brim and offers UPF 50 sun protection. The hat is also adjustable and has a detachable chin strap. You can fold it into your suitcase, so there’s no need to wear it on the plane. Men can consider the Aussie Packable Breezer Safari Sun Hat by Henschel; it’s available for about $40.
These convenient organizers have clear pockets that allow you to find your toiletries, makeup, jewelry and other small items quickly – without having to hunt through multiple drawers or a tight stateroom closet. You can even bring one along to organize your shoes and maximize floor space. The organizers are perfect for storing items in small areas (like cruise ship staterooms and bathrooms) and they help keep your belongings separate from others you’re traveling with. Choose from a wide selection of organizers in a variety of colors, designs and sizes for around $20 on Amazon.
Bring a notebook to use as a travel journal during your trip. It’s fun to look back on memories of the best meals or cocktails you had on board or in a port of call. You may also want to jot down details about the places you’ve visited or activities or events that took place on the ship. While smart devices are handy for recording the same information (and taking photos), it’s extra special to have a book to pick up and read after your vacation. Public-Supply sells 5×8-inch softcover notebooks in a variety of colors. Prices range from $12 to $16 each, and 25% of the company’s net proceeds are used to benefit public school classrooms.
Comfortable walking shoes
If you’re planning to take a lot of cruise excursions, it goes without saying foot comfort is key. And even if you never step foot off the ship, there is still plenty of walking to do between bow and stern. Along with your flip flops, pack a pair of more stable shoes for exploring the ports and enjoying active onboard pursuits, such as walking along the jogging track, riding a roller coaster or zooming around a racetrack. Closed-toe shoes or sandals with straps are also safer than flimsy flip flops when boarding a slippery tender into port (if your ship can’t dock directly). Ecco’s Yucatan sandals come in several colors and are available for both men and women (approximately $135 and $130 on Ecco’s website, respectively). Naot’s Arataki (a closed-toe slingback) is another excellent choice for women navigating the cobblestone streets in Europe, thanks to the shoe’s slip-resistant design. The Arataki shoe costs about $180 on Naot’s website.
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Just like some hotel rooms, cruise ships cabins can feel dry – especially in the colder months. A portable humidifier can help relieve dry skin and may create a better sleeping and breathing environment. The small GENIANI portable USB-powered humidifier (approximately $25 on Amazon) only weighs about half a pound, so it will fit neatly into your checked bag or carry-on luggage. The quiet machine features two mist settings and has an automatic shut-off option, plus a night light to help you see around your cabin in the dark.
Beach bag or backpack
You’ll want to pack a lightweight beach bag for daytrips to the beach, visits to your cruise ship’s private island or afternoons at the pool. This lightweight, oversized mesh beach tote with nine pockets (approximately $15 on Amazon) is a great choice to carry your sunscreen, flip flops, a book, your smartphone, a water bottle, a bathing suit cover-up and more. If you’re hitting the streets instead of the waves, you might want to opt for a backpack instead. The Pacsafe Metrosafe L3S350 anti-theft travel backpack has plenty of interior and exterior storage options. There’s even a pocket featuring RFID technology to secure your ID and credit card information from contactless magnetic wave transactions. The backpack is also large enough to accommodate a sizable camera, a sweater, an iPad and other items you’ll need for the day. It weighs about 1.5 pounds and is priced around $90 on Amazon. For a lighter backpack, consider purchasing the Amazon Basics Ultralight Portable Packable Day Pack. This option costs less than $20 and folds down into a neat little cube, making it easy to stow away when not in use.
A good book
Sea days are the perfect time to kick back and relax with a book you’ve been meaning to read. Find an oceanfront lounge chair in a shaded area on the pool deck, or grab a latte or cup of tea and settle into a quiet nook indoors. Be sure to pack your book, Kindle or other electronic reader in your carry-on bag for easy access.
Passport and vaccine card carrier
Cruisers may need more than a passport to fly and board a cruise ship these days, so it’s best to stay organized and keep everything in one neat package. This slim TIGARI combination passport and vaccine holder has a clear slot for your CDC-issued COVID-19 vaccination card. It’s made of faux leather, comes in various colors (including tropical options like lavender and teal) and costs approximately $10 on Amazon.
You might be surprised how much sun you get while on a cruise, even if you’re not traveling in the summer months and lounging poolside or on the beach. If you’re trying to limit the number of toiletries you pack, opt for a sunscreen that will double as a light moisturizer during the day. There are many options available, but the Anthelios ultra-light fluid facial sunscreen (SPF 60) by La Roche-Posay is highly rated by dermatologists. The fragrance- and oil-free formula is free of parabens and oxybenzone. You can purchase the sunscreen on the company’s website for approximately $30 or in many drugstores and retailers, including Ulta and Target. The company also makes a mineral-tinted face sunscreen with SPF 50 protection.
Wrinkle releaser spray
Travel steamers and irons are prohibited for safety reasons on most ships, so the next best thing to bring is a travel-size bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser Spray. If you combine a spritz or two with the steam from your shower, you should be able to smooth out some of the wrinkles in your clothes.
If you’re prone to (or think you may be prone to) motion sickness on cruise ships, you’ll want to invest in a pair of Sea-Bands. These soft wristbands use acupressure to prevent and minimize nausea and vomiting on board. They are a reusable, drug-free alternative to anti-nausea medications like Dramamine. You can purchase Sea-Bands on Amazon or at popular drugstores.
There’s no better way to recharge after a long day exploring in port than to enjoy a restful night’s sleep. While the rolling waves of the ocean may lull some passengers into a blissful slumber, other people may need total silence to fall asleep. QuietOn 3 active noise-canceling earbuds block out snoring spouses and late-night partiers returning to their staterooms. They may also come in handy for an afternoon snooze. Purchase these earbuds (around $270) on the QuietOn website.
Packing cubes are one of the best ways to organize your clothing, especially if you’ll be on an extended cruise or traveling through a variety of climates. You can keep your shirts, pants and sweaters separate so it’s easy to find what you need. The cubes are also great for keeping accessories like travel wraps and scarfs in one place, so you don’t have to search through drawers when you’re in a hurry to get ready. After wearing, stow away dirty clothes in one or two cubes to separate them from your clean items. Amazon has a wide section of packing cubes to choose from, in plenty of different colors, designs and sizes, with most options ranging from $15 to $25. Some sets even come with shoe cubes, laundry bags and makeup bucket bags.
All electrical devices seem to come with different cords, plugs and attachments, so it’s important to keep them organized for easy access. The BAGSMART electronics organizer bag stores all your cables, plugs, SD cards and earphones in one zippered, compact bag that will fit easily in your carry-on luggage. Despite its small size, it can still hold bulkier items like a small laptop charging cord, such as one for a MacBook Air. With this accessory, all your gadgets’ attachments and cords will take up less space on the desk or bedside table in your stateroom. The organizer bag is available on Amazon for about $20.
A well-made, versatile travel wrap may become one of your favorite travel pieces. Wraps will keep you warm on planes, as well as in chilly cruise ship restaurants, bars and theaters. They are also easy to throw on for an evening stroll along the deck or a late-night deck party, when temperatures can drop and the sea breeze can pick up. These pieces change the look of whatever you’re wearing and are great for accessorizing. If you’d like to splurge on a cashmere wrap, consider Mer Sea’s The Luxy Wrap. It comes in soft colors like taupe and rose, and costs approximately $200. For a more affordable option, Coolibar’s lightweight Sanibel Everyday Beach Shawl comes in several colors and a striped pattern for about $30.
Digital luggage scale
There are more expensive options for digital luggage scales, but the compact Etekcity scale – approximately $10 on Amazon – can weigh bags up to 110 pounds with no issues. This handy scale gives you a heads up before heading to the airport so that you can avoid overweight fees, which can add up quickly once you start adding souvenirs to your bags. Every airline has its own weight and size restrictions for both checked bags and carry-on luggage, so be sure you know the rules before heading to the airport.
If you like to shop on vacation, bring an extra bag with you to avoid over-packing your primary luggage. The Hanke Expandable Foldable Suitcase (approximately $75 on Amazon) is an excellent option if you need a bag that can expand to several different sizes. If a soft-sided bag will do, consider bringing an inexpensive duffel bag for dirty clothes and anything else you don’t mind checking in with the airline on your way home.
Credit cards and local currency
When cruising internationally, consider getting small amounts of each country’s currency to have on hand in port. Depending on where you go, some local markets may only accept their own country’s currency, not U.S. dollars or credit cards. Travelers who want to pick up authentic souvenirs, such as French-milled soaps in southern France or novelty fish in Bergen, Norway, will need to have euros or Norwegian kroner on hand, respectively. It’s also nice to leave cash gratuities for cab drivers, tour guides or servers; in the European Union, one- and two-euro coins are convenient and appropriate tips. In ports with vendors that do accept credit cards, be sure to carry a Visa or Mastercard, as some shops and restaurants do not take American Express.
Hand sanitizer has become an essential amid the coronavirus pandemic, but some products are known to dry out the skin or leave an unpleasant odor. By Humankind makes a moisturizing hand sanitizer made with 65% alcohol, which still meets CDC standards but is less drying than other sanitizers. The pocket-size, 2.4-fluid ounce aluminum bottles are designed to eliminate single-use plastic waste and come with reusable pump caps. The hydrating formula is made with hyaluronic acid and it’s also vegan and gluten-free. Each order includes three bottles. You can choose from eucalyptus, grapefruit or unscented options – or a variety pack to try all three. By Humankind’s sanitizer pack costs approximately $15, plus an additional $1 for the pumps. You can purchase the product on the company’s website.
A surprising fact: Cruise ship cabin walls are made of metal, which means you can optimize your storage space by hanging some of your belongings on magnetic wall hooks. The hooks are perfect for hanging up bulky coats or boots if you’re traveling to a colder climate. You can also use them for wet gear on expedition ships or drying out bathing suits after days at the beach or pool. Purchase a set of magnetic hooks for approximately $10 on Amazon.
Pill organizers may be the preferred way to travel with your daily medications, but it’s best to bring personal medicines in their bottles (especially on an international cruise). While it’s not likely that TSA agents will stop you regarding unidentified pills, it’s best to be prepared by having your prescriptions. To make traveling easier, consider requesting smaller bottles from your pharmacist that are suitable for packing in your carry-on luggage. You’ll also want to bring at least two weeks’ worth of extra medications. In your checked bag, consider packing a small plastic bag with other ointments, creams or over-the-counter medications you might need, in case they’re not readily available in port or on the ship. These items might include products like Neosporin, Cortizone 10, Aquaphor or Claritin.
Cruise ship staterooms have basic toiletries, including body lotion, but you may still want an extra dose of moisturizer if you’ve been basking in the sun. Sun Bum makes an after-sun cool-down lotion that you can order from its website online or purchase in drugstores or online retailers like Target or Amazon for approximately $10. This soothing lotion cools and hydrates the skin with vitamin E, aloe and cocoa butter. The scent is reminiscent of a piña colada – perfect for a tropical getaway.
International travel adapter or converter
Cruise lines homeported in international locales may have ship staterooms with different electrical sockets and voltage strengths than you are used to in the U.S. If you purchase a reliable travel adapter with Australian-, Asian-, European- and U.S.-compatible options, you should have all your bases covered for trips around the world. BESTEK’s universal travel adapter (available on Amazon for about $40) features a direct EU plug, adapters and a converter that will change the voltage as needed. It can also charge up to seven devices at a time, so you can keep your smartphone, camera, computer and other electronic devices ready to go.
Spinner garment bag
Cruises often offer the opportunity to dress up more than you would at home. As such, you may want to pack sundresses, long dresses, flowing blouses or slacks and nice jackets. Since many of these fabrics tend to wrinkle easily, consider investing in a garment bag. The Delsey Hyperglide spinner garment bag (approximately $200) allows travelers to hang clothes on the clamping system, secure them with the folding bar and move them directly into the cabin closet on the ship. The garment bag also has space for a few pairs of shoes, as well as folded clothes like shorts, T-shirts, golf shirts and lightweight sweaters. If you pack right, you can make this your only suitcase, in addition to a carry-on bag. However, most staterooms have storage space for two to three suitcases, so the garment bag will still fit under the bed if you choose to bring another checked bag.
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