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The BEST Cruise Packing List (And What Not To Pack)

Heading out on a cruise? This is the ultimate cruise packing list with a free printable cruise packing checklist.

Not only that, but you’ll learn some packing tips and 16 items you may not realize you need on your cruise packing list – plus why you need them. Some links are affiliate links that earn me a commission if you purchase through them.

Heading out for a Caribbean vacation instead? Make sure you check out my beach vacation packing list, too!

Items to put on your unique cruise packing list

I love to cruise. I love to be on vacation in general, especially somewhere warm. Cruises, however, let me explore a variety of locations with minimal effort.

Plus, someone else cooks. Someone else cleans. Someone entertains my entire family.

That doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and roses, however. Personal space tends to be less than what we’re used to. Some in my family suffer from seasickness.

And then there are some things that just make life easier on a cruise ship, many tips I’ve learned the hard way. Who doesn’t want a vacation to go as smoothly as possible?

Looking for a quick roundup of what to buy? Check out my favorites in my Amazon storefront where you can pick and choose what you need for your next cruise.
Every cruise line has different requirements on what they do and don’t allow. Check your cruise’s restrictions before you pack anything, but the items on this list are allowed on every line I’ve traveled.

What to pack for a cruise?

Like most vacations, people tend to overpack. That’s ok if you have the room, but cabin storage space on cruise ships tends to be far less than most vacation spots.

When you pack, realize that you’ll likely spend most of your time in a swimsuit if you’re on a Caribbean cruise vacation. You don’t need a new outfit every day.

You do want to be sure to pack at least two swimsuits, and for a 7 day cruise, I pack three swimsuits. You also want at least one coverup that works for you to grab a casual breakfast and lunch.

If you eat in the main dining room, you need slightly nicer clothing for the evening, but slacks and a collared shirt or a pantsuit or sundress works just fine most nights. Depending on the length of your cruise, you will have one more more formal nights that are dressier.

However, if you choose to do the buffet or its equivalent for dinner, shorts and a t-shirt are just fine there, too.

Make sure to check the dress code for your particular cruise. They will also tell you how many formal nights or theme nights you have, which helps you plan.

If you book any excursions, know if they require any special items, whether that’s long pants, comfortable walking shoes, water shoes, reef safe sunscreen, or something else entirely. Your booking confirmation always includes that information.

Investigate, too, what essentials your cruise cabin includes so you know whether you need to pack shampoo or can use theirs and whether you need a hair dryer, etc.

Needless to say, since I wear my “real” clothes for just a few hours – and generally immediately after I showered from the day by the pool or in the ocean – I wear them more than once. I may bring just three or four sundresses and two t-shirts and a couple pairs of shorts.

Use packing cubes to help fit everything into a smaller space – like a carry on in my case – or fewer suitcases. Once aboard, use the ironing boards they have or a wrinkle release spray as needed.

Packing just cruise essentials helps me not run out of space in the small closets and limited drawers.

Use the same strategy for your shoes. Think about packing in a color palette that lets you wear the same evening shoes rather than having to pack a different pair of shoes for each outfit.

This leaves me room for the other cool things to bring on a cruise like my over the door organizer and flameless candles. Read on to see why these are also cruise essentials I never skip!

What medications should I bring on a cruise?

When you go on a cruise vacation, it is hard to easily pick up what you forgot at home, and everything costs more aboard the ship and at your cruise destination while you’re in port. This includes medications.

While cruise ships do have doctors on board if you have a medical issue, they have somewhat limited “regular” hours, and they can be expensive. If you bring what you’re likely to need from home, that’s less stressful and cheaper.

Be sure you have seasickness remedies on hand. My husband always gets the prescription patches that work fantastically, but we also keep ginger gum and Dramamine on hand just in case.

Obviously, you need to pack your prescription medications. Be sure to keep them in their original prescription bottles in case there are ever any questions. Pack extra medication and not just for the number of days you’ll be gone to ensure nothing prevents you from getting home on time.

If you plan to drink alcohol, bring along hangover remedies. And because we often eat more food and richer food than we do at home, bring along heartburn medication and Pepto, etc.

Make sure to have pain relievers, aloe in case of sunburn, and after bite in case the bugs in port like you.

If you’re truly reliant upon them, pack extra prescription glasses and copies of prescriptions just in case something happens.

Download the free printable cruise packing list

Download this cruise packing list and print it out to check off the items to ensure you have what you need for your trip and don’t forget any critical items! This includes standard vacation items plus the cruise must haves.

Cruise Packing checklist with click to download across the list of items.

Click on the image or download the free printable here.

Packing strategies for embarkation day

When you first board the ship, you often do not have access to your cabin immediately. You check your luggage (including your airplane carryon bags) with porters and keep just your personal items.

Note: make sure you tip the porters!

For me, I keep a lightweight backpack with me that contains my essentials: my laptop and tablet, passports, boarding passes, good jewelry, medications, and swimsuits (especially when we’re coming from cold weather to warm weather).

If there is something I absolutely cannot be without, I keep it in my backpack the same way I do when I fly. However, I do not want to wheel around a carry on bag aboard ship, dodging crowds of people trying to figure out where they want to go, so I minimize what I keep with me.

My luggage gets delivered straight to my cabin, and I have always been lucky enough to have it before I change for dinner the first night.

Snafus do happen, but they are rare and thankfully generally get straightened out pretty quickly. This is why it’s critical to have those cabin tags printed and why I love the plastic luggage tags that protect them!

What NOT to pack for a cruise

Cruise ships often have a list of items you cannot bring aboard. All your luggage goes through screening prior to boarding, and they will remove anything forbidden and hold it for you until the end of the cruise.

The exception to that rule? If you bring illegal drugs, flammable liquids, explosives, etc., you will not get them back. Some cruise lines will return alcohol to you, but many will not.

The alcohol policy also varies by cruise line, so be sure to read it carefully. Most let you bring two bottles of wine or champagne per person, but anything you buy in a duty free store or in port, they hold until the day before you disembark.

So what can’t you bring? Make sure to check your cruise line for their list, but this includes examples of common items people try to bring but can’t.

  • Irons or clothes steamers (ships will have irons available to you in their self serve laundry rooms)
  • Extension cords (go for the multi outlet adapter I share below instead)
  • Baby monitors
  • Perishable items (sealed cookies, chips, etc are allowed)
  • Candles (no flames on a boat! Flameless battery operated candles are allowed)
  • Anything that generates heat or has an open flame (curling irons and hair straighteners are the exception)
  • CBD oil and CBD products
  • Sharp objects, including knives and scissors (personal grooming products are allowed, as are scissors with blades until 4 inches)
  • Self defense items like pepper spray

This is not a complete prohibited list of items on cruise ships, so make sure to review the prohibitions for your cruise line if you have any questions.

Check out more cruising tips at the end of this article.

Cool Things to Bring on a Cruise

What do you need to bring as part of your unique cruise packing list?

More great cruising tips:

Heading out on a cruise? Whether it's a Caribbean cruise, an Alaskan cruise, or a European cruise, this unique packing list has all the items you didn't know you needed that will make your vacation much more comfortable and relaxing. This includes hacks to maximize space and keep your stuff safe, too!

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