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!
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?
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.
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
Digital Luggage Scale
While I am a firm believer that no one should pack anything they don't need, if I plan to check bags, I always bring this digital luggage scale with me.
I've had so many people beg me to use it and then rave about it and go home to buy their own!
The last thing anyone wants to do is arrive at the airport to discover that your suitcase is overweight and you have to pay extra or reshuffle everything in full view of the entire terminal. That is just no fun.
Instead, I use this digital luggage scale to figure out exactly how much my suitcases weigh before I head to the airport. We all buy souvenirs, and even when we don't, our suitcases are somehow magically heavier at the end of a trip. (No? Just me?)
This is absolutely worth the suitcase space. I've found that this one is accurate, and it goes up to 110 pounds, not that anyone should have a suitcase anywhere near that heavy!
Save yourself the headache - keep this in a pocket of your suitcase at all times so you never forget to pack it!
Cruise Luggage Tags
Any bag that you drop with a porter - and for me, that's everything except my backpack - needs to have your luggage tags attached. This is the paper you print out at home with your deck, cabin, and name that ensures your bag makes it to your cabin.
I used to pack a mini stapler so that I could staple the luggage tag closed around my suitcase handle just before I dropped them with the porter. If I put them on before that, I risked them coming off on the plane or taxi, and I didn't want my personal information (name and cabin number) shared with everyone.
Finally, I discovered these way cool luggage tags.
They're reusable, and incredibly secure. You just twist the braided steel wire together, and it stays.
I leave mine on my suitcase all the time, and pop the zip closure on the tag portion to add my luggage tag when I reach the cruise terminal.
When I'm not cruising, I use it as a suitcase tag to store my personal info for when I check a bag.
This set comes with 8 tags and easily holds your cruise luggage tags from pretty much any cruise line. I won't cruise without these now!
Once you actually get on board, pretty much the only thing you need is your cruise card. It's your room key, your method of payment, your access to all the things...
You see people wearing these everywhere, and the lanyards are super easy to wear for kids and pretty much for everyone.
You see people walking around with them all the time on cruise ships. I like the lanyards with the plastic holder for the card rather than the one that relies on a hole in your card.
Yes, you can buy this on your cruise ship. No surprise, they're far more expensive on a cruise ship than when you buy them before you go.
Cell Phone Case that Holds Your Room Key
Another alternative to hold your cabin key and a couple bucks or a photo ID is a phone case that has a secure compartment that slides open to hold them. I actually use this style case on my phone all the time, not just when I travel.
I can hold my phone up to my cabin door and unlock it with the key without having to search for anything. If I'm on an older ship with a lock that requires me to slide the card through a strip reader, it's easy to access.
The back slides open easily, and the case is strong, too. I drop my phone all the time, but – knock on wood – have never cracked a screen. Winning!
Travel Straws with Silicone Tips
So many cruise lines are doing away with straws altogether or replaced them with paper straws. Neither works well when you just want to enjoy your drink.
Instead, pick up these metal retractable straws. They have a silicone tip that feels good, so you aren't drinking straight from metal.
I love that they "grow" as big as you need them. In other words, you can have a shorter straw for a smaller glass and a taller one for a bigger drink.
Four different colors in each pack means you can assign each person a different color, which means you know you're using "your" straw. And the carabiner clip means it's easy to attach to your lanyard or bag or anything else without damaging it.
They also come in individual cases, so they stay clean when you aren't using them. And yes, they include bottle brushes so you can wash them on your cruise.
One note: make sure they're fully dry before you put them back in the case to be sure they stay perfect long term.
TSA Approved Liquid Travel Containers
We all know the TSA 311 rule, right? Liquids in your carry on have to be 3.4 ounces or less in a single quart size zip top bag, and only bag per passenger.
Even if you check your bags, make sure you have the critical items in your carry on – a change of clothes, travel documents, medicine, etc. That means my hair products, sunscreen, and the like, too.
Wellll some of those bottles are huge, so I found the perfect liquid travel bottles. I love these for so many reasons, and I’ve travel tested these, so I know they work.
Multiple colors, BPA free silicone, and no leaks? Sign me up for right around $10 any day.
I have used mine for years, and they are in great shape trip after trip.
Over the Door Organizer
Everyone always wants - ok needs - more room in their cabin. An over the door organizer is perfect to create some of that space for you.
It fits easily inside a suitcase, and you can use it for so much more than shoes. We store hairbrushes, hair dryers, toiletries, and more in it.
And yes, we store shoes in it, too, but they go towards the bottom. We used to just toss shoes onto the floor of the closet, but we inevitably spent five minutes digging through the pile to find the ones we wanted. This is way easier.
When you go down a cruise ship hallway, every cabin door looks the same. Whether you're tired or trying to find a friend's cabin, this can be a challenge.
That's PART of the reason so many people decorate their cabin doors. Be sure to read what is and isn't allowed for your cruise line, but have fun with it!
A magnetic dry erase board will stick to the door - yes cruise ship doors are metal. This lets you leave messages for friends or family letting them know where to meet you or what you're up to.
But have fun with your decorations, whether it's photos of your family, a themed set of decorations, or birthday or anniversary banners. It's a great way to let your personality shine.
So in addition to that cool metal door, cruise ships also have metal walls, which is perfect to help counteract that storage space issue I talked about earlier.
These magnetic hooks are just about the best thing ever.
Wet swimsuits? The drying line in the shower isn't big enough, so I hang them on hooks along the side of the room instead. (Not dripping wet because that's just rude!)
It's the perfect way to organize hats, to hang up the extra things that don't fit in a closet that don't "need" to be on a hangar, and more. Because they're magnetic, I can move them around to fit what I have to hang.
And once again this fun addition to a unique cruise packing list is neither expensive, nor does it take up much room in your suitcase.
Maybe it's to encourage people to pack less, but I find that the closet in the cruise ship rarely has as many hangars as I need. But hangars are a pain to pack, so I just deal with it.
Or I did until I discovered foldable hangars designed for travel. These fold up small so they don't take up much room in my suitcase, but they expand to hold shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, and more.
They are a lifesaver sometimes when I have clothes I don't want to have to fold!
Multi Outlet Adapter
In addition to not enough space, there are never enough outlets. Once upon a time when we traveled with a hairdryer and maybe a curling iron or electric razor, the limited outlets worked.
Today we have phones and tablets and more. For everyone traveling. Most cruise ships don't provide enough outlets for everything to charge overnight.
Thankfully, you can bring a multi-outlet adapter to fix the issue. I bring my Belkin with me on every trip.
This adapter is compact and includes multiple 3 prong plugs for your devices plus two USB slots. Its plug also swivels, so you can rotate it to best fit where you need to use it.
How much do people love this? My parents "borrowed" mine for their last cruise. And now my dad refuses to return it, so I have to buy a new one. Thankfully they aren't too expensive!
LED Tea Light Candles
For real. Hear me out.
In your cabin, the light switch to the bathroom is outside the door. They don't put it in the bathroom, but in the main room.
Let's think about that. All you light sleepers are already with me.
Anyone who has to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night needs a light, but what happens when you open the door to go in? Yup, that stream of really bright light goes right into the main room waking you up.
This has been a source of consternation in my family for years. My husband suggested I just use a sleep mask, but I don't sleep well with them. I suggested he not get up in the middle of the night, but that didn't go over well.
Instead, before we go to sleep, we turn on two battery operated tea lights in the bathroom. They reflect in the mirror and give off plenty of light for your night adjusted eyes to see what you need to while in the bathroom, but they don't wake up everyone else in the cabin.
I've used the tea lights I currently own for 19 nights at sea, and they have yet to burn out. When they do, this comes in a pack of twelve, and I always keep extras in my suitcase for that day.
Since we're talking about small quarters and cabin living, let's be honest for a quick second. The small bathroom doesn't come with a fan, and sometimes you need it to.
I feel like I don't need to say a whole lot here other than the fact that this spray works - as long as you remember to use it before you go. The 1.4 ounce size is carry-on allowed, so you can bring it even if you are a carry-on only traveler like me.
Do your family a favor - or make them do you a favor - and pack some Pou-Pourri for you next cruise. I told you this was a unique cruise packing list, and I bet you didn't think about this!
I cannot tell you what a miracle Sea Bands are for my family (and so many others I know). The first time we got on a ship, we realized my son gets incredibly seasick.
Thankfully, I just happened to tuck these into my suitcase, and combined with ginger gum, he went from green to absolutely fine in about five minutes. He wears them every cruise we go on now, and he's never had another issue.
If you or anyone you know is prone to seasickness, I cannot recommend these enough. In fact, I have an entire article filled with tips to help prevent and deal with seasickness. Go ahead - read it!
The Perfect Sun Hat
Whenever you spend time in the sun, you should wear a hat and protect your face and ears. I found my absolute favorite sun hat ever. I’ve been using it since 2014, and it’s still going strong in 2022.
I can pack this hat and not worry about crushing it. When it gets wet, it doesn’t lose its shape. And it comes in all sorts of colors.
And my favorite feature? It rolls up when I’m not wearing it, so it doesn’t take up a ton of room in my beach bag or my suitcase.
Oh, and did I mention it’s right around $20? When I thought I lost it this summer, I had another one in my cart on Amazon in a heartbeat!
I usually pack a ball cap, too, for outings where I want my hair out of my face but am not as concerned about the sun, but I never travel without this hat.
If you've never been on a cruise, you may be surprised by the amount of wind you experience at sea, especially when you're sitting by the pool on the upper decks. Depending on where you sail, the wind can blow your towel off your chair when you stand up.
Even when you sit on your chair, the wind sometimes pushes the corner of the towel onto you. Me? I find that annoying.
But the biggest reason I pack towel clips? Everyone on the cruise ship has the same towel because you use the ones they provide.
When I stand up and do something with my kids then try to head back to my chair, I don't always remember which one is mine. People get cranky when they think you're trying to steal their chair!
The towel clips help me easily identify which chair belongs to me, so I can spot it in a hurry.
My only request? Don't be THAT person. The one who saves a chair with a towel early in the day then doesn't use it until much later. You'll find a chair when you need one, so let those of us who only take a chair when we plan to use it find one more easily.
A Locking Bag for Your Chair
When my mom travels with us, she's "Towel Grandma." She watches our chairs and our towels and our stuff while we go play. Unfortunately, she doesn't travel with us every trip.
And unfortunately, there are some people out there who don't always remember that what's yours isn't theirs. Having something stolen while on a cruise is a nightmare of mine.
Thankfully, you can purchase a bag to hold your critical items that you can lock to your chair, whether you're sitting at the pool or on a beach on an island. In fact, this is great for anytime you travel and need to leave belongings unsupervised like water parks or other beach vacations and more.
This particular version has a three digit combination lock you can attach over the arm of a lounge chair (or a closet rod), and it's big enough to hold a few phones, your keys, a wallet if you need, and the like. And yes, it will fit your Kindle but not a full size iPad.
Waterproof Phone Case
I refuse to ruin my phone in water, but I don’t want it stolen either. When on vacation, I tend to put my phone into a waterproof case and wear it around my neck when hanging in the pool, etc.
These cases come in a set of two and have never leaked. They’re easy to use, but always do the tissue test before you use it the first time on vacation.
They’re perfect for snorkeling. I love that you can take photos underwater with these for some great memories. Just remember to turn your phone on through the case before you go underwater.
Their vibrant colors and long cords make them easy to spot them in case they float away from you.
They’re another pretty inexpensive purchase – for two cases mind you – that just takes stress away from your vacation. Add this stat to your beach vacation packing list.
Full Face Snorkel Mask
When I cruise, I spend a lot of time in the ocean. Sometimes I'm on organized excursions (and you can read about some of my favorites at the end of this article) and some are hanging at the beach and playing in the ocean on my own.
Either way, this full face snorkel mask is so much better than the snorkel masks I used to use growing up and that I get when I rent them. I can see so much more easily, and it's a lot more comfortable than traditional snorkels.
The breathing part is designed to keep water out, which is a huge issue for my kids. They feel more comfortable and secure snorkeling with a full face mask, and I get why.
Microfiber Beach Towels
Yes, your cruise ship provides towels for your use. I'm fully aware of that, but I still always pack two microfiber beach towels whenever I go on a cruise.
When I do a shore excursion, it almost always involves water in some way, shape, or form. The towels from the cruise ship are bulky and take up a lot of room. If I have to carry them all day - especially at the end of the excursion when they're wet - I get cranky.
These microfiber towels are perfect. They're much more compact, and they dry much faster. That means they're much easier to take with me; I may even put the kids in charge of towel carrying!
A Dry Bag
Speaking of water activities, I travel nowhere without my dry bag. This one works as a backpack or messenger bag style - I have the 30L bag; the 20L also does this.
I feel like anytime I'm on a boat, whether it's a catamaran ride or snorkeling or SCUBA, my stuff gets wet. Sometimes it's from the ocean spray, but usually I put my bag down somewhere dry that is wet by the end of the excursion.
I don't want my stuff ruined or even damp. On the flip side, when I have wet stuff, I don't want it to leak and get me wet.
This bag accomplishes both purposes.
When I want to keep everything dry, I just pile it all in my dry bag and seal it. I can hold multiple towels - especially those microfiber ones I mentioned above! - and a change of clothes and my phone and wallet and more.
When it's time to change, I take out all my dry stuff and put it in a separate travel backpack. The wet stuff goes into the dry bag, and I stay dry. Magic!
Underwater Camera and Accessories
I cannot tell you how much I love my GoPro. Whenever I cruise, I spend ton of time in the water, whether it's on a beach at the cruise line's private island or snorkeling or SCUBA diving or any other water focused activity.
My phone camera just doesn't cut it, and it's amazing some of the footage I can capture with the new GoPros - so much better than my original one from many years ago.
If you take your GoPro, make sure you get a waterproof float stick to ensure it doesn't disappear in the water. And always get a high quality memory card with more room than you think you'll need!
If you think you'll get several accessories, pick up an accessories kit instead. They have most of what you'll want to purchase and cost you less in the end.
In general, backpacks aren't waterproof, but they're great to hold a whole bunch of "stuff" easily. In fact, we usually bring multiple backpacks so that we have at least a few for my family to use.
After we drop off our suitcases with the porters, we still want to keep some items with us - knowing that we generally can't access our cabins immediately. The day we board, we put swimsuits, sunscreen, meds (never leave your meds in your suitcase), wine if we bring a bottle, wallets, phones, and the like.
It's much easier to carry a lightweight backpack than it is to roll a suitcase around the ship until we can put things in our cabin safe or unpack.
When we do excursions, we put what we need in a backpack and carry that rather than purses, etc. It's much more comfortable, and things don't feel as heavy in a backpack compared to other carrying options.
I love this backpack because it is water resistant (little sprays, some rain) and because it is packable. It folds into a tiny bag so if you aren't using it at the time, it doesn't take up a ton of space.
Xlear Nasal Spray
The very last thing any of us wants is to test positive for covid either before you get on the cruise or before you make it home. I am not a medical professional or offering medical advice by any stretch, but I have heard so many good stories about Xclear nasal spray.
This is one that the manufacturer claims may alleviate congestion and prevent bacteria and other pollutants from sticking to nasal tissues. I have heard from multiple people who have used this to help clear remaining covid symptoms that allowed them to test negative faster.
And yes, testing negative faster meant they could take their planned trips and not have to cancel. For me, it's worth that peace of mind.
Vaccination Card Protector
To cruise, you need to show your vaccine card. The last thing you want is to lose it or damage it because they are often not easy to replace.
We all know (now) not to laminate it, but I love these clear card holders that are the perfect size for your card to keep it safe. Clear mean that you can show both sides easily without having to remove it from the case.
When I travel, I store mine in my passport holder where I know it's safe and I won't lose it. Having an assigned spot for all your travel documents is always a smart idea!
Yes, I did mention a passport holder above. This is something I carry with me anytime I travel internationally, and especially when I cruise.
I love having this holder because it lets me easily access my passport when I need to show it to customers or immigration. And at the same time, it holds pretty much everything I need when I travel, so I don't need to pull out my wallet and my passport and potentially lose something.
Inside, I store my Global Entry card, among other thing. (You know you should get Global Entry or at least TSA Precheck, right? Here's why and how you apply for TSA precheck.)
This passport holder has space for a few credit cards, as well as cash. a slot I can stick my vaccine card in, and smaller pockets that hold an extra SIM card when I'm traveling to a specific country that needs one or memory cards for my camera or GoPro.
How do I pack a week's worth of everything into a carry on suitcase with room to spare? I use compression packing cubes.
I LOVE these things. They let me fit so much more into a smaller space with ease.
They're strong and sturdy yet lightweight and really increase the amount of clothing I can get into my suitcase.
Pro tip: I pack one cube that has exactly what I need when I arrive from my cold weather home to warm weather destination that I can easily pull out and change into. This way, I don't have to hunt and dig for what I need!
Insulated Water Bottle
Not only do I love using an insulated water bottle on a cruise ship or at a resort to stay hydrated while I’m out and about easily, but I use it as I travel, too.
Leave your bottle empty, then fill it at a drinking fountain as soon as you pass through security. Many airports now have water bottle stations, which is great.
Forget having to wait for a flight attendant to come through with the drink cart – you’re all set. This is one item I know often gets left off a beach vacation packing list, but you want it!
Pro tip: I use a wide mouth bottle so I can pour a drink into it from the bar and take it to the pool or ocean and not worry about it spilling. But no matter what, this keeps things hot. Or cold.
What do you need to bring as part of your unique cruise packing list?
More great cruising tips:
- The BEST containers to hold liquids for carry-on
- How to stay in touch internationally
- Why you need TSA precheck
- Where to snorkel in St. Maarten
- SCUBA in Cozumel
- Stingray City and Turtle Farm excursion in Grand Cayman
- Do you know about Carnival’s Chef’s Table experience?
- Aruba pirate ship experience
- Grand Cayman shipwreck snorkeling
- Belize Great Barrier Reef snorkeling
- Belize Mayan Ruins experience
- Roatan: Pirates, Birds, and Monkeys
- Curacao: Ostrich Farm Excursion
- What to pack
- Barbados: Pirate Ship Adventure
- Explore the Secret River in Cozumel
- How to get your AOW SCUBA certification
- Check out all my other cruise tips
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[…] Gifts for cruise lovers […]