Cruises are great, but packing can be stressful due to all of the new destinations you will be exploring and the variety of excursions you are planning.
One day, you could be relaxing on a remote beach without a care in the world. And the next day, you could be eating dinner on a night that the dress code is “cruise elegant.”
It’s essential to plan ahead and make sure you are packing for a variety of destinations and well equipped for any event. You don’t want your outfit to limit your ability to enjoy the fresh watermelon gazpacho in the formal dining room.
To help you make sure you don’t forget anything, we present the ultimate cruise packing list (if you’re just looking for the checklist, jump to the bottom of this page).
What to Wear
In many cases, dressing for a tropical cruise is much like dressing for a beach resort vacation.
You’ll want to plan a balance of formal clothing for dining and nightlife and more relaxed, activewear for during the day. This also means you have to pack multiple pairs of shoes!
Dressing Up for Special Occasions
Every cruise line varies on how formal you need to dress. And on most cruise ships, there are multiple restaurants, all with strict dress codes.
For instance, the Steakhouse on Carnival enforces a “Cruise Casual” dress code. For the ladies, that means “casual dresses, casual skirts or pants and blouses, summer dresses, Capri pants, jeans (no cut-offs).” For the men, Cruise Casual means “sport slacks, khakis, jeans (no cut-offs), collared sport shirts.”
On the flip side, some Carnival restaurants enforce a “Cruise Elegant” dress code. For the ladies, Carnival suggests, “Cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses. If you’d like to show off your evening gowns, that’s great too!” And for the men, they suggest “dress slacks, dress shirts. We also suggest a sport coat. If you wish to wear suits and ties or tuxedos, by all means, we invite you to do so.”
For women, pack formal wear for each evening to avoid having to re-wear. This could be everything from a nice dress, pantsuit, jumper or ball gown.
For men, pack a fresh, collared button-up with dress pants/slacks along with the ability to mix and match sports coats and one full, formal suit or tuxedo.
Dressing Down for Daily Activities
The key to packing efficiently is to make sure your shoes and undergarments can be worn with multiple outfits to avoid overpacking and optimize the space your heels take up in your suitcase.
Whether you are headed somewhere warm or cold, always pack an adequate jacket. You’ll be surprised how windy it gets on the deck, in the evening when you are sailing in the Carribean.
Whether it’s heavy-duty to get through the frigid Alaskan days or light to keep warm with the evening ocean breezes on a tropical cruise, you need a jacket.
Onboard, the majority of ships have pools, hot tubs, and saunas.
Don’t forget to pack (at least) two swimsuits so that you always have a dry option - no one likes having to put on a soaking wet swimsuit. Plus, no one wants a wicked tan line from wearing the same suit all week.
Along with the swimsuits, be sure to have a proper swimsuit cover-up and footwear for many restaurants, and all casinos do not allow for the bikini or swim trunk style.
Cruising is wonderful because it allows you to see multiple cities and have numerous experiences in a short period.
If you choose to book excursions, make sure to pack the appropriate attire for the experience.
For example, if you plan to go ziplining through the rainforest or ATVing for the day, be sure to have recreational wear and closed-toe shoes or they will turn you away.
Packing for Destination
Whether you are cruising the northern oceans of Alaska or the rivers through Europe, you will need to pack much differently than you would if you were cruising the Carribean or Mediterranean.
Your everyday clothing should very much reflect this. My biggest packing advice would be to not just pack for the destination, but pack for the weather!
The “it never rains along the Mexican coasts” theory can only set you up for failure in case it does.
If it’s your first time or if you are a seasoned traveler, be sure to follow the local weather in each port before packing so you can get a realistic idea of the weather you will encounter.
If you are cruising internationally, verify your passport is up to date and create a copy of each passport. This way, when you go to the port, you can take the copy with you and not have to worry about your passport getting taken or lost.
Many countries have different electrical outlets, so verify if you need a plug-in adapter to use any of your electronics.
When arriving in a foreign port, make sure to have about $100 worth of local currency in small bills. Whether it is for gratuity as many shore excursions, it’s customary to tip your guide, drivers or shops only accept local currency.
Everyone knows to pack clothes, but what about the “unthinkables?”
Unthinkable are items that are easy to forget but invaluable. They are the items that you think, “oh, that could have made my life so much easier!”
When packing, pack all your clothing in packing cubes. I love the Gonex compression packing cubes because you can organize everything from your shoes to your electronics with all shapes and sizes.
Whether you choose to pack an entire outfit per cube, or tops, pants, panties all get their own cubes is up to you.
I suggest bringing at least one empty cube or mesh laundry bag in your suitcase that way you can fill with your soiled clothing. This allows for your clean clothes to not get tainted by your dirty ones and makes it easy to repack when it is time to head home.
Electrical Gadgets and Adapters
Cruise ship cabins aren’t known for having great electricity; oftentimes there is only one plugin for the entire room (which makes it extremely difficult when you have at least two phones that need to be charged, a curling iron that needs to be plugged in and a laptop that is alerting you have 2% left).
Bring an extension cord/power strip that can accommodate multiple outlets/USB ports at once — this way, the battle of who gets to charge their phone is eliminated. Cabins can become rather stuffy and lack of air circulation, especially if you have an interior room.
Pack a mini, portable air fan to get rid of the stale air. A fan can double as a white noisemaker for sleeping as well.
Wherever you travel, a miniature medical kit is always needed but especially when you are cruising because you can’t always run down to the local pharmacy when you are in the middle of the ocean.
Yes, cruise ships carry a variety of medicines on board, but they are going to cost you an arm and a leg.
Your travel medkit should carry a variety of pain, stomach and allergy medication, bandaid and antiseptic to clean wounds, and of course, motion sickness medicine. I mean, you are on a ship! Motion sickness medicine such as Dramamine or sea bands that can be worn on your wrist help combat motion sickness.
As silly as it sounds, pack post-it notes. They allow you to leave notes to your friends and family of where you are going or serve as a reminder for the trivia night at the lido lounge you just can’t miss.
Sticky notes can also act as a way to communicate with your cabin stewards should you need something.
Cruise Packing Tips & Tricks
After having cruised a few times, you pick up on a few tips and tricks on how to make life easier the next time you go.
For example, pack several plastic bags for dirty/wet clothes - something is always wet when it’s time to pack for home, and it won’t soil your entire bag.
If you are traveling internationally, take the time to create copies of your passport and credit cards. This can save you a lot of grief if something is to go missing.
If you are headed somewhere tropical and plan to do so some swimming, pack an underwater camera or a waterproof case for your phone to capture moments spent underwater. From fish to friends striking funny poses, these are fun to look back on.
Pack a lanyard or wristlet to attach your cruise ID. You will need this for just about everything and makes it easy to take with you around the ship without having to carry your wallet everywhere you go.
On days when you head into port, you get the opportunity to see a new city and have a mini-vacation within your vacation.
It’s not easy to go back to your cabin and into port with having to wait for the tender boats and maneuver through security. So pack a small backpack or purse with everything you may need for the day; this way, you aren’t juggling your items, and in case you see something you would like to pick up in port, you can keep it safe in your backpack.
When packing your daily port day bag, be sure to check the weather report - Mexico, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and the Mediterranean have pretty consistent warm weather, whereas Alaska, New England, and inland European River Cruises can vary greatly depending on the season. Whether you’re packing a swimsuit or rain jacket, pack accordingly to the ports weather report.
As I had mentioned earlier, creating copies of your passport can save you in case of emergencies; however, it makes it possible to only have to take a copy with you when heading into ports that way, you can have your hard copy locked up safely in your cabin.
You will need to pack your cruise ID when getting on and off the ship. This way, you have all your documents lined up.
Many tourists plan exotic excursions on port days. Be sure to dress appropriately for whatever you have planned for the day. If you are ziplining through the Amazon or ATVing the deserts of Morocco, you will need athletic wear and closed-toe shoes. In many cases, if you do not have proper attire, you will not be able to attend that excursion and will not get a reimbursement.
If you’re headed for a day on the beach, women- wear a sundress and men wear a t-shirt in case you want to wander into town and bring flip flops. That swimsuit can only get you so far outside of the beach.
If you plan to do some sightseeing and stroll through the cobblestone streets of Santorini or walk the walls of Budapest and plan to put on a few miles, wear comfortable walking shoes.
On any cruise, there will be at least one day at sea. You will have the luxury of playing around the ship and can quickly stop into your cabin at any point, but knowing how to prepare for a full day at sea is important. You will need a tote or beach bag to wander to and from the lido deck and swimming pools.
Bouncing between the beach or pool to casinos or restaurants require cover-ups and shoes to be sure to pack dresses or shorts and T-shirts and flip flops as you wander the ship. Ship WiFi is exactly what you think it would be- like you are in the middle of the ocean. Don’t plan on streaming movies by the pool unless you’ve pre-downloaded them.
Many cruise ships require a specific kind of dress code even for days at sea, so make sure you have an appropriate cover-up and footwear as you wander around the ship.
Bringing Alcohol onto a Cruise Ship
While each cruise line varies on the allowance of alcohol permitted to be carried on board, it’s very typical to be allowed one bottle of wine/champagne and a six-pack of soda (pop-top only) per person. This helps to save money on board if you’re not paying for the daily bar fee.
Rumor has it...you can be sneaky, however, and bring hard alcohol on to the ship, it’s frowned upon, but it’s possible. Packing a full Camelbak full of (clear) hard alcohol is usually the safest and looks like water to security.
The artsy way of taking an Exacto knife and cutting the plastic wrap around mouthwash, dumping the inside and filling with hard alcohol, and use a hairdryer to reseal the plastic wrap has proven to make it aboard is another alternative.
Lastly, the easiest yet most identifiable is the travel shampoo/ conditioner bottles filled with, not shampoo and conditioner; however, it has been said to work. If you are caught trying to sneak alcohol on board, they will confiscate and throw your items away.
Pack the Perfect Carry-On
When you initially board the ship, your bags are stored while all passengers are settling into the ship, finding their rooms and head to the muster station. Based upon the ship’s size and cabin stewards efficiency, you may not see your luggage for hours, so pack your carry on accordingly. If you plan to hit the pool as soon as you leave port, pack a swimsuit and cover-up in your carry-on, so you are ready to rock and roll as soon as roll call is over.
Always have the bare essentials packed in your carry-on in case your luggage goes missing. Medications, phone/charger, passports, wallets, spare change of clothes can call come in handy in case your luggage embarks on a vacation of its own.
Packing for a cruise is unlike any other vacation.
Having mini-trips each day and a variety of destinations makes packing more challenging. These packing tips will help you be prepared for anything and everything you need for your next cruise.
The Ultimate Cruise Packing List [Checklist]
Clothing & Accessories
- Underwear & socks
- “Dress” shoes
- Active shoes
- Casual sandals
- Casual base layers
- Warm layer
- Waterproof layer
- Formal wear (most cruise ship companies will define this on their website)
- Swimsuit cover ups
- Hat for sun protection
- Casual Pants/Bottoms
- Scarves/shawl (very versatile for all situations)
- Jewelry (don’t bring anything you aren’t willing to lose)
- Hair products (styling products, plus shampoo and conditioner)
- Nail clippers
- Sunscreen (pack twice as much as you think you need)
- Hand sanitizer
- Multi-purpose soap (like Dr. Bronner's)
- Motion sickness pills like dramamine
- Pain killers
- Shaving supplies
- First aid kit
- Makeup/makeup remover
- Bug spray
- Feminine-hygiene products
- Power adapters
- Passport holders
- Cell phone
- Waterproof phone case
- Device chargers
- Digital camera
- Extra batteries and memory cards for camera
- Travel towel
- Snorkeling gear
- Booze (if you’re sneaky)
- Kindle (books are too heavy)
- Eye mask
- Lip balm
- Travel journal
- Pens and pencils
- Packing cubes
- Packable day bag or beach tote
- Mesh bag for laundry
- Mini fan
- Sticky notes
- Plastic bags for web clothes
- Copy of passport
- Cash (try to have at least $100 in local currency, and bring small bills for tipping)
- Credit cards
- Printed out itinerary
- Prescription drugs
- Emergency contacts
- Insurance cards