A cruise is one of the best ways to visit multiple destinations while enjoying luxury travel accommodations, world-class fare and entertainment that would rival any fun-filled metropolis. Cruise destinations run the gamut from tropical Caribbean islands to international must-sees like Greece, Italy, Spain or France. Cruise-savvy travelers know a comprehensive list is essential to worry-free vacation enjoyment. However, inclusion on this list may vary depending on the ports of call, size of the ship, cruise line and planned excursions.

A comprehensive list is a personal endeavor for every individual traveler. Everything from activity level to medical need to preference is a consideration. Some travelers prefer to pack light and send clothing to the laundry every couple of days to avoid taking too much. Others tend to over-pack and bring much more than they need - but are comfortable traveling this way.

So while you can use a list as a guide, the most important thing is to remember to take what you think you will need for your travel experience.


Cruises 101

What makes cruises exceptional is the structure of this vacation type. The ports of call represent one aspect of the trip while the ship itself is another. This means that your cruise packing list must reflect the duality of your travel. While you might travel to an island destination, the ship itself often boasts formal dinners, theater productions, night clubs and more. In fact, for some travelers, the ship is the attraction.

Cruise ships are towering water-based resorts. Standard features to expect include several restaurants, at least one of which is a formal dining room. Most ships offer at least one night - the Captain's Dinner - in which travelers don their fanciest threads for dinner. However, those that want to forgo such a fanciful occasion can still grab a bite in one of the more casual cafeteria-style eateries elsewhere on the ship.

Most ships also offer several pool areas for swimming while at sea. Additional features may include water slides, hot tubs, and adults-only water play areas. Also common on cruise ships include spa areas and a diverse array of retailers for shopping for everything from jewelry to clothing to liquor and more.

There is so much to do on the cruise ships that most lines include a day at sea to maximize all the offerings. On these days at sea, cruise lines step up their options even more with special productions, contests, unique dining options and more. The point is to make the ship as exciting as the various ports of call.

Nightlife is abundant among most major cruise lines. This may comprise piano bars, theater productions, night clubs for late-night dancing and more. Kid-friendly ships might also offer magic shows, cartoon characters or kids camps, where adults can safely leave kids to play with their peers and engage in fun-filled activities.

Ports of call are equally diverse, depending on the destination. When booking a cruise, research the different ports to plan excursions and outings when the ship docks for a pre-determined length of time. This will also contribute to choices on what to include on your cruise packing list. The more adventurous your excursions, the more likely it is that you may need items you might not have otherwise included. For example, if you are cruising to Belize and plan a hike through the rainforest, then you may need to include hiking boots, a backpack, insect repellant and hiking clothes (including long pants). These are items you might not have otherwise thought to include on a cruise to an exotic tropical destination.

Excursions are the highlight of any cruise experience. It is an optimal way to experience the best that a port of call has to offer under the experience and knowledge of the cruise line. Anytime you travel to a new place; you aren't sure of what you are getting when you sign up for an activity. Cruise lines have taken the worry out of the process with cruise-sanctioned excursions.

These activities align with the port of call. For instance, cruise travelers headed to the Bahamas can sign up to swim with dolphins in the turquoise blue waters of the southern Atlantic Ocean. Cruise travelers on a ship in Alaska can whale watch or fish for halibut. Cruise travelers to New Orleans can sign up for an excursion tour of the French Quarter while those on a ship docking in Mexico can sign up for a banana boat excursion.

Cruise lines have honed excursions over the years to ensure that travelers experience a taste of each port while also enjoying their time on the ship.

 

Things To Consider

When booking a cruise, consider a few things when creating the ultimate cruise packing list. The first and most obvious is that you have to transport your luggage. While the ship will handle loading and unloading when you get to the ship, cruise parking is massive given the number of people boarding the ship. You have to be able to to get your luggage into the cruise facility and through the initial checkpoint.

So while it is important to pack when you will need, you also have to create your cruise packing list efficiently. You may not have room for extraneous items. The most efficient packers choose items that can wear more than once. It is also important to review the rules of the cruise line regarding prohibited items.

The cruise industry - like other travel sectors - tightened rules about what you can bring on board significantly in recent years. Each cruise line will provide its own list of prohibited items for packing. Leave anything that may pose a risk to public safety (such as weapons) out of your suitcase. Leave behind small appliances, clothing irons, restraints of any kind (including handcuffs), candles and any kind of pet or living creature.

Opened bottles of alcohol are a no-go; however, if you purchase alcohol during your trip, most cruise lines will allow you to bring back at least one bottle for each adult in your party.

Print out a copy of the prohibited items list for your chosen cruise list and cross-reference as you pack. This ensures that you won't show up to check in and delay boarding because you need to rid your luggage of certain items.

Your choice of luggage also plays a role in creating the ultimate cruise packing list. Opt for something on wheels if possible. This makes it easier to get your items from the car to the ship. A combination of rolling luggage and a travel backpack is ideal for ease of movement for luggage weighed down by the necessities. The cruise line will provide tags for your luggage, but if you are able, include your personal information on your luggage somewhere permanent. Permanent luggage tags are ideal for frequent travelers. Include your name, cell phone number and any other contact information that can help get your items back to you if they don't make it to the destination.

Cruise lines take your luggage at check-in, similar to checking in for a flight. The crew loads your luggage onto the ship, and the crew spends the first few hours of the cruise distributing the luggage to travelers. As with air travel, you can keep smaller bags with you while you embark. Disembarkation is different as the ship allows you to carry your luggage off the ship if you desire. Some travelers prefer to allow the crew to handle this at the end of the cruise, just as with boarding. However, this means a delay upon disembarkation to wait for your luggage to be unloaded.

Cruise rooms - even the roomier suites - are compact to allow for more people. This means that room storage efficiency with the items on your cruise packing list is essential. Otherwise, you risk dwelling in a crowded space for the duration of the cruise. Once your luggage has arrived, unpack before you leave the room for the evening. Many cabins have at least one closet space to store items. If you can, take your clothing out and hang it up. You may also use any desk or dresser space in the cabin to take clothing out of your suitcase. Store toiletries in the bathroom. Take anything likely to spill out of your suitcase to avoid leakage.

If your cabin is too small to unpack, create a system for keeping up with everything. This is where a laundry bag can be beneficial. Store all dirty clothing in your laundry bag, so you can differentiate between what is clean and what is not. Cruise cabin beds in smaller rooms unfold, so it's easy to lose shoes and other loose articles underneath.

Keep track of what you take out of the suitcase and reference a written copy of your cruise packing list when unpacking and re-packing with check marks, so you know you have left nothing behind. Allot enough time on the last day of the cruise to re-pack carefully and check the room several times. Unlike an airplane or hotel room, where it is probable you will get back anything you left behind, cruise ships move thousands of people on and off at one time. The crew often turns over the ship in a day or less before the next group embarks. This means that the likelihood of getting back something you left behind is minimal.

If you left behind something essential, cruise ships have stores on board with necessities, so don't panic. While it may cost more, everything from sunscreen to over-the-counter pain relievers to clothing is available for purchase on a cruise ship. Stores don't open until the ship has left port, but once they do, you can grab anything you may have inadvertently left behind.

Pack nothing you know the cruise line will have on board. For instance, a beach towel is fine for inclusion, but you don't need bath towels. The cruise line will provide them, and you need nothing else taking up space in your luggage.

How you pack is also a factor. The best cruise packing list in the world won't matter if you can't fit it in your luggage. And you can't bring more bags than you can carry. Tips for more efficient packing include:

  • Tightly roll t-shirts to get more space in your luggage
  • Line the bottom of luggage with the rolled garments
  • Place clothing you plan to wear first at the top of your luggage
  • Place belts around the perimeter of your suitcase
  • Place socks inside shoes (you can usually fit several pairs of socks inside your shoes)
  • Keep essential items in your carry-on bag or purchase (including documents, wallet, phone, etc.)
  • Place liquids inside resealable bags to avoid leaks that damage your other items
  • Allow plenty of time to pack; when you rush, you are more likely to add things you don’t really need
  • Prioritize clothing that has multiple uses (i.e., a sundress comfortable enough for daytime exploring and – when paired with shoes and a scarf – transitions well to dinner)
  • Use every possible inch of space in your luggage by stuffing smaller and more flexible items into odd nooks and spaces after the bigger items are in place
  • Strategically place dryer sheets throughout your luggage to keep your clothing smelling fresh (extra important for travel to hot, humid regions)
  • Add extra decor (decorative stickers, tags, etc.) to your luggage, especially if it is basic black or has none other distinguishing features
  • Pack by outfit or color – any way you can distinguish your outfit plans easily saves time you could explore the ship or head into the port of call
  • Place shoes in a plastic freezer bag or inside a shower cap to keep clothing and other items clean as you pack
  • Keep a change of clothes in your carry-on bag in case the cruise line temporarily misplaces your luggage


The Ultimate List

The ultimate cruise packing list is one that incorporates all elements of travel and potential needs for a cruise vacation. While clothing is the biggest and most common consideration, there are other elements to bring along that ensure you are comfortable and prepared for anything your vacation might throw your way.

Clothing/Accessories

The rule of thumb to follow for clothing is to opt for at least one pair, set or option for each day of the cruise, plus an extra in the event of a spill or delay getting home. The exception to this rule is pajamas, of which two pairs and one extra set should suffice for the duration of the cruise. Most cruise ships offer laundry services to wash garments as necessary.

  • Undergarments (underwear, bras, slips, stockings/pantyhose)
  • Lightweight t-shirt (even in the coolest of locations, lightweight t-shirts make it easy to layer)
  • Formal attire (dresses, skirts, dress shirts and/or suits)
  • Socks
  • Pajamas
  • Bathing suits
  • Flip-flops
  • Sneakers
  • Swim shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Purse
  • Wallet
  • Evening bag
  • Lightweight backpack
  • Dress shoes
  • Workout clothing (yoga pants, a sports bra, workout tops, etc.)
  • Beach cover-ups/sarongs
  • Belts
  • Ties
  • Hoodies
  • Heavy jacket (for cruises to cold locales)
  • Shorts
  • Jeans
  • Dress pants
  • Gloves (for cruises to cold locales)
  • Scarves (for cruises to cold locales)
  • Hats (either a straw hat for the sun or a knit hat for cooler climates)
  • Baseball cap
  • Rainwear (raincoat and/or umbrella)

Toiletries

Bag full of toiletries

For toiletries for your cruise, travel sizes are best for space and efficiency.

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Loofah
  • Facial cleanser
  • Moisturizer/lotion
  • Cosmetics
  • Sunscreen
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Nail file
  • Shaving accessories/products
  • First aid kit
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Vitamins
  • Over-the-counter pain reliever
  • Glasses cleaner/contact lens solution (for those who wear glasses or contact lenses)
  • Hair brush
  • Hair products
  • Birth control (if applicable)
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Seasickness medication
  • Shower cap
  • Hair ties

Electronics

  • Cell phone
  • Cell phone charger
  • Tablet
  • Tablet charger
  • Tablet carrying case
  • Laptop computer
  • Laptop charger
  • Laptop carrying case
  • Adaptor (for charging in international destinations)
  • Camera
  • Clear memory card
  • Ear buds/headphones
  • Portable battery charger

Miscellaneous

  • Binoculars
  • Travel pillow
  • Insect repellant
  • Cash (not wads, but enough to respond to an emergency)
  • Kid’s flotation devices
  • Beach towel
  • Small toys (for children)
  • Baby items/accessories (baby formula, bottles, diapers, diaper bag, stroller, comfort toys for those traveling with a baby)

Pertinent Documents

  • Passport
  • Copy of cruise ticketing information
  • Excursion booking print-outs
  • List of emergency contacts
  • Copy of your birth certificate
  • Copy of your driver’s license
  • Essential medication list
  • Financial contacts (for lost/stolen credit card or banking information)
  • Books/magazines
  • Snacks (for travel to and from the cruise port)

Conclusion

A cruise is a unique and wide-ranging vacation experience that everyone should try at least once. Most find themselves hooked on the idea you can enjoy the different ports of call while also traveling between them in a moving resort packed with entertainment, luxury and more. While choosing the right cruise line and the ideal destination is essential, a cruise packing list ensures that the experience is enjoyable. Take the time to consider what you really need to be comfortable while also planning for efficiency in what you bring.

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