Whether you are new to the cruising life or a regular seafarer, taking a vacation onboard a luxury liner is an affordable and fun way to see the world and make new friends along the way. Seasoned cruisers and rookies alike get to enjoy action-packed days and fun-filled nights on a vacation that is as high energy or laid back as you want it to be.
With so much to see and do, packing for your cruise vacation can be a bit of a nightmare. Make sure you have everything you need to dress for dinner or dive in the pool by downloading our cruise vacation packing list before you go.
Table of contents
Table of Contents
Cruise Packing Tips and Advice
Cruise vacations offer lots of different activities and destinations. Follow these top tips to ensure that you are always dressed for the occasion.
Check the Weather
Out on the ocean waves, it can get pretty chilly at night, no matter how tropical it may feel during the day. Cruise ships offer lots of indoor entertainment to suit long days at sea, inclement weather, and occasional rain, but you will need to check the weather before you to leave to see how many layers you need to pack.
How Many Nights Are You Away?
A 7-, 10- or 14-day cruise should require several outfit changes. Unlike similar vacations on land, you will not always have access to laundry facilities so you will need to make sure you have enough clothing to see you through.
Because you can’t take your entire wardrobe with you on your cruise vacation, it is vital that you understand how to mix and match key items to make them work for you.
Are There Any Special Occasions or Themed Nights?
Cruise ships may assign daily dress codes that take effect in public rooms and restaurants from 6 p.m. onward. You may be expected to dress up for dinner, so be sure to pack lightweight, interchangeable items of formal attire and shoes to go with them.
If you want to bring your own costumes for themed nights or fancy dress — go ahead! Cruises are all about having fun, so bring as many as you can pack if that’s your thing.
Make a Packing List Early
Buying, sorting, and packing for your cruise vacation is not just a necessity — it is also an exciting part of the cruise vacation experience. Start shopping and planning as early as possible to ensure that you have everything packed and ready by the time you leave.
Choose the Right Luggage
Most cruise line companies will allow you to bring up to 2 full-size suitcases onboard, although there may be restrictions on weight. When thinking about the right luggage for your cruise vacation, think of it more like staying at an upscale hotel, rather than cramming your belongings in a carry-on.
Your cases should be large enough to carry everything you need, but not so big or heavy as to be difficult to lug through the cruise terminal. You will also have a limited amount of space in your cabin, so don’t go mad with oversized cases as you will have nowhere to put them. Stick with hard-sided luggage, too, as it will protect your belongings better.
Purchase Travel-Sized Items
The “3-1-1” rule does not apply to cruise ships. You can bring full-sized bottles if you want to, but most cruise liners will supply shampoo and shower gel in the cabins on your arrival. Save space for other items by bringing travel-sized versions of your toiletries.
Hot Tip: Think you can’t book a cruise using points and miles? Think again — check out these ways to book a cruise using points and miles.
What Electronics Should I Take?
Cruise ship vacations are designed to keep you entertained every minute of the day. From sunbathing on deck to fitness classes, live music, and midnight buffets, there is never a dull moment out on the ocean.
Wi-Fi can also be limited, and you may have to pay extra for access to it. But, if you do want to take electronics onboard with you, limit them to:
A digital camera — You will want to capture epic images of life at sea, as well as the many destinations you will visit along the way. Read our guide to buying a digital camera for travel if you don’t have one already.
An e-reader — If you like to read when sunbathing or winding down at night, download a few e-books before you go for your e-reader.
Your laptop — Catching up on your emails while sipping a coffee in the lounge is a wonderful way to work if you really have to. Laptops are welcome onboard, but they are your responsibility to keep safe for the duration. Don’t forget travel insurance to keep you covered.
Your cell phone — Always worth taking. Call home and tell them what a wonderful time you are having!
Hairdryers and styling appliances — Cruise ships will usually provide a hairdryer in your cabin, and there is no rule against bringing your straightening irons or electric curlers.
You will not usually be able to bring your travel iron onboard, but most ships have laundry services of some kind where you can pay to have your clothes laundered for you.
Hot Tip: Most cruise liners will have U.K., U.S., and European plug sockets in the cabins, so you may not need to bring a travel adapter. However, you should confirm what your particular ship offers before you go.
Flying to your cruise terminal, boarding the ship, and disembarking at various ports of call will all require tickets, passports, and other paperwork. You will need to have everything with you, either electronically or in paper format, otherwise your cruise vacation will be a total non-starter.
You will, at the very least, need to have:
Passports are not technically required if you are a U.S. citizen embarking on a “closed-loop” cruise route. This means that you depart from and return to the same U.S. port, after visiting at least 1 foreign port of call. If you are leaving from and return to separate ports, you will need your passport.
While an Enhanced Driving License may suffice for I.D. on a closed-loop route, it is probably best to take your passport with you just in case, and all passengers should be sure that it is valid for at least 6 months after your return date.
Your Tickets and Travel Documents
Your tickets will usually be in the form of electronic documents that are either downloaded or sent to you by email. These will also include useful information such as the departure date, itinerary, and airline details if you are flying into shore. You may also want to print a hard copy of all of the above and keep them in your bag, just in case.
Usually, cruise vacations are all-inclusive, and you shouldn’t have to pay for food, drink, and entertainment. You may, however, need to pay for specific activities and excursions while onboard and on dry land, and you will also need to tip the staff while onboard (if not pre-paid).
Keep the majority of your money (and even your cards) in the safe in your cabin closet. Most cruise staff and fellow passengers would never dream of helping themselves to your money, but better to be safe than sorry.
Your Personal Details
In case of an accident or illness, you should keep a copy of your personal details somewhere easy to find. Print basic details like your name, address, next of kin, and any relevant health issues on a credit card-size laminate, and tuck it in your purse or travel wallet.
Hot Tip: Make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck! Check out our list of the best websites to book cruises at the cheapest prices.
Packing Your Luggage
Prepare for the perfect cruise vacation by packing everything you need, and not a single item more.
Get Everything Together and Lay It Out
The key to always looking awesome on a cruise vacation is making sure you bring the right items for every occasion. Before you start to pack, lay out everything that you want to pack out in front of you. This way, you can see how much room you are going to need in your suitcase (or even how many cases you will need), and what, if anything, you are missing.
Pick Capsule Items
With a variety of dress codes and themed events taking place throughout your cruise vacation, it is essential that you can find the right mix of outfits for every occasion. A capsule wardrobe will help you to mix and match your formal wear to look gorgeous every evening, as well as dressing down to lounge and look great around the pool.
A sample capsule wardrobe for a cruise vacation could include:
- 3-5 bathing suits
- Flip flops for the pool or beach
- Sneakers for the gym
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 3 casual shirts
- 3 beach cover-ups
- Enough socks and underwear for a clean pair every day
- 1 sweatshirt/sweater as nights can be chilly on deck
- 1 hat
- Dress or smart trousers
- A formal skirt
- 2 formal tops
- A formal jacket
- A pair of smart shoes
- Make-up, jewelry, and accessories to dress up evening wear
Remove Anything Unnecessary
If you are unsure of what not to take, have a look at the website for the cruise ship you are about to travel out on or read passenger reviews. For example, if it turns out that there isn’t a gym or track onboard, you can take out your sportswear as you will have no use for it.
Your luggage allowance may be more than you would usually enjoy on an airplane, but that doesn’t mean you need to take your entire wardrobe with you.
Consider Washing Clothes on the Road
Some cruise liners have laundry facilities that you can use yourself for a small fee. Be aware though, these are in the minority and most will have serviced laundries that will charge to wash and iron your clothing.
You may get away with washing your small items in the sink, but drying facilities will be scant if you have an inside cabin.
Fold, Interfold, Bundle, or Roll?
Once you have your definitive list of what to take with you, and you have purchased the perfect set of luggage, it’s time to get packing. Want to arrive crease-free and ready to roll? Try these different packing techniques for your next cruise vacation:
Folding — Folding your clothes is the most traditional way to pack your luggage. Freshly laundered and nicely folded items should be packed in the order that you want to unpack them when you reach your cabin. If you do it well, your items should be pretty crease-free on arrival.
Interfolding — By cleverly layering clothes on top of each other in a top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top format, you will be able to unpack well-organized outfits, that arrive wrinkle-free and ready to roll.
Bundling — By tightly folding or wrapping your clothing around your bulkiest pieces, like a pair of sneakers or your toiletry bag, you can save much-needed space and decrease the risk of wrinkles.
Rolling — Rolling your clothes is a great way to get casual items neatly packed without wrinkles. This is a space-saving technique used by many experienced travelers, but be wary of rolling your formal items — stick with a hanging garment bag instead.
Use Packing Cubes
Packing cubes provide useful zippered compartments that can be removed from your suitcase to help keep your items well organized on the move. Keep your swimwear, shoes, underwear, and all manner of other items all in 1 place with these smart little portable compartments.
The cubes stack neatly meaning you never waste any space in your suitcase, and they can even help compress your belongings so you can squeeze even more in.
Secure Your Liquids
If you are planning on decanting your full-sized products into smaller, travel-sized containers, be sure that they are leakproof. While the “3-1-1” rule does not apply to cruise ships, you may still need travel-sized bottles for your onward journey, or you may prefer to use them.
Stuff Your Shoes
Stuffing your shoes with socks or underwear helps them to keep their shape, as well as helping to save space in your suitcase.
Take Sticky Notes
This is not a joke and is a great secret weapon for making your cruise life a bit easier. Made a new friend in cabin 1005 and want to meet them for drinks later? Leave a sticky note on their door. Sometimes the simplest methods of communication are best.
Other niche items you may not have thought of are:
- A lanyard to keep your room key easily accessible
- A corkscrew because there’s never one around when you need one
- A small portable fan for your cabin
- An alarm clock with night light for your cabin
Hot Tip: Get started on the right foot — use a great travel rewards credit card to book your cruise so you’ll earn points or miles with each sailing!
Check the Airline Baggage Policy
Different airlines have differing types of restrictions, but there are some general rules that you need to keep in mind when traveling to the port to take your cruise:
Every airline has carry-on allowances that restrict the size and amount of luggage that each passenger can bring onboard. If your carry-on luggage is too large, it will be placed in the hold and also cost you extra.
Cases and carry bags must be no bigger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches to fit in the overhead locker and are limited to 1 carry bag or case per passenger. Passengers may also carry 1 small purse or shoulder bag but this depends on the airline. There is not usually a restriction on weight.
Most airlines will allow for 1 checked item per passenger for international flights for free but may charge for checked items on domestic flights. Your suitcase should not have a total dimension of more than 62 inches. That’s the total measurement of the length, height, and width.
Your checked luggage should not exceed 50 pounds in weight, and you may be charged fees if it weighs more. Each airline will have different restrictions so please check with yours first before you travel.
Other items such as strollers, sports equipment, wheelchairs, musical instruments, and other medical items can also be checked, but you should speak to the airline first.
Follow the 3-1-1 Rule for Carry-On
The TSA has strict rules for anyone carrying liquids onboard any domestic or international flights. Each passenger may carry liquids, gels, and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces, and they must be carried in a clear plastic bag.
The 3-1-1 rule essentially means:
- 3.4-ounce bottles or less
- 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag
- 1 bag per passenger
Never Check Essentials
You may be hoping that you can stash your currency, medication, and money in the shiny hardshell suitcase that you have purchased especially for your cruise vacation, but honestly — don’t!
Always keep your essential personal belongings in your carry-on bag; this way they will always be close at hand when you need them.
Pack Spare Clothes in a Carry-On in Case of Delays
Airline travel can lead to lost or delayed luggage from time to time. To prevent your arrival at the cruise terminal with nothing but your purse and passport, pack an emergency change of clothes in your carry-on.
Apps for Packing
Sometimes it’s useful to ask for a little extra help with getting organized. These packing apps can help to ensure you never leave a single item behind:
PackingPro offers sample lists that can be used to get you packing, or you can build and customize your own based on your clothing preferences and expected weather conditions. You can create lists for multiple travelers and share them via iTunes, Airdrop, or iCloud. You can even attach photos and add scheduled alerts to remind you exactly what to do and when to do it.
This useful little app is only available on iOS and costs $2.99.
While the free version is pretty basic, an upgrade to the paid version will give you a variety of useful additions to the list building element of the app. With gender-specific packing recommendations and expected weather conditions, this intuitive and easy to use app also lets you share your lists and will convert your list to a PDF for printing.
This app is available on iOS and Android, and the Premium edition costs $4.99.
With an easy to use interface, the Travel List App allows you to view your information in list or calendar format, and you can set reminders and alarms to pack specific items and tick them off when they are packed. Fully customizable lists can be synced via your iCloud account or shared on social media.
The app is only available on iOS and costs $1.99 to buy.
Create your own individual packing list for you and your family based on your destination, the duration of your cruise vacation, and the weather forecast. You can share your lists with fellow Packtor subscribers, and you can make duplicate lists and sync them on all of your other devices to ensure you never leave anything behind.
This app is available on both iOS and Android and is free to download, although in-app purchases are available.
This easy to use app will help you to pick suggested items for your next cruise vacation, as well as creating your own customized categories. Use both the “To Do” and ‘To Pack” lists to help get organized, and set reminders and alarms to make sure you don’t forget anything. You can also sync your list with all of the other iOS devices you use before and during your cruise vacation.
The app is available on iOS only and is free to download.
Apps for Cruise Vacation Travel
Make the most of your next cruise vacation with these top traveling apps:
As one of the most popular cruise apps available, Cruise Ship Mate has lots of fun features that will help you interact with your fellow passengers both on and off the ship. See the full roster of passengers embarking with you, check out deck plans and entertainment programs, or find things to do in your various ports of call. You can even view the deck cams in the run-up to your cruise vacation, and share a cruise countdown on social media.
The app is available on iOS and Android and is free to download.
As the most popular trip planner and flight tracker in the U.S. today, TripIt is much more than just another packing list app. You can save all of your electronic travel documents in 1 place, build your own itinerary, and send a comprehensive list of your travel plans to yourself and fellow travelers.
TripIt Pro also offers more advanced features, including interactive maps and real-time flight checkers.
The app is available on both iOS and Android. The basic edition is free, or you can upgrade to Pro for $49 per year.
It can be easy to overspend while onboard and trying to live the luxury lifestyle regardless of your budget. This app is designed to help you budget and track your onboard spending and offers a straightforward way to monitor your outgoings with an easy to use expense tracker. You can create custom categories, enter costs along with pictures of receipts, and have a customized budget with helpful graphs to keep track of how you’re doing.
Available on iOS only, this app is $2.99 to download.
Taking deck maps to a new dimension, this app offers simple, step-by-step directions to any place or amenity onboard the supported cruise ships. Not only is it a handy tool for anyone who gets lost easily, but it is also a useful app for passengers with limited mobility who need to be able to traverse the ship using elevators. You can also link up with fellow passengers using the real-time chat facility.
The app is available on iOS only and is free to download.
See the skies like never before with this stargazing app designed for cruisers. The night sky is brighter and more beautiful out at sea, and by simply tilting the device towards the sky, the intelligent GPS technology will track the position of the stars, planets, and moons in real-time, so that you can see what’s going on up above.
The app is free for both iOS and Android devices.
How to Prepare Your House Before You Leave
Before you head out off on your dream cruise vacation, be sure to take care of a few basic housekeeping chores at home:
Clean out the refrigerator — You don’t want to return home from your vacation to a stinky house and a kitchen full of rotting food, so clear out date-sensitive produce and give everything a quick wipe over before you leave.
Take out the trash — All of those items that you have just thrown out of the fridge need to be disposed of. Take them, and any other garbage bags out to the trash before you go.
Check the laundry — Nobody wants to return to the laundry that has sat wet in the washer for weeks on end. Prevent sour smells and even mold by checking your washer and dryer before you leave.
Program your thermostat — Save money and energy by re-programming your thermostat to only come on for an hour or so a day. That way, you can come home to a house that is the perfect temperature and also avoid any burst pipes if the weather is freezing.
Put your lights on timers — Deter burglars by setting your lights to come on using timers or smart devices. A little light every evening will make your home look occupied and therefore less attractive to would-be criminals. If you have a smart hub, you could even put your TV on for an hour or so at a time, too.
Ask a friend to check in — Have a friend or neighbor check in regularly to collect your mail. Doormats piled high is a sure sign of a vacant property, making it an attractive proposition to burglars. Have them collect it, and you can pick it up when you get back from your cruise vacation.
A cruise vacation is an experience unlike any other. With plenty to see and do, and tons of new people to meet along the way, many cruise vacationers find themselves returning year after year.
Make your next cruise vacation the best ever by getting your packing groove on nice and early. Create a carefully crafted packing list, and you really can’t go wrong. With apps to help you create and share your packing lists and to remind you what to buy and when to pack it, you can be better organized this time than ever before.