25 Fabulous Tips on Packing for a CRUISE

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25 Fabulous Tips on Packing for a Cruise

I’m packing for a Western Caribbean cruise with some of my blogger buddies including the divine Six Sisters from the recipe site Six Sisters Stuff.  I’ve been on several cruises over the years, so I’ve learned what does and doesn’t work and I wanted to share some of my BEST packing for a cruise tips with my wonderful readers.

Here’s my post from that marvelous cruise – Mexican Cruise with the Six Sisters

Disclosure:  Some of these items contain affiliate links.  If you click through any purchase any of them, I will receive a small commision at no charge to you.  

Here is a list of items I bring along for my cruises.  I hope they will work as well for you!  Regardless if this is your first cruise or your eighth, there is always something NEW to learn.

Don’t worry about writing them all down – at the end, I have a downloadable packing list that you can print out and tuck into your suitcase!  

1.  Chargers for all your devices, plus a small powerstrip to plug them into.  Make sure it doesn’t have a surge protector – those aren’t allowed.

2.  A lanyard with pockets for your cruise card, money, ID, and credit cards.  I got one at a bloggers conference years ago and I’ve used it on every cruise since.  It even has room for a small map of the ship and a few breath mints.

3.  An over-the-door shoe organizer.  Very handy for toiletries, camera accessories, cruise papers, kids toys, or even shoes!

4.  A small supply of basic medicines.  Think Pepto Bismol, Tylenol, motion sickness pills, Imodium, etc.  They are very expensive to purchase on board.  You don’t want to go to medical unless you are dying!  I promise you, it will be your most expensive doctor’s visit ever.

5.  Think about packing some Post-it notes.  I use them to leave little cheery notes for my cabin steward (to receive even better service!), leave notes for my companions (I’m up by the pool or on the Lido deck), or just to jot down reminders to myself (Set alarm before bed for our early excursion tomorrow).

6.  A highlighter is very helpful for marking your daily activity schedule.  If you’ve never seen a daily ship’s schedule, it’s got maybe 40 or 50 activities spread over the whole day, so I would usually sit down after dinner and mark out the things I wanted to be sure to catch.

Cruises are FABULOUS. Even better when you pack PROPERLY. I have great tips for packing.

7.  Don’t forget about packing your passport and your important papers.  This is the one thing that could keep you from boarding the ship.   Make copies of all your important travel documents and stash them in the bottom of your suitcase, just in case yours are misplaced or take a photo and Email it to yourself just in case.

Every cruise, at least one or two unhappy couples end up being left at the dock because their paperwork isn’t right. So sad.  Check and double check your paperwork, especially if you have a custody situation with your children or if you are taking grandchildren.

Bonus tip:

Take a photo of your luggage before you leave.  Then if it goes astray, you can show the purser exactly what your bags look like.

8.  A little reading material, but don’t bring a big stack of books.  Most ships have a very nice (and free) library of available books left behind by previous passengers.

9.  Comfy shoes!  Seriously – comfy, comfy shoes.  I swear by Bob’s flats – no socks needed and they are comfy and breathable.  Even small ships have miles and miles of walking every day.  Wear a Fitbit  or other step-counting device – it will make you feel better about the chocolate lava cake!

10.  A few dressy clothes, but don’t go nuts with packing lots of elaborate outfits.  Our first cruise, we had three large suitcases full of FAR too many clothes, including several fancy outfits for the kids that they never even touched.

After that, we got much smarter!  We also had four people and six large suitcases of stuff in a tiny inside cabin – trust me, you don’t want to do that!

Try packing light and easy items that you can mix and match. Try to color-coordinate your outfits – I stick with mostly black, grey, and tan and then add scarves and chunky jewelry to brighten things up and add variety

Most cruises have one or two formal nights – don’t take the word FORMAL too seriously.  Some people go completely Joan Collins for this, but most people just wear something a little extra dressy.

11.  Menswear tip – there is usually a formal wear shop on board – AVOID IT like the plague.  It will be the most expensive tux you’ve ever rented!  We were able to rent a tux from a local shop and keep it with us for the week.  It was far cheaper than even one night at the shipboard rate.  It came with two shirts and a reversible vest, so it did nicely for both formal nights.

12.  Toys – If you are bringing your kids, pack just a handful of toys and select things that travel well.  Legos = NO, Transformers = Yes, Barbies with a zillion outfits and accessories = No, Polly Pockets = Yes.  Just pick things that will keep their attention for a while.  Older kids, have them bring a notebook and write a journal to remember the things they are doing each day.

13.  Toss in some gallon Ziplock bags – great for damp swimsuits, extra snacks, dirty shoes, and any other thing you don’t want touching your clean clothes.

14.  Bring a day pack for excursions.  I just grab any kind of a thin, flat bag that will lie flat in my suitcase.  Its just right for a water bottle, towel, sunscreen, a few snacks, etc. to bring on an excursion and if you buy too many souvenirs, it’s perfect for an extra carry-on.

15.  A pack of cards, or a handful of dice don’t take up much room and are helpful to pass the time for both kids and adults.

16.  Those pill reminder containers aren’t just handy for packing your medications, they are also great for packing earrings and other small items.  I’ve heard of using a straw to keep your necklaces from getting tangled.  Just unhook it and slide it through the center of the straw and rehook it, slice the side of the straw if it’s too long.

I have a great bonus tip to teach your kids to pack their own suitcases.  Read to the end

17.  Sunscreen of course, but also some aloe cream for when you forget to wear the sunscreen.  The sun down near the equator is MUCH hotter than many people are used to.  I even sunburned my tushie while snorkling. I guess that particular area doesn’t see the sun very often!  Also, check out this boss snorkel model.  This full-face type is pretty cool and you don’t really WANT to put something in your mouth that’s been in several other people’s mouths, do you??  Ugh!

18.  Even if you are headed to the equator – packing a light jacket, or even a heavy jacket is a MUST, plus an umbrella.  Especially when you are out at sea, it can get surprisingly windy and chilly.

19.  At least two bathing suits – they don’t dry well hanging in your cabin.  If you leave them out on a balcony, you may get to see Flipper carting it out to sea after it blows away.

20.  Toss in a couple of decorative magnets to mark your cabin door – makes it easier to find down a long corridor of identical cabin doors.  How ’bout these magnetic hooks?  Hang up bathing suits or your lanyard with them.  They’ll hold 40 lbs.

21.  Binder clips or clothespins are always handy for playing with or holding back a pesky shower curtain or a towel.

Ranger-roll your clothing – gets more in your suitcase with fewer wrinkles – Here’s a YouTube video with some suitcase hacks for you.

22.  Don’t pack anything breakable in your large bags.  They stack them about 5 high when they bring them on and off the ship – crunch, squish!  You’ll want to keep your breakables in your carry-on bag instead.  Check out my post on bringing a CPAP Machine on your trip.

Bonus tip

Teach your kids about packing for themselves by making a “Clothes Kid“.  Have them lay out an entire outfit on the floor in the shape of a kid from the socks to pants to shirt (plus undies!).  Have them make one clothes kid for each day of the trip. Then inspect them and change out items as needed.  Once you approve, roll each outfit up and secure it with a rubber band.  Then you can instantly tell what clothes have been worn and what hasn’t – sheer GENIUS!

23.  Many cruise destinations are to high-poverty areas.  Wouldn’t it be fun to try packing some small gifts for any children you may meet during your stay?  Pencils, toothbrushes, stickers, or little dollar store toys, are all good choices that don’t take up a lot of room.

24.   I almost didn’t put this in because this is a double-edged sword.  A tablet or iPad of some kind. WiFi at sea is ridiculously EXPENSIVE.  Like, you have no idea how expensive it can get.  Even if you aren’t doing anything, it will automatically update Facebook and other apps in the background without you even being aware of it.  My suggestion is to keep it in airplane mode at almost all times.  Then just limit yourself to like 10-15 minutes a day to check important messages or post a couple of pictures.  There are also Internet Cafes on shore, but you have to be careful about security for your passwords.

25.  A nightlight or small flashlight.  Especially in an inside cabin, they are pitch DARK at night and you don’t want to stub your toe.

PS:  I’m adding this item in based on a comment from a reader, here is a very clever battery operated nightlight. It won’t take up any of your valuable plugs and these are battery-operated and motion-sensitive.  They even use velcro straps to fasten to the bedframe, so you won’t leave a sticky residue.  They come in a three-pack, so you could put one under each side of the bed and one in the bathroom.  These light up when your feet hit the floor and then the light is muted under the bed, so you won’t disturb the other sleepers.  They are tiny and easy to pack – brilliant.

Clever little nightlights to use in your ship's cabin. Especially for inside cabins - they are very DARK.

Wish me luck!  I think it’s going to be a fun cruise.

As promised – here is the link to the PRINTABLE LIST of the 25 packing items from this post.


Other posts you may enjoy:

7 Ways to Stay Healthy on a Cruise

7 Must-Have Items for a Great Cruise Experience

Enjoy a Cruise Without Going Broke or Getting FAT

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  1. This is great! I have a friend cruising for the first time next summer, I’m forwarding this to her. Wish I had read this before I went on our cruise. So glad Darrell and I got to meet you guys. Hope you made your flight okay

    1. Thanks for stopping by my site. It was so nice to meet you guys too. We made our flight with plenty of time to spare! Hope you got home safely too. It’s weird getting back to normal life after a week of pampering, isn’t it?

  2. Hi Adrian,

    Going on a Western Carribean cruise myself in a few weeks. Wow! So many great ideas that I had not thought about yet! I especially love the notepad and nightlight suggestions. Good to know about the internet cafes and to keep my phone on Airplane mode. On my last cruise, I kept my phone off the entire time. Thanks for the great ideas!

  3. As a veteran of over 40+ cruises, I always bring two night lights, one for the cabin and one for the bathroom. Also pack a few plastic hangers so if something is wrinkled, hang it up and bring it into the bathroom when you take your shower.

  4. While you have a ton of fantastic information and tips to explore, having the pop up for your additional tips on every single page is annoying. I signed up for the additional cruise tips, then started perusing your site. So many fun ideas, great tips and tricks, etc. I am very grateful. The pop up is a huge turn off. Especially if you are laying in bed at 4am (eek!) on your cell phone and can’t find the darn “X” to close the pop up. It’s on every page of every article. Can you maybe change that to just the lead in page?

    1. Thank you for that feedback! I’ve been meaning to fix those popups for the longest time, but just hadn’t found the right program or the time to do it. I finally went with Elementor Pro and I’ve just created a brand new popup that hopefully won’t be so obnoxious.

  5. Bungee cords make gr8 clotheslines for drying swimsuits. Thread the bungee cord through the straps, or for trunks through the legs then attach the cords to convenient anchor points (I generally wrap the cord around the anchor point and hook it to itself).

    I keep a few magnets, a highlighter, pens, pencils – all those little items you mentioned in a vinyl see-thru cosmetic pouch & throw it in the suitcase when packing. I also carry 2 bright coloured Leis and hang one on our door and the other on the balcony for identification.

    Your tip about zip lock bags is gr8 I always carry a selection of sizes to store goodies. Always good for putting cookies and fruit in when going on excursions.

  6. My husband and I make a packed to never use the elevator. We were successful on a 10 day cruise and now going on a 14 day Panama Canal Cruise. This is what we do in order not to gain weight. Walking is also a good thing. Up and down stairs makes a great difference. I know not everyone is able to do this but if you are it is great. We don’t feel guilty eating dessert every night. We have cruised about 20 times and all your ideas are really good. For your followers who have not cruised before I would encourage them to go on a cruise. It is a great value for a vacation. We always have so much fun. We have cruised on several different cruise lines. All have been good. Each one has it’s own plus.

    1. You’re right, that is so smart. I love to wear my Fitbit and see how many steps I get on board. It’s a LOT. Hope you enjoy your Panama cruise. I’ve heard it’s beautiful.

  7. I have decided to print a calendar and put excursions on. You can add spa appointments as you go. Did you know the walls are metal? Ours were -magnets were our friend. For notices to each other.

    1. We also take advantage of the laundry service. About $50 for ALL YOU NEED. We pack fewer pants because they are bulky, underwear too. We are going for a month and will be sure to buy this!

      1. Great tip! It’s been three years this week since my last cruise. They’ve updated some of the options since my last time.

    1. Surprisingly, I had never thought of bringing it anywhere BUT a cruise, but I sure could have used one at last months Build Your Blog Conference. There were 4 or 5 class options every 2 hours and I kept forgetting which ones I’d picked. I’m going to add it to my conference packing list.

    2. By the way, you should totally come next year. It’s only $99 if you get an Early Bird ticket and you can come and be one of my roommmates.

  8. Thank you for sharing all of these tips. We are going on our first cruise in June. It won’t be a typical one, but I’m sure I can apply a lot of the information you have shared here. Pinning this for later!

  9. Great tips! I also take water bottles so I can fill up on the lido deck and carry them to the other ship activities. Otherwise you get thirsty and succome to purchasing drinks (OR you have to walk a mile to get a drink). Also, instead of buying the soda card, either made do with the free iced tea and lemonade, or take along flavor packets for the water. Fanny packs are good for excursions also. I will be using some of your ideas on my retirement cruises, thanks!

  10. Some ships do not have outlets in the bathroom. I find that battery-operated tea lights make good night lights. Depending how bright they are, you may want two in the bathroom.

    If you are on a ship with inside balconies, it is fun to put up window clings to identify your room from below.

    1. You know, I never thought about using those little battery operated ones. I think I’ll add that to the post. That way you aren’t taking up one of your valuable outlets and they are very small and don’t take up any extra room. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have come across your blog! We are going on our first cruise in two weeks, taking my parents on RC Oasis for their 50th Anniversary, we are very excited but nervous and your well thought out and very detailed list really helped to put some of my fears to rest….thank you so much for sharing this valuable information!!!

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you appreciated the tips. Cruises are so much fun, but it’s kind of nice to have a little advance warning about what to expect. Did you check out my other post on how to save money on a cruise and how to manage the buffets without doing too much damage to your waistline? They definitely will try to get you to spend money on stuff you don’t really need, but if you’re smart about it, you won’t have a big bill at the end.

  12. Brilliant tips! I never went cruising, and your advises are extremely helpful. I am so glad you shared them. It’s very good idea to involve the kids in packing, I am gonna try it with my daughter next time. I am curious what she gonna pack. Greetings

  13. I think the suggestion about bringing medicines was right on. We have taken snack foods, candy, gum, and pop on board. And on Carnival, if you go to the Purser’s desk, and ask, they’ll provide you with “carnival” playing cards, for free, or they did last time I cruised with them. We’ve also taken a soft side cooler, and our steward kept ice in it for us. Cruises are a great value. Additionally, my brother went to a store called Gabriel Brothers before his honeymoon cruise, and purchased a tux. Gabe’s is the ” Big Lots” of department stores, And I think he paid about $50. for it.

    1. $50 bucks for a tux is a great value and he’ll be able to use it again and again. Unlike our clothes that go out of style quickly, men can wear a tuxedo forever.

  14. Something to add about the cards. Most ships with Casino’s have huge stacks of cut decks that they cannot use anymore and often they will just give them to you if you ask, at most they may charge you $1-2.

    1. That’s a great tip. Thanks for sharing. My sons collect decks of cards, so they would have been happy if I’d brought them home some.

  15. Great tips!!
    I am going on my 4th cruise April 16th but i always like to see what tips other people have. Very helpful tip putting a magnet on your door to help you find it! I don’t know how many times i tried my room card on other peoples doors!!

    1. That’s funny! I wonder how many people were freaking out thinking someone was breaking into their room! This time, my cabin was right by one of those metal strips in the hallway. For the first day, I kept thinking people were rattling the doorknob, but it was just people clicking their wheely bags over the metal strip. Fortunately, I’m the soundest sleeper ever – I used to live down the street from a fire station…

    1. That’s great, especially coming from a cruise magazine. Feel free to share some of these tips with your readers. I popped over to your site – you’ve got some fantastic photography. I just wish I could take photos like that.

  16. Thanks going on allure of the seas in december , these tips are really good ! Definitely taking a landyard and ziplock bag !

    1. You are going to have such a wonderful time! I almost went on a different blogger’s cruise on the Allure of the Seas – it looked like a wonderful ship! Hope you enjoy your trip.

  17. I LOVE this list – I will do it all, except the toys!! But a deck of cards? Yes! Thanks for sharing this. Oh, it will be so helpful

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