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 tips with my wonderful readers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.