What to Pack for a Cruise

What to bring—and what to leave behind—the next time you set sail.

As I anticipated my upcoming cruise to the Bahamas with my friend aboard Royal Caribbean’s new Icon of the Seas®, I thought hard about what I should bring this time around. From past cruises, I know that space is tight in cabins. I thought I’d share my top packing tips, especially if this will be your first cruise.

For starters, check the cruise line’s dress code. Some host formal or theme nights, which might involve more formal attire or bringing a costume or fun accessories. Many boast an array of restaurants, from casual poolside taco spots to upscale fine dining venues. And with amenities ranging from pools and casinos to ice skating shows and VIP experiences, what you need to pack will depend on what you plan to do. (Pro-tip: Do your research in advance. My friend wanted to try ziplining but couldn’t because she didn’t bring closed-toe shoes.)

Next, create a packing checklist, using the guide below. Don’t fill your suitcase before you know what to bring. This will vary depending on the length, destination, and season of your cruise.

Yellow suitcase with wheels on the deck of a cruise ship. Getty

What to Pack and What Not to Pack

What to Pack:

  • Travel Documents  Gather all important travel documents, including passports/ID, visas, cruise tickets, etc.
  • Carry-On Bag  Even if you plan to check your baggage, bring a carry-on bag to keep essentials with you, including travel documents, medications, electronics and any valuables. Because you might not have access to your checked bags right away, pack a change of clothing and/or a bathing suit to enjoy the pool until you can access your cabin.
  • Medications  Pack any medications you’ll need (including prescriptions and over-the-counter meds) in your carry-on bag. Even if you don't typically get seasick, pack motion sickness medication (or go med-free by trying an elastic, pressure-point wristband available at pharmacies).
Woman inspecting a shirt to wear while sitting on a bed. Getty
  • Appropriate Clothing  In general, pack comfortable, versatile, wrinkle-resistant, easy-to-layer clothing. For warmer seasons/destinations, bring lightweight clothes. For cooler seasons/destinations, pack jeans, sweaters and heavier clothes. Bring swimwear (if relevant to the cruise) and a light sweater or jacket. Nights onboard can be breezy, and air-conditioning can be chilly.
  • Comfortable Shoes  Bring sneakers or comfortable walking shoes. Many seasoned travelers wear the bulkiest pair so they don’t take up precious suitcase space. Bring sandals, flip flops or water shoes for the pool and shore excursions. If there’s a formal night (often optional these days), bring dress shoes.
  • Backpack or Swim Bag  Whether you’re lounging on the pool deck or heading ashore for excursions, bring a beach bag or backpack to carry all your must-haves like sunscreen, water, tissues and snacks.
  • Travel-Sized Toiletries  Just like hotels, many cruise lines provide basic toiletries like soap and shampoo. No matter what you bring, pack travel-sized products since cabin bathrooms are tight. Consider bringing a hanging toiletry organizer to maximize space.
A towel on the beach with sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses on it. A woman is walking down to the water. behind it. Getty
  • Sun Protection  No matter where or when you travel, protect yourself with sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat, whether you’re enjoying the deck or exploring a destination.
  • Reusable Water Bottle  Whether you purchase a beverage package or not, carry a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated. Refill at water stations throughout the ship, and take the bottle with you on excursions.
  • Lanyard  Some cruise lines are going digital with the ubiquitous “sea pass,” meaning you can store a digital version on your phone to show as needed for entrance into venues or entering/exiting the ship. But many still issue a plastic card. Rather than store the pass in your pocket or purse, place it in the clear plastic sleeve attached to a lanyard for easy access.
A power strip with a plug in one of the USB outlets. Getty
  • Power Strip or USB Hub Cabins typically have very few power outlets. Instead of taking turns with your cabin mates to charge your devices, bring a cruise ship-approved power strip or USB hub.
  • Cash and Credit Cards  Even if your cruise package is all-inclusive, bring cash (especially small bills) for tips and in-destination purchases. (Note that some cruise lines won’t accept cash—even if you’re buying a souvenir in the gift shop.)

What Not to Pack:

  • Essentials Provided by Cruise Line These days, most cruise lines provide the basics (either in-cabin or by request), such as bath towels, bed linens, hair dryers, beach towels, and irons.
  • Full-Size Toiletries
  • Illegal or Forbidden Items
  • Candles or Incense
  • Non-Compliant Power Strips (per cruise line policies)
  • Too Many Clothes and Shoes

Of course, your travel style and packing needs might be different, so adapt these tips to your preferences for smooth sailing.

One final tip: Many cruise-related groups exist on social media, so consider joining one geared towards your cruise line for more tips and insights from veteran cruisers. Bon voyage!

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