Packing for a regular holiday vacation is a struggle, but packing for a cruise is so much more complicated. Because it’s not like leaving home and heading straight for the cottage. The port you depart from, along with all the places you stop and visit, it’s all different.
There are also dress codes and dress-up days to consider. Sometimes you’ll need formal wear, sometimes beach garb will do.
Aside from clothing, however, there are other things you’re going to want to bring along. Keep in mind you’re in a fairly small room so storage space is minimal. But don’t fret, we’re here to help. First off, make a list — but keep that pen handy because you’re going to be crossing some things off.
Here are the things you might not think to pack — but definitely should.
If you plan on hitting the pool or hot tub, make sure you have your bathing suits, sunscreen and cover-ups on hand so you can start your tanning early. Once you check your bags, you won’t see them again for hours.
Two sockets aren’t enough to charge your phone, your tablet, your e-reader, your camera battery AND your flat-iron. And that’s just your stuff. Keep in mind that some types are prohibited by cruise lines so check beforehand.
Refillable drink cups
Of course there are cups on board, but they’re the size of shot glasses. No one wants to keep getting up from their lounger to refill them.
Whether you get motion sickness on the subway or you never get it at all, you can’t know how the ship — no matter how big — is going to affect you. Yes, most ships sell Dramamine in their shops but save a little money and be prepared with meds (for you and the kids, sea-bands, patches, ginger, whatever it takes). Because getting sick on the ship can be debilitating. FYI, green apples can help, and you can usually get one from room service or the buffet restaurant.
It sounds like a bulky item but when empty and flat it takes up little room in your luggage. Because once you see the teeny-tiny bathroom and lack of counter space, you’ll be grateful for it. Keep in mind some cruise lines have banned over-the-door shoe organizers as they can damage doors but a hanging toiletry organizer works just as well. Just check specifics before you pack.
Look, we’re just going to say the two words no one likes to say: stinky poop. We all have them and if you don’t want to get gassed out of there when you head in to take a shower after someone’s done their business, it’ll be a lifesaver — for them and you.
We mentioned this in another packing post but cruise ships don’t allow irons in their staterooms. There are probably laundry facilities you can use but a little spray goes a long way.
You’re crammed in a small space and if you’re one of the unlucky ones, you’ll have supersonic snorers on one side and a sleep-talking early riser on the other. Then there are the kids running outside your door, a nearby engine room, the sound of the ship’s horn as it pulls into a port as you’re trying to sleep in. Just stuff a pair in your ears and let the motion of the ocean rock you to sleep.
Make sure you have your own goggles, particularly kids’ ones. Sure, some ships sell them but the ones that fit smaller heads are almost impossible to find.
A beach bag
You’re going to need something to tote your sunscreen, cups, goggles and cover-ups around the ship or with you when you debark at a tropical port.
If you don’t have a porthole or veranda, it’s incredibly useful if you have kids who don’t like to sleep in the dark, or need to use the washroom in the middle of the night and don’t want to smash into things on the way there.
A touch light
A battery operated touch light or flashlight is perfect for IN the bathroom because for those who do get up in the middle of the night to pee, that washroom light can be blinding — not only for the person who has to go but for the people trying to sleep too.
Whether you’re on a Disney cruise and want to fancy up your door, or just want to leave quick messages for family members or others in your room, it’s a fun way to communicate.
A small bag
If you’re the kind of person who totes around a giant satchel with everything including your stateroom’s mini-fridge, you’re going to want something smaller to throw your room card, motion sickness meds and phone into.
Most cruises allow you to bring a certain amount of wine and beer. Just check with your cruise line beforehand (if you have the time, take a cab to the closest store; it’s totally worth it). It’ll save you from buying a wine package. OK, OK, a BIGGER wine package.
If you’re going to be spending a lot of time poolside, want to take a video of you and your kids on a waterslide, or are spending a day off the ship on the beach, bring a waterproof case for your phone or your waterproof camera. If those aren’t options, Ziploc bags should save your electronics from wet bathing suits and oily sunscreened hands. Oh, and the baggies also work great for stashing extra cookies from the buffet and bringing them poolside or to have as a snack for later.
Dress for your destinations and ship
Some places are fancier (Europe, Bermuda), some are casual (the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, French Polynesia). Flip-flops work for the beach or by the pool, and runners are great for excursions but at night you’ll need dressier footwear to go with your formal wear on those special nights. And if you’re on a Disney cruise, keep some costumes in mind for Pirate Night, like your husband’s Jack Sparrow get-up or your family’s The Force Awakens ensemble for Star Wars Day at Sea.
Pack a scarf
OK, this one’s for the ladies. Bring a scarf (a shawl-like one) that will not only dress up any outfit but also keep you toasty on those windy nights as you sail along the ocean. Bonus? Use it to pack any fragile things you’re bringing back with you (bottles of booze, souvenir ship in a bottle, snow globe, more bottles of booze).
Bring a jacket
It doesn’t matter if your trusty weather app told you it was going to be 30 degrees because it’s referring to land, not the middle of the ocean where things can get cold and gusty. Bring a jacket or a hoodie, so you can enjoy the upper decks and not stay below like a bridge-defending troll.