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What to Pack for a Cruise

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After a few trips overseas, many of us probably have the packing basics down to a science. We pack lightly, select versatile items, and bring perhaps one week’s worth of clothing, which will be washed and re-worn (time and time again if on a long trip).

cruise ship

When we are packing for a style of travel we’ve never experienced, however, do the same basic packing rules apply? Or are there new rules to follow? Consider if you were going on one of the P&O cruises 2012! Would you pack differently than you do for a trip on land?

Recently on Twitter we were asked by @Yaimani: “What should my packing list look like 4 a cruise (Mexico, Honduras, Belize)? #help #travel #cruise”.

While a cruise is quite different to the RTW travel or destination-specific packing some of us are accustomed to, many of the same rules apply – of course with a few unique twists for life on the sea.

Above all, remember that you are packing for life on the ship, and depending on the cruise, for various ports of call. While there are various scenarios to prepare for, packing relatively lightly is still a necessity. Unless you live close to the departure city, you will need to fly and adhere to airline luggage and weight restrictions. In addition, your cabin on the ship may be relatively small, so large bags may prove to be a hindrance.

Life on the ship

deck chairs on cruiseDuring the day, many cruise-goers spend their time by a pool, occasionally slipping away to one of the many dining areas. Pack two swim suits (so one is always dry), a cover up (required when walking to and from the pool), and non-slip shoes for those wet surfaces. Slip into nice casual clothing for dine-in options or if you choose to enjoy shows, casinos, or other ship activities. Are you a gym junkie? If you need more than a swim in the pool and walks around the ship, pack a couple of sets of workout clothes for the ship’s workout facilities (how about a Lululemon Ta Ta Tamer).

Depending on your cruise line, evenings may call for nice casual clothing to formal wear. Review the expectations of your cruise line carefully to ensure you pack appropriately. If formal wear is required, consider bringing a cocktail dress with dress shoes (heels or flats) that can also be worn with more casual outfits such as sundresses, skirts, or skinny jeans.

Life on the land

You are probably looking forward to the ports of call as much as the activities on the ship. Be sure to pack appropriately for days on dry land. Consider the climates of the port cities, taking into account the time of year. What activities do you plan to enjoy? Snorkeling or diving requires the same swim suit you had on board, and if hiking is on the agenda, pack an outfit that works for hiking and gym workouts on the ship. If foodie experiences top your list, wear the same nice casual outfits that you wore for non-formal evening meals.

Mix and match

A key to packing for a cruise is to mix and match articles of clothing, re-wearing items on land that you selected for the sea. Choose only a few bottoms, whether they be skirts, pants/slacks, or capris. Then, select nice tops that you can pair with any of the bottoms for interchangeable looks. Your head-to-toe look will vary every day, and you can still address the variety of dress code situations found on a cruise experience!

Have you ever been on a cruise? Where did you go and how long was the experience? Tell us your must-pack items or things you wish you would have left at home.

This article has been written with support from ThomasCook.com.

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17 Responses to What to Pack for a Cruise

  1. Jill November 25, 2012 at 3:33 am #

    We went on a 5 day cruse to San Diego, CA, Catelina Island and Ensenada Mexico. I packed WAY too much. We had such a tiny room that one side of the bed was against the wall leaving only a small walkway to the bed, which happened to be the only area for my luggage to be. If I had it to do again (hopefully I will get to in the next year) I would take 3 swim suits (they take forever to dry with the humidity) and coverups. A nice evening gown/cocktail dress, 3 pair of shoes (flip flops, dress shoes and a good pair of walking shoes), SUN SCREAN, dressier casual clothing and an all purpose sweater since it gets cool out at sea at night. Also a good back pack or cross body purse to hold all of your items at ports.

    I hope to only pack on carry on when we take our next cruse.

    • Brooke November 25, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback Jill! Good point about the cruise rooms being tiny and the need to pack light.

  2. Carissa December 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    I went to Mexico on Caribbean Cruise Line and I would pack one of those jewelry things that go on the door. I don’t know what they are called, but they are plastic and have a lot of pockets! My family used this to put all of our combs, lotions, pony tails, etc. In it. It was really helpful!

    • Brooke December 29, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

      Excellent tip! Thanks, Carissa. Hanging organisers are super helpful for staying organized when you travel… and for not forgetting things bc they are all in the one space :)

  3. Heike January 14, 2013 at 12:37 am #

    Last summer I went on my first cruise. It was a 10-day-trip across the Baltic Sea and we were able to visit Tallinn (Estonia), St.Petersburg (Russia), Helsinki (Finland), Kopenhagen (Denmark), Gdansk (Poland) and Stockholm (Sweden) before returning to Warnemünde (Germany).
    Of course, I packed way too much of the wrong things! Expecting I’d wear a different outfit to dinner every night, I stuffed my suitcase to the rim, but instead ended up choosing my favourites all over again. The bathing suits I brought were a complete waste of space. I did check out the weather before the trip and it was always nice and sunny (and it was August after all) but I hadn’t thought about how windy it would be. I so ached for those wind-repelling jackets I’ve been hiding in my closet for years (this would really have been their chance to shine) and my cosy, woolen hat when standing on deck taking in the view – especially at night.
    I also should have packed way more gym wear. I’m not too much of a sporty person, but to loosen things up, me and my fellow-travellers did some city trips by bicycle or even by kayak (that was in Gdansk, so much fun!). And silly me thought that 2 gym shirts, one pair of shorts and a pair of leggins would be enough! (Note to myself: Kayaking can be quite wet and you should definitely think about a spare pair of pants – at least!)
    I also must say: You can’t pack enough underwear! I ended up showering twice most of the days – in the morning and often after a exhausting trip to the city or taking a sauna aboard. 14 knickers turned out to be hardly enough… Fortunately though I had packed a small bottle of liquid detergent, so I could wash some underwear in our bathroom. (What came in really handy was the clothes line in the bathroom, which I think most rooms aboard a cruise ship feature and which would be great for drying bathing suits and towels as well.)
    I did also pack some nice heels for the cruise… and ended up wearing them exactly once. I understand they’re nice for when you go to the bar in the evenings and they make your casual jeans and blouse look so much fancier. But the truth is: You won’t wear them after spending your day doing a walking tour through one of Europe’s metropoles. They also don’t do the best job balancing you and your plates to and fro the buffet. (I saw a woman twisting her ankle and dropping to the floor with a plate full of food – not so nice to watch. :()
    So let’s say: That went well! Thanks to this website and some healing experience I’ll know what (not) to pack next time! ;)

    • Jackie June 17, 2013 at 4:38 am #

      RE: The Underwear – friends of ours who are avid travellers gave us a neat tip. They shower every night and at that point wash their undies, hang to dry and by morning they dry and ready to go. As she said, who wants to tote dirty undies around anyway?

  4. Elaine January 31, 2013 at 12:38 am #

    Due to airline regulations, we (my husband especially) take advantage of on-board laundry services. Often, the ship has specials on certain days where they discount the service. It helps, especially on longer cruises, to be able to have shorts or slacks freshly washed and pressed instead of having to drag so many from home. I have also let them dry clean my gowns and evening wear. The cleaning and pressing was as good as my local dry cleaners, and I arrived home and simply hung my gown/dress bags back in the closet. They were also the same price as my local cleaners, so it didn’t even cost me any extra.

    Also Celebrity Cruises is just beginning home-to-ship luggage service, so that you never have to drag your luggage for a minute! And there are no overweight or over limit luggage fees when you fly. I am definitely going to look into that for our next cruise!

  5. Holli May 17, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    I have been on two cruises once four years ago to Cozumel, Mexico but while we were on route there hurricane Gustav hit so we had to settle for Progresso, Mexico which was not very nice. We still got off the ship because my mom had never been to the beach so I wanted her to at least touch the sand. That was our first cruise so like most women we packed way too much that we ended up not even wearing. It was a four day cruise which turned into eight when the hurricane beat us back to port in Mobile, Alabama so we floated out in the Gulf of Mexico for a while. Second cruise was another four day to Newport, Bahamas and we took a cab over to Atlantis. It was amazing!! This time we were a little more prepared. I carried 3 swim suits and one cover up for port and that was plenty. I took dressy tops and nice jeans for dinner as our ship did not call for a formal dinner night. Other wise I did not take anything but a few tank tops and two pairs of shorts in case I wanted a snack before dinner and went to the buffet. I pretty much wore my suit and cover-up all day until it was time to change for dinner. Two pairs of sandals, my go to black pumps for evening and some comfortable shoes to wear at port. On the last cruise I found myself needing a light jacket at night when we would sit out on the deck so this time I took one light pull over and it was perfect every night. Hope this helps!!

  6. C Giles Lawson September 14, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    I will be going on my 4th cruise (New Zealand/Australia) in late December. My first three cruises were to Mexico ( 2x) and the Caribean. Yes, cabins are small but there is usually storage under the beds that people often miss. This is a great place to stash suitcases. You will need far less than you think. Mix and match is the way to go. No one will care or remember if you wear the same thing twice. Unless you are particular, ships provide soap, shampoo etc., much like a hotel. A light, pack able rainproof windbreaker is a good idea. Even in warn climates, the decks can be chilly and windy especially in the evening. A light sweater or shawl comes in handy on board as some of the public rooms are chilly.Ships do not allow irons in the cabins (fire hazard) but do have them in laundry rooms. Bring combination detergent fabric softener sheets (flat and light) if you plan to do laundry. Shoes are heavy! Winnow down your choices. Lastly, check the weather forecast for your ports and remember, they are forecasts, not guarantees.

  7. C Giles Lawson September 14, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    I should also add a note about formal nights. As with many other things, they are considerably less formal than years ago. Nice slacks and a fancy top, a pretty dress (even a sun dress with a glitzy sweater or shawl) will easily work. Yes, some wear cocktail dresses or even long gowns but you don’t have to. If even this sounds too much for you, remember that the buffet and room service are a way to avoid formal altogether. No rule about having to eat in the main dining room ever!

  8. K December 30, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    I’ve been on several cruises in the Caribbean. I was in ports in Mexico, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica. The most important thing to remember is that rainstorms can come out of nowhere in the Caribbean. One day, on board, it went from bright and sunny to pouring in no time. The rain lasted about a half hour then just vanished. So pack mostly for the sun, but don’t forget it could rain too.

  9. celine March 6, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

    Yup.. agreed with K.. You’ll never know when the weather changes.. Be prepared and pack for any type of weather. I have had the same ordeal on several cruises of mine. Lately I have packed more of my gown and dresses, since that most of my cruise activities would be indoors :-(

  10. Harmony March 9, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    I have been on two cruises; one was a 7 day cruise to St.Thomas, Puerto Rico, and Grand Turk and the last was last month (a 10 day cruise of the Bahamas, Grand Turk, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Honduras, and Mexico.) The latter was interesting to say the least as our airline had lost our luggage. For the first 5 days of the cruise, my boyfriend and I were living out of our carry on luggage. Luckily I was smart enough to pack several clothing items, toiletries and make up in my carry on which was a regular sized school back pack. Our luggage was found and flown into Jamaica but I came to realize that all I really needed for this trip was my small carry on. I found myself washing our clothes in the sink but it didn’t bother me. I wasn’t going to let missing luggage ruin my trip!

    What I had in my carry on:

    -Small makeup bag with small makeup palette (eye shadows and blush), mascara, eyeliner brush, kabuki brush, CC cream, concealer stick, travel eyelash curler, lip balm.

    -Small toiletry bag with travel hair brush, mini tube of toothpaste, travel tooth brush, Go Toob of Dr. Bronner’s magic soap, solid shampoo bar, Go toob of aveeno body lotion, sunscreen for face, sunscreen for body, packet of facial tissues.

    -Flip flops

    - Bikini

    - 1 extra t-shirt

    - 1 extra pair of exofficio bikini briefs

    - pencil case of 3 sarong type scarves

    - 1 silver chain necklace, 3 cheap pendants to interchange on said chain. 1 pair cheap earrings

    - 2 full length jump suits

    - 1 short summer dress.

    - 1 long summer dress.

    - crushable sun hat

    - black foldable ballet flats

    - 2 pairs of sunglasses ( good thing too since I broke one of them in flight)

    - windproof packable rain jacket.

    - packable down filled coat ( I live in Ontario, Canada, I needed something to wear home)

    - photocopies of important personal documents and itinerary/ cruise tickets, passport, credit cards, driver’s license, money

    - RFID blocking neck pouch

    - waterproof camera

    -cellphone

    - PS vita

    - chargers for the electronics

    - 1 stuffable day pack (used it for my souvenirs)

    In addition to these items, I was wearing my black cloud veil travel pants, a black camisole, black blouse, grey light weight cardigan, and leopard print dexter flats from Payless.

    I participated in several onshore excursions including kayaking lucayan national park, beach combing, snuba (cross between scuba and snorkeling), climbing Dunn’s river falls, swimming with sting rays, touring the cities, hiking through a national park, and exploring the ruins in mexico. With my limited supplies, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.

    With what I had, I could even participate in formal night on the ship by decking out my summer dresses with accessories.

    It just goes to show, you really don’t need much.

  11. Karen July 16, 2014 at 2:36 am #

    Bring a couple of nice statement necklaces, they can really dress up an outfit and take up hardly any space in your suitcase. Even a tank top or T-shirt looks dressy with a nice blingy necklace.
    Forgo the heels, some dressy looking flip flops or flat sandals will serve you better and do double duty on the beach.
    Good walking shoes a must.
    Minimal make-up…liner, mascara, lipstick, or lip balm should be enough…even on dressy nights.
    Leggings are great, comfortable, easy to pack, and can pass for slacks if needed.

  12. Jennifer Bradley August 11, 2014 at 7:00 am #

    I’ve been on a couple of cruises on small ships, where we spent most of our time on shore. Packing one small bag was all I needed. Now my husband and I are planning a European river cruise, 15 days, early summer, followed by another month or six weeks in France and UK. If anyone on this site has experience of this kind of travel and advice on what to take I’d be grateful. I like to travel light (like 2 pairs of trousers only and one going out outfit [always need that and HATE to spend money on something I'll never wear again]), but usually book one small bag through (so I can carry some essentials, like my scissors and nail file that keep getting consficated).

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