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How to Pack Light for a Cruise

How to pack light 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).

When we are packing for a style of travel we’ve never experienced before, however, do the same basic packing rules apply? Or are there new rules to follow? 

Think of a cruise. You’re on a boat for an extended period of time. Not something that an ordinary person would be doing regularly in their daily life. If you want to pack light for a cruise, the same minimalist packing techniques apply, there are, of course, 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 several 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 is most likely going to be relatively small, so large bags may prove to be a hindrance. Therefore, packing light is essential.

Spend the Day by the Pool


During your cruise days, many cruise-goers spend their time by a pool.

It’s a good idea to pack two swimsuits so that one is always dry. If you want a different poolside look each day, you can always pack swimsuit bottoms of a solid color that you can mix and match with patterned tops to create a completely new look. That way, if you pack two swimsuit sets, you actually have four unique swimsuit combinations.

Another great idea is to pack a reversible swimsuit or a swimsuit that can be worn in multiple ways. This way you will have two looks for the space of one!

We love the Hurley Bloom reversible swimsuit (pictured below).

Hurley Bloom reversible swimsuit
Mix and match with a bold floral print on the one side and a bright blue color on the other.

Pool Accessories

When spending the day by the pool, you are going to need some essentials to make sure you have the best experience possible.


A cover-up is often required for walking between your room and the pool and is great to slip on when you want to visit one of the casual restaurants during the day. Consider using a cover-up that can double as an outfit. Think light airy dresses like an infinity wrap dress.

The Eddie Bauer Hemplify Swim Cover-Up (pictured below) is perfect for throwing over a swimsuit, but it can also be paired with shorts or pants for a casual outfit. 

Eddie Bauer Hemplify Swim Cover-Up
Eddie Bauer Hemplify Swim Cover-Up

Pool Towels

Many cruises supply towels for by the pool and some might even supply beach towels for beach excursions. Double-check with your cruise line to make sure you’re prepared if they don’t supply towels. If you need to bring your own towel, a great option is a Turkish towel

Turkish towels are thin and lightweight but at the same time, they are super absorbent and quick drying. They’re also much larger than your standard travel towel.

A Turkish towel can also double up as a sarong.

The Bali Market is a great brand if you are in the market.


A wide-brim hat is perfect for protecting your face, neck, ears, and scalp from the sun that you will most likely be spending the whole day in. It doesn’t hurt that they also look super classy and cute.

One of our favorite options is the Sunday Afternoons Sunset Hat (pictured below) which is upf 50+ resistant, moisture-wicking, and packs flat making it easy to pack in your suitcase. 

The Sunday Afternoons Sunset Hat
Sunday Afternoons Sunset Hat


You are going to be happy you packed your sunglasses when you’re trying to read your book by the pool. 

Choose sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection. You could also consider getting glasses with polarized lenses that reduce glare. We love the Maui Jim brand for sunglasses. Their Polarized Fashion Sunglasses are polarized and have a UV protective coating. 


When packing your toiletries, make sure to remember sunscreen. This is no doubt, one of the most important items on this list! Make sure to reapply often, especially after you swim.

Consider packing a reef-safe sunscreen if the excursions you are planning on going on include being in the ocean around a reef. A great option is this Raw Elements Face and Body All-Natural Mineral Sunscreen.


Pack a pair of non-slip sandals that can be worn both with your swimsuit and with your normal clothes as well.  It’s important to note here that flip-flops are not the best choice for a cruise ship because some of the restaurants won’t allow them. 

Something like the Alicegana Women’s Sandals are a great option because while they are non-slip, they are also dressy enough for wearing to restaurants. They also have a cushioned insole making them perfect for walking. Alicegana has a whole range of similar shoes if you want to check them out.

The Alicegana Women's Sandals are perfect for packing light for a cruise
The Alicegana Women’s Sandals come in a wide range of colors.

Try Out the Ship Activities or Casual Restaurants

Casual Clothes

A key to packing light for a cruise is to mix and match articles of clothing. 

Choose only a few bottoms, whether they be skirts, pants/slacks, or capris. Then, select 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!

Stick to one color scheme to ensure that all your pieces work well together. To make things even easier, stick to mostly solid colors and one or two fun patterned pieces.

Make sure to pack layers. While it may be hot outside, cruise ships have air conditioning that may make it a little chilly inside.

The warm jacket or cardigan you bring should be able to match all of your outfits.

Most cruises offer on-board laundry at an extra cost if you do need any clean clothes and don’t want to do washing in your small cabin. (Here’s a list of clothes hand-washing essentials for anyone interested.)


Are you a gym junkie? If you need more than a swim in the pool and walks around the ship to keep up your fitness routine, pack one or two sets of workout clothes for the ship’s workout facilities. You can wash a set after you use it and then wear the other one while it dries. 

Your workout clothes can also be worn for on-land activities. Taking note of this will help you not go overboard with your packing!


Make sure the sandals that you choose to bring for days by the pool match all your outfits. That way your poolside sandals can double as your shoes for casual restaurants and excursions. 

Pack a pair of sneakers if you are planning on utilizing the gym.

Glamorous Evening Activities

Dressing Up

Depending on your cruise line, evenings may call for anything from nice casual clothing to formal wear. On many cruises, the dinners may be more formal, or they may have specific formal nights that you have to dress up for.

Review the expectations of your cruise line carefully to ensure you pack appropriately. 

If formal wear is required, consider packing one nice dress that can be worn with different accessories to create different looks. Something like a little black dress would work well here.

A dress you can wear multiple ways or with a reversible print is also a great option.

Some of our favorites are The Pepper Dress by Season or the Encircled Sleeveless Revolve Dress that can be worn as a dress or a top.

Left: The Encircled Sleeveless Revolve Dress. Right: The Season Pepper Dress
Left: The Encircled Sleeveless Revolve Dress. Right: The Season Pepper Dress

Packing a scarf or shawl will keep you warm at night and can also be used to create a different look if you are wearing one dress multiple times.

Repurposing your casual clothes

Make your clothes work for you! You can wear the same clothes from day to night simply by dressing them up with accessories and a nice pair of shoes. 

A nice versatile top can be worn during the day with jeans or shorts and then worn at night with a skirt for a completely different outfit.

If you’re using a dress as a swimsuit cover-up, it can transition to an evening look by changing shoes and adding a shawl.


Pack one nice pair of shoes (heels or flats) that you can wear for all of the formal events on the cruise. Make sure they are comfortable, and match all of your planned evening outfits. 

If your poolside sandals are versatile you may even be able to wear them to fancy dinners. (Tip: No one pays as close attention as you think they do!)

Life on 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. 

Research the excursions beforehand so you can come prepared. You might need to pack some specific things for the excursions that you wouldn’t necessarily need for life on the ship.

When packing for a cruise, try to pack items that can be used both on land and at sea. Snorkeling or diving requires the same swimsuit you had on board, and if hiking is on the agenda, pack an outfit that works both for hiking and for 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.

Pack for the Weather

Make sure you consider the climates of the port cities, taking into account the time of year. You might be traveling through a wide range of temperatures and weather so make sure you are prepared.

You might be fine wearing your poolside outfit in one location but another port may require a rain jacket and long pants.


If you are planning on doing a lot of exploring at your destination, pack a closed walking shoe that is comfortable and supportive. These will preferably be the same ones you are wearing at the cruise gym.


There are so many activities on the ship, not to mention the off-ship excursions, so you don’t need to worry about getting bored and bringing heaps of stuff to entertain yourself with.

While reading a nice book by the pool is ideal, don’t weigh your bag down with lots of books rather bring an eReader. This will ensure that you have plenty of reading material but don’t have to compromise on packing light.

Make sure to download any books or podcasts you want beforehand, as wifi may be slow on board the cruise (not to mention expensive).

Unless you need them for work, you most probably won’t be needing your laptop or tablet.

Don’t forget to pack travel adaptors!


For the whole cruise experience, you only really need 3 pairs of shoes.

  1. Non-slip sandals for by the pool, casual restaurants, and onboard activities
  2. Closed walking shoes for the gym and excursions
  3. One dressier shoe for evening activities (this could be something like a black sandal that you can wear during the day too)

Depending on your travel style, the specific cruise, and the destination, you could even get by with fewer! If you’re not a gym junkie and don’t plan on doing any hiking, you might get by with a pair of cute walking sandals. They might even work for evening activities, too.

Brooke recommends her Naot Dorith sandals as the perfect middle ground. They’re comfortable for walking and cute with a dress.

Noat Dorith Sandals in red and black
The Noat Dorith Sandals come in a wide range of colors.

Alternatively, a nice hiking sandal could be the ticket for you, like Chacos or the Keen Rose sandals in a dark, solid color. These could cover you for all 3 shoe options above. 

It all depends on your intended travel style and how light you are wanting to pack for your cruise.

Some Extra Information

If you’re worried you may leave something behind when packing light for a cruise, most cruises have a small shop on board, so if you need something desperately, you can purchase it there. 

If you’re prone to falling ill on the sea, check out these ways to prevent motion sickness and pack accordingly.

Check out these other cruise packing posts:

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.

Add your voice & leave a comment!

Gear We Use

speakeasy hidden pocket travel scarf ad
Speakeasy Hidden Pocket Scarves


Splice Jaisalmer Reversible Tunic
Splice Reversible Jaisalmer Tunic


Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes
Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes


tom bihn 3d organizer toiletry bag
Tom Bihn 3D Organizer Cube


Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack - Fits in the palm of your hand!
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack


Turkish Travel Towels


Travel Resources

HPL Learnables

Handbag Packing Masterclass – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing class run by HPL founder, Brooke.

Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)

Book Your Trip

Viator – Enhance your trip experience by booking from thousands of tours across the globe. – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. Jill says

    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.

  2. Carissa says

    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 says

      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 says

    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 says

      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?

      • Erin says

        That’s hilarious. 🙂 I use a “wear me wash me” underwear bag for travel. Your clean pairs are in one side and you can stash the used in the other side. It’s great. It is similar to this one, but I got mine at a Ross store for much less.

  4. Elaine says

    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 says

    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 says

    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 says

    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 says

    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 says

    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 says

    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


    – 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.

    • Z says

      Good on you! Not only was your comment so helpful, but I can tell that you have are practical and intelligent. I need someone like you to help me: I need to pack for hot and cold weather for six nights. Can you help me? I am also something of a fashionista so please take that into account. I thank you in advance.

  11. Karen says

    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 says

    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).

  13. Esmeralda says

    Going on a Dec 2015 cruise to the bahamas. How’s the climate and what do I take. I’m confused, Its cold in Texas but how is it there? Don’t want to over pack ither.


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