What to Pack for a Cruise

From the Shipmate Archives. Originally Published August 25, 2016. 

We’re often asked what to pack for a cruise and completely understand why it’s a very sought after topic. Cruise packing happens once every few years for the majority of us. Unless you’re an ice carver on the Lido Deck, you probably struggle with what to pack. This isn’t surprising – you’re vacationing in the middle of the ocean with occasional, sporadic stops at vastly different destinations. It’s an unusual way to travel. We’re here to help – with these Cruise Packing Tips and Hacks, you’ll be more prepared than the captain.

Here are 26 Tips & Hacks on what to pack for your cruise. Enjoy!

Cruise Packing Tip #1 – Coffee Mug

Do you remember the last coffee you had on a cruise ship? I bet your scalded fingers do. If I had a nickel for every ounce of coffee I lost walking up and down those stairs, I’d have enough to treat my third-degree burns.  And, you’ll have to make four or five trips there and back to get your regular caffeine fix. Bring your favorite coffee mug, fill ‘er up, and lounge around like Juan Valdez.


What to Pack for a Cruise, Tip #2 – Smarter Cruise Carry-On

Once you check your bags, you won’t see them again for roughly six hours. If you plan to hit the hot tub, bring your bathing suit. If you plan to hit the buffet, bring your dentures. Whatever you’ll need for the first half of the day, stick it in your carry on bag.

Cruise Packing Tip #3 – Extra Clothes Hangers

I need one hanger for my best tank top, but my girlfriend needs the closet to look like one of those long racks at TJ Maxx. The cruise line will provide roughly eight hangers. If you need more (particularly for the longer cruises), throw some extras in your bag. The wire types take up the least packing space.


What to Pack for a Cruise, Tip #4 – Bathroom Door Organizer

The typical bathroom vanity and sink-top have enough room for three cue tips, a hair tie, and a travel-sized toothbrush. If you plan to use any of the normal tools for maintaining acceptable levels of hygiene, you’ll want a bathroom door organizer. You can stick shampoos, lotions, aloes, hairdryers, curlers, and all kinds of stuff in there. IMPORTANT: make sure your hanging organizer is “fire retardant” or the cruise line could confiscate it!

Cruise Packing Tip #5 – Power Strip (Non-Surge)

The last cruise I was on had two reachable outlets. C’mon… even my shoe-horn has a plug. If you plan on running and charging phones, cameras, gaming consoles, hairdryers, curling irons, etc, you’ll want to bring a power strip.

IMPORTANT: according to our helpful users, certain power strips are banned by the cruise lines and will be confiscated. Make sure to get a model WITHOUT “surge protection” to avoid angry security guards.


Cruise Packing Tip #6 – Dramamine


Motion sickness is one of the worst feelings you can have. And the captain isn’t going to slow down because you’re hugging a toilet. Even if you’ve never experienced seasickness, you might want to bring Dramamine or ginger pills just in case.

What to pack for a cruise, Tip #7 – Wine

The typical cruiser spends a LOT on booze. People aren’t aware that most cruise lines allow you to bring some alcohol. Generally, one bottle of wine per cruiser is acceptable. If it’ll save you $80 between the two of you, why not bring it?


Cruise Packing Tip #8 – Ear Plugs


Cruises have to squeeze in as many humans as possible to keep costs down. It’s creepy to think about, but there are four strangers sleeping within 10 feet of you at night. And if you’re lucky enough to have 80-pound soft-talkers on both sides, you might still encounter other noises. If you’re near the ship’s nightclub, engine room, or any busy walkways, there’s likely to be some noise. Shove a couple of these in your listening holes, and let the ocean’s motions rock you to bed.


Packing Hack #9 – Roll Your Clothes


This obviously isn’t specific to cruising, but necessary to include. If you’re still folding your clothes, you’re also probably worried about sailing off the edge of the Earth. Rolling creates a denser space and allows more room for t-shirts.


Cruise Packing Tip #10 – Collar Stay


If you’re worried about your collar getting crushed while in transit, stick your alligator (cow also works as does a synthetic if preferred) belt in there for support.


What to Pack for a Cruise, Tip #11 – Avoid Shampoo Blouses


It’s happened to the best of us - you show up ready to party and your best silk shirt is covered in mouthwash. By placing a piece of saran wrap inside of the cover, you create a tighter seal when closed.


Cruise Packing Hack #12 – Inside Out Jacket


Your jacket can get wrinkled and dirty packed in there with your sneakers and floaties. Turn it inside out to keep it clean and avoid creases.


Packing Hack #13 – Business Card in Luggage Tag


We have a ton of respect for the guys working the docks. But, we’re guessing they lose a bit of motivation after tossing around the first few thousand bags on cruise day. Those stapled, paper luggage tags might work… but, you know what will work much better? These custom cruise luggage tags! We know how important it is for you to get your medication, lucky casino hat, special undies, etc. Don’t tempt fate in this circumstance.


Cruise Packing Tip #14 – Bring a Jacket


I don’t care what the forecast says – the meteorologist wasn’t referring to the middle of the ocean when he said it would be 80 degrees. It gets cold and windy out there. Bring a jacket, or at least a windbreaker so you’re not stuck below decks like a troll.


What to Pack for a Cruise, Hack #15 – Cotton Swab Holder


You don’t want to be sticking cotton swabs inside of your skull once they’ve been rolling around the bottom of that seven-year-old travel kit. Stick them in an empty pill bottle to keep them organized and sanitary. Please make sure it’s clean.


Packing Tip #16 – Mark Bags as Fragile


This one may be a bit controversial. Marking your bags as “fragile” will result in better treatment of said bags. An added bonus is quicker offloading time. For those that don’t think their possessions are worthy of the “fragile” classification, follow Cruise Packing Tip #7 to earn that sincerity.


Packing Hack #17 – No Necklace Tangles


It once took two sea days to untangle a necklace. No more.  Thread your dainty necklaces through a common straw to keep them perfectly neat and tangle-free.


What to Pack for a Cruise, Tip #18 – Drier Sheet Freshness


Your attic smells like a barn and you just pulled your luggage down three hours before heading to port. If you’d like to make new friends that prefer non-attic-smelling strangers, stick a couple of drier sheets in there to eliminate odors.


Cruise Packing Tip #19 – Wine Armor


Now that we’ve established that you’re bringing a bottle of wine (see Tip #7), you’ll need to protect it from angry baggage handlers. Lodge it tightly inside of two shoes to make sure it’s well protected along the way. 


Packing Tip #20 – Mobile Jewelry Case


For small pieces of jewelry, keep them safe and organized in a daily pill container. And, if super Type A, you can plan your nightly accessories and place them in the corresponding containers. (Just don’t swallow your earrings hoping to cure that hangover)


Cruise Packing Hack #21 – Collapsible Travel Tote


You’ll be traveling up-and-down and back-and-forth the ship all day long while on vacation. Depending on where you’re headed, you’ll have all kinds of stuff to carry: cell phones, wallets, lotions, books, snacks, electronics, and more. Or, maybe you’re headed down to the port to acquire some new stuff. You’ll need some way to carry all of your goodies. With a collapsible travel tote, you can keep tabs on all of your old and new stuff. And, it takes up NO storage space in your luggage, purse, or pocket. PRO TIP: Pack your travel tote with snacks (bananas, cookies, sandwiches) when headed down to the port to save in food costs!


Packing Hack #22 – Photograph Your Luggage


One time I was trying to explain my lost luggage to American Airlines.  “Square-ish and with my underwear in it” didn’t make the hunt go any quicker. Always take a picture of your luggage and keep it on your mobile device. Added bonus: when new friends show you pictures of their baby, show them a picture of your luggage for an interesting reaction.


What to Pack for a Cruise, Tip #23 – Keep Copies of Your IDs


Keep a digital and physical copy of your license and passport when cruising. It’s likely you’ll never need them, but the peace of mind feels good. 


Cruise Packing Tip #24 – Bring a Pen


You’ll have embarkation and debarkation forms to fill out. Avoid the awkward circle of strangers all waiting for one pen by bringing your own.  A few “throwaways” are ideal.


Packing Hack #25 – Button Your Earrings


This is the last jewelry organization tip, I promise. Keep your sets of earrings together and neat using buttons. This assures your timeliness on your cruise’s formal night.  Hopefully this list will have you as efficiently accessorized as any human has ever been.


Cruise Packing Tip #26 – Ship Mate Packing Checklist


All of these tips are useless if you forget to bring the mentioned items. The Packing Checklist is one of the many helpful features in the Ship Mate Cruise App to keep you prepared and excited about your trip. 


Did we leave any out?  Do you have any other tips on what to pack for a cruise? If you think these are helpful, share them on our forums!


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