As an experienced cruiser, I've got tons of tips to make your next cruise vacation a breeze.
Do you usually have trouble deciding what to pack for a cruise? I know I always struggle to narrow down the list. How many of one thing should you bring? Have you got everything you need?
Making the assumption that you can calculate how many pairs of socks you are going to need, I’m not going to go over every single thing that you would just naturally pack. Instead, I'm going to focus on those little things that most of us don’t think of—at least on our first few cruises—and which can be some of the most useful items to have on board.
What to Pack for a Cruise (32 Must-Haves)
These little things have so much more value attached to them when you are on a cruise, where you can't just pop to the nearest convenience store like you would when holidaying on land. I wouldn’t suggest swimming to shore for a toothbrush, and those things that might be available on the cruise ship may not be what you are accustomed to (and might carry a high price tag to boot).
Don’t get me wrong—I don't expect you to pack everything and the kitchen sink in your luggage, but there are a few things I've found to be musts on any cruise. This list is here to make sure that you have those useful items on your checklist when the time comes for your next cruise. I'd wager there are probably a few things that you would never have considered packing till now.
1. Power Adapters
An outlet adapter is a must. Seems like everything we carry on us these days requires power and a lot of it. Having an adapter on hand can be very useful indeed. Whatever devices you might own, you are bound to have to charge them up pretty quick, even after just the first day of your holiday, especially your camera batteries after all of those happy snaps.
I personally think that these adapters are the best for the job, given you are going to need to be able to charge up no matter where you go. But remember to check that it doesn’t have a surge protector, as these won’t be allowed on cruise ships and will just be removed from your luggage and confiscated, then returned to you on the last day of your holiday.
2. Portable Fan
This one is particular to those warmer vacation climates. I like to use my fan in the room, as I sometimes find that the air being pumped around the cabin isn’t moving around to the standard that I like.
Power points are at a premium and having something strong enough to blow air to make it across the room means that you will lose valuable luggage space. For that reason, I use a small, handheld portable fan that allows me to get some air movement when I need it and can be a great way of drowning out other external noise factors (when the seas are a little turbulent, a little white noise really helps). It is the fan equivalent of leaving one leg outside of your blanket on a warm night.
Whatever fan you get, make sure it is battery operated or can be powered by a power bank.
3. 4-Wheel Spinner Suitcase
Trust me on this one—if you haven’t already gotten a 4-wheel suitcase, then get one now! Not having the right kind of luggage can be a real pain. I’ve tried going on a cruise with a bag over my shoulder and a 2-wheeler suitcase, and just getting to the cruise terminal was enough to almost dislocate my arm.
Making sure you have the right kind of suitcase will make your life so much easier and will make sure that you get the most out of your holiday. Embarkation day processes often require you to drag your carry-on baggage around with you on the ship till your room is ready, so it pays to plan for painlessness.
The switch from two wheels to four wheels will be a godsend, especially on that first day. The walk from the cruise terminal to your stateroom can be pretty long, and even longer if you have to wait for your room.
4. Hand Sanitizer
This one is a no-brainer, especially after everything we have been through since the beginning of 2020. The world and most certainly the cruise industry have been changed forever; from this point forward, things will never feel quite the same as they were before. You can be sure that cruise lines all over the world will be making sweeping changes in order to adapt to the new COVID normal, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take a precaution or two to keep yourself and those around you safe and well.
There were already hand sanitizer dispensers all over ships, and there are likely to be even more when cruise lines come back online, but I figure you can never be too safe. I have always carried a pocket-size hand sanitizer with me. It is an especially good idea if you have sensitive skin and there is a particular brand that works well for you.
5. Cabin Night Light
The cabins on a ship can get dark. I have tapped my shins on the ends of the beds more than a couple of times, especially when I used to book internal rooms more often. Because internal rooms do not have access to a window, you miss out on any ambient light, resulting in total darkness at night.
Investing in a cabin night light will help ensure that your shins don’t pay the price, especially when you are in a room that you are not used to. A night light is also an absolute must if you have young ones with you.
I like this night light in particular because it uses a motion sensor and is a soft light, so it won’t wake up the whole room. An added benefit is that it has a magnetic base that attaches to the cabin wall, which means that you are not taking up valuable outlet or floor space.
6. Room Fresheners
Real talk—this one is a must. I always make sure that I take at least a can of Glen 20 or something similar with me on a cruise. One benefit is the disinfectant side of things for peace of mind and the other is to keep the bathroom and the rest of the cabin smelling fresh.
Given how small the extractor fans are in the cabin bathrooms, the air can take a little while to fully refresh itself, so why not do everyone in your cabin a favour (even if it's only you!) and give the room a spritz when you are done.
If you have a balcony room, then you have the benefit of being able to introduce fresh air into your space more freely, but internal rooms don’t allow that. Another worthwhile investment is some Poo-Pourri to help get rid of any potential odours, though this isn’t always a great one as sometimes there isn’t any standing water for it to create an odour barrier on until after a flush.
7. Shoe Organiser
Hang one of these over the bathroom door and you will suddenly have access to a whole lot more storage. I tend to use it for sunscreen, our own shampoos and conditioners, and any other things that might potentially roll around or sit all over the counter and get in the way. They are relatively inexpensive but will give you access to a lot more space and storage, so they are a bit of a no-brainer.
8. Sticky Notes
When you go on a cruise with the whole family or a group of friends, then you are going to want these little guys. Sticky notes make up for the lack of other communication avenues, especially if not everyone has access to the ship's internet. All you need to do is write a quick note on one of your sticky notes and leave it on the desk in the stateroom.
They are also a handy way to get messages to any travel mates that are in other cabins; just pop the sticky note into the little mailbox that is usually behind the cabin number, or stick it right on the door (you may want to secure it with a magnet as well, just in case).
They are such a great way of leaving notes to your cabin mates and family and also a great way to remind yourself to do certain things as you start to relax and your brain sets itself to ‘island time’. Finally, they offer a way of getting your steward's attention if something needs attending to in the room and you haven't been able to find anyone to assist you.
9. Ziploc Bags
These are a definite must-have. There isn’t much that you can’t use them for, but the foremost use in my mind is for keeping your phone and wallet dry when you are swimming and also for keeping the sand and saltwater away from your more precious items. Bear in mind that I'm not recommending you pop your phone in a Ziploc and bring it along snorkeling (check out the specially designed bag for that below), but it never hurts to be cautious when leaving your dry items poolside or beachside.
This is never more useful than when you have wet clothes that you need to put back in with your dry stuff on your way back to the ship. Having a few bags on hand just makes sense. I also use them for bringing a few snacks back to my room when I don’t feel like going back to my room with a frisbee-sized plate of cookies.
10. Phone/Passport Dry Pouch
A waterproof pouch is one item that I just can’t recommend enough if you are headed for a beach or near water. You’ll end up needing a place to store your important travel documents (or copies of them) that will keep them dry, safe and in good condition. For peace of mind alone, this is a worthwhile investment.
11. Reef Shoes and Flip-Flops
If you are heading for the beach, it is likely to have a coral reef, and the sand may very well be littered with pieces of that reef. Ouch! When this is the case, a good pair of reef shoes will allow you to walk around freely and just as easily switch into water mode without the risk of cutting your foot on a piece of coral. (Keep in mind that you should never step on coral while in the water—it is a living organism!)
A cheap pair of flip-flops (thongs, if you are an Aussie) can be a real blessing too. I always make sure that I have packed a pair. Make sure they have a textured sole so that you can rest assured that they will have a decent grip on the ship's deck as you make your way around.
12. Mask and Snorkel
If you're going on a cruise, you are pretty much destined to find yourself in the water at some time or another, especially if you are going for a tropical getaway. I love being able to grab my own mask and snorkel so that I can see the natural splendour that is held under the water.
I recommend always bringing your own equipment if you can, especially now, as there is no reason to risk being exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19), or anything else for that matter, and you can never really guarantee a good fit with hired sets anyway.
Renting them can also be expensive, especially if you have to get a few sets for the family. You're better off getting your own and saving the money and concern for something else.
I like and have used both the mask and snorkel set and the full face mask, and I find that I prefer the separate mask and snorkel setup as I feel more in control, whereas the full face mask tends to make me feel like the water could just come in sometimes.
13. Phone Charger
We can’t go far these days without having to charge our mobile devices. Make sure you pack your charger cable and your power brick/wall wart power adapter. I bought a power brick that allows me to connect a couple of USB cables at once so that my phone, camera and other devices can be on the charger at the same time (see item #1 on this list!). It's worth it if you have more than a couple of devices in your stateroom that need charging at the same time.
You should probably just go put your charger and peripherals into your suitcase right now because they can be easy items to forget. You certainly don’t want to be mid-journey and find yourself without; replacing electronics of any kind will cost a lot more on board.
14. Wide-Brim Hat
If you're anything like me, you will find the tropical sun is no joke. Investing in a decent hat is a great way to protect yourself from harmful UV damage and to ensure that you don’t have to spend your holiday hiding in a dark room nursing a sunburn for the rest of the trip.
For those times when you can’t stay out of the sun or find some shade, a hat is a must. A cap is fine, but a wide-brim hat is way better. In addition to offering adequate UV protection, whatever hat you choose should also be lightweight and able to survive being squeezed into a suitcase.
15. Comfortable Pair of Shoes
Everyone knows to bring some sandals if you’re headed to the beach, but comfy walking shoes are just as important. Excursions (or just exploring the port) involve a lot of walking. You don’t want your feet to be uncomfortable while you are on vacation.
Already have a well-worn pair of shoes? You might want to invest in some insoles to make them like new again.
I love to have my camera on me for some zoom shots, but I occasionally just want to have a look at things with my own eyes instead of on my camera's screen. A pair of binoculars is a bit of a must if you want to spy out faraway sights.
A decent pair doesn't have to break the bank, but a nicer pair will give you a better return on your investment if you can spare the cash. Paired with a decent ship tracker, you can also take the opportunity to do a bit of ship watching as you pass in the middle of the ocean.
17. Netflix App and Ebooks
Let me start this one with a warning: The internet on cruise ships can be a bit hit and miss. Between spotty satellite reception, dodgy Wi-Fi, limited bandwidth and the expense, you may want to think twice about shelling out for an internet package. This is especially true if you were hoping to stream video content.
Personally, I would suggest planning ahead and downloading the shows that you want to watch on your device before you go using the offline feature in the Netflix app. The same goes for ebooks. Don’t take the risk of not being able to download a title at sea; load up your device before you go.
Of course, whether to get an internet package is a personal choice; if you need or want it and want to pay for that privilege, go for it. Just be aware that it may not be up to the standards you're used to.
18. Your Passport (and Copies)
This one is one of those things that you may not realise is critical until you find yourself in a bind. Passports are often necessary if you are heading into port, especially if they do customs checks on your way in.
Having a copy of your passport to verify your identity gives peace of mind and can save you a trip back onto the ship to get your passport. (Though you should check ahead to make sure your ports of call will accept a copy rather than the real deal.)
This will allow you to keep your passport safely locked away in your cabin on the ship. You will still have a way to verify your identity, and you won’t have to worry about losing or damaging your passport, or worse still, having it stolen.
19. Lanyard for Your Room Key
At the moment, seapasses are mostly keycards. Having access to a decent lanyard can make your trip that much more enjoyable.
I find that some of the supplied lanyards that I have been given by travel agents over the years can either be a touch too short or they smell like chemicals. In my opinion, it's worth finding something that works well for you.
Until seapasses have been replaced with wrist bands, a lanyard is a must for all passengers.
A few cocktails in and you are likely to forget that the sun deck is named that for a reason. So make sure that you remember to put on plenty of sunscreen and that you reapply often.
Make sure that it is of good quality and a high SPF. I also suggest making sure it isn’t greasy, as you don’t want an oil slick if you take a dip in the pool and you definitely don’t want the whole beach sticking to you when you take a moment to lay on it. Lastly, if you plan on snorkeling or swimming in the ocean, make sure your sunscreen is reef safe.
21. Aloe Vera Gel
We all like to think that we are going to be good and not spend too much time in the sun, but sometimes it just happens. For those times when you get a lick too much sun, make sure you have a decent aloe vera gel or some kind of after-sun treatment to help you avoid turning beetroot red and peeling like crazy. It will help take the heat out of the sunburn.
All that said, prevention is better than treatment, so practice sun-smart behaviours and you won’t have to lather yourself up and hide in the dark like a vampire until your skin stops stinging.
22. Large Waterproof Drybag
As someone who often cruises by myself or with one other person, this has been an awesome purchase. Why? Because it solves the question of what to do with your cherished items when it comes time for a swim.
With another person, you can always leave them with the items, but that does mean that you miss out on the opportunity to share experiences together and you also end up cutting things short to ensure that the other person gets the chance for a dip.
The only way I know to get around it is to purchase a decent-sized dry bag so that you can keep your more precious items both safe and dry.
23. Bug Repellent
Insect repellent is a worthwhile investment for some measure of protection from any potential insect-borne viruses or bacteria (not to mention the annoying itchiness from otherwise innocuous bites). Give yourself a quick spritz with this and you will have a little more peace of mind. Just make sure to re-apply when you get out of the water and when you reapply your sunscreen.
Wearing long sleeves and long pants is another good way to reduce the risk of bug bites.
24. Ginger Tablets
Most cruises will have some seasickness medication or treatments onboard for their guests, but it is often cheaper to buy these kinds of things before you get on the ship.
My go-to treatment when the sea gets a little rocky is to take a ginger tablet or two. I have found them to be the most effective for me, and I like that they don’t have any scary side effects.
A pair of sunnies and a cruise go together like sunshine and daiquiris. This one is really a given, especially if you are going to the tropics where the sun tends to beat down on you. I have found that with the glare and sunshine reflecting off of the water and the ship itself, sunglasses are a real must both while on board and while in port.
This is one object I don’t mind buying if I leave mine at home by accident, but they can be a bit expensive at holiday locations. Nowadays, I make sure that I always have a cheap pair hidden away in my luggage so that I don’t have to worry if I misplace my old faithfuls.
26. Lightweight Backpack
For port days, a lightweight backpack to carry your towels, water bottles and sunscreen really comes in handy. Being able to shove everything into a lightweight pack has saved me from wearing myself out trying to carry everything in my arms many a time.
It is also easy to shake the sand out of these kinds of bags, and if they get wet at all, they will dry off quickly in the sun.
27. Towel Clips
You might think ‘why would I need towel clips?’ but that is just because you haven’t used them before.
The one constant you will find whilst you are at sea in a moving ship is that there will always be a breeze, especially if you have a balcony cabin. Being able to hold your towel in place without it slipping all over is key.
28. Wrinkle-Release Spray
Irons can be hard to get your hands on when on a cruise (and who wants to spend time doing that while on board anyway?). You have a few choices—put up with the wrinkles in your clothes, pay for them to be pressed or ironed, or buy a wrinkle-release spray to get your clothes looking as good as they can without too much trouble.
Get your clothes unpacked as soon as possible, give this baby a spray over your clothes and then let them hang for a while so that the spray can do its job. I’ve had to use it a few times, especially for formal nights, because my evening clothes have a tendency to wrinkle as soon as they even see my suitcase.
Note: If you have to fly at some point during your trip, make sure you buy a wrinkle-release spray that is okay to take on a plane.
29. Money Belt
In my opinion, using a money belt has a lot of benefits. This suggestion was given to me by a friend who fancies trips to locations all over the globe.
Some places can be a little less than secure and there is no reason to leave things like that to chance. I think having a money belt takes some of those worries out of the forefront of your mind. They are very useful and don’t paint a big flashing sign above your head like a fanny pack/bum bag can.
30. Cash Money
The way we carry around money is constantly changing, and with COVID-19, we have all changed our habits again to reduce the likelihood of spread through contact with cash. However, as we think about travelling in faraway lands, it is worthwhile to consider that not all countries have a "plastic is fantastic" mindset and prefer to still use actual money.
In fact, some locations like Japan are almost exclusively centred around cash transactions. With this in mind, it is almost always a good idea to make sure that you bring cash on your voyage (just don't carry too much on your person at any given time). If you are going to go to locations like the South Pacific, make sure that you carry it in small notes and coins as they will often have trouble cashing larger denominations.
From a security perspective, using cash is way more secure, and I wouldn’t recommend using a credit or debit card in some of the potentially less-than-respectful stores that can exist.
The way I see it, trust everyone, just not the devil inside them. Bear that in mind and you should be fine.
31. Refillable Bottle
A refillable bottle is one of those things that you don’t realise that you need until it is too late. When I am on the ship, I often forget to keep drinking water, so having a water bottle at hand with some H2O in it is a lifesaver.
You might even want to invest in a filtered water bottle if you want the cleanest water possible.
32. TSA-Compliant Luggage Locks
I know they won’t exactly turn your luggage into Fort Knox, but they can act as a good deterrent (and in worst cases an indicator of whether your luggage has been tampered with). I just like to have them for peace of mind—one less thing to think about whilst on my way to a beautiful and relaxing location.
Packing for Your Cruise Doesn't Have to Be Hard!
Preparing for a cruise is a little different from your normal holiday, given you cannot easily access shops to replace anything that you have forgotten. My hope is that the above list will get your mind keyed to the task of getting ready for your next trip.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Paddy Michelson