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Cruise Packing Essentials

"What should I pack? Do I have everything I need?" These are questions every smart traveler asks. After polling a wide range of travelers, we have developed the packing list below.

Start with the the Basics and Travel Essentials. We also have a special lists for Warm Weather and Cold Weather cruises.

If you want to avoid checking luggage, refer to our article on Carry-On Packing.

The Basics

  • Tops: shirts, blouses, sweaters, etc.
  • Bottoms: for a week we recommend two casual and comfortable items (e.g., jeans, khakis, shorts) for daytime excursions and two dressier options (trousers, skirt)
  • Undergarments
  • Pajamas
  • Light jacket
  • Comfortable walking shoes (Sneakers are great, but if you have comfortable shoes that look more formal they will be more versatile. Sneakers are not usually allowed in the dining room, even on informal nights)
  • Swim suit (even in colder destinations, you may wish to use the whirlpool, sauna or indoor pool)
  • Formal clothes (see below)

Travel Essentials

  • Passport
  • Cruise tickets (if you use online check-in, bring the confirmation print-out)
  • Airplane tickets (if any)
  • Keys, wallet
  • Mobile phone (must be activated for international roaming, if you want to use it onboard)
  • Camera, film or digital card, batteries or charger

Health & Beauty: Put liquid items in a seal-able plastic bag in case anything breaks or leaks in transit

  • Medications and vitamins. Anti-nausea medication, if desired.
  • Anti-nausea wrist strap
  • Vanity kit (makeup, skincare, razor, etc.)
  • Sunscreen, at least SPF 15 (bring an adequate supply: the American Cancer Society recommends applying a shot-glass size amount for the body, a tablespoon for the face -- each time you apply)
  • Eyewear (glasses, contacts, contact solution, etc.)
  • Haircare (conditioner, brush, styling products, etc.)
  • Note: virtually all cruises provide shampoo, soap and hair dryers. As at hotels, quality may vary

Luggage and Bags

  • Suitcase (wheeled cases or backpacks are the most practical)
  • Day bag or beach bag for excursions. Should be at least large enough for a bottle of water
  • Money belt or secure money pouch. Highly recommended - being pick-pocketed in a foreign country could be a disaster
  • Handbags are optional; when you are onboard you rarely need more than your key card as this also functions as your ID and charge card
  • Plastic bag for dirty laundry

Eveningwear: These are only required if your cruise has formal nights (see the Savvy Guide for your line, or check with the cruise line) and if you want to dine in the main restaurant on those nights (usually if you go to the casual restaurant you do not have to dress up)

  • Dress / gown or suit / tuxedo. Some lines are more formal than others; see the Savvy Guide for your cruise line for details.
  • Matching shoes
  • Wrap, jacket or sweater for ladies (can be chilly in the restaurants)

Warm Weather Cruises

  • Pool / beach shoes
  • Snorkel and goggles: these can be rented, but it is cheaper to bring your own
  • Sun hat
  • Beach book / magazines
  • Extra swim suit(s)
  • You do not need to bring a towel; the ship will provide pool and beach towels

Cold Weather Cruises: Alaska, Northern Europe, etc.

  • Jacket that is warm and water-resistant
  • Scarf, gloves, hat
  • Extra sweaters
  • Umbrella
  • Binoculars are essential in Alaska, and nice to have on other cruises

Miscellany:

  • Empty paper towel tube to protect paper items you might like to keep, e.g., on some cruises you may receive an autographed placemat from the dining room staff on the final night
  • Clothespins to use with the clothesline every cruise ship has in the shower
  • MP3 player / iPod plus charger. If you don't bring your laptop, bring a charger that plugs into the wall rather than your USB port
  • Laptop plus charger. You may also want to get an airplane charger, which is useful if you have a long flight and a seat with an outlet (check SeatGuru to find out if you do)
  • Power strip or extension cord. Cabins generally have one or two outlets. Some people like to charge a cell phone, camera and laptop all at the same time. But if you do this be mindful of fire safety: Do not use a cheap or frayed power strip or extension cord. Don't use both a power strip and an extension cord, just one or the other. When using high-voltage items like a hair dryer, plug it directly into the wall and be sure it's the only thing plugged in.

What NOT to bring

  • Weapons, fake or real. The cruise lines take security very seriously, so toy guns and knives should stay at home. Similarly, don't buy any souvenir swords on your trip.
  • Liquor. If you bring a bottle it will be confiscated at boarding. (That said, some people have smuggled liquor onboard, typically in mouthwash bottles. We don't endorse this.) Most cruise lines do allow you to bring your own wine and champagne, subject to a corkage free of $10-$25.
  • Pets. Virtually no cruise line allows pets. The only exception is the QM2 during her trans-Atlantic crossings. Service animals (guide dogs, etc.) are generally permitted, but you must check with the cruise line first.
  • Appliances with a heating element, such as an electric blanket or iron. These can pose a fire hazard, and you won't need them.
  • Burning items are a fire hazard, so candles, incense, etc. are forbidden.
  • Plants. Quarantine laws generally restrict transport of plants from one country to another.
  • Drugs. Some countries enforce the death penalty for illegal drug posession. If you have prescrition medications, be sure to bring a copy of your prescription (the one on the pharmacy bottle is fine)

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