Your suitcase sits in the hall, stuffed with bathing suits, formalwear, comfortable shoes and casual travel clothes. Your carry-on perches on top, with your cruise tickets, passport, prescription meds, camera and a change of clothes. You've been to the bank for extra cash, the supermarket for snacks and the drugstore for sunscreen.
So why do you feel like you've forgotten something?
On your first cruise, you pack the obvious items, but it's not until your second -- or maybe your third, fifth or tenth -- cruise that you discover all those useful things that make life onboard and onshore so much easier. Perhaps that's bringing small bills for tips or small purchases in foreign countries, or a roll of duct tape to fix whatever breaks. Maybe it's a highlighter marker to circle not-to-be-missed activities in the daily schedule, or bubbles to entertain the kids during sailaway.
That's why it's always good advice to ask an experienced cruiser what you've forgotten to pack before you embark on your very first sailing. Don't know any? Do like we did and go to the Cruise Critic message boards, where you'll find plenty of knowledgeable frequent cruise travelers. There, we found tons of great packing tips for the uninitiated and compiled our favorites into a slideshow of must-read advice. Before you check your bags, check this out!
Cover all your bases with our Ultimate Cruise Packing Guide for tips, tricks and packing lists.
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Updated January 8, 2020
Many cruise cabins do not include an alarm clock, so you'll need your own portable clock if you want to know what time it is (though you can typically get a wakeup call through the cabin's phone system). Your cell phone can also work, even in airplane mode, but you might have to reset the clock manually to get on ship time.
"[There's] nothing worse than waking up in an inside stateroom with no clock! I don't know if I laid down for a nap or it's the middle of the night!" says tecknicole.
Geegee1 concurs, "Even if you have an outside room, this is huge. With the curtains closed you'll have no idea what time it is."
Many members remind first-timers to bring sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and aloe cream (for post-burn relief).
"If cruising to a southern region, remember you have sunscreen all over your body, but your scalp is exposed. Make certain to bring a cap/hat/bandanna to wear. Also SPF lip balm or chapstick is a must!" says realcindylouwho.
Member huh has a different take: "Always bring a hat but not for the obvious reason. At the end of the day you can put your room card, wallet etc in the hat. That way the next morning you're not trying to figure out where you put your stuff."
Buying meds onboard can be expensive, and your favorite brands may not be available in port, so it's always smart to bring a first-aid kit -- just in case.
NMLady writes, "Here are some of the items we have in the kit: bandaids, gauze pads, alcohol swabs, cotton balls, antibiotic ointment, cold pills, cough drops, cough syrup, aspirin, Imodium, Alka Seltzer, pain pills, antibiotics, bonine, Airborne, Vitamin C, salt (to put in warm water for a sore throat). The kit has saved us a visit to the infirmary, has saved us from buying high price O.T.C. meds aboard ship, has helped in the middle of the night."
Experienced cruisers have all sorts of tricks for creating more places to store, hang or stow their belongings in small cabins.
"I read about the over-the-door shoe holder before my last cruise. It is great. You put all of those small things that always seem to get lost in the pockets. It is amazing how much you can get in there. Hang it on the bathroom door and everything is at your fingertips," suggests lbjohnston.
Want2retire says, "One thing I like to bring are those in-the-shower suction hooks that you can pop on any surface and then just remove. We use these mostly for hanging up the beach towels. Nice for hanging something you want to spritz with wrinkle release too!"
Drink prices can be high on a cruise ship, so asand5554 recommends you "[bring] soda or bottled water if you consume a lot or prefer a particular brand (I believe NCL now serves Pepsi products). We usually check ours with the luggage (being certain to attach luggage tags) and it's delivered right to our cabin."
Alternately, consider jackie54's advice to bring a reusable water bottle: "On the Spirit, I refilled it at the juice machine near the bar that had a water option."
Don't want your drinks to warm up in the Caribbean sun? "I absolutely need a collapsible soft-sided cooler. I buy the bucket of beers and have the room steward fill the cooler with ice each day. I can keep my beers very cold while sunning on deck," says realcindylouwho.
If you love to shop on vacation, extra bags or luggage are a must!
"Pack a foldable bag for the things you buy [plus] extra ziplock bags, bubble wrap, etc.," says luvmysox1.
"[Bring an] empty or nearly empty suitcase," recommends goinonvaca. "I can't tell you how many vacay's we've been on that we've had to purchase a small but expensive suitcase because we ran out of room. I know that airlines are charging more and more for extra suitcases, but they are also charging crazy high prices for overweight suitcases, even if it's only by a pound. DH and I have found it's cheaper to bring one from home for 'extras' than to get double-whammied."
If you don't want to pay high onboard prices for laundry or pay the airlines to check multiple bags full of your cruisewear, use these member tips for laundry alternatives. Says dksailaway, "Downy wrinkle spray! Best invention ever! Leave the ironing for home...you are on vacation!!"
Vk1801 suggests "Shout stain remover to pre-treat clothes. A week or two without washing is a long time for stains to set in. I have 'saved' many of my kids outfits with this." Note: These also come in portable wipes. Other useful products include travel-size packets of detergent for hand-washing in your cabin's sink and Febreeze spray to get out smoke and other smells so you can wear an outfit one more time.
Cruisers are more plugged in than ever before.
"With all the electronics and batteries that need to be re-charged these days, a USB power port is a must," says Turtles06. "There just aren't enough outlets in most cabins. Re digital cameras: since memory cards are so cheap now, we bring a different one for each port (and keep the ones we've already used locked in the cabin safe). This way, if something happens to a card (or the camera), we haven't lost all our pix. On our most recent cruise, I also had a USB thumb drive (tiny, small, cheap) and downloaded pix to that as well."
"One thing I forgot, that I don't THINK was mentioned: ear plugs!" says ElizSta. "I've had 2 very noisy cruises (vacuuming at 7 a.m. in our hallway!!!) and they saved my life. Who wants to get up at the first ray of light on vacation?" Ear plugs can also be useful in overly loud discos and on overnight flights to and from your cruise port.
One final tip…
"A good sense of humor and a dose of patience," says GigCrusier. "People have fun in lots of different ways."
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