Updated August 30, 2018
Cruise lines do all they can to make sure each ship feels like your home away from home when you set sail. In spite of that, many a cruiser has yearned for extra creature comforts -- a kite to fly over the side of the ship, an iron to keep clothes looking spiffy or simply a bottle of a favorite brand of alcohol. But, whether they're banned by cruise line officials for safety reasons or banned by expert cruisers for practical ones, think twice about bringing the following items onboard. Read on for our list of what not to bring on a cruise.
1. Household Appliances Like Irons and Coffeemakers
The clothes iron -- that keystone to a frump-free formal night -- is, as far as we can tell, banned industry-wide. After all, fire poses one of the greatest risks to safety at sea. While a few lines like Holland America (some ships) and Carnival (fleetwide) have self-service launderettes with ironing boards, other lines, like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, do not. Your options are limited to paying the ships' exorbitant pressing fees, hanging suit jackets in a bathroom for an hour with the shower on "scald" (not recommended) or wearing something that looks like a bulldog's face.
And while those inclined to pack coffeemakers are certainly in the minority, believe us, they exist. French roast partisans argue that the surcharge-free swill masquerading as coffee is a crime against cruisers. You can grab a halfway decent cup, but you typically have to pay extra for it at the now-industry-standard specialty cafe. But if you want quality java for free, know that bringing your own plug-and-play version of a coffee shop onboard is almost always against the rules.
Also be aware that other electric items -- particularly heat-producing ones like hot plates and electric kettles -- are also not allowed onboard.
What to pack instead: A garment bag certainly works for some, but Downy Wrinkle Releaser -- available in three-ounce travel-sized containers -- also works to keep clothes wrinkle-free. Passengers who enjoy their coffee minus the tar-like residue also have options. Bring your own ground coffee and a French press, and you can have your favorite brew every day of your cruise.
2. Weapons and Restraints
Guns, handcuffs, brass knuckles and martial arts equipment (flails, throwing stars, belt buckle knives, etc.) aren't allowed onboard cruise ships. Swiss army knives aren't banned on all cruises; Carnival allows knives onboard, as long as the blades are less than 4 inches long, while Royal Caribbean prohibits all knives. The TSA, which has its own set of rules, says utility tools must go in checked luggage. But in this age of heightened security awareness, we've heard plenty of stories from passengers saying airport or ship security gave them the stink eye and confiscated the item, however freakishly essential they argued it was.
What to pack instead: We love the utility of a multi-tool, but the most useful components for a cruise -- a nail file, tweezers and small scissors -- are already in your toiletry kit, a more TSA-friendly package. (Travel-sized manicure and pedicure kits are also available.) Need a corkscrew? Your cabin steward should have one. And the only screwdriver you need on a cruise is the kind made with vodka and orange juice.
3. Liquor or Beer
As a captive audience, passengers are beholden to a cruise line's bar prices, which range from modest to sweat-inducing. And don't think you can get around overpriced drinks with a BYO mentality. With their maritime versions of Prohibition, most big-ship, mainstream lines will confiscate liquor and beer brought onboard during embarkation. We won't wade into the ethical miasma of flouting these rules or mention the exhaustive number of readers who lead double lives as booze smugglers. We will say that, if you're discovered sneaking alcohol onboard, you might be shamed in front of fellow passengers and made to report to the "naughty room." Be warned that most lines will throw away any confiscated alcohol, which means you won't get it back at the end of your cruise. (Exceptions are alcohol purchased onboard or in port and brought onto the ship. Those bottles will be held and returned to passengers, generally on the night before disembarkation or on the morning of.)
If you do want to bring a favorite drink, wine is almost always an allowable substance, though lines might limit how much passengers bring and often charge corkage fees for consuming it outside of one's own cabin.
What to pack instead: If it's nonalcoholic beverages you're after, many lines let you bring on a "reasonable" amount of bottled water and soda -- and even a cooler to contain said items (if there's no mini-fridge in the cabin). Some lines (such as Carnival), however, have begun banning nonalcoholic bottled beverages and now require those drinks to be brought onboard in cans.
Book nerds can easily spoil their perfect packing jobs with multiple, heavy tomes -- or make themselves crazy whittling their selections down to just a couple of titles. Our advice: Bring one at most. Ships have libraries, and passengers are often surprised by the quality of the selections. Celebrity's Solstice-class ships and Cunard's Queens come to mind as ships with decent book repositories.
What to pack instead: An e-reader lets you bring on multiple books in one lightweight package. Even Luddites begrudgingly admit how easily they acclimate to a Kindle or Nook. Plus, you have to give in to peer pressure -- everyone else on the sun deck is cradling an e-reader, so why shouldn't you?
5. Toys That Will Get You in Trouble
If just the thought of walking from one end of the Lido Deck to the other makes you tired, it might be tempting to pack Heelys (or other footwear with wheels) or wish you could bring along your very own Segway. Don't try it. While it might seem obvious to most cruisers, items that could be launched off the ship, including kites, drones and boats or canoes, are also prohibited onboard. With so much to see and do on the ship, you won't need these extras anyway.
What to pack instead: If you're cruising with children on a ship where you think they might be easily bored, handheld video games are allowed -- and likely essential. Although many ships have a few board games available for use, the selection is often slim, and you might find that pieces are missing. Packing a deck of cards or travel-sized magnetic board games that can easily fold up into your luggage is always a safe bet. Better yet, book on a cruise ship with a rock-climbing wall, zipline, water slide, ropes course, ice skating rink, skydiving or surfing simulator, bowling and/or bumper cars, and you really won't have to pack any entertainment options at all.
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