Updated July 2, 2019
Packing for a cruise isn't just troublesome for newbies; even repeat cruisers make the mistake of packing everything they own ... or leaving the most important item on the kitchen table. In theory, our checklist is at hand every time, but to err is human. Cruise Critic reached out to our forum members as well as fellow staffers for their packing mishaps. From forgetting underwear to nearly leaving the ship in just underwear, to weeding out plastic weapons from your toddler's bag, we learned some big lessons from some pretty gnarly packing mishaps. Laugh along with 17 of the worst cruise packing mistakes.
1. Bringing Contraband
"[Worst packing mistake was] packing an item that was considered contraband. Last year we were on [Carnival] Dream for a Halloween cruise and we took costumes. I was a police officer and my DH [husband] was my prisoner. I took a pair of PLASTIC handcuffs. My DH was in the cabin while I was on the deck. He got a call to report to the gangway. He went and they presented him with the handcuffs and told him they were forbidden. He told them they were taking his fun away and they all had a big laugh. I am SO thankful that he went down there instead of me. How embarrassing!" suzycruiser2
Avoid this mistake: This police officer costume pack gets the point across, without any sort of weapon.
2. Leaking Toiletries
"I made the mistake of having a bag of liquids/gels too close to the front side of my suitcase, where it wasn't well padded. When they gate-checked it and threw it around, one of the bottles burst. Fortunately it was in a plastic bag, but it was still kind of a mess ..." Sarah Schlichter, senior editor, SmarterTravel
Editor's note: We heard this one a lot.
Avoid this mistake: These portable toiletry tubes are TSA approved AND leakproof.
3. Forgetting Formalwear
"My brother-in-law is infamous for forgetting important pieces of clothing. On their honeymoon he forgot to bring dress shoes to wear with his suit on formal night, so he just wore socks to the dining room. Why he didn't just wear his gym shoes or sandals is beyond me." Jeafl
"Almost had to go Chippendales style once, as I packed my tux but forgot my shirt!" GROUCHPUSS
Avoid this mistake: Check off what you need with this portable packing list.
4. Bringing Toy Weapons
"Check your kid's carry-on." Jennifer Kuhn, community support specialist
Avoid this mistake: A play doctors' kit allows make believe, without the violent accessories.
5. Packing Fish
"The first year I worked for the airlines, I worked in the lost luggage department where you see just about everything under the sun. My favorite one was the gentleman who came in from Alaska to report his bag did not arrive with him -- it was one of those soft garment bags that used to be so popular. As we do, I asked him to describe any unique contents to help identify the bag should it no longer have its tags. He told me that it contained a suit and dress shirts, and that he had wrapped some of his shirts around the very special fish he was bringing home for his father's 80th birthday. I struggled to keep a straight face as I asked him about the fish -- so it was frozen? No -- fresh, he had caught a salmon. We returned his bag to him later that day, but I'm sure there was no hope for saving any of the contents!" Roatanfans
Avoid this mistake: Most fishing tour operators in Alaska have shipping services so your prized salmon or halibut gets home in one (frozen) piece.
6. Not Covering Toothbrushes
"Don't judge me, people. Before our first cruise in 2008, I had no idea what the bathroom situation would be like. For some reason, I had this irrational fear something would happen to our toothbrushes -- I kept seeing them falling into the toilet. It never occurred to me to simply buy a few toothbrush covers. So I took 36 disposable toothbrushes -- two for each day." Swells1
Avoid this mistake: Use a clip-on toothbrush protector to keep dirt, hair and other nasties out of your bristles.
7. Spilling Detergent
"My box of powdered detergent opened in my suitcase ... all over my clothes. As I fished them out I sneezed and sneezed ... (duh) should have put the box in a Ziploc ... ah-choo!" mmemichele
Avoid this mistake: Buy travel detergent that's already pre-packaged for no spills.
8. Not Stashing a Change of Clothes in Your Carry-On
"If it's not too much of a 'duh,' my worst mistake was not packing a carry-on with the things I needed immediately. My luggage was lost, and I had to go three days with only a bathing suit and the clothes (and single pair of undies) I was wearing." Ashley Kosciolek, editor
"Before he was DH [my husband] and I did his packing, [he] forgot to pack his boxers ... which was a real problem because our first two days were at sea. Fortunately for him, I had packed a pair that he'd left at my house in my carry-on. I don't remember why he couldn't buy a pair in the ship's store but first order of business upon arrival in St. Thomas was a trip to Kmart." trish1c
Avoid this mistake: See the packing list above!
9. Bringing Too Many Shoes
"This isn't necessarily a 'worst packing mistake' but on a 12-day Med cruise my sister and I had 32 pairs of shoes between the two of us with about 25 of those pairs being hers alone. The floor of our interior room closet was completely covered. Not sure if all those shoes were worn or not, but we had a great time and still laugh about all those shoes." BabySarge
"I know a woman who broke her leg right before a cruise; her doctor told her she was OK to go. However, she only needed a shoe for the one foot because the other was in a cast. She brought both shoes any way ... all 12 pairs. (No, it wasn't me ...)" Cruisercl
Avoid this mistake: A pair of comfy shoes that are still dressy, like these velvet Mary Janes, will serve double or even triple duty.
10. Letting Clothes Wrinkle
"The worst mistake I made was neglecting to iron my clothes before my first cruise, assuming there would be an iron and ironing board in my cabin!" Amanda Norcross, editor, Family Vacation Critic
Avoid this mistake: Bring wrinkle-proof clothes, like this easy sundress.
"My worst mistake was my first cruise and I just completely overpacked. I am a list-maker and cross things off as I pack. I think it would totally bug me if all my stuff wasn't in my bag. I do feel like within the last few cruises I have gotten better with my overpacking and have learned how to cut things down. I now don't think I need at least one outfit for every day, I just mix and match things. I also don't need one pair of shoes for every outfit!" Kelkel2
Editor's note: This is the numero uno packing mistake we heard again and again.
Avoid this mistake: Admitting you have a problem is the first step. The next? Packing cubes, for better organization.
12. Packing Electronics in Checked Luggage
"Packing an Xbox to try to keep the kids entertained only to find out that the power transformer wouldn't work. No problem though, the Xbox didn't come out of the other end of security anyway ... confiscated or stolen out of checked bags. Total packing/Xbox fail." Mike Ewing, general manager, CruiseCritic.com
Avoid this mistake: Go for a handheld game system that can fit in a carry on.
13. Forgetting Jackets
"We booked a cruise to the Bahamas in October leaving from NY. Because we didn't want to worry about the hassle of parking at the terminal we opted to be adventurous and take the Megabus. When we left it was a balmy 72 degrees in New York, so left our jackets in the car thinking, "who needs these?", and proceeded to board the bus, and head for the cruise port. The entire cruise the weather was warm, wonderful and never a degree below 68. However, when we arrived home a week later (reaching port earlier than anticipated), it was snowing ... full on winter wonderland, which left us sitting outside at the bus stop wearing the heaviest item of clothing (being "I [heart] NY" sweatshirts we bought from the only shop that was open). Unfortunately for DH [my husband], the only XL they had at the time was bright pink ... emblazoned with a glittering Statue of Liberty." Trynity
Avoid this mistake: A lightweight, easy-to-roll jacket that's still warm should be a travel staple in the winter.
14. Not Bringing Socks
"Check for socks -- I've got caught out not having socks but needing them for things like bowling or bungee trampolining (yes, on a cruise)." Erica Silverstein, senior editor
Avoid this mistake: If you really hate the idea of bringing thick socks on a tropical cruise, then a pack of these thin ones might do the trick.
15. Packing Your Last Day Outfit
"Our cruising friend failed to hold onto the pants to her outfit to wear off of the ship. She put her luggage out the night before disembarking and didn't realize her mistake until the morning. We received her frantic call and were running all over the ship trying to find an open shop to sell us something she could cover herself with to walk off the ship. FYI -- all shops are closed up tight. Her desperate plan was to take her husband's jeans and have him walk off in his boxer shorts! In a stroke of luck, our daughter-in-law had not packed her evening outfit, so had two pairs of pants." CamCruiser
Avoid this mistake: Designate your "travel pants" -- and then make sure you leave them out! These yoga pants have the added bonus of extra pockets for your travel needs.
16. Not Padding Your Wine Purchases
"So far no disasters, but a friend of ours (a newbie) packed a bottle of red wine in his luggage. We told him to put it in a sealable baggie in case it got broken. He didn't believe us, and the bottle broke and wine was all over his clothes. He and his wife spent two days doing laundry and most of his clothing was unwearable." Elliair
Avoid this mistake: If you're heading to a wine region, stick a few wine sleeves in your suitcase to bring a few bottles home.
17. Packing Passport in Checked Luggage
"My biggest mistake was when we were leaving the ship! I was late to put bags out, so my daughter thought she would help and she put them out; not knowing I had hidden the passports in my purse in the suitcase! Thankfully, when we got to the terminal I was able to retrieve everything! Didn't sleep well that night!" KAR3600
Avoid this mistake: A travel wallet that has room for a passport puts all of your important airport documents in one place.
Cruise Critic is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by promoting and linking to Amazon.com.