Forgetting an essential item for a cruise can put a damper in your plans. We've all been in the car or at the airport with that sinking feeling, after all, worried about the impact that one thing we forgot will have on our vacation.
While not every item you forget will ruin your cruise (with one or two important exceptions), they might cause just enough of a headache to tarnish your vacation vibes for a day or two. Whether it's forgetting your ID or neglecting basics like medications, there are a lot of details to remember to pack before you leave home.
Read on for our guide to the 14 critical things you need to pack to make sure your cruise goes off without a hitch (arranged A to Z).
If you're traveling outside of the North American and Caribbean region and will be spending any time at a hotel, don't forget to pack a power adapter. It's an easy item to forget as most cruise ships these days offer both North American and European plug sockets, but hotels do not. These small items fit easily in any backpack, purse or other carry-all you might take on shore excursions. We recommend getting an all-in-one world adapter that you can leave in your suitcase all the time; that way you'll always have it when you need it. Plus, you can use it on your cruise ship to make use of an additional outlet.
While cruising might conjure images of lazy days by the pool, you'll probably be doing a lot more walking than you expect, whether navigating the numerous decks of today's megaships or touring destinations on shore excursions. Even your most broken-in shoes might start to feel a little rough in destinations like Alaska and Europe, where glacier hikes or walking tours are standard fare. Be prepared for the inevitable blister or two with Band-Aids at hand, in whatever bag you carry with you off the ship and some spare ones onboard. They'll also come in handy for minor injuries and scrapes (we've needed them more than once while blindly digging through packed carry-on bags searching for something we need).
As electronics become more essential to everything we do, keeping them charged is a must. Don't forget to pack a portable battery pack in your carry-on. Charge it fully before you leave and keep an eye on how full it is in case you need to recharge it overnight (they can take quite a bit of time to fully charge). Most brands are no bigger than a thick wallet and easily fit in any purse or backpack on your shore excursions. After all, you don't want to get lost while touring a big city without an online map (or miss that once-in-a-lifetime photo).
Portable battery packs and adapters are only useful if you have the appropriate cables and chargers for them. Don't bank on finding these in port or for sale on your ship. There are lots of cruise destinations where getting a replacement charger could be near to impossible. If you're bringing anything that needs to be charged, make sure to double-check you've got the charger for it.
Storing emergency contact numbers in your phone doesn't cut it any more. Why? Your battery might be dead. The phone may be stolen or lost. Your password, thumprint or face ID may prevent anyone from opening it if you're incapacitated.
That's why having a hard copy of all your emergency contacts in your wallet or in a notebook can make all of the difference. Cruises are one of the safest forms of travel, but that doesn't mean that accidents, injuries and unexpected sped bumps don't happen. If you're traveling with someone, make sure they know where you've stored these contact numbers and be sure to provide one to the cruise line when booking your cruise or updating your cruise profile as well.
This is especially true in this COVID-19 era. You will want to keep your family updated should your itinerary change due to any COVID-19 cases aboard your ship or if you yourself become ill (a rare occurrence but best to be prepared).
Cruise ships have modified protocols more than once in the face of illnesses that can be spread onboard. Even with plans in place to safeguard against things like COVID-19 and the norovirus, everyone knows even a so-called 24-hour bug can wreck a vacation. A little hand sanitizer and a pack of antiviral wipes can go a long way in defending you against some (but not all) transmissible diseases. And if you want to prevent yourself from catching a pesky travel cold, up your game with an N95 mask.
Sadly, we've read horror stories of people showing up to cruise ports without their passports, birth certificates or required visas and getting turned away. If it's the last thing you do before you walk out your door, always check to make sure you've got all the identification and paperwork that is required for every step of your trip. If you don't, your vacation will likely be called off.
Related: U.S. Passport Book vs. Passport Card
While masks have been cast off across much of the U.S. and on cruises, there are still destinations and activities that will require you to wear one. They also come in handy in crowded settings like airplanes and airports to prevent non-COVID airborne illnesses. Pack a handful of N95 masks in your luggage even if you long ago stopped wearing them at home.
Cruise ships have medical centers, but both over-the-counter and prescription medicines are incredibly expensive. You also won't find too many options (antibiotics and over-the-counter pain relievers are about the extent of it). The limited prescription medications a cruise ship may have are also only given out in emergencies.
If you take any kind of medicine on a daily basis -- be it a prescription, vitamin or something else -- it's imperative you bring enough with you to last your entire cruise. You'd also be wise to bring an additional few days' worth in case some type of travel delay prevents you from getting home on time.
Even though most cruise ships do carry pills for seasickness prevention either in the sundries shop or in the medical center, if you're prone to seasickness you shouldn't forget to bring your own supply as well.
We've all been in airplanes that are frigid due to aggressive climate control. The same can sometimes be true of cruise ships as well. Even on warm-weather cruises you're likely to run into unexpected chilly air, particularly in public areas of your cruise ship where the air-conditioning is often set to high. Plus, you never known when Mexico or the Caribbean will be hit by a cold spell. Forgetting to bring a pullover, cardigan, sweatshirt or sweater could result in spending extra money on an over-priced piece of clothing you'll never wear again.
Related: A Guide to Cruise Line Dress Codes
It's never a bad idea to have a snack with you when getting off the ship as you don't always know if you'll be able to get something to eat if you need it. This is especially essentially if you've got kids in tow or have issues with low blood sugar. Though you'll be able to find food in larger towns and cities, some ports are more focused on far-flung outdoor adventures like hikes or whale watching. You'll want to pack a handful before you leave home, as you'll rarely find them for sale on cruise ships (unlike resorts or hotels, you'll rarely find a sundry shop on a cruise).
Don't forget to bring your preferred brand of tampons and pads when you cruise. Whether you're due for your period or not, it's always a good idea to have a stash on hand, particularly if your cruise sailing includes lots of sea days or visits locations where sanitary products might not be readily available.
As with mask requirements, vaccine requirements are changing all of the time. With that in mind, it pays to have your vaccine card on you. Rules may suddenly reappear or change during your cruise and you may run into issues if you can't prove that you're vaccinated. As a backup, take a photo of the card (front and back) as well.
You can use Ziploc bags in a variety of sizes for practically anything, from impromptu sand-and-water protection for your phone at the beach to storage for your wet bathing suit while on shore. They're also great if you want to grab some food from the buffet for a late-night snack in your room or for storing a sandwich if you don't want to give up your prime lounger by the pool at lunch time.
Updated September 27, 2022