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Stay organized when packing for your cruise (Photo: Diego Cervo/Shutterstock)
Stay organized when packing for your cruise (Photo: Diego Cervo/Shutterstock)

Top 12 Cruise Packing Tips

Stay organized when packing for your cruise (Photo: Diego Cervo/Shutterstock)
Stay organized when packing for your cruise (Photo: Diego Cervo/Shutterstock)
Erica Silverstein
Kerry Spencer

Last updated
Aug 8, 2022

Read time
6 min read

After booking a cruise vacation, you may find yourself immediately wondering what to pack for your cruise. With a mix of beach days, formal nights, snorkeling excursions and museum walks, it can be a challenge to put together everything you need in one small suitcase.

Fear not. We’re here with some of our best cruise packing tips, making sure that you remember the essentials and learn a few tricks that will turn you into a cruise packing star. Whether your goal is to avoid checked or excess bag fees by packing light or simply to make sure you pack everything you need, here are our top 12 tips to cruise like a pro.

1. Remember Your Pre- and Post-Cruise Travel Plans While Packing

Young woman with yellow carry-on suitcase outdoors
Woman getting ready to board her cruise (Photo: New Africa/Shutterstock.com)

If you’re flying to your cruise embarkation port, understand your airline’s luggage allowance and weigh your suitcase and carry-on before leaving home to ensure you’re not over the limit.

When flying, remember rules for liquids, aerosols and gels: Each passenger can carry liquids, gels and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in a single quart-size bag. Common items that need to meet the liquids rule include toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash and lotions.

2. Pack Your Cruise Carry-On Bags Wisely

On a cruise vacation, it might be several hours before your checked-in luggage reaches your cabin on embarkation day, so it’s important to pack smart when it comes to your carry-on bags.

Pack essential toiletries, medication, ID and a change of clothes in your carry-on. You'll also want swimwear if you plan on splashing in the pool right after boarding (no need for towels of your own, though). This also covers you in case the airline loses your luggage, which is generally harder to remedy than retrieving lost luggage on land-based vacations.

Related: U.S. Passport Card vs. Book

3. Pack Your Checked Luggage Wisely, Too

Do you really need three pairs of black pants or flowery sundresses? Lay out all of the clothes you think you'll need, then get ruthless about removing items you’ve doubled up on or think you’re not going to wear.

If you're traveling with family, pack half of the family's things in one suitcase and half in a separate one. That way, if one bag gets lost, then everyone will have some clothing -- rather than one person having nothing.

One of our favorite packing tips is to roll clothes rather than fold them. It’s a space saver and helds reduce creasing. Never pack valuables in your checked bags, as they could be stolen. Carry all cameras, electronic games, jewelry and prescription medicine in your carry-on.

4. Know Your Cruise Dress Code Before Packing

Cruise Packing 101 (ID: 76)
Cruise Packing 101 (ID: 76)

Here's the truth: While nearly every cruise line advertises a formal night (or, alternatively, theme nights), the rules around how strictly these dress codes are enforced varies.

Resort casual is now the ubiquitous relaxed evening dress on most mainstream cruises. Think: date night -- men in slacks and buttoned shirts (no jackets) and women in everything from sundresses to skirts or pants with cute tops. You may even see jeans in mainstream cruise line dining rooms.

Keep in mind that other premium and luxury lines may have more rigid rules around formal and evening wear. You'll still see tuxedos and the like aboard lines like Cunard, for instance. Your packing regimen will likely look different for thse cruises.

Read More: What Should I Wear on a Cruise? Cruise Line Dress Codes Explained

5. Packing Aids Are Your Friends

Being judicious about what, and how, you pack can save you stress in the long run (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)
Being judicious about what, and how, you pack can save you stress in the long run (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Packing cubes are the travel necessity you never knew you needed. Pack checked toiletries in one cube, beach/pool wear in another, nightwear and underwear in the next, and so on. That way, when you unzip your suitcase in your cruise cabin, you know exactly where items are because they’re already been grouped together. Another cruise packing tip is to invest in travel compression bags. They literally vacuum-pack your clothes into tiny bundles, saving you valuable space in your suitcase.

6. Consider Doing Laundry Onboard

If you want to pack light, read our cruise ship reviews to find out if your ship offers self-service laundromats (not all do). Just keep in mind that the ones that do have laundry facilities don't usually offer them for free. Minimal hand-washing in your cruise bathrooms is also a possibility, though drying space in a cruise cabin can be limited.

Check It Out: Your Guide to Laundry on Every Cruise Line

7. Remember That Mainstream Cruise Toiletries Are Limited

Close-up shot of an open toiletry bag, filled with small bottles of soap and shampoo
Toiletries bag (Photo: akvarelmed/Shutterstock.com)

On most mainstream cruise lines -- Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival -- toiletries are limited to the basics: often just pumps of mystery soap and shampoo affixed to the shower wall.

If you’re picky about your products, pack travel sizes and don't forget your own lotion, face cream and conditioner. We don't recommend packing your own hairdryer, as rooms come with basic ones.

Another tip: When you get home, post-cruise, keep your toiletry kit packed with travel-sized bottles and an extra toothbrush or razor. When it's time for your next cruise, all you need to do is top up or replace the bottles.

8. Pack for Your Cruise Destination

Some places are more formal than others, and you'll need to bring the right gear depending on your itinerary. Pack more resort-casual wear if traveling to Europe or sailing to Bermuda. (Golf courses in Bermuda have strict dress codes.) Cruises to Hawaii, the Mexican Riviera and the Caribbean are generally more casual.

However, you'll also want to consider the weather in your destinations and don't assume you know what it will be like. Many so-called cold destinations don't require the same heavy gear in peak summer cruising months (and some hot destinations can get chilly at night).

Don't forget to think about your in-port activities when packing for your cruise. Flip-flops are fine for a beach day, but you'll want more comfortable shoes for long days of sightseeing or active excursions like hiking or biking. If you're visiting religious sites, you'll want modest clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, even if it's quite hot. Think about packing light linen pants, shirts and pashminas for these occasions.

Related: A First-Timers' Guide to Shore Excursions

9. Save Room in Your Suitcase for Cruise Souvenirs

Victoria's Secret on Carnival Horizon (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Victoria's Secret on Carnival Horizon (Photo: Cruise Critic)

You'll likely pick up a few souvenirs during your cruise, so you'll need room in your luggage to bring them home. Consider packing a foldable duffle if you're unable to pack so that there's space in your luggage for your return-trip purchases. It won't take up much space in your suitcase, and you can fill it up and check it for the flight home.

10. Re-Use Gently Worn Items From Your Luggage

One of the easiest space-saving cruise packing tips is to re-wear bottoms with different tops. It will also make you less likely to run out of closet space in your compact cruise ship cabin. Accessorize a simple dress or suit with different jewelry, ties and scarves, rather than bring two suits or cocktail dresses. Your shipmates won't know (or care) if you wear the same outfit twice.

11. Remember the Basics

Cruise Packing 101 (ID: 76)
Cruise Packing 101 (ID: 76)

There are a few things cruises don't provide (or sell for steep fees onboard) that you might want to pack. These include over-the-counter meds, batteries, camera memory cards, sunscreen, ear plugs and travel adaptors. If you’re traveling with kids, pack snacks, an iPad loaded with age-appropriate movies and a few games and books to keep them occupied.

Read More: How to Prevent Seasickness on a Cruise

12. Don't Leave ID in Your Checked Cruise Luggage

This might sound obvious, but always carry your necessary IDs and cruise documents with you and never pack them in your checked luggage. Do your research well ahead of embarkation day to make sure you have the correct ID for your cruise, too (a passport or birth certificate and photo ID, depending on your itinerary). Inexperienced cruisers have been turned away from the pier for having incorrect forms of ID for their specific cruise. If you need visas or proof of immunizations for your cruise, carry those documents with you, as well.

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