We all get so excited when going away on a cruise! So many ports to discover, so much to do on board, restaurants to try, people to meet. What you’re probably not so excited about is the packing that has to be done first! I know, it’s a chore for everyone. The good thing is that with the amount of cruising I have now done, I’ve pretty much got it down to a tee and pack the night before I leave, even when I’m away for 5 months – seriously!
Read on for my tips, plus those from some fellow expert cruise/travellers whose brains I picked to hear what their ‘essential’ items are to take away with them…
Just so you know, if you click on any of the links and purchase an item, you will not pay any more for the products, but I may get a small commission which helps buy my coffees when working from internet cafes to bring you my content! Thanks!
I have a love hate relationship with suitcases. I love the high end brands, such as Tumi which are so light and easy to move around that you actually enjoy swishing them through the airport (but sadly are out of my budget), and I hate the many other cheaper brands which are like that supermarket trolley/cart with the stuck wheel that keeps pulling you in the wrong direction and makes you want to scream after 5 minutes. I include some Samsonite and American Tourister brands in that rant too!
Anyway, find something decent, and not too big as you’ll want to push it under the bed to keep it out of the way in your cabin. Suitcase covers are a great idea too, not only for recognition at the airport but also security as it makes opening your case much harder.
Peter Watson recommends using compression packs to help with space too.
This is always the hardest bit, so to you help you from just staring at your wardrobe for ages having a minor meltdown, let’s try this:
Have a think about your cruise…
- Where are you going and what is the weather like, do you need to pack gloves and scarves? What type of jacket will you need? Do you have layers, ie singlets to put under jumpers?
- What is the dress code for your ship (check out my cruise comparison blog for help with this: Large Ships, Mid-Sized Ships) and do you need formal outfits?
- Are you visiting any religious sites, do you need a shawl or long skirt/pants to be covered?
- Do you use the gym and need exercise gear?
- What activities are you planning to do on board? Rock climbing walls and ice-skating usually require socks or long pants.
- Will you need your bathing suit (probably yes – there’s always a pool or spa to enjoy!)?
- Do your outfits need ironing? I try to pack non-iron clothes as much as possible to avoid needing to use the laundry.
- Does your cruise have theme nights? Azamara is renowned for its White Nights, Carnival and P&O often have fancy dress nights.
- Do the items you’ve pulled out create more than one outfit by switching them around? (one skirt for several tops, or pants that can be used for day and be dressed up for evening). Think neutral colours that combine well and that you can accessorize to dress up and look different each day (thank-you Jo-Anne Watson for that tip!)
- Do you have something to cover your shoulders in the evenings (the air con can be quite strong on most ships)?
If you have more than 10 days worth of outfits (based on a 2 week cruise), you’ve got too much! I usually take a little bottle of laundry detergent with me so I can do a quick wash of undies and anything else I need the next day in the bathroom – especially if you’re on a ship which doesn’t have self-service laundries, such as Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises.
Cristina Giacomini recommends taking a stain removal stick called Spray Wash, and always rolls her clothes in the suitcase to save space and reduce creasing. She also wraps fragile items and jewellery in socks, and uses shower caps to wrap around shoes to prevent dirtying clothes.
Remember to leave space in your case for all the amazing things you’re going to buy on your travels!
Ok, ladies, I’m talking to you…you do NOT need 10 pairs of shoes, I promise you! I used to take so many, but they use up a ton of space in the case, plus increases the weight allowance, and they’re just not needed. I now pack 2 neutral coloured heels, one sandal-style and one enclosed formal style for evenings, trainers for the gym, sandals for the day and comfy walking shoes (Converse or similar). That’s it!
Peter Watson’s tip for men is to take 2 pairs of trainers, one for the gym and one for comfy day wear, but also a spare if either gets ruined. One pair of black dress shoes and one brown – to go with every outfit, plus 2 pairs of sandals for the day.
Peggy and Johnny Horn take an over-the-door shoe holder with them to keep their shoes organised, particularly on their World Cruises when space is even more important. They’re only around US$10 and worth every cent – they pack two to put either side of the bathroom door and use the inside one for their toiletries.
Unless you are away for months, keep it simple. I drastically reduce what I would ‘normally’ use, and basically pack toothbrush/paste (which I put in my hand luggage if it’s a long flight first), make-up, deodorant, moisturiser, shampoo and conditioner (because my hair only seems to like Kerastase), razor and perfume. Even with this, my bag seems to weigh more than anything else…but, meh… I’m female, what more can I can say!
This is something I actually do put quite a bit of consideration into, and pack more than I would normally take on a holiday. Remember that whilst medical centers are easily accessible on board, they will charge you…always ensure you have medical/travel insurance! The boutiques will sell basics, such as headache tablets, seasickness tablets etc, but you probably want to be prepared for most things.
Peggy Horn literally carries half a pharmacy with her on her cruises – which was fabulous for us who were always borrowing things from her (thank you!). She’s given me her extremely comprehensive list to share with you:
- Antibiotics (Zpac/Cipro – can only be purchased in the US)
- Aleve (aka Nurofen in Australia/UK – painkillers)
- Tylenol / Panadol (Paracetamol, for fever)
- Dramamine (for sea sickness)
- Face Masks (came in VERY handy for Covid-19 – who knew, when she packed in October!!)
- Eye Drops (I needed these, eyes were killing from the air-con! Buy the individual capsules so they don’t go off)
- Anti-Acid Chewables (heart-burn, digestive relief)
- DayQuil / NyQuil (Cold & Flu medication)
- Sudafed (sinus relief)
- Bio-Freeze (for aches and pains, like Deep Heat for AU/UK readers, but better!)
- Band Aids
- Senokot (constipation relief)
- Immodium (diarrhoea relief)
- Pain Killer for toothache
- Dental Cement – can be bought in a dollar shop
- Claratyne Antihistamine (my addition, great for hay fever, allergies and sea sickness).
- Echinacea (also a staple for us to keep immune system strong – worth buying a quality brand)
Judi Patterson also recommends antibacterial hand wipes to keep in her handbag, pocket packs of tissues and mosquito repellent and Judi takes sunscreen with her.
This is the fun bit, and the stuff you probably wouldn’t think of, but are awesome ideas you’ll be grateful you packed!
For us, we always take our portable Bose speaker so we can play Spotify in the room at any time. It’s a good way to relax and feel at home with our familiar playlists. We also take magnets with us so we can put photos up on the wall and make it feel a little more cosy and we have a humidifier and essential oils which help us sleep and balance the air from the air conditioning.
Cristina packs a thermal cup to keep drinks hot and chilled, and reduces single-use cups being used on the ship. She also takes blank greeting cards to wish new friends happy birthday/anniversary and clip-on koalas to give to the crew as gifts from her home in Australia.
Peter takes a collapsible laundry basket and a waterproof pouch for valuables when going to the beach as well as additional battery packs because one always dies (we also have battery packs for both phone and laptop, so you have power at airports too).
Peggy and Judi both take magnetic hooks to put on the walls to hang up coats and handbags as well as flat magnets for important papers.
Judi also recommends taking $20 of local currency so she can always buy a packet of crisps/chips when she’s out and gauge the exchange rate. She also takes contact cards with her to hand out to new friends, and keeps a journal which she glues received cards into so she can remember who she met where.
Remember that once you check your luggage in at the pier, you may not see it again until possibly 9pm. For this reason, make sure you keep a change of clothes (including bathers if you want to jump in the pool), all medications and maybe some toiletries for a quick refresh in your hand luggage. Also, if your cruise line does allow you to bring wine, you will need to put that into your hand luggage or your case will be held up for you to go and identify what type of alcohol you have (spirits are rarely permitted).
What Not To Take
For those of you who may not have cruised before, this may be the most important section for you. These items are banned from being brought on board most cruise lines, so they will be confiscated from you at check-in and returned to you upon arrival.
- Hairdryers (straighteners are ok)
- Power boards
- Drones / anything that could be launched off the ship
- Candles/anything with a naked flame
- Alcohol (check with your cruise line, some permit 2 bottles of wine)
- Coffee Makers (seriously, I’ve seen people try!)
- Weapons – even toy ones
You may want to check out my post First Time Cruise Checklist – Don’t Make These Mistakes.
So, I hope that has helped you, and even as a seasoned cruiser, you may have picked up some tips from my fabulous cruise expert friends! Thank you so much to you all for your contribution, it’s greatly appreciated!
What tips do you have? Is there anything here that you hadn’t thought about? I’d love to know! Please do share this post if you found it useful – many thanks!
See you next time,
Wendy A x
My Expert Contributors:
Peter & Jo-Anne Watson, NY, USA. Cruised on ocean, river and motor cruisers most of their lives, when they’re not exploring the US by RV.
Peggy & Johnny-Ray Horn, CA, USA. Ex-military, taken more than 50 cruises, including World Cruises…maybe more, they lost count!
Cristina & Rob Giacomini, Sydney, Australia. Worked in Aviation (Pilot/Cabin Supervisor) for 30yrs and are now regular cruisers as well as land travellers.
Andy & Judi Patterson, Canada. After 28yrs as a Captain and working on commercial ships, Andy has cruised on 6 different cruise lines including two World Cruises and two 30-day cruises with his wife Judi. Check out their blog.
Pin to read later!
22 comments / Add your comment below
I don’t get to travel often due to the nature of my job but one of the top things on my mind for when I get some real time off is going on a ship cruise. I’ve always been fascinated by it and this post has been quite helpful as it has shed some light on certain things I didn’t know about cruise before. I’ll take note of everything this article’s suggest I take along so that I can get the best pleasure when I finally get to go on my cruise ride.
Thank you so much, you should definitely give it a go! I have a post specifically for first time cruisers which you may find of use too. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment 🙂
First time cruise checklist – don’t make these mistakes!
I can really resonate well with this post and thank you so much for sharing such a great post as this. You see, getting on a cruise and planning right is one thing that would guarantee better space management in our packings. I really appreciate this here and this is really good to see here. Thanks so much for sharing here. Thumbs up to you for sharing here
Thanks Ella, I’m glad you found it useful 🙂
Hi, wendy! Hey, I like your site. I especially enjoyed the amount of effort that went into laying out the content. I read what Stevie said about Brighton beach, wow that brings back memories! I would do anything to have a week back there today.
I noticed that you didn’t have a sign-up page for an email marketing list? I would love to get on your mailing list so I don’t miss any of your upcoming adventures!
Thanks for the memories!
Thanks so much Paul! Where are you from? I absolutely love Brighton, such a great spot, especially in the summer! I have a sign up form on the right hand side of my site, plus there’s pop-up you should have seen? Thank you for your interest, I really appreciate it!
Hello Wendy. Cruising has always been a dream for me but I know that immediately after the pandemic, I’ll be putting that dream to reality because I’ll be making sure that I go on a very good Cruise date but I need the best tips right so I’m happy that I’m getting it from someone who usually goes on cruises more times in a year than she’s actually on land. Thanks for all the tips on packing. I’m grateful.
Thanks Riley, yes, it’s a challenging time for the industry, for sure. I have actually written a post on why we should keep cruising after coronavirus which you may find interesting. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment 🙂
I greatly appreciate these tips. I was enjoying the article but when I arrived at miscellaneous I was grateful I had found your post. Sounds simple but one of the things I hadn’t thought of was a waterproof pouch for valuables. The other thing that I will do from here on is to carry $20 of local currency.
Yes, I’d never thought of taking the local currency either, it’s a great idea isn’t it! Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
Thanks for including us Wendy! Love your blog!
Cristina and Robert ?
Thank you so much! Appreciate you taking the time to contribute, means a lot! 🙂
Great article thank you for including us… I also use packing cubes to keep everything organized in the luggage with a different color for each of us so we can spot our on stuff easy. I also use luggage covers (mine is orange so very easy to spot) and they must have a zipper and a strap on the bottom so they will not come off.
I’m with you on the clothing for the world cruise I packed too much….and the laundry on viking is excellent so we did not need near the amount we carried will not do that again. Usually I pack for 10 days for a 90 day trip but instead I packed for 16 days and it was a mistake.
Thank you so much for participating Peggy! And also for all the meds we kept borrowing – you’re a legend!! I’ve certainly upped my game with what I pack for our next cruise. Peter also mentioned the packing cubes, which I’ve never used before, but may give them a go. Thanks again, hope you’re both looking after yourselves!
Still too many shoes. One pair of sandals and one pair of walking shoes. We sail Viking so no formal dress and shoes needed.
Wow, you do pack light! I always need my trainers for the gym and I do like to wear heels in the evening, even when I’m not in formal wear…but that’s because I’m so small!! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment Rose Marie 🙂
Hi Wendy…great article. I notice Peggy stated she uses packing cubes which I have meaning to buy and as soon as we are out of lockdown I will be going out to get some. I could purchase some on line but I want to actually see them before I buy. I am one of those people that whatever our weight allowance is that’s the amount of stuff I take…..Roland goes mad as he has to carry the cases. And we always pack as much in our hand luggage as possible as we have had cruises where we had no clothes for 5 days due to lost luggage so we will never be caught out like that again. Just had our June cruise cancelled yesterday. So disappointed as it was booked 2 years in advance to celebrate my 60th birthday and our 35th wedding anniversary. Assuming the lock down is lifted in the UK by then there’s a fab hotel in Harrogate called Grantley Hall that we may go to instead. As long as we are all healthy that’s the main thing and birthdays and anniversaries can be celebrated anytime. Take care beautiful x
Yes, I’ve never used cubes before but Peter and Peggy both do and said they’re great…I’ll have to check them out. I’m still trying to get used to a new shell case which means packing on two sides, instead of my usual top opening and fill up…I’ve still not really got that right yet! I’m with you on the weight allowance though, except we generally book one way flights as we go as things change so often, so I could fly one way with a 32kg allowance, but return with only 23kg and get stung with excess weight charges! I’m so devastated for you with the cruises, I know how much you were looking forward to them. I’ll keep everything crossed that you can have your staycation in Harrogate! Love to you both xx
Hi Wendy – Great post on packing tips. Sorry, I couldn’t provide more info, but after years of working on ships, we only packed multiple uniforms. For shoes, I have 2 pairs sneakers, 1 for exercise and 1 for day use + a pair of black uniform shoes for the evenings. I pack clothes, laptop, cameras, binoculars and speaker, while Judi looks after the rest.
No problem at all Andy, thank you for taking the time to reply – and to Judi! Men have it so much easier than us ladies!! 🙂
I’m not a cruiser…yet, but these tips are great for any travel. I love the idea of an over the door shoe holder because it can double for accessories, toiletries etc.
Thank you, yes, I think I need to invest in one of those myself!Thanks for commenting 🙂