The weeks leading up to a cruise are filled with excitement, but as embarkation day approaches, packing for this great adventure can seem like a daunting task.
You must decide not only what you need to bring but also how much to pack. Should you bring extra sneakers or sandals? Is a ballgown really necessary for formal night? Is there room in your suitcase for just one more swimsuit?
These 10 steps to cruise packing will make it all a breeze!
Fret not! We have compiled a comprehensive guide to make cruise packing an absolute breeze. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time cruiser, these ten easy steps will ensure that you’re well-prepared, organized, and ready to set sail with confidence. From strategic outfit planning to essential must-haves, we’ve got you covered.
Say goodbye to pre-trip packing stress and hello to a smooth and effortless packing experience that will leave you relaxed and ready to enjoy every moment of your cruise getaway. So, let’s dive in and discover how to simplify the packing process for your next adventure on the high seas.
1. Review your itinerary
When starting to pack, the first thing you should do is both study and predict your itinerary. The cruise will provide you with information about ports of call and sailing days and will also let you know if there are any specific on-board events during your voyage. After reviewing this information, you can predict what you are most likely to partake in while you’re on board or off the ship on excursions. You should consider:
- How many days you will be cruising (don’t forget your travel to and from the port!)
- How many stops your ship will make
- Where you will be stopping
- What activities you’re most likely to do on and off the ship
- Whether the cruise has any specialty events or themed nights (e.g., Formal Night)
While doing this review, it’s a great idea to take note of what meals, activities, and excursions each specific day will hold. This will be very helpful as you create your packing list.
2. Make an essentials packing list
Once you know what to expect on your cruise, you can make a packing list. My personal approach is to start by writing down the non-clothing essentials, such as toiletries, sunscreen, medications, and any necessary documents or identification.
You can also include a few nonessential items that you’d like to bring, such as a book or a camera. Making this list will help you stay organized and ensure that you don’t forget anything important.
Here is a sample list to get you started:
- Travel documents: Passports, IDs, cruise tickets/confirmation
- Electronics: Phone, camera, chargers, and power adapters suitable for the ship’s electrical outlets
- Medications: Prescription medications, as well as over-the-counter remedies for common ailments like seasickness, headaches, and allergies
- Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, makeup, and any other personal care items
- Sun protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and after-sun lotion to protect you from the sun’s rays
- Travel-sized first aid kit: Band-Aids, antiseptic cream, pain relievers
- Waterproof bag or case: To protect your electronic, money, and other valuables when participating in water activities or visiting the beach
- Travel guidebooks/maps: If you plan to explore the ports of call, having relevant guides and maps can be helpful
- Beach accessories: Beach bag and beach toys (though beach towels will likely be provided by the cruise line, so you can leave those at home)
- Entertainment: Books, e-reader, playing cards, or any other items that can keep you entertained during downtime
3. Make a clothing packing list
Once you have made your essentials list (and checked it twice!), you can create a custom clothing packing list. My recommended approach is to write down each day that you will be gone and fill it in with as much detail as you can. Take note of the activities you expect, and the anticipated weather forecast in each destination, then consider what you have in your closet that might fit these needs best.
Here is a sample clothing packing list:
- Monday—Fly from Atlanta (65° F) to Miami (90° F)
- Comfortable clothes for travel
- Nice clothes for dinner in town
- Tuesday—Embark on the cruise (87° F)
- Clothes for embarkation (must be photo-ready for the boarding picture!)
- Bathing suit for poolside Sail Away Party
- Clothes for dinner in on-board restaurant
- Wednesday—At Sea (76° F)
- Workout clothes/sneakers for Zumba class
- Bathing suit/flip flops/cover-up for poolside relaxation
- Casual clothes/sandals for walking around the ship
- Suit/dress shoes or dress/heels for Formal Evening
- Thursday—Port of call: Bahamas (88° F)
- Comfortable clothes for shoreside city-tour excursion
- Bathing suit for snorkeling after the tour
- Clothes for dinner in on-board restaurant
…and so on, and so forth, until you’re back home! This is a very detailed-oriented way to pack, but it is also a method that makes sure you have the exact right amount of clothing for your trip. This list also has the added bonus of taking away any stress while on the cruise, because you already know exactly what to wear each day.
Outside of your custom clothing list, don’t forget to pack:
- Undergarments and sleepwear: Pack enough underwear, socks, and pajamas for the duration of the cruise.
- Swimwear: Pack swimsuits, cover-ups, and swim trunks for pool and beach activities
- Outwear: Depending on your cruise destination and the time of year, bring a light jacket, cardigan, or sweater for cooler evenings or air-conditioned areas on the ship.
- Active wear: If you plan on participating in sports or fitness activities, pack athletic shoes, workout clothes, and any necessary equipment.
- Accessories: Don’t forget to pack hats, sunglasses, belts, scarves, and jewelry to compliment your outfits.
4. Lay out your list & shop what’s left
Once you have determined what you need to pack, it’s time to pluck it from your closet and lay it all out. Put together outfits, make sure things coordinate or mix and match, and try on items that you haven’t worn in a while to make sure that they still fit. You can start to sort your items in the way that makes the most sense to you, whether that’s chronologically (based on your itinerary, with the things you’ll need first at the top of the case) or by item type (workout clothes, formal clothes, etc.).
This stage of packing is when you’ll realize what clothing pieces you don’t have quite enough of, whether that’s socks or sundresses, and laying things out early in the packing process gives you time to shop for new items before you leave.
Once you have chosen which items to pack, it is a good idea to take a step back from travel prep for a couple of days (if you have the time). Then you can come back to your stack of items with fresh eyes and determine with a clear mind if you have over or under packed—you can also see if you have missed anything from your lists!
If you are still unsure about what you plan to pack, you can always seek input from fellow travelers or cruise forums. They may have valuable insights and advice to help you make informed decisions about the activities you are packing for and the level of formality you want to bring to the vacation (my travel companions and I tend to love a chance to dress up!).
6. Set out your suitcases
The number of suitcases you can bring on a cruise can vary depending on the cruise line and specific itinerary. Generally, there is no strict limit on the number of suitcases you can bring, but it’s important to consider practicality and any baggage restrictions imposed by the cruise line. Most cruise lines allow each passenger to bring at least one suitcase or piece of luggage. However, it’s a good idea to check the specific baggage policies of your cruise line before packing; some cruise lines may have weight or size restrictions for each suitcase, and they may also charge additional fees for excess baggage.
Keep in mind that cruise ship cabins often have limited storage space, so it’s advisable to pack efficiently and consider bringing collapsible or stackable suitcases if possible. Additionally, if you plan to fly to your cruise departure port, be sure to check the baggage policies of your airline as well!
7. Pick your packing method & start packing
Now it’s time to pack! There are plenty of methods that you can mix and match to maximize space and fit more items in your suitcase:
- Roll your clothes: Rolling your clothes instead of folding them can save a significant amount of space. Roll each garment tightly to minimize wrinkles and create compact bundles.
- Use packing cubes or compression bags: Packing cubes are lightweight, fabric containers that help organize and compress your clothes. They allow you to group items together and make them more compact. Compression bags are airtight bags that you can use to squeeze out excess air, reducing the overall volume of your clothes.
- Utilize dead space: Fill in any gaps or empty spaces in your suitcase. For example, stuff socks or small items inside shoes to make use of the space. Consider tucking underwear or rolled-up belts inside pockets or gaps between larger items.
- Layer and stack strategically: Place heavier or bulkier items at the bottom of your suitcase. Layer lighter clothing items on top and fill any gaps with smaller items. This helps distribute weight and prevents larger items from crushing smaller ones.
- Use resealable plastic bags: Group small items, such as toiletries, accessories, or electronic cables, in resealable plastic bags. This keeps them organized and prevents them from getting scattered or tangled.
- Consider vacuum-sealed bags: Vacuum-sealed bags are a great option for compressing bulky items like jackets or blankets. They remove air from the bag, allowing you to save space and pack more efficiently. Beware, however, that this method can wrinkle clothes and most cruise lines do not provide irons in the staterooms.
- Wear your bulkiest items: If you have larger or heavier items that take up significant space, consider wearing them instead of packing them in your suitcase. This could include wearing your coat or jacket, boots, or other items that would otherwise consume valuable space.
8. Weigh your suitcase
Once you are done packing, don’t forget to be mindful of weight and size restrictions. While it’s important to make the most of your suitcase’s capacity, ensure you don’t exceed weight or size restrictions set by the airline or cruise line. Weigh your luggage before leaving home to avoid any surprises at the airport or port.
To do this, simply attach a luggage scale to the top of your case and lift to see the weight. If you don’t have a luggage scale, any bathroom scale will work. Simply weigh yourself and take note of the number. Then step on the scale while holding your bags and subtract your weight from the total. If your bag is too heavy, reassess against your list or consider bringing an extra bag.
9. Last-minute essentials checklist
Once your items have been packed, run through a final list of last-minute essentials. This includes:
- Printed luggage tags from the cruise line: If you are headed straight to the port, affix the tags to your bags once you’ve printed them; if you are traveling by air, keep the tags handy to add to your bags upon arrival.
- Travel documents: Keep your passport, cruise tickets, identification, and any other necessary travel documents in your carry-on. Having them easily accessible will make the check-in process smoother.
- Medications: Carry any essential prescription medications in your carry-on bag. It’s always a good idea to have them readily available in case your checked luggage gets delayed or misplaced.
- Electronics and chargers: Bring your phone, tablet, or other electronic device you might want during the journey—and don’t forget chargers!
- Change of clothes: Pack a lightweight change of clothes, including underwear and socks, in case your checked luggage is delayed or in case you want to freshen up after boarding the cruise ship.
10. Prepare to have fun!
Ultimately, packing is just setting the stage for a great vacation! Other than your passport and boarding documents, everything you need will be available for purchase either at a port or on your ship; so, if you think you’ve forgotten something, don’t panic. If you follow these steps, by the time you zip up your case, you’ll be well prepared to embark on your cruise adventure!