What to Pack for a Cruise: All the Essentials You'd Never Think Of

Of all of the rookie mistakes you could make on your first cruise, packing the wrong things is one of the easiest to avoid. It may sound tough to figure out what to pack for a cruise, even if you’ve traveled by sea before. And even seasoned travelers often forget the essentials at home. But fortunately, we’ve pulled together a foolproof packing list that will ensure you have everything you need to enjoy your vacation. Just pull out your suitcase, assemble your essentials, and you’re ready to go!

1. An easy tote to carry during the day

Pack a bag you can carry during the day. | michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

Condé Nast Traveler reports that if you’re anything like the typical cruise passenger, “Most of your days will be spent shuttling between the pool deck and dining rooms.” The publication advises that “you’ll want your outfits to be easy enough to throw over a bathing suit, but nice enough that you won’t feel thrown together at the lunch table.” You’ll also want an easy way to carry your essentials, like the sunscreen you should be applying (and reapplying) or the books you plan to read by the pool. Our suggestion? A simple canvas or straw tote, preferably one that can withstand the occasional splash.

2. Outerwear that works for your itinerary

Jackets and sweaters aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think about what to pack for a cruise. But your packing list should vary depending on your itinerary, and you’ll want to be prepared for whatever weather you encounter. Cruise Critic recommends a rain jacket and sweatshirt for a cruise to the Caribbean or Hawaii. And if you’re cruising to Alaska, you’ll need a warmer jacket. No matter where you go, a light jacket or sweater will come in handy if you get cold.

3. ‘Formal’ clothes for the evening

When figuring out what to pack for a cruise, you probably know you’ll be packing swimwear, shorts, and t-shirts. But did you know that you should also have some more formal options in your suitcase? As Cruise Critic reports, cruise lines typically assign daily dress codes that apply in restaurants each evening. A few luxury lines even have black-tie events. On most seven-night trips, you’ll need to dress for two formal nights and between one and four semi-formal occasions. Men should pack a suit and tie, while women might want a few formal dresses — and don’t forget the shoes to match.

4. Outfits that are easy to mix and match

Only pack clothes — and swimsuits — you’ll really want to wear. | JaySi/Getty Images

WhoWhatWear notes that with the limited real estate in your cabin, you should probably eschew the oversized luggage. To pare back your packing list and fit everything into a small suitcase, you’ll want to pack clothes that you can mix and match. If everything in your wardrobe already matches, great! But if you need to put some more thought into what to pack for a cruise, make sure that you go for versatile clothes, shoes you can wear with multiple outfits, and your most comfortable swimsuits.

5. Travel-sized versions of your toiletries

Your typical packing list may not include a lot of toiletries. But Condé Nast Traveler reports that you should probably pack travel sizes of your essentials, even your shampoo and conditioner. The publication explains that cruise lines often aren’t as generous as hotels with restocking shower amenities. (Though they’ll be happy to sell you a selection of toiletries at the onboard shop.) If you really want to pamper yourself, perhaps with an in-cabin spa night, pack your most luxe pajamas and a comfortable pair of slippers.

6. A shoulder bag or backpack for excursions

Figuring out what to pack for a cruise also involves determining what bag you’ll use to carry your essentials around when you’re out and about, enjoying your vacation. Condé Nast Traveler recommends going with a shoulder bag for shore excursions. If you have more items to carry around — whether baby essentials, photography equipment, or an arsenal of snacks and water — you could also carry a small backpack.

7. Accessories you need to use your devices

If you pack your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, definitely remember to pack the chargers you’ll need to use your devices. Similarly, make sure that your camera has sufficient batteries and memory cards. Ensure that you pack your headphones if you need them to listen to music or enjoy a movie by the pool. And consider packing a portable charger to keep everything running. Depending on the cruise line’s rules, you may also want to pack a power strip to more easily charge all of your family’s devices. Just check with the cruise line for limitations.

8. Sunscreen (and backup in case you forget to wear it)

As Cruise Critic notes, you should pack “lots and lots of sunscreen” if your cruise will take you to a sunny climate. But we’ll add that you should pack sunscreen even if you don’t expect to get a lot of sun. If you load up on bottles of sunscreen, you probably expect to use it. But you should also add aloe and other gentle skincare to your packing list. Those items don’t always make everybody’s lists of what to pack for a cruise. But you’ll be grateful you had a backup plan if you do neglect the sunscreen and end up with a painful sunburn.

9. Anything you need to stay organized

The cabins on many cruise ships are a lot more cramped than you’d expect. So if there’s anything you need to keep your possessions organized during your vacation, definitely add it your packing list. Cruise Critic reports that if you ask seasoned travelers what to pack for a cruise, many will tell you that they take an over-the-door shoe bag to store toiletries, organize small items, and keep their cabin neat. Many people also pack extra hangers to ensure they have enough. People also recommend packing a laundry bag to corral dirty clothes. And you can always use packing cubes, which The New York Times recommends for packing any suitcase, to keep things in order.

Read more: Must-Have Dollar Store Essentials to Take on Your Cruise

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