The Ultimate Cruise Packing List, Tips and Hacks

woman packing for a cruise with open suitcase

What’s the biggest headache associated with going on a cruise? Packing for a cruise.

It’s not just deciding on what suitcase to pack; it’s deciding what to pack, and how much of everything to try to jam into your suitcase – knowing you may have one-third again as much to pack into that suitcase on the way home.

Relax. Our cruise packing tips can help you pack smarter for any cruise. And, if you’re really looking to cruise smarter, see why travel insurance is crucial for your cruise.

See all of our cruise articles

Cruise Packing Checklist

Cruise Packing Tips

1. Pack by subtraction

The best way to deal with the first big problem of cruise packing – deciding how much to pack – is to start with everything and whittle it down.

Here’s how you do that: Take everything you’re thinking of packing on your cruise and lay it out on your bed. Spread it out, so you can really see everything. Then start subtracting the things you don’t really need. Keep subtracting until you think you’ve reached the bare minimum. Then run it up against our cruise packing checklist and see if there’s anything you’ve forgotten.

Also read: Top 10 Cruise Tips and Hacks

woman packing for a cruise with open suitcase

2. Pack your carryon for the long haul

Lost bags happen on cruises, but a more common problem is that there are so many bags to get to so many rooms on a cruise ship that you might not see your main bag for a couple of days.

Packing your carryon like it’s your only bag is the best way to deal with problems like these. Try to fit into your carryon:

  • A couple of changes of clothes
  • Shoes
  • Basic toiletries
  • Medications
  • Food and snacks
  • Reading material
  • A travel pillow and blanket
  • Headphones

That’s in addition to your important papers, credit cards, cash, and valuables.

If you can get all that into your carryon, you set for just about any emergency. Just don’t lose your carryon!

Also read: How to Choose the Best Cruise Line for You

3. Pack like you’re going to a resort

A lot of people think that going on a cruise means packing two types of clothes: swimwear and flip-flops, and tuxedos and formal dresses.

The truth is somewhere in between. While swimwear and flip-flops are musts, “cruise formal” attire is actually less formal than you think. A light sportscoat, a polo shirt, and slacks are fine for men, while women should wear cocktail dresses or pantsuits.

Cruises vary in their formality, so check to confirm. And don’t worry: If what you packed is totally outside of de rigueur for your cruise, you should be able to rent something suitable onboard.

Also read: What You Need To Know about Hurricane Travel Insurance and Cruising

4. Pack layers

No one thinks it gets cold on a Caribbean cruise ship, but news flash: It can get cold on a Caribbean cruise ship. Here’s the other thing to consider: If you’re on a Mediterranean cruise that stops in the Middle East or North Africa, you may need to pack clothing that covers your arms and head.

The answer isn’t to pack two separate wardrobes; it’s to pack layers. Pack your T-shirts, but add a windbreaker, cardigan (note: you can’t beat cashmere), and scarf. For cold-weather cruises, add a long-sleeved thermal undergarment and a loose-fitting, water-repellent shell to your warm sweaters.

This can get bulky, especially if you’re living the carryon life, so wear as many layers as you can when flying to your departure destination. At the very least, a rolled-up alpaca sweater makes a wonderful pillow.

packed suitcase on a bed

Also read: What to Do if Your Luggage is Stolen on Vacation

5. Pack disposably

We all have not-quite-right clothes – the things that look good on someone else but not on you, or the things that look good on you that have the smallest buttered-popcorn stain right where you think it shows. Take them on your cruise, and if you don’t feel like bringing them back, don’t bring them back. Find a place on a shore excursion where you can donate them.

6. Suck out all the air

As any parent of an off-to-college teen can tell you, vacuum-seal storage bags are an ultimate hack when it comes to packing. They couldn’t be easier to use: throw your clothes in a bag, hook up the vacuum cleaner, and suck out the air. They’re almost foolproof, but remember: Any clothes that aren’t folded well will come out with the wrinkles practically nailed in.

Packing cubes are another super packing aid, especially if you’re organizationally challenged. The littlest ones are great for chargers and cords. 

7. Go for the freebies

You know those little TSA-approved plastic bottles that came with your carry-on? Leave them home. Take the free versions of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion from your hotel the night before you leave. (No, it’s not petty theft.) 

Also read: Tips for Going on a River Cruise

8. Cruise Packing Hacks

Slip these into your suitcases, and you’ll be ready for anything:

  • Power strip/extension cords. Staterooms are notoriously skimpy on outlets – and you’ll want to charge everything.
  • Extra clothes hangers. The smaller the better. Have a lot of leftover little-kids hangers? Take them with you. They’re great for lighter items.
  • Earplugs. There are thousands of people on an average cruise ship, and they don’t all go to bed at 9 p.m. That is all.
  • Laundry items. Put dryer sheets in between layers of clothes to get rid of that musty smell, and if one of your hotel shampoo bottles spills over your best dress, a stain stick and some cold water can come to your rescue. Also, doing your own laundry means you can pack less – maybe.
  • A spare bag. If you’re a souvenir hunter, you have two choices: Ship your gewgaws home, or pack an extra bag and fill it with your finds.
  • Office supplies and mini-tools. You’ll always find uses for Post-Its, pens and pencils, and paper clips. And if you wear glasses and go on a cruise without a mini-screwdriver – for shame.
  • Flashlight. You know those six-for-$3 LED flashlight bargains you see in the sporting-goods section of your local Discount Mart? Buy a pack. Put a flashlight in every bag, and have one by your nightstand. You’ll never again trip on a desk or bed in the night.

Also read: Travel Packing Tips and Hacks to Help You Pack Like a Pro

Cruise Packing List

Here’s the rest of the items that should be on your cruise-packing checklist, alphabetized for your convenience:

Pack in Your Luggage

  • Activewear
  • Athletic/walking shoes
  • Bacitracin or other first-aid ointment/alcohol swabs
  • Band-Aids
  • Beach towel
  • Belts
  • Blow dryer/hot comb
  • Cologne/perfume
  • Contact lenses/solution
  • Copies of important papers
  • Dress shirts
  • Dress/dancing shoes
  • Dresses
  • Emergency contacts (family, friends, banks, credit-card companies)
  • Extension cord and/or outlet strip
  • Face cleanser/moisturizer
  • Feminine-hygiene products
  • Flashlight(s)
  • Formal wear
  • Gloves
  • Hairbrush/comb
  • Haircare items
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hangers
  • Hats
  • Ibuprofen/naproxen
  • Insect repellent
  • Jackets/raincoat
  • Jeans/slacks
  • Jewelry (not your most valuable)
  • Laundry bag
  • Laundry items (soap, fabric-softener sheets, stain stick)
  • Makeup/makeup remover
  • Money belt
  • Nail clippers
  • Nail polish
  • Pencils/pens/paper clips/Post-Its
  • PJs/nightgown
  • Plug adaptor
  • Polo/casual shirts
  • Purse/handbag
  • Sandals/flip-flops
  • Scarves
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Shaving supplies
  • Shorts
  • Skirts
  • Soap
  • Stockings/socks
  • Sunscreen
  • Sweaters/sweatshirts
  • Swim goggles
  • Swimsuits (at least two)
  • T-shirts
  • Ties
  • Toiletry bag/dopp kit
  • Tweezers
  • Umbrella
  • Undergarments
  • Vitamins

Pack in Your Carry-on

  • Blanket and pillow
  • Boarding passes
  • Camera
  • Cash
  • Cell phone
  • Changes of clothes (2)
  • Chargers (including a power bank)
  • Chewing gum
  • Computer or tablet
  • Copies of prescriptions
  • Credit/debit cards
  • Deodorant
  • Dramamine or other seasickness medication
  • Eye mask /ear plugs
  • Food
  • Headphones/earbuds
  • ID/passport/visa
  • Insurance cards
  • Itinerary and other cruise-related paperwork
  • Jewelry and other valuables
  • Keys
  • Kleenex
  • Lip balm
  • Maps/guidebook
  • Medications
  • Pen/pencil/paper
  • Reading material
  • Shoes
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste/dental floss/mouthwash tabs
  • Water bottle

Also read: Should You Buy The Cheapest Travel Insurance?

Cruise Travel Insurance

One more thing to pack on every cruise: travel insurance from Generali. We have plans that can cover every type of cruise – or any other sort of non-cruise adventure you embark upon. Get a quote today. 

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