July 15, 2018

What to pack for a cruise

So you’re hitting the high seas and going on a cruise and now it’s time to pack? This post covers my best tips for what to pack for a cruise.

Good for you, I hope you love it. I’ve done more than a dozen cruises now and each are so different and wonderful, that I’m not sick of them yet.

But if you are wondering what to take on your cruise, there are a few tips you need to know about how to pack – and what to leave at home.


Best tips for cruising

A day pack/bag:

Your luggage needs to be put outside your cabin door the night before you arrive at your final destination.

Some ships will let you take your own luggage on and off, but if they don’t you’ll need to take a small cabin bag or day pack, that you can also use on shore excursions, for your nightwear and toiletries to avoid leaving the ship looking like a hipster in pajamas.

Also pack your swim suit and casual clothes in it on Day 1 so if your bags arrive late to your room, you can head out to the pool without having to wait.

What kind of luggage is best on a cruise ship?

If your cabin is small you’ll probably prefer a suitcase that opens from the top and not fully in half as the latter takes up so much more room. Most soft shell suitcases are designed with top opening, and some hard shell ones.

However since you will be onboard for several days, you could just fully unpack into the cupboards and drawers and put your luggage under the bed or in the closet. Much easier all round!

Update: on my last cruise I had all my clothes segmented and packed into packing cells so I just unloaded them into the shelves in my cabin closet. I was unpacked within 5 minutes!

Carnival Cruise ship
My sister is all set to go on Carnival docked here in Jamaica

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Cruise clothing: Here we go!

Ladies, you want to pack light so your clothes can be unpacked into the drawers and cupboards, so smart casual is the go.

Mix and match pants and skirts with tops/tunics and take a couple of sun dresses. Pack something elegant for 1 or 2 formal nights or specialty restaurants. Usually I go black on black and bling it up with jewellery (it’s so easy for us girls!).

Don’t bring heels. Seriously, teetering around on deck is not a good look and unless your shore excursions consist of the theatre, you don’t need them.

Gentlemen, jeans, shorts and casual tops are fine for day wear on almost every ship. (I can’t actually think of one they’re not, but want to hedge my bets).

Bring button shirts for evening meals and on formal nights, or some cruise lines you’ll need a jacket and tie (or a bow tie if you’re so inclined). You’ll need dress pants too, but they don’t take up much room. Your butler may be able to provide a loaner (thank you Silversea!)

Formal wear: Many cruises include formal nights so you may want to throw in a little black dress and couple of different coloured pashminas or scarves to make it look like a new outfit.

Men, if you don’t want to pack a jacket you can often rent one or borrow one onboard. True formal nights mean dinner suits or tuxedos. Of course, some ships’ formal nights are not as posh as this, so once you’re booked, check on their website as to dress code. They’re fun (spot the ladies in their gowns and tiaras!) so get amongst it and enjoy the bubbly!

Cruise ship luggage
With 3000 passengers, the luggage loading is an astonishing feat of organisation!

Sensible shoes: I’ve already explained that ladies don’t need heels, but I will allow one pair for formal nights (I know, I’m generous).

But you will certainly need some good walking shoes for excursions. Also a pair of flats that are good enough to wear to dinner onboard is essential (I had to borrow my cousin’s once). Flip flops with a little bling can usually cover all bases.

I limit myself to just three pairs of shoes on most of my trips.

Gym gear: If your chosen ship has a gym (most do) then bring your trainers and if you’re anything like me, you can wash your clothes in your shower and hang them either on your deck to flutter in the ocean breeze, or in your room with the air conditioning on full roar and they’ll be dry in no time.

Or if you’re actually anything like me, they won’t get used and you’ll unpack them when you get home…

By the pool: Pack a couple of swimsuits so you don’t have the nasty job of pulling damp togs on when you want to hit the pool again.

Take a hat, sarong and jandals (thongs/flip flops for my international readers) and sunscreen. You can dine poolside in this getup and wrapped in a sarong will likely be fine at the lunch buffet or barbecue.

Laundry: Some ships will have a laundry that you are able to use (although these are being phased out and your cabin attendant will take your clothes to have them washed for a fee).

I usually take a small packet of laundry powder to use in my bathroom for hand washing.

Pin this post to your cruise board!

What to take for Entertainment on a cruise:

Binoculars are a great idea wherever you are cruising. Spot the whales breaching in Alaska, see the far off Italian village before anyone else, find a castaway lost at sea….

Take a good book (or 2) for sitting by the pool or on your balcony for some quiet time.

Take your iPod as some cabins have iPod docks (check this online with your cruise ship once you know where you’re going).

Power adapter: Depending on what ship you’ll be on that could be an American or European converter. Note that you may not be allowed to take a power board (which I always pack to use in hotels) as these are considered a fire hazard and a no-no. I sell a Universal Adapter in my Travel Store.

Walkie Talkies are a suggestion from a reader who says they’re great for finding each other – especially your teens as no one wants to have their cellphones on global roaming. Because, yes, even out in waters around your own country you hit “global” charges.

Shoe holder – those ones that hang over a door, is a great tip I’ve seen for storing all sorts of whatnots like sunscreen, yes shoes, makeup bag (if it’s small!), little foldaway umbrella. Because you’ve unpacked for the week, you can end up with a lot of clutter on your table. I like this idea.

Highlighter pen. This is a great suggestion for marking on your daily schedule (which is delivered to your room each night) which activities you want to do!

Ship nebulizer
Breathing assistance comes at a hefty price!


If this post was helpful, you’ll love this one: 11 things NOT to do on a cruise!

And feel free to visit my Travel Store for my curated collection of luggage and accessories for cruises >>
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This post is sponsored by my good friends at Francis Travel Marketing who sell a huge range of cruise itineraries. Click here for their latest specials>>>

About Megan Singleton

Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!

"What to pack for a cruise" - What do you think?

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  1. Trish on

    I’ve seen posts that suggest wearing swimsuits under your clothes for boarding. Would boys (and dads) need to wear any clothes over top? Or is it ok for them to board wearing trunks and swim shirt?

    • Megan on

      Hi Trish, I think they might only suggest swimsuits so you don’t have to wait for your luggage to arrive in your cabin before hitting the pool. You will have access to your cabin immediately so you could always take your swimsuits in your carry on luggage. But yes I would make sure everyone was properly dressed for boarding the ship, going through customs and generally looking tidy for travel. Whether they’d be required to, I don’t know. I’ve never seen anyone board only half dressed!!

  2. Susan Braybrook on

    My husband and i are off on our first big world travel with temperatures in each of the 6 countries different. We are travelling september/October to canada, scotland, England, italy, munich and singapore temperaturesbetween 8-35 degrees and our issue is what to pack and not to pack yoo much!! Your suggestions please!
    Thanks Susan

    • Megan on

      Oh my goodness Susan, you are going to have to rely on the ship’s laundry! Hopefully you’ll be able to use it yourself as that will be cheaper, but I know they are phasing self-use laundries out of cruise ships and your butler will have to do it. Usually there is a charge per bag – so stuff it full! Be ruthless. 3 pairs of shoes only. A jacket that you can wear onboard on Day 1 and stick in the closet until you need it. Ponchos and pashminas are a good idea. Easy to pack and useful for many occasions. It’s all about layers. Some days you’ll need several, others just the one. Hope that helps. Sounds amazing!!

      • Kathryn on

        I am doing your Italy cruise this year..
        And have already booked for ‘19..
        60 day Auck to Dover
        10 days in UK
        Then 15 day Amsterdam to Budapest!!
        What to pack… lbd for formal nights !!
        I will be all cruised out !!!

        • Megan on

          I can’t wait for Italy (except we’re not cruising!) You are very organised to have 2019 sorted already. I have a few ideas for 2019 and will roll those out in the next couple of months. See you in 4 weeks 😀 x


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