Top 10 Cruise Packing Tips

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Cruise ship at sunset (Photo: iStockphoto)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on May 24, 2011. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: cruise, Erica Silverstein, packing.

Perhaps you're like me and start filling your suitcase a week (or more) before your cruise, armed with a packing list and smart space-saving techniques, like rolling up socks and stuffing them in your shoes. Or maybe you're like my husband, who throws a bunch of clothes into a carry-on at midnight before a morning flight and always packs the right things.

Either way, you've probably learned that what you bring—or more importantly, what you forget to pack—can impact your enjoyment of your cruise vacation.


I own untold numbers of sweatshirts that I bought when I was caught out on an unseasonably cold day in port with no warm layers—a waste of shopping time and money since I have rarely worn them post-cruise. And forgetting to bring socks on a short cruise meant I couldn't try out the bungee trampoline on a Royal Caribbean ship. I've bought overpriced Advil for a mean migraine, and watched friends swelter in jeans on embarkation day in Miami because they hadn't packed any shorts in their carry-ons.

But I've also waltzed through the airport with only a backpack and roll-aboard suitcase prior to a seven-night Europe cruise, and was still able to supply travel companions with reading materials, seasickness meds and plane snacks they hadn't thought to bring. On an Alaska cruise, I brought—and wore—everything from a bathing suit to a fleece jacket, gloves and warm hat. And after shivering through one too many dinners in uber-air-conditioned cruise ship dining rooms, I now pack cardigans and pashminas to match my sleeveless eveningwear (they also double as blankets on long flights).

So whether your goal is to avoid those checked or excess bag fees by packing light, reserve your in-port shopping for souvenirs rather than necessities, or simply make sure you take everything you need on your next vacation, here are our top 10 tips for packing for a cruise.

Tip 1: Pack your carry-on bags wisely. Pack a change of clothes and important meds or toiletries in the bags you will take on the plane and personally transport onboard. This is important for two reasons: First, if your luggage gets lost by the airline on the way to your cruise, at least you'll have some essentials with you. It can take a while for your luggage to be found and then shipped to the next port of call. Second, in case your suitcases are delayed in being delivered to your cabin, you'll have a bathing suit or dinner attire on hand and can enjoy all the onboard activities right away, rather than waiting for your bags to show up.

Tip 2: Know the dress codes. While some folks still like to dress to the nines (formal gowns and tuxedos) for ships' formal nights, most people dress in business attire (suit for men, cocktail garb—flowing pants suits or silk dresses—for women). The irony is that the more luxurious the line (with the exception of the upscale Crystal Cruises, whose passengers really do like to dress up), the more elegantly casual guests dress. The more contemporary the line—like Carnival and Royal Caribbean—the dressier folks are on formal occasions. If you love to dress up, know that some lines do offer tux rentals so you don't have to pack your own. Allergic to formal wear? Most cruise lines offer buffet-style dining for dinner, even on formal nights (or sup in your cabin via room service).

Tip 3: Consider doing laundry onboard. If you want to pack light (and do laundry en route), make sure to read our cruise reviews—not all ships offer free (or for-fee) laundromats. Otherwise, laundry is a service provided by cruise lines, but it can get expensive (though cruise lines often offer complimentary laundry and pressing services to suite guests and top-tier past passengers). You can always save on laundry costs by bringing travel detergent and rinsing out underwear and shirts in your cabin's bathroom, or packing a bottle of travel-sized Febreze to get one more day's use out of a gently worn outfit.

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