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Your Ultimate Guide to Packing For a Cruise

Cruises are a popular option among travelers who want to explore numerous destinations while traveling in comfort and style. Cruises also tend to be a cost-effective option for seeing multiple points of interest in one trip. If you’ve never been on a cruise (or if it’s been a while), however, there are some unique tips and considerations you’ll want to keep in mind as you pack.

By having a better understanding of your cruise line’s luggage restrictions, essential items for cruising, and how to maximize space in your luggage, you can begin packing for your upcoming voyage with confidence.

Before You Pack…

Before you even bust out that suitcase, there are a few cruise-specific packing considerations you’ll want to keep in mind.

Look Into Luggage Restrictions

Cruise lines can vary greatly when it comes to how many pieces of luggage each guest is allowed to bring aboard the ship. The number of suitcases (and their maximum sizes/weights) can also vary depending on how long your trip will be. For example, passengers may be limited to one checked suitcase for a weekend excursion, whereas week-long-cruise passengers may be permitted two or more checked bags or carry-ons.

Take time to familiarize yourself with what your cruise line allows for your particular itinerary or route. The last thing you want is to show up at port with too many suitcases. In such a situation, you may be charged additional fees by your cruise line or you may not be permitted to bring your extra bags aboard the ship at all. If you’ll be flying to your cruise port, don’t forget about your airline’s luggage restrictions as well.

Consider Your Transportation to Port

Speaking of other transportation, keep in mind that most airports are not located within walking distance to local cruise ship ports. As a result, you’ll need to take a taxi, shuttle, ride-sharing service, or other means of transport from the airport to the cruise ship itself.

Depending on your cruise line, the check-in area for your cruise ship may or may not be easily accessible for your taxi driver or other modes of transportation. Do some research ahead of time to find out how far you should anticipate needing to carry your bags from your cab to the cruise check-in line. If it’s going to be a long trek, you may want to limit your luggage.

Don’t Forget an Essentials Bag

Most cruise lines will have you “check” your suitcases when you check-in for your voyage. This process is similar to what you would experience at the airport. Your bags will be sent through security and will then be added to other groups of passengers’ bags to be brought aboard the ship. Your luggage will then be personally delivered to your stateroom later on—usually on the first evening of cruising.

What this means, however, is that you may be without your suitcases for several hours after you board the ship. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to pack an “essentials” bag that you can carry aboard. This bag should include everything you’ll need for the entire first night of cruising, just to be safe. This should include a change of clothes, basic toiletries, device chargers, and any medications you may need to take as well.

What You Need to Pack

While the specifics of what to pack for a cruise will vary from one passenger to the next, there are some basic items that you’ll most likely want to have in your luggage.

Important Travel Documents

All your travel documentation and identification is a must, especially if you’ll be embarking on an international cruise where you’ll need a passport. You should also check ahead of time to find out whether you’ll need any visas for your cruise and, if so, how to obtain them.

In addition to your passport and/or visa, be sure to pack some form of government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license or state ID. Ideally, you’ll want to have a few forms of identification on your person at all times while traveling on a cruise.

Most cruises also issue other forms of identification that you’ll need to carry with you around the ship and at any ports as you go. It’s also a good idea to bring copies of your cruise itinerary and any receipts you have from paying for your cruise, just in case there are any issues when it comes time to check-in.

If you’ve purchased a travel insurance policy for your trip, be sure to keep a copy of your policy documents with you. Make sure all of your important documentation stays with you in your carry-on bag in the unlikely event that your checked luggage is misplaced. Keeping copies of important documents, such as passports and visas, is also recommended.

Attire and Accessories

One of the biggest challenges first-time cruisers face when packing is simply deciding what kinds of clothing and how much of it to bring. This will vary based on a number of factors, such as the length of your trip and the types of excursions you plan on doing at each port-of-call. Generally, you’ll want to make sure you have at least one casual outfit for each day at sea, as well as a comfortable outfit to wear on your last day (when you’ll probably be catching a flight back home).

If you’ll be embarking on any adventurous excursions, make sure you bring appropriate attire. Activewear, socks, a visor, and a good pair of walking shoes will be a must for any stops where you’ll be doing a lot of walking or exploring.

Keep in mind that on some cruise ships also have designated “formal nights” where passengers are expected to dress up for dinner or other ship activities. Some restaurants on your cruise ship may also have a dress code, so do your research ahead of time and make sure to pack appropriately. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to have one or two formal outfits to choose from on your cruise.

And of course, don’t forget to bring at least one swimsuit! Even if your cruise doesn’t include any tropical beach stops, your ship is bound to have at least one pool for guests to enjoy.

Toiletries and Medicines

Cruise ships can vary greatly in the types of toiletries included with each stateroom. Some will come stocked with basics, such as shampoo, conditioner, and soap—whereas others may be pretty bare bones. In general, it’s best to just pack all your essential toiletries from home so you don’t need to spend additional money on-board. Some toiletries to consider packing for your cruise include:

  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • dental floss and travel mouthwash
  • shampoo, conditioner, and body wash
  • razors and shaving cream
  • hairbrush and styling tools
  • sunscreen and/or tanning lotion
  • feminine hygiene products
  • bug spray
  • makeup and makeup remover

If you wear contact lenses, don’t forget to bring a case and a travel-sized bottle of contact lens solution. In addition to any prescription medications you may take, it’s also a good idea to bring some basic medicines, such as:

  • motion-sickness remedy (especially if you get seasick)
  • daily vitamins and/or probiotics
  • pain relievers
  • a travel first-aid kit
  • sleeping aids such as melatonin

Electronics and Other Gear

Your cell phone and tablet can come in handy while you’re cruising, even if you won’t have access to your data plan while at-sea. Many cruise lines offer Wi-Fi for an additional fee, which may or may not be worth the daily cost, depending on your needs. Some ships also have free public computer rooms where you can quickly check your e-mail or catch up on social media without having to pay for the ship’s wireless Internet. And of course, there may be some shops or other areas with free public Wi-Fi at each stop.

Either way, be sure to pack chargers for any devices you may be bringing. This not only includes chargers for your cell phone and tablet, but for your camera, laptop, and other devices as well. If you’ll be staying anywhere international before or after your cruise, you may also want to pack a plug/outlet adapter to ensure compatibility.

Beach Bags and Day Bags

One of the best parts about cruising is enjoying planned excursions at each stop. This is where having some small day bags or beach bags readily available can also come in handy. These bags should be small enough that they can be easily carried on and off the ship, yet spacious enough to carry the essentials you’ll need for the day.

For example, if you have a planned beach excursion, a small beach bag will be ideal for carrying your swimsuit, a towel, a change of clothes, sunscreen, and a book or tablet.

Space-Saving Tips for Packing

Looking to save space in your luggage? There are some tips worth keeping in mind as you pack for your upcoming cruise/

Pack Less and Do Laundry

Some cruise ships offer laundry services, though the cost can vary greatly. If you’re staying in a suite-style stateroom, free basic laundry may be included. Either way, you can cut down on the amount you pack by doing some laundry aboard the ship. Don’t want to pay for laundry services? Pack a small amount of laundry detergent and hand-wash basics in your stateroom sink.

Buy Essentials on the Ship

You can buy most of your cruising essentials, including toiletries and even apparel, aboard the ship. Just be prepared to pay a premium. A less expensive alternative would be to find a convenience store or other shop close to one of your port stops to pick up some basics instead of bringing them from home.

Opt For Mix-and-Match Pieces

When packing clothes, choose items that can be easily mixed and matched with others to create new outfits. A pair of dark-wash jeans, for example, can be dressed down with a casual t-shirt or dressed up with a nice blouse. The more versatile your clothes are, the better.

One last tip; when packing for a cruise, always leave a little room to bring home a few souvenirs. You never know what you may find for yourself or a loved one!

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