Packing for a cruise can be a bit daunting if you are unfamiliar with cruising or are a first-time cruiser. Deciding what to pack for a cruise will ultimately depend on the length of your cruise, the ports on your itinerary, and the time of year you are traveling.
One of the biggest advantages of cruising is that you only have to unpack once. You can sit comfortably in your cabin and not worry about repacking like you would on another multi-destination voyage. Moving from hotel to hotel, packing and repacking, can be exhausting; it’s one of the reasons why cruising is so convenient!
Either way, there are packaging mistakes you absolutely don’t want to make. Cruise lines have certain rules about what you can’t take on board. You also get valuable cabin space that you won’t want to waste on things you don’t need.
We’ve compiled the worst cruise ship packing mistakes you can make, along with some other helpful tips to consider.
Store important documents
On the first day of your cruise, you will hand over your large suitcase to the port upon arrival for check-in. Your suitcase will be delivered to your cabin in the afternoon after boarding the ship. When the porter picks up your bag, it goes down a cruise ship chasm and you won’t be able to access anything packed inside until it’s delivered to your cabin.
Don’t make the mistake of packing your important documents in your checked baggage, such as your passport, ID card, test results or vaccination certificates. It’s also a good idea to keep all your cash with you during boarding.
Keep these important documents with you when you arrive at port. You’ll want to have easy access to it when checking in. Once on board, you can put these documents directly in your cabin safe.
Forget boarding day clothes
Likewise, be sure to pack your basic necessities in a carry-on bag to keep with you when you board the ship. If you want to head straight to the pool deck, pack your bathing suit, sunscreen, and flip flops. There’s always a bunch of people who forgot to put a suit in their boarding bag and stare longingly at the pool deck full of sunbathers.
Some people like to hit the gym right away, so pack your workout clothes and shoes if it’s part of your first-day itinerary.
Just to be on the safe side, I also pack my first dinner outfit in my carry-on in case my suitcase doesn’t get delivered right away. I also keep my cosmetics and medications with me to make sure I always know where they are.
Bring a steamer or an iron
If you try to pack a steamer or iron in your bag, you can expect it to be confiscated upon boarding. This is a prohibited item that you are not allowed to bring on board the cruise ship due to the risk of fire.
Don’t expect to find an iron or clothes steamer in your cabin either. Because they pose a fire hazard, these tools are not permitted on cruise ships.
Those worried about wrinkles should consider packing a small bottle of anti-wrinkle spray. A word of advice for the ladies – I’ve had good luck using my hair straightener when I need to iron something in a pinch. Also, I avoid packing anything that tends to wrinkle.
Other prohibited items that you cannot bring on a cruise ship include weapons, such as handguns and knives. Even a child’s toy guns are not allowed on board. Also, less obvious weapons like pepper spray are prohibited/
If you don’t bring it on a plane, it’s a good rule of thumb that you can’t bring it on a cruise ship. Not only is this a cruise ship rule, but it is also a maritime law that must be followed. Do not try to sneak them onto the ship, as you will likely be denied boarding.
Forget shampoo and conditioner
In my experience, most cruise ships have a container in the shower of a generic 2-in-1 shampoo and shower gel. It does the job, but it’s definitely nothing high end. Maybe some luxury cruise lines or high-end suites offer better products during your trip, but it’s better to be prepared for the worst.
Consider packing a small shampoo and conditioner of your favorite product. You don’t want to have frizzy, dry or frizzy hair while on vacation so I wouldn’t rely on the products provided by the cruise.
Trying to pack a power strip
There are usually not many outlets available in a cruise ship cabin, especially older ones. Most vessels have several types of outlets, including 110VAC and 220VAC power. These are often located on the vanity, not necessarily near the beds themselves.
With technology requiring more charge among electronic devices, it might seem like a good idea to bring along a power strip or extension cord. Don’t make this mistake! If you attempt to bring an extension cord or power strip, it will be confiscated upon boarding and returned to you upon disembarkation at the end of the trip.
The only power extender you should consider bringing is a non-surge protected, cruise ship approved power strip. I usually bring my European converter which has 2 USB ports to take advantage of all the sockets in the cabin.
Not unpacking your suitcase
Your cabin should have plenty of storage space and drawers to make you feel comfortable while sailing. As soon as my suitcase is delivered, I spend 20 minutes unpacking everything and using the cabin space.
My husband and I can easily fit 7-10 days worth of clothes in a cruise ship closet. Because your cubicle is probably very small, you’ll want to use the space wisely.
Do not leave your clothes packed in the suitcase. It will take up so much space and make your room extremely cramped.
On a cruise with extended family, they had 4 large suitcases stacked on their small sofa in an inside cabin because they had chosen not to unpack for the 12 day cruise. The closet and drawers remained empty which wasted space. One way to make a small room even smaller is to keep 4 large suitcases in the room!
Sneak alcohol on board
Cruise lines have specific rules regarding the amount of alcohol you can bring on board. Some cruise lines prohibit cruise passengers from bringing alcohol on board entirely. Also, most do not allow the bringing of alcohol or beer on board the ship. It would be a shame to have expensive alcohol confiscated when boarding, so do your research before packing anything.
Other cruise lines have some leniency. Some cruise lines allow you to bring up to 2 bottles of wine or champagne per person on board to enjoy in your cabin. Typically this is limited to 750ml bottles, so don’t try to bring the giant Costco bottles on your cruise!
Use bulky baggage
Similarly, consider using smaller luggage or collapsible duffel bags to utilize even more space in your cabin. Wheeled duffel bags are great for cruising as they easily fit under your cabin bed to save space. Likewise, we will try to pack bags that can be stacked inside each other and kept under the bed.
Typically, older luggage is clunky and doesn’t store as well. Consider bringing newer bags that are lighter or bags that easily stack inside each other. Bringing a smaller suitcase will allow you to have more room in your cabin.
Forget over-the-counter drugs
This is one of my biggest cruise packing tips!
I always bring a small bag with over-the-counter medications. Although you can find over-the-counter medications on board, you’ll pay a steep price for the convenience. Visiting the medical facility on board can also be inconvenient. International cruises can make it difficult to find the right medicine if you don’t speak the native language.
My little travel bag usually contains medications like ibuprofen, nighttime colds, daytime colds, laxatives, motion sickness, and anti-diarrhea. I usually also pack a few bandages and electrolyte packets to stay hydrated. Being in the sun and traveling can dehydrate you easily and these packs travel easily.
Don’t pack for the worse
Of course, we all dream of sunshine and good weather on our cruises. The reality is that even if you cruise the Caribbean, you may not be guaranteed perfect beach weather. Other destinations may cause unexpected weather conditions, such as the UK or Alaska. You might expect cold and rainy weather in these ports, but the weather these days has been very unpredictable. Always check the forecast before your cruise to be as informed as possible.
It is best to always bring, at a minimum, a travel umbrella on your cruise. Depending on the route, you may want to consider packing a versatile raincoat that can be worn in wet weather.
I took a cruise to Alaska twice in the same month. The first time we were severely underpacked and we all had to buy heavier coats which was expensive. The second time I sailed to Alaska, the weather was exceptionally warm. Fortunately, I had packed some summer clothes for our stay in Seattle before heading north to Alaska, so I didn’t have to buy anything extra.
Last night packing
Just as your suitcase is delivered to your stateroom on day one, you will likely need to drop your suitcase in the aisle the day before your cruise ends. Once disembarked, you will find your large luggage in the cruise terminal. Don’t make the mistake of putting everything in your bag on the last night, because you won’t see your luggage again until you leave the ship.
Be sure to pack an outfit for the day of disembarkation, as well as keep your important documents and medications with you during disembarkation. Also keep your cosmetics with you – you want to have a toothbrush the next morning!