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The Ultimate Cruise Packing List

A woman holding her notebook and her luggage on the bed.

Going on a cruise is not like any other vacation experience.  In some ways, it’s like going to visit another city. Only this city moves between ports. It is also jam-packed with activities and opportunities for fun. A cruise is also a time to take in life and let yourself just be.

It’s best to be prepared for every option on a cruise. Make sure you pack everything you are likely to need.

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Begin with the essentials: toiletries and medication

Toiletries on a transparent ziplock bag.

Your priority when you decide what to take on a cruise must be your personal items. This means toiletries and any medication you need. It also means make-up and cosmetics for women.

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If you are on regular medication, pack enough for the duration of the cruise. I suggest you also pack some of the basics, like plasters, anti-histamine and something for stomach problems.

You’re not going anywhere without the correct paperwork

Russian federation passport with visa.

When you cruise, you are most likely to cross borders. Take your passport and any other documents you need. These may be visas, or inoculation certificates.

Make sure you also have some foreign currency, to use on the boat or on land when you dock.

Then comes the sun

A woman on the beach looking through the cruise ship.

No matter what season you cruise in, there’s no shade at sea. You will be in the sun at least some of the time. It is crucial to pack enough sunscreen for the whole cruise and longer, especially in summer.

Next, you need to pack a good sunhat. Don’t be shy to show off the broad brim, or to don a baseball cap in the sun. You will also need some kind of cover up for when the sun is too hot. You’ll also find it useful to go from swimming to dining. Ladies, a sarong or beach wrap is a good place to start. Men, you should have a vest or T-shirt on hand.

Of course, you will need a swimming costume or two. You may even need a third, especially if you are going on a water-related onshore visit.

The cruise ship may have swimming towels available. I suggest taking at least two of your own, though. This is where a microfiber towel is great.

Clothing is more about covering up

A cruise ship is something like real life, with a touch of glamour. Make sure you pack comfortable clothing that suits your style. Laundry facilities are available on most ships, so take this into account.

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However you dress, make sure it’s comfortable. Here are some suggestions for the basics of an onboard wardrobe.

1. Tops and shirts

A woman dress in red looking on the cruise ship.

For both men and women, packing a range of tops is necessary. I suggest choosing a mixture of vest tops and shirts or blouses with sleeves, no matter what the season.

On a summer cruise, vests are the very basic of any wardrobe. You can wear them on their own or under a shirt. Ladies, throwing on a vest over your bikini top gives you the option to sit by the pool, or go to the dining room for a meal. For men, wearing a vest alone may feel a bit too informal. If so, throw a short-sleeved button-down shirt over the vest. If you pack some T-shirts, you’ll find them more useful.

Both men and women will find button-down shirts useful on a cruise. For women, a button-down can double as a beachwear cover, or be part of a casual outfit for dinner in the dining room. For men, a button-down is essential to wear with a jacket, even with a tie.

I suggest you also pack a few long-sleeved T-shirts. You can wear them over a vest, or on their own, when it’s a little cool. On a winter cruise, they can keep you warm under a shirt or jumper.

You’ll need to pack more long-sleeved shirts and tops on a winter cruise.  

2. Jackets

A woman wearing jacket taking selfie.

Cruise ships are windy. Even in the calmest weather. Make sure you pack a light windcheater.

In summer, a rain jacket is a must. This is especially important if you are going to a rainy area. In winter, you’ll need a padded jacket. A winter cruise may offer snowsports as an onshore activity. In this case, a ski jacket is important.

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Men will need a formal jacket, or perhaps a suit. For women, a light linen jacket in summer is useful for those cooler nights on deck. Men will find a bomber jacket useful, too.

3. Pants, shorts and skirts

A hat and folded clothes on the luggage bag.

I find wearing shorts and long pants on a cruise a practical way to dress. For men, of course, shorts are essential in summer. Take at least one pair of casual long pants. If cargo shorts are your style, they can also be a great option on deck. You should also pack at least one pair of cotton pants.

For women, shorts are a versatile option. I suggest packing at least a couple of pairs of denim or cotton shorts. You can dress these up or down for on-deck activities. They are also suitable for most onshore activities in summer. Board shorts are also a good way to cover up when you go straight from the pool to the buffet during the day.

In winter, long pants are the order of the day for men and women. I suggest packing jeans and at least two other pairs of casual pants. Ladies, don’t forget a couple of pairs of leggings. They are versatile and you can wear them in any weather.

Don’t rule out shorts on a winter cruise. Temperatures can often be quite mild during the day. Women can always pack leggings to wear with shorts.

4. Dresses/skirt

Tourist sitting on the bench of the cruise ship.

Apart from formal or evening wear, it may be useful to pack a few other dresses or skirts. For a summer cruise, a couple of sundresses will keep you cool. For a winter cruise, you can pack one or two warmer dresses.

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5. Formal wear

A woman dress in red drinking in the cruise ship.

Every cruise has at least one formal occasion. This is usually the Captain’s Dinner. You will need formal evening wear for this. It won’t be necessary to wear the equivalent of black tie. Men will need at least one jacket and tie. Women should pack at least one cocktail dress.

Larger cruise ships feature nightclubs and shows. You can dress up for these. When you pack, include at least one glamorous, evening outfit.  Shoes

The obvious shoes to take on a cruise in summer are flip flops, for both men and women. On a winter cruise, you’ll need a pair of comfortable shoes to wear on deck and around the ship. Boat shoes or sneakers are a great choice. Women can also opt for a pair of espadrilles.

Cruises feature onshore excursions, so pack a pair of trainers for these occasions. You’ll also find these useful for on-board exercise. You also need to pack shoes to match your formal and evening outfits.

I’ve found slippers or comfortable loafers are useful to wear in the cabin.

When you’re out on the sea, there’s nothing to stop you getting active

When you’re on a cruise, there’s nothing but open sea around you. Don’t think that’s an excuse not to get active. Cruise ships have miles of deck you can walk around. Some of them have a running track. You will undoubtedly find a gym. There may even be classes you can attend.

Take the gap and use some of the time on the cruise to get busy. This means you’re going to need some active wear. Guys, pack a few pairs of gym shorts and vests. Ladies, pack some leggings and gym tops. Make sure you have trainers and you’re right on point to get fit.

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Take those electronics, but don’t let them rule your life on a cruise

A group of people taking selfie on a cruise ship.

You have two choices when you go on a cruise: with or without electronics. I suggest thinking about why you are going on the cruise. That will give you an idea of what electronics you could take.

All cruise ships have electrical sockets, so you can charge your devices. Remember to pack all the chargers and cables you need for any devices you take along. Make sure you have a back-up power bank. An adapter set is also a good idea.

I’m pretty sure you’ll be packing your mobile phone. You won’t get a signal all the time, though. Only in port will you be able to text or phone. The camera on your mobile is a must.

With your mobile, you may want to pack a selfie stick. A great option is to take a small tripod for your camera. Try to find one with a gorilla grip. You could even mount your camera on the rail for a photo. This may be quite a risk, though.

You may also take a tablet. It is an alternative for photos or even videos. You can easily download your pictures on to your tablet. It is a good place to view your pictures. You can share them with your family, friends and fellow passengers.

Packing a laptop for a cruise seems to be a bit of overkill. That is for the average person. You may need to do a bit of work while on the cruise, which means taking a laptop. Mostly, though, there is too much to do on a cruise ship for that amount of commitment to electronics.

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I do suggest taking a separate camera, if you can. You will get great photos of every aspect of the cruise. In summer, an underwater camera will give you a whole lot of options. You may also enjoy an action camera. This is a must for any extreme sports offered during an onshore visit. Bigger cruise ships often have features like a zip line.

Take a bag to keep your goodies in

1. Backpack or tote bag

A tourist carrying her bag on the cruise ship.

On a cruise ship, you are never far from your cabin. You won’t want to spend time running back and forward if you need something, though. Pack a tote bag or backpack for your daily bits ‘n pieces. You’ll find it useful to have onboard and for onshore visits.

I suggest taking a smaller bag, too, for those evenings out, or a short time away from your cabin. You’ll find that drinks are not included in the price of the cruise. Make sure you have cash or your credit card on hand.

2. Money belt

I cannot see it likely that you will need to carry a lot of money round on the ship. You will need to do so when you go on shore, though. I suggest packing a money belt. You can hide it under your clothing and keep the contents safe.

Money belts are big enough to accommodate a useful amount of money. You can also carry your passport and credit card.

Take along something to enjoy when you sit and relax

A lot of cruising is about taking time to relax. You can sit outside if your cabin has a balcony. There are deck chairs along the deck you can take a break on. You can also laze around next to the pool. During all of this time, you are likely to get a bit tired of looking at the passing sea or people watching.

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I suggest packing a few books to read along the way. You could download a few movies on your tablet, or grab your kindle. If handcraft is your passion, pack some knitting needles or crochet. If you are the creative type, pack your canvases and paints. There are many opportunities to paint the sea, land and sunsets.

Be prepared, always be prepared…for fancy dress

A cruise is never complete without a fancy dress competition, so get prepared. You can choose to go all out. Decide on a costume for fancy dress and take everything you need with you. At the very least, go prepared with some basic items you can adapt into a costume.

Face paint is easy to pack and can be useful for fancy dress. Pack a fancy hat, a long skirt, or a light cloak. Any of these can be useful. They also won’t take up much space.

If you don’t want to participate in a fancy dress competition, formal or evening wear will be useful for the occasion.

If you have any doubts about the fancy dress option, then you can contact the cruise company to check.

What to pack for your kids

A happy family taking trip on a cruise ship.

Infants

If you are taking an infant on a cruise, then you will need to take everything you need for everyday life with your child. This means all the appropriate clothing. I suggest taking enough diapers for at least the first few days. Check with the cruise line if you can buy them on board.

Don’t forget to pack your baby’s favourite comfort toy or blanket. It’s also a good idea to take a few of their best toys. Most cruise ships will have some form of baby care. You don’t need to take the whole toy box. A few favourites will make your child feel at home, though.

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You will need to plan carefully for the baby’s food. This is where checking with the cruise line is essential. Make sure you know what is available on board. You will need to fill in any gaps.

Toddlers

Father and son walking on the port for a vacation.

Toddlers are always busy, at home or on a cruise ship. Make sure you take a selection of their favourite books and toys to entertain them.  This will only be in snatches, but it is important.

You need to pack all the clothing your toddler needs. And then some more. There are laundry facilities available on cruise ships. However, a toddler can mess a lot, as you know.

Make sure you have swimming things and towels for your toddler. You must also have lots of sunblock and at least two hats. Try to include them in any fancy dress you may be taking part in.

Older kids

There are certain basics you need to take on a cruise for any kids. Then there are optional items that will depend on your individual children.

1. Toiletries

Every child needs their own toothbrush and toothpaste. Then there are other toiletries that they will use, like deodorant, face wash and soap.

2. Medication

If your child is on any special medication, it must be packed.

3. Sun gear

On a summer cruise, make sure you take everything your kid needs for fun in the sun. This means two or three swimming costumes and a towel or two. You also need to include sunscreen and a good hat. Your child will also need a cover-up.

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In winter, sunscreen is important. Older kids may need sunglasses too.

4. Clothing

It may be obvious to say take your kids’ clothing. You need to pack very specifically, though. For any cruise in any season, make sure you have a range of clothing they can wear on any occasion. This includes at least one smart or even formal outfit.

Remember to include some active wear for kids who like getting physical.

5. Toys and activities

A child playing with a telescope and a luggage bag.

Cruise ships do have kids’ entertainment and play areas. However, I suggest taking a few of your younger kids’ favorite toys and books. These will come in handy on a long afternoon, or a rainy day.

Make sure that older kids have books to read for the evening or lazy afternoon. They can also take their mobiles or devices for some entertainment.