First Time Cruiser Series: Pack Your Bags

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Whether you’re going on a short 3-day cruise or a week-long sailing, you’re going to be tempted to pack your entire closet. I remember my first cruise; I even packed my own beach towels. But not to fear, after 50 sailings between the both of us we’re here to give you tips, tricks, and best practices when getting ready to pack for your cruise!

First, ask yourself: Do I need to check a bag? While I’ve brought just a carryon in the past, most cruisers will likely need to check a bag to fit shoes, clothing, liquids greater than TSA limits, etc. When checking a bag, I always recommend also bringing a carry-on – even if you may not need it. This is for two reasons:

  1. Split your clothes across the two suitcases. We’ve heard stories of airlines losing luggage or luggage delays that leave cruisers without any clothes. Splitting your belongings up across the two suitcases is your own little insurance policy against the airline.
  2. If you buy souvenirs, hats, sweatshirts, alcohol, etc., you’ll be thankful for the extra room.

Cruise Tip: Keep those air pockets included in all of your Amazon packages and pack them into your luggage to fill any empty gaps. The air pockets don’t add any weight and they’ll reduce items from shifting and squishing when your bags are stacked like Tetris blocks.

In addition to the above, I always recommend bringing along a backpack so that you can carry towels, a change of clothes, and have a spot to place your belongings when on an excursion. I have the DVEDA 35L Lightweight Packable Backpack that I’ve been using for 2 years; it’s collapsible (space-saver!) and it’s water-resistant which is helpful when it’s wet outside.

Now before you place any items in your suitcase or carry-on, check your cruise line’s website to determine how many formal dinners your cruise will have. For example, Royal Caribbean has 2 formal nights on a 7-day sailing.

Cruise Tip: Cruise Formal is simply a chance to dress up! The dining room typically prepares a fancier dinner (lobster anyone?). Each cruise line defines formal a little differently; just Google your cruise line and “formal nights” to find out more.

Additionally, many cruises have themed nights as well. For example, Carnival Cruise Line has an 80s Night Deck Party – just think how rad it would be if you packed your parachute pants and headbands! Just Google your cruise line and “theme nights” to find out specifics for your sailing.

Planning Your Pack Job

In addition to the tip above about splitting up your wardrobe, in your carry-on suitcase, you’ll want to pack any overnight items you’ll need if you stay in a hotel the night before your cruise.  Items to consider packing in your carry-on include: medication, toiletries, and undergarments. I always place my clothes for sail-away on top of my carryon as well so I don’t have to dig through my big suitcase. Pack shorts/pants (depending on the weather for sail away), a shirt/blouse, tennis shoes for lots of walking, sandals, sunscreen, and possibly a lightweight jacket or hoodie in case it’s chilly in the terminal or at sail away.

Cruise Tip: If you’ll be flying in for your cruise, always consider flying in the night before. Remember, the cruise ship doesn’t wait if your flight is canceled or delayed.

So what do you actually need to bring?

As mentioned, on my first sailing, I even packed beach towels! Turns out, the cruise ships provide those for you. Depending on the length of your sailing, you’ll want to think about how much of everything you’ll actually need (on a 7-day sailing, while tempting, you really don’t need 12 t-shirts, I promise). In addition to clothing, you’ll want to think about some other critical supplies:

Miscellaneous Critical Cruise Supplies List

  • Outlet splitter – many cruise ships only have one outlet in the stateroom. With cell phones, watches, cameras, and everything else that needs to be charged, forgetting an outlet splitter is a recipe for arguments! They no longer appear to sell the one I have, but here’s a similar one that has nearly 10,000 reviews and a 4.8 rating: Power Strip with 3 USB and 3 Plugs
  • Wine Diapers – I absolutely love these things, and swear by them! They’ve saved my clothes on multiple occasions when something I’ve packed leaked (mouthwash is the worst!). Additionally, they’ve allowed me to buy bottles of wine or liquor in port and bring them home without fear of getting them back safely in one piece. They’re reusable – to a point! After 50+ cruises, I’ve gone through multiple sets (the bag breaks, something leaks, something pokes through, etc.). Wine Diapers
  • Seasick bracelets – Not only are these good to have on you if the seas get rough, but if you’ve had too much to drink (you’re going on a cruise, after all), they can help with the not-so-great hangover the next morning. Sea Sick Bands for Adults Sea Sick Bands for Kids
  • Ginger Chews – if the seasick bracelets aren’t powerful enough and you’re still a little nauseated, take ginger flavored candy with you on the cruise. Ginger is a natural product that will settle your stomach. Dramamine Motion Sickness – Non-drowsy
  • Portable phone backup battery – I take a LOT of pictures and videos – which drains my phone battery. My Duracell portable charger has saved the day multiple times in port (for both me and my travel partners). Whichever backup battery you choose, remember you’re on vacation; you don’t want something big and bulky. Here’s the Duracell one I have (3350 mAh, good for one backup charge to about 80%):
  • Newer models have more horsepower (5,000 mAh, good for one and a half backups). This one has 3,590 reviews and has 4.3 stars: BONAI Portable Charger
  • Ear plugs – If you’ve got noisy neighbors or find yourself woken up by the slamming of balcony doors, ear plugs can save the day on your cruise. These are the ones I use. They have 2,310 reviews and 4.6 stars: 3M Ear Plugs
  • Luggage Tag Protectors – This product may bring back your nerdy-self, but it’s more helpful than you may realize. When you are preparing to board a ship, it’s usually with thousands of other people. With that many people in-tow, there’s going to be even more pieces of luggage. They say that you can tape or staple your luggage tag to the handle of your suitcase, but we prefer to use these plastic luggage tags: it’s more secure and will ensure that the room identity doesn’t get separated. This link will give you options for Carnival Corporation ships and Royal Caribbean Group ships. CruiSeaU 4-pack Luggage Tag Holders
  • Magnetic Storage Hooks – Fun fact: stateroom walls and doors are metal, which means that you can bring magnetic hooks and stick them directly to the wall to hang things like your backpack, hats, towels, belts, etc. No need to get those 3M command strip hooks since magnetic hooks can be used many times over! DIY Magnetic Utility Hooks
  • Disinfecting Wipes – We love our room stewards and they work their tails off. Sadly, 6 hours to turnover a room from one set of passengers to the next isn’t enough time to go as detailed as we like. Rather than bringing the big tub of wipes with you, grab a pack of these handy sanitary wipes and do a quick pass around the room when you first get in. You’ll be glad you did! Clorox Disinfecting Wipes on the Go
  • Medications – while packing any required medications is likely obvious, I always recommend packing these in your carryon or backpack so you have them with you. I also recommend packing a couple days extra supply in a separate plastic bag in case a flight gets canceled, or you end up delayed for some reason.
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Making packing easy

After 50+ cruises, we still use a cruise packing checklist every sailing. This checklist includes how much of everything to pack – and even gives different recommendations based on whether or not laundry is included! It takes the guesswork and stress out of packing and even includes a key to indicate where you’ve placed specific items.

Next Up…

Come back next week to learn more about the checking in process, and what’s involved in getting to the terminal to board the massive ship! As a bonus for coming back to next week’s article, we’ll include an interactive downloadable cruise packing list. It allows you to select how many nights, climate type, and a few other elements before producing the perfect packing list. We’ll see you next week!

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