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Here’s Everything to Pack for Your Next Cruise Vacation

We get it. Packing for a cruise can feel overwhelming.

While the actual itinerary you’ve chosen—Alaska or Australia, Caribbean or Mediterranean—and the forecasted weather in those destinations will dictate the specifics you will want to pack for your cruise, there are some standards you’ll want to have tucked away in your checked bag, and some essentials that should be stashed safely in the backpack or handbag you will carry on board on embarkation day. Of course, there are also things you should pack to save money on your cruise.

We get it; packing for a cruise can feel overwhelming. You’ve got formal nights to consider, temperature changes, shore excursion activities to dress for, and smaller concerns such as conditioner for your hair, power adapters for Europe and beyond, sunscreen, cash, and more, to cover the things that are not included in the price of your cruise vacation.

It’s important to remember one of the key reasons you probably booked a cruise over another type of vacation: that once you get everything from suit jackets to shoes into your bag(s), you only have to unpack once after boarding, yet you get to visit a multitude of different islands, cities, countries, and more. So don’t worry, it’s going to be awesome, and we’re going to help you pack like a pro. Ready? Grab your suitcase and let’s get started!

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What Clothing Do You Need to Pack for a Cruise?

The items that will likely take up the most space in your luggage, whether you’re vacationing on a big ocean cruise ship or a small river cruise, will be articles of clothing—with shoes being a close second. There are several categories of clothing you will want to consider packing for your cruise, including outfits for dinners, athleisure attire for activities on board and in port, and outerwear so that you’re prepared for wind, rain, and other weather conditions.

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Casual Clothes

The clothes you will wear the most on any cruise, no matter what kind and where you are going, are the casual, everyday threads you love so much at home. This includes t-shirts, hoodies, gym shorts, jeans, cargo shorts, sundresses, skirts, tank tops, and more. From sleepily walking into the buffet for breakfast to enjoying the ziplines and bumper cars on board, and actually sleeping, laid-back days on the ship and in port demand the most comfortable, casual attire you own. Being comfy in familiar, casual clothes is one of the ways you will ensure a brilliant cruise vacation. And don’t forget to pack your favorite, most comfortable pajamas!

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Formal Clothes

In the past, formal night truly meant black-tie attire. Today, while formal nights are still very much a cruise tradition, the standards have dipped enough to where a nice pair of slacks, shirt and tie, sweater, silk blouse, and the like are acceptable. Still, on these special evenings (usually twice per week on the big ocean cruise ships), there is an elegant air to dinnertime. Of course, you can stay in your shorts and t-shirt, and enjoy the buffet, but most cruisers take this opportunity to dress up a bit more than they ever have an excuse to do at home, and make an event out of dinnertime, the photography scenes set up around the ship, and the entertainment that follows in the ship’s theaters and bars. While you can still go all-out with tuxedos and evening gowns, it can be difficult to allocate precious luggage space to clothes and shoes you will only wear once or twice, for a total of maybe six to eight hours, on a week-long cruise.

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The weather forecast will determine what, if any, outerwear you decide to pack for your cruise. In Alaska, even though it’ll be summertime when you’ll be cruising up there, layers and waterproof jackets, hats, and gloves could be essential to exploring the glaciers and getting the best nature experience possible. In the Caribbean or Mediterranean, however, maybe only a sweater or your trusty hoodie will be needed when the temperatures dip ever so slightly after the sun retires each day. But outerwear isn’t limited to just jackets and sweatshirts! You may want to pack a floppy sun hat and baseball hat for sunny days when you’re on deck by the pool, or wandering around in port. To dress up a casual shirt or sweater, a scarf or shawl can add a touch of sophistication at dinner or on land in a fabulous city.

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Most ships have gyms, running tracks, and fitness classes, and many ports are best explored on foot or from the seat of a bicycle. These activities are often best enjoyed in exercise clothes and other activewear that will wick away sweat, keep you protected from the sun with SPF built in, and keep you cool too. Ships also have pools and/or hot tubs, spas, and water slides. Whether you are in or around the pool on board your ship, sink your toes into the sand of a Caribbean beach, or plan to book a kayaking excursion, pack at least two swimsuits, so there’s always one dry and ready to wear. Cover-ups are also helpful while gallivanting around in the sun. They also make it easier to saunter into the buffet to grab a quick bite for lunch without a complete wardrobe change.

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What Shoes Do You Need to Pack for a Cruise?

If your idea of a dream cruise is nothing more than a massive buffet and a pool chair, you may need just one pair of flip-flops, but chances are, you have bigger ambitions. Here’s how to plan for and pack the appropriate footwear for your cruise, ensuring you have exactly what you need to enjoy your time on board and in port.

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Casual Shoes

You will want to pack your most comfortable walking shoes for spending time exploring the ship and the ports of call on your itinerary. This could mean your trusty everyday sneakers, Crocs, or other slip-on shoes that make it easy to get up and get going, to lunch, art auctions, theater shows, and more on the ship. Sneakers can easily do double duty for when you want to exercise away the double desserts at dinner!

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Evening Shoes

Dinnertime usually means a different set of clothes, from pants, jeans, and sweaters to dresses, skirts, and blouses. With this costume change will likely come a change in footwear, from Crocs and sneakers to boots, high heel shoes, or glamorous leather loafers. Because shoes tend to take up significant space in a suitcase, be sure to pack footwear that serves multiple purposes, to utilize your luggage space as best as possible.

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Specialty Shoes

Flip-flops, sandals, water shoes, and rain or hiking boots are the specialty footwear options that may be necessary depending on your itinerary and excursions.
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What Accessories Do You Need to Pack for a Cruise?

By now, you’ve got your daytime, evening, and active clothes folded or rolled and packed, and your shoes, sneakers, and sandals are wedged into your suitcase too. Now, it’s time to gather and pack the other essential items that will help you stay healthy, clean, safe, and connected while on your cruise vacation.

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Medicine and Other Essentials

Sunscreen is essential, whether you are heading to Antartica or Aruba, as is aloe/after-sun cream. If you plan to play in the sea, consider buying (and packing, of course) reef-safe sunscreen to protect the oceans and your skin at the same time. Bug spray can be useful, especially if mosquitos always find their way to your exposed skin. Over-the-counter medications are expensive on ships, and in port too, so be smart and pack the brands you trust and use at home for headaches, muscle pain, and more. If you take prescriptions, bring enough for the duration of your cruise plus a few days more, just in case.

Furthermore, packing a first aid kit can be a smart way to avoid the pricey infirmary on board cruise ships, when minor scraps and cuts are suffered. And to battle seasickness, pack a few patches, pills, wristbands, lavender drops, and more remedies to help you enjoy the cruise even when the motion of the ocean gets rough.

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Soap and shampoo, and sometimes conditioner and body lotion, are provided in every cruise cabin, but you might want to pack your own products because your hair may not react well to the cruise line’s shampoo, and your skincare routine could demand certain face, hand, feet, and body lotions. Beyond hair and skin care, pack your own toothpaste and toothbrush, and floss if you’re one of your dentist’s better patients. A razor and shaving cream, hairbrush, toenail clippers, makeup, and makeup removal wipes, are also the toiletries you should pack for a cruise.

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Travel Gear and Other Extras

A fun day bag that’s comfortable to wear on your shoulder can be helpful for doing your shopping in port, as can an external power pack in case of emergencies on board the ship, in port, or in the air on the way to or from your cruise. Naturally, it being the 21st century, you can’t leave home without all the necessary charging cables for all your devices, and also some power adapters if extending your cruise in foreign countries (most modern cruise ships sailing from American ports have U.S.-based electrical outlets and/or USB ports). Passports, cruise documents, and luggage tags, and if still needed by the time you set sail, your vaccine cards too, are must-haves to actually get on board your cruise ship!

You’re almost completely packed and can probably hear the faint sounds of steel drums and taste the salt air in the distance, beckoning you on board your cruise. Don’t forget these last few extras! Sunglasses, an extra pair of everyday prescription glasses, and contacts and contact lens solution should all be in your bag. For couples going on a much-needed cruise vacation, battery-operated candles and a Bluetooth speaker can transform your cabin into a romantic enclave.

Finally, have some local currency on hand to provide tips for your cabin steward, a bartender that consistently goes above and beyond, and any other member of the crew who might make your vacation memorable. Now…go have fun on your cruise!