What to bring on a cruise

Packing for vacation is hard enough, but being on a cruise makes it even more difficult. You’re going to be in the middle of the ocean or in a foreign country for quite a few days, so you can’t just run to the store and pick something up.

If you’ve never cruised before, or it’s been awhile, it’s hard to know what to bring with you. Here are some cruise essentials we recommend.

Waterproof Phone Case

On a vacation, your phone needs to be protected, whether its on the beach, in a pool or on the ocean. While many phones have water resistance ratings, they are not supposed to exposed to salt water, sand or chlorine. These inexpensive cases will provide your with the extra protection you need.

I purchased this set in 2018 and have used them all over the world; on water slides, lazy rivers, waterfalls, and they’ve worked perfectly. I highly recommend them.

Syncwire Waterproof Phone Pouch

Reusable Straws

In 2019, many cruise lines stopped using plastic straws on board in an effort to stop plastic waste from entering the ocean. Some lines have paper or candy alternatives and others have nothing. Since I’m addicted to soda and prefer a straw, I bought these for my last cruise.

They’re just a few inches tall but can expand, so they can be used in anything from a highball glass to a large hurricane glass. They’re solidly made and the little carrying case makes it easy to slip it into your pocket between drinks.

Reusable Metal Straws Collapsible with Case


USB Charger (instead of extension cord)

Most cruise cabins only have one or two power outlets available. With the number of devices we have now-a-days (your phone, Apple Watch, Kindle, fitbit), it can lead to a fight over the available outlets.

Most cruise lines do NOT allow surge protectors because of fire issues that may occur with cruise ship wiring. Some will allow extension cords that don’t have surge protectors, but there a lot of stories of confused gate agents not knowing the difference and confiscating them anyway.

A safer option is to bring a USB hub. This one specifically will let you charge up to 3 devices at once. What makes this different than some of the cheaper ones out there, is it has two USB-C ports on it. This port can be used to fast charge many devices like iPhones, Android Phones, Nintendo Switches, Tablets, Chromebooks, and Laptops.

USB C Wall Charger, Anker Premium 65W 3-Port

If you have an iPhone and you’re getting the charger above, do yourself a favor an also get a USB-C to Lightning cable. If you have an iPhone 8 or newer, your device supports quick charging but Apple doesn’t give you one. To get quick charging, you’ll need a USB C charger like the one above and this cable Anker USB C to Lightning Cable. It’s so much faster, giving you 50% battery charge in 30 minutes. The best part is once you’re home from the cruise, you can keep using this and charge your phone so much faster.

Anker USB-C to Lighting Cable – 6 ft

Sunscreen

Nothing can ruin a vacation more than a painful, blistering sunburn. Even if you don’t burn easily, remember that the sun in the Caribbean, Mexico and Bahamas is strong than the US and Canada. Save yourself some pain and stock up on some sunscreen. Don’t wait to buy it on the cruise ship, it’s VERY expensive.

Also, remember to reapply every 80 minutes when in the water.

Coppertone SPF 50 Sport Sunscreen – 3 Pack

Kindle Paperwhite E-reader

Personally, one of my favorite things to do on a sea day is sit down on the deck and read a good book. It’s hard for me to get through a book in the normal hustle and bustle of every day life, but on a cruise I have no problem. I hate having to carry books though, they’re heavy and take up packing space. Instead, opt for an E-reader.

The Kindle Paperwhite holds thousands of books so you can easily bring a variety of books to choose from. This version is waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about splashes from a pool, hot tub, or a little sea mist. Trying to read a normal tablet or phone screen while in direct Caribbean sun is difficult, but the Kindle uses an e-Ink screen that looks just like paper. You’ll have no problem reading in the sun.

Kindle Paperwhite on Amazon

Packing Cubes

If you’re going on a 7-day cruise, you have a lot of clothes to bring. Casual day outfits, night outfits, swimming clothes, lounging clothes; it can be hard to fit it all in one suitcase. Packing cubes make it so much easier.

You simply put your clothes in one of the cubes, zip it up to condense them, and throw in your suitcase. Personally, the biggest benefit I see is organization. You can have one for socks, one for underwear, one for t-shirts, so you don’t have to rummage around. Also, it makes it super quick to unpack in your cabin. Just open your suitcase, and throw the cubes in the closet or dresser drawer, and you’re done.

Hynes Eagle Travel Compression Packing Cubes – Set of 3

Sun Protection Shirt

Did you know that a white t-shirt only provides the equivalent of an SPF protection of 7 and when it’s wet, only 3! That’s nothing. If you’re going to be spending at day at the beach or outside, and you have fair skin, an sun protection shirt can be a life saver. When clothing provides sun protection, it is UPF rater (rather then SPF which is for skin products). The technology has come a long way, and UPF shirts no longer feel like wet suits of vinyl. Some are just as soft as a regular t-shirt. Great for kids who forget to re-apply sunscreen or protecting your back’s hard to reach spots.

Retractable Card Holder

On a cruise, your room key is everything; your ID to get off the boat, your room card, and how you make purchases on the ship. You’re constantly taking it out and using it, which makes it easy to loose it. While you can get it replaced, it’s such a hassle, so try a retractable badge holder instead.

Some people prefer lanyard you can put around your neck, but I prefer this. I can easily attach the clip to my shorts and keep my card in my pocket. When I use it as a room key, I just pull it out and swipe it and stick it right back in. When I use it to buy a drink, I just unclip it from my belt and hand it over. On Carnival that cards are even pre-punched. On other cruise lines, just go to the guest services or casino desks and they’ll punch a hole in it for you.

Retractable Card Holder – 6 Pack

Insulated Mug

While it’s easy to get drinks like lemonade, ice tea, coffee, and juices on board, the cups that you’ll find in the buffet are ridiculously small. Bring your own insulted tumbler and save yourself some trips. This is a knock-off version of the very popular Yeti cups. It works for hot things like tea and coffee, or cold things like juices and lemonade. I bring one with me every morning to the buffet and stock up on the juices that they stop serving around 10 am. That way I have some in my fridge in the room.

Note: for sanitary reasons, please do not fill this cup directly from the dispensers. Grab a clean cup in the buffet and use that to get the juice and pour it into your mug

30oz Insulated Mug

Seasickness Bands

This is a hard one for me to recommend. Personally, in all my cruises, I’ve never gotten seasick, but I have been on cruises with people that were. Some have swore by seabands, a drug-free device that uses your pressure points to alleviate motion sickness. I have never tried them, but if you get sea sick, or are afraid you might on your first cruise, it’s worth having these to be safe.

Travel Motion Sickness Wrist Bands

Snorkel Set

If you’re going to be visiting cruise line’s private island, save some money and bring your own snorkel. For close to the price they’d charge you, you can have a snorkel you can use over and over again. Even better, you don’t have to worry about someone else’s germs on it.

I purchased this snorkel in 2018 and have used it at Half Moon Cay and while traveling in Bali. I highly recommend it. Some people prefer the full face shield snorkels, but I just don’t like the look of them.

OMORC Adult Snorkel Set

What NOT to bring

Towels

Most cruise lines provides towels you can use on ship and in port; just make sure you return them to your cabin when you’re done. Save some precious travel space and leave your beach towels at home.

Power Strips

As mentioned above, power strips are against the rules of most cruise lines and they will be confiscated. Extension cords without surge protectors may make it through, but it depends on the specific agent who makes the decision.

Inflatable Pool Toys

If you haven’t been on a cruise ship before, the pools are notoriously small and there is never room for any inflatable toys or rafts so just leave them at home. For your kids, bring swimmies or water wings if needed. Most cruise ships provide children’s swimming jackets that can be used in the pool, but the swimmies might be helpful for when you’re in port.