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.
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.
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 insulated 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.
If you’re sailing on Royal Caribbean and have the soda or Deluxe Beverage Package, you do NOT need a cup. You get a cup when you board that will work with the Coke Freestyle machines onboard.
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
Insulated Mug Holder for Royal Caribbean
If you’re sailing on a Royal Caribbean ship, and you get the Soda Package of Deluxe Beverage Package, you will receive a cup once you board the ship. That cup will allow you to fill up with sodas and other beverages from the Coke Freestyle Machines (see the drink selection here). It technically holds 16 ounces of beverage, but the dimensions are larger because of its thick insulated walls.
These carrier holders made it easy to carry your cup around the ship. The strap is easy to hold on to, and it can even click onto a bag or your shorts so you can carry it while your hands are full of plates from the buffet. This sleeve is thin enough that the Coke Freestyle machines can read the chip inside the cup without taking it out.
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 be 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, and waterfalls. They’ve always worked perfectly. I highly recommend them.
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. These port can be used to fast charge many devices like iPhones, Android Phones, Nintendo Switches, Tablets, Chromebooks, and Laptops.
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 a quick charging cable. 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.
Bluetooth trackers have become as necessity in recent days as airlines have gotten awful at keeping track of luggage. Just drop one of these tags in your luggage and you’ll be able to see where it is in case it gets lost. On my last flight, the airline didn’t load my luggage on the plane. As soon as I landed at home, I could see my bags were still in Seattle, and I was able to go and file the necessary paperwork before luggage even started coming out on the belt.
These trackers have no on-going fees and have no data connection themselves. Instead they connect to phones nearby and relay the information through them. It’s not very useful on the ship (and don’t think of trying to track children on board with them), because of all the metal and lack of cell phone connections.
There are basically two options. AirTag with works with Apple devices or or Tile which will work with Android and Apple Devices. The AirTag has the best coverage (because every iPhone acts as a receiver), but I use Tile with my Android phone and have no issues.
Even better, when not traveling you can just attach these to your keys, briefcase, or purse and continue using them on a daily basis.
Downy Wrinkle Release
There’s no way to pack 7 days of clothes in a suitcase without having at least a few wrinkles. This is especially evident on formal or elegant nights on some cruise lines where you see wrinkled dresses and button downs. Some cruise ships have irons available in laundry rooms around the ship, but the easiest thing to do if use Downy Wrinkle Release. Just spray on your clothes when you unpack, tug to release the wrinkles, and hang to dry. It’s not going to make it look like it’s fresh from the cleaners, but it makes a HUGE difference and I always have a bottle of this with me when traveling.
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 stronger 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.
This Banana Boat spray version goes on light and doesn’t leave a greasy feeling.
Banana Boat Sport Ultra Sunscreen Spray – SPF 100
The SPF 65 version is also marketed as “reef friendly” because it contains no Oxybenzone or Octinoxate. Still, it’s a chemical sunscreen and may be prohibited in certain areas like Mexico’s national parks.
Banana Boat Sport Ultra Sunscreen Spray (reef friendly) – SPF 65
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, a sun protection shirt can be a life saver. When clothing provides sun protection, it is UPF rated (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. They’re great for kids who forget to re-apply sunscreen or protecting your back’s hard to reach spots.
Also, some destinations like the National Parks in Mexico, no longer allow any chemical sunscreen to protect the reefs. Because of this regulation, a UPF rated sun shirt is your only option.
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, throw the cubes in the closet or dresser drawer, and you’re done.
Even on the best and newest cruise ships, storage is at a premium. Because cruise cabins are all made from metal, you can use magnetic hooks to increase your storage space. I bring two types of hooks with me, heavy-duty and standard.
Heavy Duty Magnetic Hooks
These hooks say they’ll hold up to 110 pounds. I can’t vouch for that, but they are pretty strong. I’ve used them to hold up binoculars, wet swim suits, baseball caps, and soda cups.
Standard Magnetic Hooks
These standard hooks are much smaller than the heavy duty hook above; one hook is about the size of a quarter. They say they’ll hold up to 25 pounds, but I’ve never tested anything that heavy. I use these to hold onto things like sunglasses, room keys, face masks, and even wedding rings.
Nightlight for Bathroom
This light is a must-have if you’ll be sailing with kids or are known to have to make a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The bathrooms on cruise ships are notoriously small and pitch dark. For most ships, if you’re using the bathroom at night, the only option is to turn on the bathroom light, blinding yourself (and potentially others through the crack in the door).
This night light is perfect for a cruise ship. It’s magnetic, so it just clings to the bathroom wall. You can always leave it on or use the motion sensor so it only activates when you step into the bathroom. It also offers varying levels of brightness (the lowest level is fine for me).
This unit is rechargeable using a micro-USB port and needs no batteries. One charge is more than enough to last an entire cruise if you use it on the motion sensor setting.
What I also love about this light is that it’s not just a purchase for a cruise. Each light comes with a metal plate with a sticker that you can use to mount it at home. I put one light in my front closet to light up whenever I open it. Then when I go on a cruise, I just grab it and put it in my bag.
Retractable Card Holder for Ship Card
On a cruise, your room key is everything; your ID to get off the ship, 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 a retractable tether. 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.
This specific version comes with a sleeve for cards that are RFID enabled and cannot be hole punched (like Royal Caribbean’s newer Quantum and Oasis-class ships). If your card comes with a hole punch in it already, like on Carnival, you can skip the plastic pouch and attach the card right to the reel.
Retractable Card Holder With Badge Sleeve – 2 Pack
If you prefer a lanyard, these come in an 8 pack of multi-colors. It has a badge holder, so it can be used with hole punched or non-hole punched cruise cards.
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.
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.
If you’re going to be visiting a 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.
When cruising, you may visit some of the most pristine white sand beaches in the world. But you also may end up on a rocky or rough beach where you’d want water shoes You may also be on an excursion where you’re swimming in rivers or waterfalls where you need protection for your feet. Even just walking around a water park, having these shoes protect your feet from the hot pavement.
A lightweight pair of water shoes in invaluable. You can buy really thin water shoes, also called water socks sometimes, but I recommend more sturdy ones so they’ll be good for all kinds of excursions.
What NOT to bring
Most cruise lines provide 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.
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.
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