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.

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

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 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

30oz Insulated 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.

Tumbler Carrier Holder – 2-pack

drink holder
This insulated sleeve makes it easy to carry around the Coke Freestyle cup that comes with a soda or drink package

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.

Syncwire Waterproof Phone Pouch


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.

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 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.

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 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.

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, throw the cubes in the closet or dresser drawer, and you’re done.

Travelizer Packing Cubes – Set of 5

travelizer set of 5 packing cubes in ovation of the seas
Packing Cubes make it easy to unpack and keep things tidy. They also compress clothes so you can fit more.

Magnetic Hooks

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.

DIYMAG Magnetic Hooks, 110 lb, 4-pack

binoculars on wall using metal hooks on ovation of the seas
I used the heavy duty hooks to keep binoculars by the balcony for whale spotting on our Alaska cruise
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.

Findmag Magnetic Hooks, 25 lb, 8-pack

small magnetic hooks on cruise door
The small hooks are great for things you don’t want to forget as you leave the room

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.

Cruise Lanyard with ID holder – 8 Pack

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

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

Snorkel Set

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.

Adult Snorkel Set

What NOT to bring

Towels

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.

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.

CruiseSpotlight is an Amazon Associate. We may earn a commission when you click links to retailers and purchase goods. Click here more for details.