Wondering What to Bring on a Cruise? Here’s What You Need (and What You Don’t!)

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Photo credit: Norwegian Cruise Line

Now that you’ve booked your sailing adventure, it’s time to start planning what to bring on a cruise. Packing for a few days or weeks at sea means it’s important to be organized and think through your itinerary and what you’ll need. From basics like toiletries and t-shirts to clothes for formal night and shore excursions, you’ll want to have everything you need without overpacking.

So, what to bring on a cruise? In some ways, it’s like packing for a land-based vacation. You’ll need to take into account the destinations you’re visiting and any special occasions on the itinerary. But there are some cruise-specific tips worth keeping in mind.

“The most obvious is remembering that you’ll be at sea for much of the time, so it’s not as easy to hop into your preferred pharmacy for odds and ends or medications. If you’re at a loss, the cruise lines do have shops onboard, but you’ll likely pay more for the convenience of accessing them. Pack things like over-the-counter medication, sunscreen and even items like stain sticks. Being over-prepared is worth it in this case,” says Colleen McDaniel, Editor-in-Chief of Cruise Critic.

From sea days to shore excursions, read our cruise packing list for a smooth start to your cruise vacation.

Read More: How Much Does a Cruise Cost? 

Sunglasses and a sun hat are important things to bring on a cruise.
Kids need sun hats and sunglasses too. Photo credit: Jenn Mitchell

Pack a Tote

I love the first few hours after stepping onboard a cruise ship. Exploring the ship, eating lunch and the anticipation of sailing in a few hours are exciting. Note that your bags will be delivered to your cabin by ship staff – and you likely won’t see them until hours after you’ve boarded your ship.

So be sure to pack a tote, backpack or carry-on bag for essentials like lip balm, swimsuits, cover-up, change of clothes, prescription medication, hand sanitizer, toiletries and a cell phone charger. That way, you can hit the ground running as soon as you step foot onboard.

Packing any articles of value in your carry-on is also a good idea – jewelry, computers, etc. For valuables, including my laptop, I like the Kroser laptop backpack for land or sea travel. I pack all of my travel documents in my backpack. These include tickets, travel insurance, passports, Visas, vaccine cards, credit cards and tip money.

Some of our favorite things to pack in our tote that don’t take up much space in a cruise cabin:

Packing Cubes

When I travel, I always use packing cubes. Those that include laundry bags are handy for separating dirty clothes. The packing cubes are helpful for organizing my clothes and toiletries while also enabling me to stuff a bit more into my carry-on luggage.

What to bring on a cruise includes comfortable clothing and shoes.
Families should wear nice, comfortable clothing on and off the cruise ship. Photo credit: Alex Mirabel

Daily attire for your cruise vacation

While onboard, you’ll want to be comfortable for the ship’s activities, meals and entertainment. Bring along casual clothes for the day and dressy clothes for the evening. In general, for a warm weather cruise vacation like the Caribbean, pack t-shirts, tank tops, shorts/jeans, sundresses, swimsuits, cover-ups, slip-resistant flip-flops and comfortable walking shoes. Bring a scarf for chilly evenings or to dress up an outfit for the dining room.

For an Alaska cruise – and depending on the month of travel – you can pack some of the same items like jeans and t-shirts (short and long sleeved). In addition, pack a jacket, sweater, warm hat or beanie and gloves.

Some of our favorite cruise accessories for a Caribbean cruise vacation:

Formal nights

Over the years I’ve noticed that formal night clothing and dress shoes aren’t worn by everyone anymore. While some people wear cocktail dresses and suits, others prefer casual but nice pants and dresses. But it really depends on the cruise line, so be sure to check your cruise line’s dress code.

Most cruise ships sell purses, jewelry, ties and other accessories for formal night. But if you want to bring your own, just remember to leave the expensive baubles at home.

  • One or two cocktail dresses
  • Dress slacks and dress shirts
  • Sports jackets
  • Dress shoes and socks
Disney Cruise Line toiletries
The choice is yours. Use the toiletries the cruise line provides, or pack your own. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland


The cruise ship will provide shampoo, conditioner and soap, but I like to bring my own products in travel size bottles. In addition to your favorite cosmetics and products, remember to pack sunscreen, after sun lotion and a travel manicure kit.


Your cruise cabin may have limited outlets. To accommodate cell phones, laptops and other electronics, pack a travel power strip. Just make sure it doesn’t have a surge protector, which are banned by some cruise lines. To be on the safe side, buy a wall charger block.

Stateroom essentials

These small items can make a big difference in keeping your clothes and stateroom tidy.

Accessories on and off the ship

Having a few extra accessories can make a cruise vacation more enjoyable.

  • Waterproof pouches for snorkeling, kayaking and beach days
  • Reusable water bottles are handy on the cruise ship and during shore excursions
  • Tenikle waterproof mount for cell phones, cameras and other devices
  • Lanyard for cards, ID, etc.
image of first aid kit surrounded by supplies for beach first aid
Photo Credit: Pixabay

First Aid kit

It’s always a good idea to have your own first-aid kit with adhesive bandages, ginger candy, antiseptic wipes and other items. Prone to motion sickness? While you may be able to get these on your ship, be prepared and bring your own:

Bags on Board

I find that I can’t have enough small bags on vacation. They fold flat and come in handy for many things…for wet bathing suits, souvenirs on shore excursions, trash and other things, I use plastic bags, ziplock baggies and collapsible beach bags.

Packing for Kids

According to Cruise Critic, there are several items that can make cruising with young kids a breeze. Here are a couple of our favorite picks.

  • Yellow Ducky Tub is an inflatable bathtub can double as a kiddie pool for tykes in diapers who can’t use the main cruise pools.
  • Magnetic white board for leaving message for your family on your stateroom door.
Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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