If you’ve never traveled by ship, the idea of packing for a cruise can seem a little overwhelming. Luckily for you (and let’s be honest, me) I’ve been on lots of cruises and have the packing thing pretty well mastered at this point so I’m about to make your life REALLY easy. Below is my Packing for a Cruise Checklist that will tell you what to take for your trip to the Caribbean. Follow me after the list for answers to WHY I suggest some of these things or links on where to find them.
Let’s Talk About Clothes
On a 7 Night Caribbean Cruise, the main dining room of your ship will host two Elegant or Formal dinners. Acceptable fashion choices can range from ballgowns and tuxedos to slacks and a nice blouse, but don’t expect to fit in these nights if you wander in wearing jeans or shorts. Cruise lines in general are becoming more lenient in their dress codes but if you don’t want to feel out of place, either dress nicely or plan on visiting one of the more casual restaurants those evenings… it’s a good time to check out the buffet or enjoy room service if lobster and prime rib aren’t worth dressing up for.
Smart Casual Outfits
Most people think packing for a cruise requires two outfits for every day of their vacation but that really isn’t the case. Unless you happen to be a Kennedy, you probably don’t shower and “dress for dinner” normally but you are likely to do exactly that after being in the sun all day, so lighten your load and plan on letting those 4 smart casual outfits do double-duty. Once you dress for dinner, plan on wearing that outfit around the next day for your explorations. Not sure what smart-casual means? Basically, just dress like you are having dinner at a country club or a nice chain restaurant and you will be fine.
Casual Tops and Bottoms
Leggings, yoga pants, jean shorts, tshirts & tank tops all fit in here. Take a couple tops and bottoms that you can mix and match in case you want something a little more casual and comfortable after dinner, on-shore or during your days at sea.
You will probably spend A LOT of time in your bathing suit and it’s never fun to put on a wet one, so bring a spare. A swim cover is helpful to get you around the ship comfortably but you don’t need a new one for every day so save the space in your luggage.
You never know how well air-conditioned the public places onboard the ship will be or how windy it will be on deck. Bring a sweater or a light jacket for the possibility of cooler temps.
-Even if you sleep in the buff, bring a light robe or pajamas. Nothing like having the Room Steward knock on your door and not having any clothes to throw on quickly. Ask me how I know.
-Pack one pair of underwear for every day of the trip plus one extra. You can wash them in the sink/shower or have a bag of laundry done onboard if you run into dire circumstances… you’ll spend most of your time in your swimsuit anyway.
-Bring a strapless or convertible style bra if your dresses require it. I’ve forgotten that when packing for a cruise before and it wasn’t the look I had planned… plus, if you happen to be the unfortunate soul with a terrible sunburn as your souvenir, you will have an option that spares your tender shoulders.
-Even if you aren’t planning to wear tennis shoes, pack at least one pair of socks. Many ships have rock-climbing walls, bowling alleys, or ice-skating rinks you can enjoy. And if not, they can always serve as slippers to keep your feet warm.
You don’t need every pair of shoes you own, Imelda Marcos. Limit it to just a few pairs (all with good traction for slippery decks) that can get the job done:
1. Close-toed shoes for more active endeavors like hiking ancient ruins, climbing the rock wall, or hitting the gym
2. Sandals or flip-flops, bonus points if they are both comfortable and nice enough to go from poolside to the dining room
3. Dress shoes for evening dinners and shows (one pair of black flats is usually all I need)
4. Water shoes if you are squeamish about the ocean or planning more adventurous water activities. Climbing Dunns River Falls in Jamaica, for instance, requires water shoes so if you don’t bring your own you will have to rent theirs.
Additional Considerations when packing for a cruise
First Things First
When you arrive at the cruise terminal, Porters will take your luggage onboard and deliver it to your stateroom later in the evening. It’s customary to tip them a buck or two for each bag so make sure you have a small amount of cash handy. You will also need your cruise documentation paperwork, personal identification, and probably an ink pen before boarding the ship so keep those out of your luggage. Once you get through the embarkation process, you will be issued a card that will be your room key and credit card onboard the ship so you will need it with you at all times. A lanyard or badge holder like this one can help make it easier to keep up with when your bathing suit or evening gown doesn’t have pockets.
You might even want a waterproof version for the beach or pool.
Drink it all in
Most cruise lines allow you to take a bottle of wine per stateroom (or per adult), or a small cache of soda or water onboard. If you bring these items, make sure you read your particular company’s restrictions ahead of time and follow the rules or they will make you throw it out. A wine opener & corker are a good addition if you bring your own beverages as the cruise companies will charge you a corkage fee if you ask them to open it in a public area. Most cruise lines include water, unsweet tea, and coffee as drink options leaving you the option to purchase juices and sodas. We like to take a pack of Crystal Light flavor packs with us to mask the taste of the water without having to waste money on other beverages. Something like this will work:
Plan for downtime
One of the nice things about cruising is that there is some time built in for relaxing in whatever capacity you prefer. A deck of cards or a small board game, may be just the thing to keep your family happy if the weather turns bad, so keep that in mind when packing for a cruise and throw one in the bag. For some folks, relaxing means playing on their phone, tablet, or laptop so make sure you bring your chargers if that sounds like you. A power adaptor with USB plugs is a great way to charge additional tech items in your room, despite the limited number of outlets. We use this one for both cruises and international travel.
If your group has different interests, or is spread between several rooms, a set of waterproof walkie-talkie radios can be invaluable for locating each other while aboard the ship. We’ve taken this set on several trips with us and it has made it much more enjoyable than constantly trying to plan where to meet up.
Most of this section is pretty self-explanatory; just pack whatever you use in the bathroom each morning to get yourself ready for the day. However, there are a couple of items you might not think of on a normal basis.
Smells like a good time
I’m not sure how to tell you this, but… your poop stinks. Your room and bathroom are small and you’re probably sharing the space with someone you love. Do your loved ones a favor and pack a small spritzer of air freshener or Poopouri. That’s all that needs to be said about that.
Stop the chub rub
If you happen to be shaped more like a mermaid than a super model (read: you lack a thigh gap), then there is a good chance that the combination of sweat, sand, saltwater, and skimpy shorts is going to lead to a little chub rub on your inner thighs. It happens to the best of us, but chafing isn’t fun for anyone so plan on stopping it before it even starts. I LOVE Monistat’s Chafing Gel designed specifically for this purpose (and bonus, it makes an excellent makeup primer, but I digress).
Just for kids
Cruises are great for families because they plan tons of activities to keep your little ones entertained without you having to lug too much extra crap around, but there are still a couple things worth considering when packing for a cruise that might not normally make it into your luggage.
If you take advantage of the ship’s offerings, you won’t need many toys while onboard. We usually just bring the same ones we take along for a flight. Check out this post if you need some ideas. On the beach however, you might want something to keep them entertained while you soak up some sun. This is the set we take along for our trips and because it’s collapsible, it doesn’t take up tons of space.
Take an inflatable bath tub along if you have a baby or toddler and I guarantee you will find a use for it! It makes bathing your little one in the tiny bathrooms easier, but it has other uses as well. Use it as a float at the beach, for instance. Or fill it with water and let your little one splash around if they aren’t allowed in the main pool and you’re totally over the splash pad area. (Obviously, stay within arm’s reach and always supervise your kids appropriately).
Packing for a cruise doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact, I’ve tried to make this list as comprehensive as possible without making you sit on your suitcase to zip it up. Remember that you don’t need EVERYTHING on this list, just the things that fit in with your vacation priorities. Click here to print the checklist or save it to your computer. Did I miss something that you always take with you? Do you feel a little more prepared for your vacation after reading this? Let me know in the comments!