4 Things to Pack for Your Next Cruise — And 4 Things to Leave at Home

published May 24, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Tourist woman with backpack and hat standing in front of big cruise liner
Credit: Zigres/Shutterstock

If there’s one thing I love about cruising, it’s the idea of going to sleep in one destination and waking up in another. Maximizing time with a mobile hotel room is a relaxing way to explore many places in one trip. While taking a cruise sounds appealing to many, packing can seem like a daunting task, even for experienced cruisers. I’m an avid cruiser, but sometimes I still take cues from others or learn by trial and error. That’s why I’m always taking mental notes for my cruise packing list.

One great place to start is by researching the web page for your specific cruise line, as many companies have a designated page that outlines the essentials for your packing list. Not only are these lists beneficial for first-time cruisers, but they’re also an excellent resource for folks who travel a lot. So before you weigh down your luggage with unnecessary items or unknowingly leave something handy at home, here are a few things you should add to — or remove from — your cruise packing list. 

Bring: A Bathing Suit

My policy of always taking a swimsuit when I travel has proven helpful over the years, especially if there’s a beach nearby or the hotel has a pool or hot tub. It’s also a cruise must-have, even if you will be on a cold-weather trip. When my husband and I traveled to Alaska with Princess Cruises, we used our bathing suits in their spa’s indoor hydrotherapy pool. We also braved the chilly air to plunge into the heated outdoor jacuzzis. And during a hot-weather vacation, you’ll need a swimsuit for the outdoor pools and to enjoy any beachy ports of call.

Leave: Shower Products

While you should pack your regular skincare routine — in TSA-approved sizes (try these travel-size toiletries bottles) if you’re taking a flight beforehand — you can feel safe leaving your shower essentials at home, as most cruise lines supply them. “Getting toiletries and liquids through airport security is nothing short of a hassle, and cruising should be the exact opposite of a stressful experience,” says Bettyann Chun, cruise and travel director at Holland America Line, which provides shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and body lotion in each stateroom.

Bring: Port-Appropriate Attire

Even if you don’t book an excursion, research what there is to do at each port of call. Perhaps you’ll need to pack comfy shoes to explore historic sites on foot, or the town is known for sudden rain showers, so taking an umbrella or a raincoat is a good idea. When you do book an excursion, be sure to read the accompanying description thoroughly. Many adventure-related activities require closed-toed shoes, and if you’re visiting a religious site you may have to wear a head covering or dress modestly.

Credit: courtneyk/Getty Images

Leave: Alcohol

Toting a bottle of wine on board can be pricey, depending on the cruise line, so check the company website before you take any alcohol on board. For example, Princess Cruises allows one bottle of wine or Champagne per adult of legal age. As with any cruise line, security scans luggage before boarding, so don’t try to hide bottles in your suitcase because it’s likely that they’ll be discovered and discarded.

Bring: A Hat

It’s a given that you’ll be around water while on a cruise, and I usually pack a hat for several reasons. First, if you’re like me, and being around water makes your hair go haywire, wearing a hat will help keep your hair looking somewhat reasonable. In addition to sunscreen, a hat can do double duty to protect your face from the sun. Whether you prefer a sun hat, fedora, or ball cap, hold on to it while walking around the ship’s deck. One gust of wind could cause the ocean to claim your hat forever.

Leave: Extra Clothing

Figuring out what to wear can be incredibly stressful, but it doesn’t have to be if you utilize a cruise line’s laundry services. You can have clothing cleaned at a per-piece rate or, for the best deal, some companies offer a pay-one-price option for the duration of your cruise. “Don’t pack too much clothing on longer voyages,” says Chun. She also advises that laundry services have a quick turnaround, are reasonably priced, and help keep your luggage light. Plus, cruising is a great time to try out a capsule wardrobe

Bring: Binoculars

Some cruises offer a narrated portion if you are traveling through an interesting spot. For example, while I was on an Alaskan cruise, we traveled through the Endicott Arm while viewing wildlife and blue icebergs. The Panama Canal cruise also offered narration as we entered and went through the locks. Both times binoculars were convenient (for others, not for me, as it didn’t occur to me to bring any!) for viewing interesting birds and faraway waterfalls. Binoculars can even help you scope out the upcoming port as you approach, but please don’t use them to spy into the staterooms of other cruise ships when docked — I actually witnessed someone doing that once!