What to Pack for a Cruise


Style on the High Seas: Packing Do's and Don'ts for Cruising

You only have to unpack once. Keep that in mind when packing for your upcoming cruise starts to feel overwhelming. After all, you need clothing for traveling, exploring the ship, water activities, dressy dinners and excursions. That sounds like a lot, but it's easier to streamline your packing list than you might think. There's one big challenge to remember, though: When you're out at sea, you only have access to what's on board. Check and double-check that you have all the essentials your family needs before setting sail.

Pack: A Day Bag

A day bag is to cruising as a carry-on bag is to flying. When you arrive at the port, you'll check your luggage on the dock before boarding. Your bags will be delivered to your stateroom hours later. In between, you'll need a tote bag or backpack to use for holding everyone's IDs and boarding documents, sweaters, snacks and water bottles, as well as toys for entertaining the kids if the boarding line is long. You can also take your day bag with you during excursions. Pick something durable with comfortable padded straps and plenty of pockets.

Pack: Clothing Essentials

Neutral tops and bottoms. A few pairs of long pants, a few pairs of shorts and an assortment of short- and long-sleeved shirts make a good base wardrobe for every member of your family. Plan to mix and match pieces as the week goes on, rather than bringing one full outfit for each day. However, bring more clothing for young kids who are prone to spills and accidents. Don't forget PJs and more than enough underwear to last the trip.

Warm layers. Even if you're cruising to a tropical locale, expect parts of the ship to be chilly. Early mornings and nights can be cold on the top deck too. Bring at least one sweatshirt or sweater per family member, along with hooded waterproof jackets. If you're cruising somewhere cold, like Alaska, bring hats and mittens too.

Dinner clothing. Check your cruise line's policies and guidelines for dinner wear. Dress pants, collared shirts, sundresses and skirt outfits are usually acceptable for dressy dining rooms, but guests in Disney's kid-friendly dining rooms tend to dress more casually. And on some ships, guests are expected to dress in more formal attire, like a suit or cocktail dress.

Swimwear. Bring a bathing suit for every water-loving member of your group. Pack swim diapers and goggles if your kids need them.

Assorted shoes. Every member of your crew should have worn-in walking shoes with nonslip soles, shoes to wear with dressy dinner outfits (if applicable) and a third pair of casual shoes. For most cruises, sandals are perfect, but you might prefer closed-toe shoes if you're cruising to a cold climate.

Skip: Ball Gowns and Tuxedos

If this is your first cruise, you might have an image in your head of a super-formal dining experience. But on most cruise ships, people dress for dinner the way they might dress for religious services or date nights. Unless you own nothing but yoga pants, you shouldn't need to buy anything new to fit in with the rest of the dinner crowd.

Pack: Toiletries and Medication

Most cruise lines stock stateroom bathrooms with the most basic toiletries. Bar soap and shampoo are usually provided; conditioner and lotion might or might not be. If having particular brands of toiletries is important to you or your kids, calculate how much you use of any given product, and pack it in travel-sized containers. That way you can discard them at the end of the trip and use that suitcase space for souvenirs.

And while every ship has an infirmary, you should bring your own first-aid kit stocked with sunscreen, aloe vera, motion sickness medication and pain relievers, as well as any prescription medications and vitamins that your family members need.

Skip: Alcohol

Your cruise line might allow guests to bring a small amount of wine on board, but you'll probably have to pay a hefty corkage fee to drink it in one of the ship's restaurants. Other kinds of alcohol are usually forbidden. Your cruise line would much prefer you to buy drinks directly from the ship's restaurants and bars.

Pack: Electronics and Entertainment

Plan for downtime. Bring new books, portable games, any handheld devices that your kids use and chargers for all your electronics.