The Ultimate Cruise Packing List (Including Cold, Hot/Dry, & Tropical Climates)
Packing for a cruise vacation isn’t always smooth sailing. There are a number of things to consider when deciding what to include in your luggage, including how long your cruise is, where you’ll be cruising, the climate of your intended destination, and any activities you’ll be taking part in along the way.
Depending on the type of ship and your chosen destination, you may have to plan on packing clothing for swimming activities, hiking, formal dinners, sleeping, potential harsh weather, working out, and walking around cities. All of which begs the question, how do you pack for a cruise efficiently without having to throw your whole wardrobe in?!
While packing for small ship cruises can be a bit more challenging than a normal vacation packing list, it simply requires a bit more planning to make sure you’re fully prepared. To make the process easier, our ultimate cruise packing list will cover just about everything you may need for your cruise, whether you’re headed to the tropical beaches of the Philippines or the icy landscapes of Antarctica.
If you’re looking for general packing tips that are useful for any cruise, or specialized information to help you pack for cold climates, hot and dry climates, or humid tropical climates, consider this guide a lifeboat of knowledge that will allow you to pack more effectively.
GENERAL PACKING TIPS FOR CRUISES
Cruising through different regions of the world will require you to pack a bit differently for each one, but most cruises share common traits for which general cruise packing tips can be applied. The following is an overview of general items you should pack and what items to leave behind, whether you’re floating down the Danube or crossing the Tasman Sea towards New Zealand.
Choosing Your Luggage
All great packing starts with choosing the right luggage. There are several things to consider when selecting which type of luggage you’ll be bringing aboard a cruise ship. While some ships provide much more luggage allowance than most airlines, you have to keep in mind that you may be taking a flight to reach your cruise terminal and will, therefore, be restricted by your airline’s baggage regulations.
Once you’ve decided how many bags to pack, you must decide on what type of bags to use. Hardshell suitcases with wheels offer better protection and are easier to transport through airports, but keep in mind that some cruise cabins are restricted when it comes to space. Having collapsible, duffel-style bags will allow you to better maximize the space in your cabin.
If you have a larger, suite-style cabin, a wheeled roller may be a good option if you have a long walk to reach the cruise departure terminal. Keep in mind that you usually won’t have to transport your bags to your room, as you will likely drop your bags off at check-in and they will be delivered to your cabin by the cruise staff.
Because you may not have access to these checked bags (and the contents within them) for several hours, it’s important to pack any essential medications or other things you may need in the time before your bags arrive in your cabin.
Once you’ve decided what kind of bags to use, it’s time to start filling them. If you’re taking a flight to reach your cruise departure point and are traveling with a partner or friend, it’s a good idea to divide your checked bag travel items between each of your bags. By dividing half of your clothes and other belongings between the two suitcases, you’ll reduce the risk of not having some of your belongings in the event one bag is lost or delayed during your flight.
The sad reality is that cruise ships will leave the port whether you have your bags or not. So, if you have a tight window of time between when your flight lands and the ship departs, you could potentially need to embark your cruise ship without your luggage if it has been lost or delayed.
Generally speaking, you should make pack travel clothes that are suitable for all the different activities on your itinerary. Have a thorough read through all the shore excursions you’re planning, as well as what dining options are offered on the ship.
Some shore excursions will require you to have items like hiking boots, beachwear, and rain jackets. Some dining options may require you to dress formally, although most expedition cruises do not require formal wear.
You should always opt for travel clothing that isn’t prone to wrinkling since nobody wants to spend time ironing inside their cabin while on vacation. Larger ships may offer a communal launderette that provides an iron, but this can be both time consuming and a hassle to locate. A better option may be to pack some specially formulated wrinkle release spray.
While most cruise ships will provide you with an endless supply of toiletries, such as soap and shampoo, it may be wise to bring your own if you’re devoted to a certain brand based on personal preferences or allergies.
If you’re not content with the quality of toiletries the cruise ship offers, you may be stuck using them until you reach a port where you can search for others. Keep in mind there is no certainty that the port will provide access to the specific brands you’re looking for.
Because cruise cabin bathrooms are often quite small, you should only pack the number of toiletries you think you will use during the cruise in order to save on space. It is also a great idea to pack a toiletry organizer that can hang over the bathroom door, as bathroom counter and drawer space are usually minimal on cruise ships.
It’s vital to pack enough of your essential medications, as you probably won’t be able to access refills of prescription medications during your cruise. Even when medications are available, not all countries will accept international prescriptions.
If you’re prone to seasickness, pack appropriate medication (such as Dramamine) to help ease your discomfort in case the ride gets rough. If you require corrective lenses—eyeglasses or contact lenses—be sure to bring extra on board with you.
Although most cruise ships will have first aid equipment on board, you may wish to pack a small personal kit with things like aspirin and adhesive bandages for quicker access. Having access to your medical history is also a good idea in case you require treatment onboard or while in a port of call. You can easily email this information to yourself before your trip so that you can access it from anywhere.
Lastly, because nobody wishes to get sick during their vacation, it is a wise idea to take hand sanitizer to use before eating meals and after visiting the ship’s communal areas.
Being far out at sea, or even on a river far from major cities, means you will most likely be without internet (or it may cost you quite a bit to use if it is available). You should plan on downloading books, movies, and/or your favorite TV shows to keep you occupied during downtime, or for days when you simply choose to stay on the ship and relax.
If you happen to get sick, the ship’s doctors may confine you to your cabin so as to not infect other passengers on the ship. In instances like this, you will definitely want some entertainment to keep you occupied.
When traveling with children, having movies and games they’re familiar with will give them a sense of home and help keep them content. If you’re lucky enough to have a cabin with a balcony that offers a stunning view, bring along some binoculars. They can be used to spot whales and dolphins during days at sea, and for checking out notable landmarks along the shore during river cruises.
Items for Shore Excursions
In addition to packing for your time on the ship, you need to think about your shore excursions.
Pack a small lightweight backpack in your suitcase that you can use when you explore various ports along your journey. You can use this backpack to carry swimsuits, bottled water, camera gear, snacks, and various other things you may need onshore.
If you plan on renting a car to explore a port, bring a GPS preloaded with maps of your destination so that you can avoid having to pay a daily fee to use one that is offered by the car rental company.
One of the most important items you can have on any cruise won’t take up any space at all. Having quality travel insurance with cruise protection will cover you for a variety of potential travel headaches.
Helicopter evacuation from a cruise ship can be extremely expensive, as can receiving international medical treatment.
Cruise insurance will also protect you financially in instances of cabin confinement, missed ports, reimbursements for shore excursions that you’re forced to miss, and lost or damaged personal belongings.
WHAT NOT TO PACK FOR A CRUISE
As important as it is to know what to pack for a cruise, it’s equally important to know what to leave at home. As with air travel, there are restrictions on what you can take aboard a cruise.
While there are some obvious no-no’s—like bringing weapons and illegal drugs on board—there are also other items you may be surprised to learn you cannot have, and some that, while allowed, you’re unlikely to actually use.
In addition to prohibiting weapons, cruise ships also ban most kitchen appliances and household appliances that create heat. Leave the electric frypan and rice cooker at home, as they won’t be allowed and you’re bound to have more than enough food available throughout your cruise. If you’re worried about catering to your allergies, simply contact your cruise company and let them know of any dietary restrictions and they will be sure to accommodate you.
Cruise companies generally allow you to bring one bottle of wine or champagne onboard without having to pay a corkage fee, but any beer or bottles of spirits will not be permitted. If you happen to purchase alcohol in ports or onboard the ship via the duty-free shops, they can be stored by cruise staff and delivered to your room on the final day of the cruise. Small coolers will often be allowed on board, but larger coolers cannot be used as checked-bags and will be confiscated. The only exception is in cases where a larger cooler is needed for items like baby formula or medications.
Portable heaters, electric blankets, personal hairdryers, and other items that give off heat can pose a fire risk. These will all be confiscated from your luggage and won’t be allowed on board. Other fire hazards include extension cords and power strips with cords. It may be tempting to bring a power strip with attached extension cords, since there are often minimal outlets in cruise cabins, but they will not be allowed. A good alternative is to bring a multiple USB power port, or a power strip that has no cord attached and no surge protection. Both of these will usually be allowed on the ship.
One thing you are often allowed to bring onboard the ship that creates a flame is a cigarette lighter. You are sometimes allowed to smoke in designated areas that can be found on the open-air decks of the ship. Of course, any other flammable liquids or hazardous chemicals are prohibited.
While you’re encouraged to take countless photos to remember your journey, note that drones are generally not allowed on cruise ships. There is already enough plastic in the ocean without adding a drone that couldn’t keep up with the ship or simply lost power.
While it may be fun to put together a game of baseball on the top deck, note that most sporting equipment is not allowed on cruise ships. This includes baseball bats, hockey sticks, skateboards, and skis. If you plan to surf or cycle at the port, you’ll need to rent a surfboard and/or bicycle as these are generally not allowed on board.
Items You Probably Won’t Need
As stated before, digital eBooks are a great idea but leave the heavy physical books at home. In addition to them taking up valuable real estate in your luggage, many cruise ships already have a well-stocked library on board. You also won’t need to bring a bunch of travel brochures you collected beforehand, as the ship will often make available any local maps or other information you may need for the various ports of call.
In regards to clothing, you probably won’t need to bring a clothesline, since most cruise cabin bathrooms will have one to hang your swimsuits on. Note that it’s usually against the rules to hang clothing from a balcony, and more often than not your clothing won’t last long out there anyway if it’s windy. You may have been advised to pack extra clothes hangers since you’re not often given many in your cabin. But you can simply ask cruise staff for more instead of having to pack them yourself.
Leave the bulky beach and pool towels at home, since cruise ships seem to have an endless free supply of them for you to use during your cruise. You also won’t need to pack a bag for laundry, as you will usually find one in your cabin. While they are provided if wish to have laundry done on board, you’re also allowed to use them to keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean clothes when repacking at the end of the cruise.
It may be tempting to bring some of your favorite snacks on board. Although they are generally allowed, there is so much food available on cruise ships that you really won’t need anymore. Often, food and snacks are available 24 hours a day and are generally free of charge at the buffet.
If you’re looking to work off all those calories, you don’t need to bring personal exercise equipment. Most cruise ships offer well-equipped fitness rooms and possibly even yoga studios with everything you may need.
PACKING FOR COLD CLIMATE CRUISES
Now that the basics have been covered in regards to packing for any cruise, let’s take a look at details on how to pack for various climates or regions you may visit during your trip.
Whether you’re planning to watch for polar bears and walruses off the coast of Greenland, orcas in Alaska, or penguins in Antarctica, here are a few cold-weather cruise packing tips to consider.
You might be inclined to bring a bunch of heavy sweaters and jackets to protect yourself against the elements. But a much more effective way to battle the cold is to dress in several lightweight layers. It’s a good system to have three—a base layer that includes long underwear, an insulating layer that will trap in heat, and a shell layer that will combat any wind or rain you may face.
Avoid choosing cotton or down clothing, as it tends to absorb water and, once wet, can lose most of its insulating properties. Stick to natural materials like merino wool or synthetics like polypropylene. Be sure to pack a warm hat, insulated gloves, and a scarf. You’ll also want to pack thicker socks if you plan on hiking through snow and ice, or on glaciers.
When visiting places like Antarctica, check to see if your waterproof boots, waterproof pants, and waterproof parka will be supplied by your cruise company. If they are, this means you won’t have to pack these bulky items yourself.
You may not think to pack sunscreen for cold climate cruises, but the sun reflecting off pure white snow can result in getting a nasty sunburn if you’re not protected. Cold weather can often be quite dry as well, meaning you should pack lip balm and moisturizer to further protect your skin. Pack a few hand and foot warmers, too, since your extremities will usually feel the cold temps first.
Bonus Packing Tip
Camera and phone batteries die much faster in cold weather, so it’s a good idea to stock up on spare batteries as well as rechargeable power banks that will keep your electronics running. This way you won’t miss capturing those special once-in-a-lifetime moments.
PACKING FOR HOT/DRY CLIMATE CRUISES
There are a few extra things you should be aware of when packing for cruises that pass through hot and dry regions. These tips will come in handy in places like the Middle East or cruising African rivers, such as the Nile and Chobe. Even the Mediterranean region can get quite hot and dry during the summer months.
When it comes to hot climate clothing, light-colored and loose-fitting items work well in the desert and other arid regions. While cotton may not work well for colder climates, in warm climates its water-absorbing and retention qualities allow it to capture your sweat and cool you down for longer periods, since it will evaporate more slowly.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that it can get quite cold at night in the desert. You’ll want to be sure to change out of your damp cotton clothing before the hot temperature changes to the colder temps that are often brought on by nightfall. Packing a light jacket is also a good idea for the cooler evenings.
While wearing shorts may be tempting, if you plan on doing walking safaris it may be wise to wear long pants to protect you, both from scratchy shrubs and sunburn. You may also be required to wear long pants and long sleeves when visiting certain monuments or mosques, especially in Middle Eastern countries.
Women will need to pack a headscarf in order to be respectful to Muslim cultures in the Middle East, and it can also double as a face screen against dust storms rising up in the desert.
Your skin may not be used to extreme dry conditions, so be sure to pack plenty of moisturizer specially designed for various skin areas. Your sensitive lips are one of the first things to become chapped in dry weather, so a good lip balm with sun protection is vital. You should also pack eye drops in order to keep your eyes from drying out, which is especially important for those wearing contacts.
Bonus Packing Tip
One of the most important things you can do when visiting hot and dry climates is to stay hydrated. Instead of paying top dollar for bottled water on the ship, bring a refillable water bottle that you can top off onboard the ship before every shore excursion.
PACKING FOR TROPICAL CRUISES
Most Americans probably think of the Caribbean Islands when thinking of tropical cruises. However, the same hot and humid weather occurs throughout Southeast Asia along rivers like the Mekong, and in South America for those taking an Amazon River cruise. Beat the heat and humidity with these helpful packing tips:
For hot and humid climates, you’ll want to pack clothing that’s both lightweight and breathable. You want clothing that loosely hangs off your body as opposed to clinging to it. Look for quick-dry fabrics that help wick away moisture from your body.
Good fabric choices are cotton, linen, rayon, and organic bamboo. Stick to shorts and lightweight summer dresses as opposed to long pants whenever possible.
You may find that you sweat through your clothing much quicker in tropical regions, so you may want to pack more clothing or plan on doing more frequent washing along the way. We often wash our moisture-wicking clothes when we shower at night, then hang them up so they’re dry the next morning.
In addition to bringing a swimsuit, pack a beach cover-up for when you return to your cabin or are shopping in beachside markets and shops. Don’t forget to pack flip-flops or sandals in order to allow your feet a chance to breathe and a wide brim hat to keep the sun off your face.
One of the most important items to pack for hot and humid climates is insect repellent. Although you may be safe from mosquitoes and bugs while on the ship at sea, you may notice they are quite abundant while in port, especially on river cruises.
Regions like South America and Southeast Asia have been known to have mosquito-spread diseases like Zika, so protecting yourself is essential. It’s best to pack resources to avoid them.
You’ll also want to pack plenty of deodorant, both for your own sake as well as out of respect for your fellow cruise passengers. Since tropical climate cruises will often visit a number of beautiful beaches, be sure to pack reef-safe sunscreen and aloe gel in case you show signs of minor sunburn.
And because sweating in humid weather can lead to skin rashes in areas such as your groin, underarms, and feet, pack some talcum powder to help keep your skin dry and free of skin infections.
Bonus Packing Tip
Bring a small dry bag to help keep your gear free of sand and surf. A waterproof case for your phone and other electronics is also a good idea.
You’ll also have to be careful when carrying cameras from an air-conditioned room to the hot and humid outdoors. To keep your camera lenses from fogging up, just place your camera in a bag with some desiccant pouches until it has a chance to acclimate to the new temperature.
BIO:Megan Jerrard is an Australian journalist and the founder and Senior Editor of Mapping Megan, an award-winning travel blog bringing you the latest in adventure travel from all over the globe.