March 4, 2024

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35 Essentials for Your 2023 Cruise

35 Essentials for Your 2023 Cruise

Packing for any trip takes some planning, but cruise vacations present a unique challenge – particularly due to limited storage space and sparse options for purchasing accidentally forgotten items.

To help you decide what to pack for a cruise, U.S. News has compiled a cruise packing list with essentials that will simplify and organize your packing process or be useful to have on the ship or in port. Download the cruise packing list pictured above to reference while you pack and read on to learn more about the recommended items and where you can purchase them if needed.

Cruise packing list

  • Magnetic hooks
  • Sea-Bands
  • Dramamine
  • Wrinkle release spray
  • Garment bag
  • Over-the-door organizers
  • Poo-Pourri
  • Notebook
  • Wine or Champagne
  • Portable humidifier
  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Electronics organizer
  • First-aid kit
  • Hand sanitizer
  • International travel adapter or converter
  • Diapers

  • Mix-and-match clothing
  • Formal attire
  • Themed party attire
  • Travel wrap
  • Packable jacket
  • Packable hats
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Swim cover-up
  • Beach bag or backpack
  • Reef-safe sunscreen
  • After-sun lotion
  • A good book

  • Carry-on bag
  • Passport wallet
  • Medications
  • Packing cubes
  • Digital luggage scale
  • Collapsible luggage
  • Luggage tracker
  • Credit cards and local currency

Magnetic hooks

A surprising fact: Cruise ship cabin walls are made of metal, which means you can optimize your storage space by hanging some of your belongings on magnetic wall hooks. The hooks are perfect for holding bulky coats or boots if you’re traveling to a colder climate. You can also use them for wet gear on expedition ships and adventure cruises, or for drying out bathing suits after days at the beach or pool. Purchase a set of magnetic hooks for less than $10 on Amazon.

Sea-Bands

If you’re prone to (or think you may be prone to) motion sickness on cruise ships, put a pair of Sea-Bands on your cruise packing list. These soft wristbands use acupressure to prevent and minimize nausea and vomiting on board, and are a reusable, drug-free alternative to traditional anti-nausea medications. You can purchase Sea-Bands on Amazon or at most drugstores.

Dramamine

If you need something a bit stronger than Sea-Bands (or to use in conjunction with them), Dramamine remains a tried-and-true solution for both preventing and treating sea sickness. Choose the Less Drowsy formula to avoid getting sleepy, and consider the chewable tablets (dye-free) if traveling with kids who are prone to queasiness. Bonine is a top-rated remedy for sea sickness as well.

Wrinkle release spray

Travel steamers and irons are prohibited for safety reasons on most ships, so the next best thing to bring is a travel-size bottle of wrinkle release spray, such as Downy Wrinkle Releaser Spray. If you combine a spritz or two with the steam from your shower, you should be able to smooth out some of the wrinkles in your clothing.

Garment bag

WallyBags 52" Deluxe Garment Bag With Pockets against white background.

(Courtesy of WallyBags)

Since many dress clothing fabrics tend to wrinkle easily, consider investing in a garment bag, such as the top-rated ZEGUR bag available on Amazon or this well-priced option by WallyBags, both of which allow you to hang clothes, secure them in place and transfer them directly into the cabin closet on the ship. Many garment bags also have pockets and storage for additional accessories.

If you pack your luggage right, you can make this your only suitcase, in addition to a carry-on bag. However, most staterooms have storage space for two to three suitcases, so the garment bag will still fit under the bed if you choose to bring another checked bag.

Over-the-door organizers

Over-the-door organizers have clear pockets that allow you to find your feminine hygiene products, makeup, jewelry and other small items quickly – without having to hunt through multiple drawers or a tight stateroom closet. It’s also a good idea to bring an over-the-door shoe organizer to maximize floor space. Choose from a wide selection of organizers in a variety of colors, designs and sizes for around $20 on Amazon.

Poo-Pourri

Poo-Pourri bottle against white background.

(Courtesy of Poo-Pourri)

It goes without saying, but to say it anyway: A toilet spray like Poo-Pourri is a must for your cruise packing list. Any smell – pleasant or not – will travel quickly in small staterooms with small bathrooms. Buy a small bottle to throw in your over-the-door toiletry bag.

Notebook

Bring a notebook to use as a travel journal during your trip. It’s fun to look back on memories of the best meals or cocktails you had on board or in a port of call. You may also want to jot down details about the places you’ve visited or activities and events that took place on the ship. While smart devices are handy for recording the same information (and taking photos), it’s extra special to have a book to pick up and read after your vacation. Amazon has a variety of cruise-themed journals like this floral-print notebook, and you can also find some unique options on Etsy.

Wine or Champagne

Most major cruise lines allow each guest to bring one to two bottles of wine or Champagne on board, while some luxury cruise lines allow even more than that. Disney Cruise Line also gives guests the option to bring a six-pack of beer instead of wine or Champagne. Be sure to consult your cruise line’s policies when packing for your trip. Also check to see if your cruise ship charges corkage fees at restaurants; it may be cheaper (and more enjoyable) to sip the wine or Champagne from your stateroom balcony. (Just remember to bring a corkscrew, provided your cruise line allows it.)

Portable humidifier

Just like some hotel rooms, cruise ship cabins can feel dry – especially in the colder months. A portable humidifier can help relieve dry skin and may create a better sleeping and breathing environment. The small GENIANI portable USB-powered humidifier (about $30 on Amazon) only weighs about half a pound, so it will fit neatly into your checked bag or carry-on luggage. The quiet machine features two mist settings and has an automatic shut-off option, plus a night light to help you see around your cabin in the dark.

Noise-canceling headphones

There’s no better way to recharge after a long day exploring in port than to enjoy a restful night’s sleep. While the rolling waves of the ocean may lull some passengers into a blissful slumber, other people may need total silence to fall asleep. Noise-canceling headphones like the highly rated (and surprisingly affordable) Soundcore Anker Life Q20 headphones block out snoring spouses and late-night partiers returning to their staterooms. They may also come in handy for an afternoon snooze.

Electronics organizer

All electronic devices seem to come with different cords, plugs and attachments, so it’s important to keep them organized for easy access. The BAGSMART electronics organizer bag – available on Amazon for about $20 – stores all your cables, plugs, SD cards and earphones in one zippered, compact bag that will fit easily in your carry-on luggage. Despite its small size, it can still hold bulkier items like a small laptop charging cord, such as one for a MacBook Air. With this accessory, all your gadgets’ attachments and cords will take up less space on the desk or bedside table in your stateroom.

First-aid kit

A first-aid kit is a good thing to have on hand no matter where you go. You can make your own using supplies you already have at home – Band-Aids, Neosporin, Cortizone 10, Aquaphor, tweezers and the like – or buy a premade first-aid kit on Amazon for less than $20. While all cruise ships have medical facilities, it’s useful to have these items with you on shore excursions, especially those involving active adventures.

Hand sanitizer

International travel adapter or converter

Cruise lines homeported in international locales may have ship staterooms with different electrical sockets and voltage strengths than you are used to in the U.S. If you purchase a reliable travel adapter with Australian-, Asian-, European- and U.S.-compatible options, you should have all your bases covered for trips around the world. BESTEK’s universal travel adapter (available on Amazon for about $40) features a direct EU plug, adapters and a converter that will change the voltage as needed. It can also charge up to seven devices at a time, so you can keep your smartphone, camera, computer and other electronic devices ready to go.

Diapers

If you’re a parent, you know that your infant or toddler needs a very specific size – and in some cases brand – of diapers, which may very well be unavailable to you on your cruise ship or in the ports of call. Bring more than enough diapers to play it safe at sea.

Most cruise lines also require that non-toilet-trained infants and toddlers wear swim diapers in the children’s water play areas. For the sake of sanitation, kids must be toilet-trained to use any other pools on cruise ships.

Mix-and-match clothing

Pack a variety of mix-and-match items, also known as a capsule wardrobe, for your cruise. To do this, choose a base color – black or navy blue – for your wardrobe. Next, pack plain, neutral-colored items, then add a few patterned items to the mix. Remember to include a variety of styles (T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, pants and shorts) and also consider reversible clothing and outfits that can easily transition from day to night.

Formal attire

Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival host formal evenings in which guests are required to dress up for dinner. Check your cruise itinerary to see which nights this policy may apply to you and what the dress code will be.

For most cruise lines, formalwear generally means cocktail dresses, dress slacks, dress shirts, jumpsuits and pantsuits. Many people also wear sports jackets, suits, tuxedos and full-length gowns.

Themed party attire

Some cruise lines host themed voyages or parties on select nights where passengers can dress up to participate in the fun. You’ll want to review your cruise itinerary before you go so you’re prepared for the festivities. Bring your buccaneer gear if you’re sailing aboard Disney Cruise Line; ships host fun events like Pirate Nights, pirate-themed dinners and a “Pirates in the Caribbean” show. On “The Love Boat”-themed cruises offered by Princess Cruises, pack your platform boots, glittery dresses, bell-bottom pants and halter tops for the line’s 1970s-inspired disco party on the deck. No matter the theme, you can’t go wrong with a couple of captain hats.

Travel wrap

A well-made, versatile travel wrap may become one of your favorite travel pieces. Wraps will keep you warm on planes, as well as in chilly cruise ship restaurants, bars and theaters. They are also easy to throw on for an evening stroll on board or a late-night deck party, when temperatures can drop and the sea breeze can pick up. These pieces change the look of whatever you’re wearing and are great for accessorizing. If you’d like to splurge on a cashmere wrap, consider MERSEA’s The Luxy Wrap: It comes in soft colors like taupe and rose for around $200. A more affordable option, Coolibar’s lightweight Sanibel beach shawl, is offered in several colors and a striped pattern for about $35 on Amazon.

Packable jacket

Women's Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded Down Jacket against white background.

(Courtesy of Cotopaxi)

Packable hats

Comfortable walking shoes

Women's footwear from KURU Footwear.

(Courtesy of KURU Footwear)

If you’re planning to take a lot of shore excursions, be sure to pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Even if you never step foot off the ship, there is still plenty of walking to do between bow and stern. Closed-toe shoes or sandals with straps are safer than flimsy flip flops when boarding a slippery tender into port (if your ship can’t dock directly).

Swim cover-up

Another must-have for your cruise packing list is a swimsuit cover-up or two. These are great for wearing over your bathing suit during days at sea, as well as on excursions – especially if you’re going on a Caribbean cruise. Amazon sells a variety of stylish, affordable cover-ups like this popular one with tassels, available in a variety of colors and patterns.

Reusable water bottle

Green Hydro Flask reusable water bottle.

(Courtesy of Hydro Flask)

A reusable water bottle is useful for filling up at water and beverage stations on your cruise ship; it’s also a necessity for shore excursions. If you’re in the market for a new water bottle, check out the well-rated, insulated options from Hydro Flask, Takeya, YETI and S’well.

Beach bag or backpack

You’ll want to pack a lightweight beach bag for daytrips to the beach, visits to your cruise ship’s private island or afternoons at the pool. The lightweight, oversized F-color mesh beach tote with nine pockets (about $25 or less on Amazon) is a great choice to carry your sunscreen, flip-flops, a book, your smartphone, a water bottle, a bathing suit cover-up and more.

If you’re hitting the streets instead of the waves, you might want to opt for a backpack instead. The Pacsafe Metrosafe L3S350 anti-theft travel backpack has plenty of interior and exterior storage options. There’s even a pocket featuring RFID technology to secure your ID and credit card information from contactless magnetic wave transactions. The backpack is large enough to accommodate a sizable camera, a sweater, an iPad and other items you’ll need for the day. It weighs about 1.5 pounds and is priced around $140 on Amazon.

For a lighter backpack, consider purchasing the Amazon Basics ultralight packable day pack. This option, which weighs about a third of a pound, costs less than $20 and folds down into a neat little cube, making it easy to stow away when not in use.

Reef-safe sunscreen

Reef-safe sunscreen SPF 40 against white background.

(Courtesy of Badger)

You might be surprised how much sun you get while on a cruise, even if you’re not traveling in the summer months and lounging poolside or on the beach. When choosing a sunscreen, look for something that’s reef-safe; not only are these sunscreens safer for the environment, but they’re also better for you. The active ingredients in reef-safe sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens, are zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or a combination of both. Top-rated mineral sunscreen brands include Think, Badger and Raw Elements, all of which also sell lip balm with sunscreen (another essential at sea).

After-sun lotion

Cruise ship staterooms have basic toiletries, including body lotion, but you may still want an extra dose of moisturizer if you’ve been basking in the sun. COOLA makes an after-sun body lotion that cools and hydrates the skin with aloe vera, agave and lavender oil. Previous buyers rave about this lotion, noting they appreciate that the scent isn’t overpowering. If you prefer a spray, try this option by Pacifica.

A good book

Sea days are the perfect time to kick back and relax with a book you’ve been meaning to read. Find an oceanfront lounge chair in a shaded area on the pool deck, or grab a latte or cup of tea and settle into a quiet nook indoors. You might want to pack your book, Kindle or other electronic reader in your carry-on bag for easy access. Just don’t pack more than one book, as many cruise ships have libraries.

Carry-on bag

Travelpro Platinum Elite 21-inch Expandable Carry-On Spinner in black

(Courtesy of Travelpro)

Regardless of whether you bring checked luggage, you’ll need a carry-on bag like this top-rated option by Travelpro. You could also use a rolling duffel bag, weekender bag or a backpack. Since checked bags need to go through security as they do at airports – and because you may need to wait for your stateroom to be ready, just like at a hotel – you’ll want to be able to access any necessities pre-cruise. These might include a swimsuit, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat for the pools; medications; a bottle of water; and your cellphone, of course. You’ll also want to keep your credit card, passport, and any other important documentation or valuables close by.

Passport wallet

Medications

Pill organizers may be the preferred way to travel with your daily medications, but it’s best to bring personal medicines in their bottles (especially on an international cruise such as a European river cruise). While it’s not likely that TSA agents will stop you regarding unidentified pills, it’s best to be prepared by having your prescriptions. To make traveling easier, consider requesting smaller bottles from your pharmacist that are suitable for packing in your carry-on luggage. You’ll also want to bring at least two weeks’ worth of extra medications, and consider packing other ointments, creams or over-the-counter medications you might need, in case they’re not readily available in port or on the ship.

Packing cubes

Away The Insider Packing Cubes in asphalt, stacked.

(Courtesy of Away)

Offered by most major luggage brands, packing cubes are one of the best ways to organize your clothing on the go, especially if you’ll be on an extended cruise or traveling through a variety of climates. You can keep your shirts, pants and sweaters separate so it’s easy to find what you need. The cubes are also great for keeping accessories like travel wraps and scarves in one place, so you don’t have to search through drawers when you’re in a hurry to get ready. After wearing them, stow away dirty clothes in one or two cubes to separate them from your clean items.

Digital luggage scale

There are more expensive options for digital luggage scales, but the compact Etekcity scale – approximately $10 on Amazon – can weigh bags up to 110 pounds with no issues. This handy scale gives you a heads-up before you leave for the airport so you can avoid overweight baggage fees, which can add up quickly once you start adding souvenirs to your bags. Every airline has its own weight and size restrictions for carry-on luggage and checked bags, so be sure you know the rules before heading to the airport.

Collapsible luggage

If you like to shop on vacation, bring an extra bag with you to avoid overpacking your primary luggage. The Hanke expandable foldable suitcase is an excellent option if you need a bag that can expand to several different sizes. If a soft-sided bag will do, consider bringing an inexpensive duffel bag such as this option by bago, or one of BAGGU’s big reusable bags (with fun prints) for dirty clothes and anything else you don’t mind checking in with the airline on your way home.

Luggage tracker

Tile Pro against white background.

(Courtesy of Tile)

A luggage tracker isn’t just useful for air travel. Put one on or inside of your checked cruise luggage to see when it has arrived in your stateroom (or if it’s stalled at security). Top-rated options include the Apple AirTag and Tile Pro, both available on Amazon.

Credit cards and local currency

When cruising internationally, consider getting small amounts of each country’s currency to have on hand in port. Depending where you go, some local markets may only accept their own country’s currency, not U.S. dollars or credit cards. Travelers who want to pick up authentic souvenirs, such as French-milled soaps in southern France or novelty fish in Bergen, Norway, will need to have euros or Norwegian kroner on hand, respectively. It’s also nice to leave cash gratuities for cab drivers, tour guides or servers; in the European Union, 1- and 2-euro coins are convenient and appropriate tips. In ports with vendors that do accept credit cards, be sure to carry a Visa or Mastercard, as some shops and restaurants do not take American Express.

Power strip

Many cruise lines do not permit power strips as they present a fire hazard, while others allow them as long as they are non-surge-protected. Instead of a power strip, purchase a portable charger such as this highly rated one by Anker, which can power up multiple devices at once. This can be especially useful for shore excursions. When packing for your cruise, also think about your luggage: If it has an included charging port, you may not even need to purchase an additional USB charging block.

Weapons and restraints

Firearms, handcuffs and the like are not permitted on cruise ships. This rule also includes toy guns on most cruise lines.

Liquor

While most major cruise lines allow guests to pack a limited amount of wine or Champagne per person, they do not permit hard liquor. Of course, those of age can purchase cocktails at any of the bars on board.

Household appliances

Irons and steamers are not permitted on cruise ships, which is why the aforementioned garment bags, wrinkle release spray and packing cubes are recommended for keeping clothing tidy and neat. Coffee makers and mug warmers are also prohibited.

CBD and marijuana

CBD that’s derived from hemp and contains 0.3{6932ee47e64f4ce8eedbbd5224581f6531cba18a35225771c06e4f1b3f0d9667} THC or less is legal at a federal level. However, each state interprets and enforces this law differently; for example, many states require a prescription for it. Due to the ambiguity of the laws, most cruise lines continue to ban CBD in any form.

Marijuana is still illegal under U.S. federal law, which means you cannot bring it on a cruise ship – even if you’re legally able to purchase it in your home state for recreational or medical use.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some cruise lines allow you to bring soda and other nonalcoholic beverages on embarkation day. For example, Royal Caribbean permits 12 standard (17-ounce) cans or bottles of nonalcoholic beverages. However, the rules vary significantly by cruise line, so be sure to review current beverage policies before your vacation.

Yes, you can bring snacks on most major cruise lines provided they are nonperishable – think prepackaged items like pretzels and protein bars. Homemade food is typically prohibited.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

A cruise expert and award-winning travel writer, Gwen Pratesi used her personal experience to put together this list of cruise essentials. Along with Pratesi, Amanda Norcross and the editorial team at U.S. News regularly update this list with new and useful items to pack.

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