16 Unexpected Things I Never Board a Cruise Ship Without
From wildlife viewing and keeping your cabin organized to getting an excellent night's sleep and avoiding seasickness, these must-pack products will ensure smooth sailing on your next vacation.
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Over the past couple of decades, I’ve taken plenty of cruises—16 to be exact, on more than half-a-dozen different cruise lines. (Want to become a frequent cruiser too? Follow these secrets to save up to 40% on every booking.) Early on, I would spend days leading up to each trip frantically trying to decide what to pack for a cruise to ensure the best experience for myself and my guest.
On many of those sailings, I felt some regret about what I failed to bring and was even annoyed by some things I packed that I didn’t actually need. With each cruise, I kept incrementally improving the contents of my suitcase, weeding out items that were a waste of space and making room for my non-negotiables.
Now I’m proud to say that through plenty of trial and error, I have finally perfected my cruise packing game—in fact, I’ve just returned from an Alaskan cruise on the Majestic Princess and it was a perfect pack if I do say so myself.
I’ve finally managed to hone in on every amenity needed to make travel a breeze, enhance cabin organization, bring me the ultimate relaxation and ensure I’m prepared for life at sea. I have two more cruises coming up this year, and each of these items will tour Europe on Holland America Line and the Middle East on Windstar Cruises with me.
Neosmuk Magnetic Hooks
Figuring out what to pack for a cruise doesn’t have to be difficult. No matter which cruise cabin you choose, the walls will be magnetic. And that means you can add so much more organization to the room—especially since they are relatively small and don’t always have enough drawers and closet space—by simply traveling with a handful of magnetic hooks. Use these to hang a beach bag, purses, hats, jackets or shower cap.
Kimbora Hanging Organizer
When it comes to navigating small cruise ship cabins, the more organized I can stay, the bigger the room feels. So I always put those magnetic hooks to good use by using them to hang this small shoe organizer. However, instead of using it to store shoes, think about all the small, loose items that are cluttering surfaces.
Scrunchies and hair ties, cables for electronics, toiletries, small souvenirs acquired along the journey, medications, etc. Of course, a pair of flip-flops will be right at home in this organizer too.
Reliefband Seasickness Solution
I’m prone to seasickness, but even if you aren’t, you never know if the waves might get choppy. I’ve been on cruises where the seas turned rough. Even those normally unaffected end up feeling a bit queasy. Sure, you could pop a Dramamine or don a pair of motion sickness glasses, but the solution I’ve come to rely on is Reliefband.
This FDA-cleared wearable uses transdermal neuromodulation to prevent and treat nausea from motion sickness (and also morning sickness, chemotherapy, anxiety, hangovers, etc.). The best part? No drugs and no side effects. Plus, it’s non-drowsy.
Popsockets Phone Case
People constantly remark about my steady video footage on a moving ship. Not to mention the epic shots I get of the ocean over the ship’s railings without fear of dropping my phone. I owe it all to my trusty PopSockets phone case.
The durable design protects my phone in case of a fumble thanks to the drop protection of 10 feet. The ergonomic grip also allows me to hold onto my device securely with just one hand. It also helps make taking selfies easier because you have something comfortable to hold onto, which is a must on any cruise.
Nocs Provisions Standard Issue Waterproof Binoculars
Whales and bald eagles and dolphins, oh my. These are just some of the animals I was able to see on a recent Alaskan cruise thanks to my Standard Issue Waterproof Binoculars. Aside from what I saw at sea, I also used them on excursions to get a better glimpse of a grizzly bear and some Dall sheep in Denali National Park & Preserve. Since this pair is waterproof and fog proof, I was able to see each animal clearly despite the steady rainfall and foggy conditions.
LectroFan Micro2 Sound Machine + Bluetooth Speaker
Cruise ship hallways can be quite noisy, making random naps or sleeping in on sea days difficult. I’d never board a ship without one of my favorite Amazon travel accessories: my LectroFan Micro2 sound machine, which helps drown out any unwanted noise from my cabin. It offers 11 non-looping sounds, including fan sounds, a variety of white noise and even a couple of ocean surf sounds to help fit this nautical theme. Sometimes, I’ll even pair it with my smartphone and use it to play music in my cabin while I get ready for dinner.
Jack Wolfskin Prelight 2.5L Jacket
The weather at sea and on land can be unpredictable, so when I consider what to pack for a cruise, I always include a lightweight rain jacket regardless of the forecast. This women’s Prelight 2.5L jacket offers 100% waterproof and windproof weather protection, yet it’s extremely breathable. I love how it folds down into a packable garment. If the weather is looking even remotely iffy, I’ll shove it into my travel purse when heading out on an excursion.
Bose QuietComfort 45 Headphones
Cruise ships are often abuzz with music, activities and announcements, but sometimes I need a little break from all that stimulation. Or, I’d like to listen to a podcast or music while relaxing on the pool deck. Those are the times I reach for my Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones.
I’ve come to rely on their noise-canceling feature and lightweight comfort (if you’re worried about missing something important, switch to “aware mode” to hear the surrounding environment). Plus, they stay charged for 22 hours and seamlessly connect to multiple devices via Bluetooth.
Heat It Bug Bite Relief
I’m an absolute magnet for mosquitos and I’m convinced they must get a memo about my upcoming cruises because it seems like they actually organize a welcome party for me. Unfortunately, I’m the hors d’oeuvres. While I haven’t found a natural way to avoid their bites, I have found chemical-free relief in the form of Heat It.
This smartphone-powered insect bite healer relieves itching and pain by heating the skin to a medically proven 124 degrees and gets its warmth through the charging port of an iPhone or Android device. There are no batteries, it’s lightweight and an app helps customize the treatment.
Saunorch Universal Travel Adapter
Depending on which cruise line you’re sailing, the cabin may not have the same outlets as the United States, and it most likely won’t have USB ports either. That’s why my “what to pack for a cruise” list has some crossover with my “things to never forget when traveling overseas” list. My universal Saunorch power adapter, which has settings that cover more than 150 countries all in one device is crucial.
It is also helpful for any hotel stays or airport delays before and after an overseas cruise. The four USB ports come in handy for simultaneously charging a phone, tablet, camera equipment and portable charger too.
T3 Afar Hair Dryer
Cruise ships have a lot of amazing amenities, but their hair dryers aren’t one of them. They are usually basic models with one setting where you hold down the “on” button for the duration of a blow dry. Sometimes they even come tethered to the desk in the room, which may not necessarily be the most conducive spot for drying your hair.
Bring your own, but keep it compact and powerful with the folding T3 Afar model. It has six heat and speed combinations, is 25% lighter and 30% smaller than the brand’s full-size model, comes with a beautiful vegan leather travel pouch and has dual voltage for traveling abroad.
Rollink Flex 360° Collapsible Suitcase
On a recent cruise, I quickly realized my suitcase was too fat to fit underneath my bed. This meant it had to spend the whole week taking up precious space in my cabin’s closet—far from ideal when sharing such tight quarters. From now on, I’ll be cruising with my collapsible suitcase, which shrinks down to just 2 inches when not in use. It’s lightweight (only 8.5 pounds, yet holds 85 liters of packing volume), has a built-in TSA-approved lock and the double spinner wheels move with ease.
Monos Kiyo UVC Water Bottle
It’s wise to bring a water bottle along on any off-ship excursions, as they are often three to eight hours long and require some physical activity that could leave anyone parched. But refilling in random fountains or sinks when you aren’t sure if the water is safe to drink can be a mistake—and that’s the whole reason I’m obsessed with this Kiyo UVC water bottle, which purifies my water instantly. It kills 99.99% of bacteria and other pathogens in 60 seconds (there’s a three-minute cycle for a deeper clean too) and comes in two sizes.
Now that you have a water bottle, how will you make sure it’s always within easy reach? And where will you keep the room key, cell phone, cash, ID and credit cards when walking around on the ship? Store those in a WanderFull HydroBag, especially on the world’s largest cruise ship when it’s not always convenient to make your way back to the room.
Let the water-resistant pockets store all the essentials, while the main compartment fits up to a 32-ounce water bottle or reusable coffee cup (that section is also waterproof to prevent any leaks). It comes in 15 colors and offers an interchangeable adjustable strap to wear as a crossbody.
Drowsy Silk Sleep Mask
The best part about splurging on a balcony cabin? Having access to daylight and amazing views. The worst part? That daylight can seep into the room, disturbing sleep. This happened to me on a recent Alaskan cruise. The summer sun rose at 4 a.m. and didn’t set until nearly midnight.
When packing for a cruise or any travel for that matter, a sleep mask is always a priority. The adjustable Drowsy sleep mask is made of 100% mulberry silk, completely blocks light and the wide design even helps muffle sound for the best night’s sleep ever.
Delsey Paris Chatelet Air 2.0 Underseater
When boarding a cruise, you’re expected to put big suitcases outside your stateroom the night before disembarkation. You could drag them off the ship yourself, but I do not recommend it. Elevators are overcrowded and hectic on that final day.
You often have to walk quite a ways through customs and the cruise terminal, which can get exhausting with all that luggage. The hard part is figuring out where to store the stuff you’ll need the final morning, like toiletries, medications and the pajamas you slept in.
After plenty of trial and error, I’ve discovered the best option is the Chatelet Air 2.0 Underseater. It’s the perfect size for those last-minute items and has two wheels to roll it or carry it. Additionally, it has a trolly sleeve so you can place it on top of your bigger luggage. It also fits under the seat of most airplanes.
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