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The Ultimate Cruise Packing List: Everything You Need for Your High-Seas Adventure

Cruises are your one-stop shop for an easy vacation. We're making things even easier with this ready-made cruise packing list.

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Going on the cruisefreemixer/Getty Images

You won’t forget a thing with this cruise packing list

Thanks to increased vaccinations and improved cruise-line health and safety measures, the CDC has lifted its coronavirus warning for cruises, which means it’s time to grab that luggage and come aboard! That said, while the all-in-one-vacay concept is often the lure, it’s also exactly the thing that can make the task of figuring out what to pack and creating the perfect cruise packing list a bit of a head scratcher.

Unlike traditional travel, hopping aboard even the best cruise lines presents additional considerations that both simplify and complicate the packing job—whether you’re on a cruise for solo travelers, a couples or adults-only cruise, or a family-friendly cruise. “Packing for a cruise requires different strategies than almost any other type of travel—it takes a little more forethought and planning,” says Trish Feaster Cook, CEO and founder of The Travelphile and managing editor for Guide Collective, an online travel resource. “And with the airline challenges of just getting yourself (and your luggage) to your port city, it pays to have a smart cruise packing list and to know your options.”

Things to keep in mind when packing for a cruise

“Your cruise-line activities and destinations will dictate much of what you’ll need to bring,” points out Cook. “For example, what you pack for a Mediterranean cruise won’t be precisely the same as for your Alaska journey, but there is some overlap.” Before you even pull out a suitcase or packing cube, take a few minutes to think about the considerations listed below.

You can bring “big” luggage. Unlike vacations that have you hopping to multiple hotels and needing the lightest suitcase possible (or even just a carry-on), cruises allow you to plop your bag in your stateroom, unpack once and start celebrating. Do remember, though, that you’re still going to have to hit the under-50-pound mark with the airlines or you’ll have to pay extra, and checking a second bag isn’t always free.

Cruising involves varied activities. One minute, you’re all blinged-up for formal night; the next, you’re cave-tubing in Belize. “Pack for different scenarios, but not every scenario,” says Cook. “Versatility is key. [Plus], you can buy anything you forgot either on board or at one of your destinations.” If you want to forgo fancy dining, there’s typically a casual buffet that requires nothing more than shorts, a shirt and flip-flops.

Cabin space is at a premium. “Unless you’ve splurged for a suite, your cabin size—and, therefore, your storage space—will feel very limited,” Cook notes. “While you have the advantage of not having to unpack every few days, you’ll still want to bring mix-and-match outfits that take up minimal real estate.”

Be smart about packing your carry-on. Flight delays and lost baggage are on the rise (though you can minimize your risk by flying to your port city at least one or two days in advance to give yourself snafu time). So make sure to tuck plenty of essentials and an adequate supply of clothing into your carry-on in case you are separated from your suitcase.

Do the math. “Smart travelers know how to select pieces that work with a variety of outfits,” says Cook. “Eight tops times five bottoms can potentially be 40 different outfits if you stick with a limited color palette (i.e., neutrals, blues, pastels, black, gray). You can always add a pop of color with statement jewelry, a bold purse, scarf or shawl.”

Factor in the kiddos. If you’re taking the kids, make a separate cruise packing list for them. In addition to activities that will occupy them during the flights, packing DVDs, games and favorite stuffed animals can save the day when you’re traveling with kids, helping to avoid meltdowns and homesickness.

Check the cruise’s FAQ. Does your cruise line have a formal night? Is a dinner jacket required for the dining room? Will you be going on active excursions? How’s the weather at your various ports of call? All these can dictate what ultimately goes on your cruise packing list and into your suitcase.

Naturally, the exact ratio of dress shirts to tees, or dresses vs. shorts, depends on the length of your cruise and your dining preferences, as well as the prescribed dress code on board. But let’s get you started with this easily tweakable cruise packing list.

Download the Packing List

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Clothes for her

The fun part about deciding what to pack for a cruise is that you’re actually encouraged to have a bit of a wardrobe fest, particularly if you’re on adults-only cruises with plenty of formal nights. If you’re heading to a cold destination, make sure to pack a sufficient number of sweaters and sweatshirts; if you’re going to warm islands, factor in additional swimsuits and cover-ups. But, in general, these items should do the trick:

  • T-shirts and tanks
  • Shorts
  • Jeans
  • Workout clothes (leggings or bike shorts that can double for daytime wear)
  • Sweater
  • Sweatshirt
  • Little black dress or gown
  • Swimsuits
  • Beach cover-up that can double as a sundress
  • Wrap, sarong or pareo for beach or for covering shoulders at religious sites
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Pajamas
  • Flip-flops
  • Walking shoes, like loafers
  • Sturdy sneakers
  • Low-heeled sandals that can go casual or dressy
  • High-heeled sandals and/or formal shoes
  • Packable sun hat or cold-weather beanie
  • Inexpensive fashion jewelry

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preparing for the trip, collecting thingsAndrey Maximenko/Getty Images

Clothes for him

Cruises with dressy nights may call for formalwear, but a tux is rarely required these days. (Interestingly, some cruise lines actually have them available for rent on board.) A nice suit will always suffice, and a blazer paired with slacks usually works as well. Just keep in mind that even on casual nights, many cruise lines prohibit T-shirts, jeans, flip-flops and shorts in the dining room, so you’ll also want to pack a pair of khakis and a polo or button-down.

  • T-shirts and tanks
  • Short-sleeve button-downs that can be dressed up or down
  • Polo shirts
  • Sweater
  • Sweatshirt
  • Shorts
  • Jeans
  • Slacks
  • Workout clothes
  • Suit or blazer
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuits
  • Flip-flops
  • Walking sandals
  • Nice walking shoes that also work for dressier evenings
  • Sturdy sneakers
  • Packable sun hat or cold-weather knit cap
  • Belts
  • Necktie
  • Cuff links, if needed

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Toiletries

While you might be tempted to pack your entire cosmetics kit and every hairstyling product you own, remember that counter space (especially in the bathrooms) is limited. Fortunately, most cruise lines do offer a blow-dryer in each stateroom, as well as complimentary shampoo, conditioner and body wash. If you’re loyal to your own brands, bring some in scaled-down sizes, or transfer them to travel containers. Just be mindful of what you’re toting in your carry-on versus your checked luggage so that you don’t get flagged by airport security.

  • Skin-care products
  • Cosmetics (mini palettes are a big space-saver)
  • Makeup remover
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray or mosquito-repellent bracelets
  • Fragrance
  • Hair products
  • Brush and comb
  • Blow-dryer
  • Flat iron that can double as a curling iron
  • Hair accessories, including rubber bands
  • Bar of favorite soap
  • Razor
  • Shaving cream
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Medications (plus extras, in case of delays)
  • Eye care, like extra contact lenses and solution, plus backup glasses
  • Travel-size, leakproof toiletry containers

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Traveling with coronavius vaccine ID for cruiseBlake Callahan/Getty Images

Documents and organizers

Building your cruise packing list goes beyond clothes, gear and gadgets. “In addition to hard copies, be sure to keep digital copies of your important documents in the Cloud, in the form of PDFs or photos,” urges Cook. This can mitigate disaster if you misplace something or it’s stolen, which can happen anywhere, even on the most trusted cruise lines. It’s also helpful since some things are different on cruises now, including vaccination requirements at various destinations.

  • Passport (renew ahead of time if it’s set to expire within six months)
  • COVID-19 vaccination card
  • Plastic vaccination card holder
  • Medical history
  • Medical and travel-insurance forms/cards
  • Allergy list
  • Medication list
  • Important prescriptions
  • Emergency contact list
  • Credit card info, including customer-service contact numbers
  • Airline/cruise/excursion tickets
  • Travel document organizer

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Electronic gadgets

“You’re likely to bring multiple electronics with you, and if your travel partner is doing the same, you have to be smart about charging everything,” says Cook. “Cabins will have just a few outlets.” Portable chargers will come in particularly handy here. It’s also a good idea to check with your cell-service provider to make sure you’re set up with proper (affordable!) coverage in roaming situations.

  • Cellphone
  • Lightweight laptop or iPad (if you have to work on the trip, or for movies)
  • E-reader
  • Apple Air Tags (to track luggage)
  • Small Bluetooth speaker
  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Power strip with multiple AC outlets and USB ports
  • Extension cord
  • Electronic cords for tech and small appliances
  • Universal voltage adaptor (often not needed; check with your cruise line)
  • Power bank for when you’re ashore
  • Night-light

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Suitcase packed for cruise trip and summer accessories on bed indoorsLiudmila Chernetska/Getty Images

Other essentials

“Regardless of how much or how little you end up taking on your trip, you’ll want to keep everything well organized in your luggage and cabin to save space,” advises Cook, who’s a big fan of packing cubes and pouches as she considers what to pack on a cruise. They’re great for everything from just-in-case emergency items to can’t-live-without daily items, and using them is one of the packing tricks you won’t know how you ever lived without.

  • Compression cubes
  • Zippered pouches
  • Money belt
  • RFID travel wallet
  • Lightweight tote (for excursions or beach days)
  • Day pack
  • Crossbody purse
  • Extra-sturdy magnetic hooks (attach to metal stateroom walls for additional hanging space)
  • Mini evening bag
  • CDC-approved face masks
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Small first-aid kit that includes a seasickness band, Dramamine and pain relievers

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Hillary Quinn
Hillary Quinn is a nationally recognized beauty and lifestyle writer, who’s passionate about focusing on subjects that enhance readers’ everyday lives: from tracking down the absolute best pink lip-gloss to finding clever strategies for dealing with a bad-news bridesmaid. When she’s not on her laptop, you can find Hillary on her skis, lost in a pile of vintage cookbooks, hiking, or glued to YouTube demos of buttercream cake-piping techniques.