Things You Must Bring on a Cruise, According to Frequent Traveler

Versie Dortch

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  • I’ve been on 8 cruises, so I know exactly what I need to pack while still keeping my bag light.
  • A small bag and comfortable shoes are important to have for excursions and ports.
  • Since many cruise lines ban power strips, I bring a large USB dock to charge multiple devices.

Going on eight cruises in 10 years has helped me get packing down to an art.

What you bring (or don’t bring) on a cruise impacts how much you’ll enjoy your vacation since not having an important item is never good. 

I find cruising is better when I pack light, but I can’t do without these essentials on board: 

Since I spend a lot of time in the water and sun, I always bring several swimsuits

I’ve mostly cruised around the Caribbean and Mediterranean since I enjoy basking in the warm weather, snorkeling, and soaking up the sun.  

I pack at least two swimsuits so I always have a dry one. Putting on a cold, wet bathing suit is far from pleasant.

A collapsible backpack or tote is great for excursions and the pool

The writer wearing a neutral-colored skirt outfit, in tropical location with small backpack

This bag is great for bringing sunscreen ashore.

Jill Robbins

I love my small backpack that folds into a pocket-sized pouch for all kinds of travel.

Any soft, foldable bag is a great space saver, but I prefer a hands-free backpack when exploring ashore.

This bag also holds my sunscreen and reading material for the pool or beach.

My insulated cup is great for bringing coffee and water on the go

I use my insulated Tervis tumbler to grab hot coffee and ice water from the self-serve area or buffet. I’ve also asked my dining-room server to fill it after a meal.

Since I prefer coffee before breakfast in the morning, filling my tumbler to enjoy on the deck works great for me.

I also like to have cold water by my bed at night, but the bottled option is usually expensive on board, so I fill this up before I retire for the evening.   

I prefer to use my own toiletries

Most cruise ships provide basic toiletries, like soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. But since the saltwater and sun are rough on my hair and skin, I like packing my own familiar products.

I bought a small, plastic zipper pouch on Amazon that comes with a variety of refillable bottles and pots. It even has a funnel to make transferring liquids into the travel-sized containers easy.

This USB charging strip comes in handy

charger station laid out on table for camera battery, phone, and tablet

This large USB dock is technically not a power strip.

Jill Robbins

I have a plug-in device that has 10 USB ports — though it’s not considered a power strip, which many cruise lines prohibit.

As a general rule, you should always check your cruise line’s list of prohibited items beforehand.

This device can charge my phone, tablet, and power banks using only one electrical outlet.

Plus there are enough USB ports on this dock to meet the needs of my family of four, which frees up space in our bags for other things.

Cash is good to have on hand for tips

I always bring a supply of $1 and $5 bills for tipping.

Some cruise lines allow prepayment of tips, which is a handy, cashless option that usually covers restaurant servers and cabin stewards. 

But the extra cash is great for tipping luggage porters, tour guides, and spa employees. I also like the option of leaving more if someone has taken extra good care of me.

Cash is almost impossible to get on board, and ATMs in foreign ports often come with large surcharges or unfavorable exchange rates.   

If you do plan to use an ATM at a port, make sure to contact your bank before you depart so they don’t flag an overseas transaction as suspicious activity.

Versatile and planned outfits are one of the keys to packing light

I pack as light as possible for two reasons — I like to carry my bags off of the ship when it’s time to disembark, and there’s not a ton of storage space in most staterooms.

So I go through my cruise itinerary before I leave and decide what I’ll wear to each activity, excursion, and meal.

I never just throw clothes in my suitcase and tell myself I’ll figure it out on board. That wastes time, and inevitably you’ll forget something you need to complete an outfit or bring pieces you won’t wear.

Mix-and-match pieces or outfits that serve more than one function work great for cruises.

Comfortable walking shoes are important for excursions

A photo of legs dangling over a bridge with blue comfy shoes

Make sure these shoes are already broken in.

Jill Robbins

Shore excursions usually involve lots of walking and standing, so I always bring at least one pair of comfortable shoes that have been broken in. 

You’ll also do more walking on board than you might expect. Getting from stem to stern on a larger cruise ship adds up to a lot of steps.

Click to read about the three things I never take on cruises.

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