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56 Essentials Chosen by Experts


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

To help you decide what to pack for a cruise, we’ve curated a list of essentials recommended by cruise experts who regularly sail the high seas. Download the U.S. News 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.

Regardless of whether you bring checked luggage, you’ll need some type of carry-on bag. 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 smartphone, of course. You’ll also want to keep your credit card, passport, and any other important documentation or valuables close by. A carry-on backpack works especially well since it can double as a day bag for shore excursions.

Checked bag

While you’ll likely want to bring a checked bag, consider sharing one with your ship mate(s) to maximize stateroom storage space. Or, consider bringing medium-sized luggage, such as the The Medium by Away, for checking in.

Garment bag

(Courtesy of Halfday)

While many cruises are less formal these days, a garment bag can still be handy for keeping select garments wrinkle-free (since clothing irons are prohibited on cruise ships). Top-rated options include the The Garment Duffel by Halfday and the Briggs and Riley Baseline 22″ Carry-On 2-Wheel Garment Bagboth of which double as traditional luggage. If you pack your luggage right, you can make this your only suitcase, in addition to a carry-on bag.

Packing cubes or vacuum-sealed bags

Packing cubes are one of the best ways to organize your belongings for travel – especially in a tight cruise ship cabin. Top-rated options include the Veken packing cubes on Amazon (usually priced around $20) and all of the Pack-It Sets by Eagle Creek. The Pack-It Starter Set is especially ideal for cruising since it includes a garment folder designed to minimize wrinkles in clothing. Some cruisers also swear by vacuum-sealed bags, even though they can be a bit more tedious to pack.

Carry-on caddy

Ashley Kosciolek, senior cruise writer at The Points Guy, recommends a carry-on caddy, particularly if you’re flying to your embarkation point. “I have a fabric sleeve that slides down over the telescoping handle on my carry-on to provide pockets for my passport, phone, coffee – all the things I used to have to juggle during check-in.”

Digital luggage scale

The compact Etekcity scale – approximately $10 on Amazon – can weigh bags up to 110 pounds and help you avoid overweight baggage fees.

Bungee cord

“Especially for travelling with the family, I use a bright-green bungee cord to strap multiple pieces of luggage together,” says Aaron Saunders, senior editor at Cruise Critic. “It’s a lifesaver when boarding trains or disembarking ships, particularly when youre maneuvering a stroller and a little one around, too.”

Luggage tracker

Front and back of Apple AirTag against white background.

(Courtesy of Apple)

A luggage tracker isn’t just useful for air travel. Attach one to your checked cruise luggage to see when it has arrived in your stateroom (or if it’s stalled at security). Chris Gray Faust, executive editor at Cruise Critic, doesn’t go anywhere without her Apple AirTag after her luggage got stuck in Vancouver for over a week last June. “My AirTag use has expanded beyond my checked luggage, too. I also have AirTags in my handbag, my carry-on, my keychain and my wallet.”

Cruise insurance

Due to the unpredictable nature of travel, cruise insurance can be a wise purchase ahead of your voyage. Travel policies can cover unforeseen expenses such as trip interruptions and medical emergencies.

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. 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.

RFID wallet

It’s important to protect your travel documents with an RFID wallet like the TIGARI Passport Holder or the ZOPPEN RFID Travel Passport Wallet, the latter of which can hold multiple passports for a family. “Thieves and hackers can steal your credit card information just by using skimming devices,” explains Jill Schildhouse, a cruise expert and U.S. News contributor who always travels with her RFID wallet. “And because your wallet wasn’t even touched, you won’t know it happened until you see your credit card statement.”

Medications

Pack more than enough of your prescription medications as well as any over-the-counter medicines you’ll need, just in case you encounter an itinerary change or travel delay. While some travelers find it easiest to bring personal medicines in their prescription bottles, others find travel pill boxes to be especially helpful for organization. The Sukuos Weekly Pill Organizer is a well-rated option, with detachable boxes for each day as well as compartments for morning and evening medications.

Sheet masks

Since flying can be so drying for the skin, Faust likes to use sheet masks. “My first step the night before I board (because you should always fly in a day early) is to hydrate with a sheet mask (usually from a Korean brand like Ballon Blanc or FaceTory),” she says. “If I’m meeting up with a friend, I bring an extra sheet mask so our trip starts out feeling a bit like a spa day!”

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.

Hangers

Like hotels, cruise ships can only provide so many hangers. Bring a few extras from home or pick up a pack from your local dollar store. You might also try packable hangers.

Wrinkle release spray

Whether or not you bring a garment bag, a travel-size bottle of wrinkle release spray, such as Downy Wrinkle Releaser spray, is useful to have on board. 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.

Laundry detergent

“If you don’t want to pay for laundry service or spend precious time in the self-service laundry room, bring a small bottle of laundry detergent like Woolite to wash key items in the sink: underwear, bras, quick-dry hiking shorts, bathing suits, etc.,” recommends Schildhouse. “Every cruise ship shower has a retractable clothesline you can extend to drape the clothes over while they dry. This can also help cut down on the number of items you need to pack.”

Over-the-door organizers

Over-the-door organizers with clear or mesh pockets 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 a good idea to purchase a two-pack like this option by Simple Houseware Store (available on Amazon), since you can also use one to store shoes and maximize floor space.

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 keep in your cabin.

Shampoo and conditioner

Cruise experts agree it’s best to bring your own shampoo and conditioner in travel-size bottles, as most cruise ships don’t provide separate shampoo and conditioner anymore; instead, they offer all-in-one dispensers. Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief at Cruise Critic, likes to pack her shampoo and conditioner in the popular Cadence Capsules, noting she also uses them for another essential: sunscreen. “These capsules are easy to fill, never leak and have clear labels, which you can customize,” she says.

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.

Corkscrew

If you plan to bring wine or Champagne, you’ll likely need a corkscrew. While some cruise lines may prohibit corkscrews, others allow them onboard; check your cruise line’s policy before sailing. Bringing wine with a twistable cap may be a good alternative.

Portable humidifier

Cruise ship cabins can feel dry – especially in the colder months. A portable humidifier like the GENIANI Erie (less than $25 on Amazon) can provide some relief. At about half a pound, this USB-powered device will fit neatly into your checked bag or carry-on luggage. The travel humidifier 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.

International travel adapter or converter

You’ll likely need a travel adapter, since cruise lines homeported in international locales may have different electrical sockets and voltage strengths than you’re used to in the U.S.

McDaniel recommends the OneWorld65 Travel Adapter. “I’ve used a lot of different travel adapters over the years, but this is my favorite. It charges up to six devices at once, has USB and mini-USB options, and works in over 200 countries,” she says. “While many cruise ships have U.S. outlets, most usually also have European outlets. This adapter lets me take advantage of that outlet I’d otherwise ignore.” She also notes that while cruise lines are getting better about having more outlets on their ships, it never feels like enough to keep your phone, camera battery, tablet, watch, headphones/earbuds and laptop charged (times two or more if you’re traveling with others).

Sound machine

Cruise experts agree a sound machine can be helpful for blocking out the sound of late-night partiers returning to their staterooms (or your snoring spouse). Schildhouse likes the LectroFan Micro 2 for cruising. “It plays non-looping white noise and doubles as a speaker to play tunes while you get ready for dinner.”

Tech organizer

Open Bagsmart Electronics Organizer fills with cords against white background.

(Courtesy of Bagsmart)

A tech organizer like the BAGSMART electronics organizer case – available on Amazon for about $20 – can store 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 also hold bulkier items like a small laptop charging cord.

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, or buy a premade first-aid kit on Amazon for about $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

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 the pools on cruise ships.

Door decor

Many cruisers like to personalize their cabin with stateroom door decor. Not only is it a fun tradition, but decorating the door can make it easier to locate your room, too. You can find lots of fun decor ideas on Pinterest as well as Amazon.

Duct tape

Duct tape is a life-saver in many situations,” says Kosciolek. “I primarily use it to attach my printed luggage tags, but it’s also great for mending clothing issues on the fly and fixing broken luggage until you can get it back home.”

“As a parent, I like to bring lanyards with sleeves so my kids can wear their keycards and not lose them,” says Erica Silverstein, senior cruise editor at The Points Guy. “We hang them on the magnetic hooks I put on the wall, so they don’t get lost in the cabin either.”

Sea-Bands

Sea-Bands pack and bands in case against white background.

(Courtesy of 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 they 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. Many travelers like Bonine as a remedy for sea sickness as well.

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, shorts, dresses, rompers and jumpsuits) and also consider reversible clothing and outfits that can easily transition from day to night.

Sports jacket or blazer

Adam Coulter, executive editor of Cruise Critic UK & Australia, recommends packing a sports jacket or blazer. “While cruise lines are getting more casual, what happens if you get that last-minute invite to meet the captain, or there’s a meet and mingle where you want to look put together? A jacket will always elevate your elegance (even if you’re wearing a T-shirt underneath),” he says. If you’re in need of a travel blazer, Bluffworks has some well-rated options; the Gramercy, in particular, gets great reviews.

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 travel wrap is a versatile accessory that’s useful for any trip – even more so on a cruise ship where it can get chilly when the sea breeze picks up. Available in nearly 10 different colors, J.Crew’s Oversized Cashmere Wrap is a timeless staple, albeit a bit of an investment; for something less expensive but well rated, try this off-brand pashmina shawl on Amazon.

Packable jacket

Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket in green against white background.

(Courtesy of Patagonia)

Packable hat

If you’re headed to the Caribbean or another warm weather destination, you’ll want a beach hat to protect your scalp and face from the sun. This packable straw hat by FURTALK (available on Amazon for about $25) is a stylish women’s option that features a broader brim and offers UPF 50 sun protection. For more recommendations, browse the best beach hats in a variety of styles.

Comfortable walking shoes

Allbirds Wool Runners in pink against neutral background.

(Courtesy of Allbirds)

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). Check out our recommendations for the most comfortable walking shoes, which include the popular Allbirds Wool Runners and the Birkenstock Mayari, a modern twist on the classic sandal.

Water shoes

Depending on your scheduled shore excursions, you might also need a pair of water shoes. For something that’s both functional and fashionable, we like the Crocs LiteRide 360 Pacer. While not totally waterproof, the Native Jefferson is a water-friendly, versatile option.

Versatile heels

“Over the years, I’ve learned that the key to avoiding overpacking is to bring one neutral pair of low heels that match every single eveningwear outfit I’ve packed – from flowy pants to dresses,” says Schildhouse, who loves her Rockport Tabitha 2-Strap Heeled Sandals. “They have a cushioned footbed and shock-absorbing heel so you can dance the night away in the club, and a 3-inch block heel with traction to keep you steady on your feet even if the ship’s rocking a bit.”

Reusable water bottle

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.

Bathing suit

Pack a couple of swimsuits for the pools, hot tubs and any shore excursions.

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, and you can never go wrong with a classic white button-down shirt.

Dry bag

Dry bags are useful for shore excursions where you’re likely to get wet but don’t want the same to be true for your phone, camera and other precious items. “I use the Outdoor Research Unisex Dry Isolation Pack and have never had so much as a drop of moisture enter it, which is important for me – it keeps my cameras, documents and important items from getting wet,” says Saunders, adding that it functions as a great everyday backpack when it’s not raining.

If you need more than one dry bag, cruise expert Brittany Chrusciel recommends the Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Bag Set. “Having these dry bags, in a variety of sizes, means I can bring all my gear along during a Zodiac cruise or snorkeling excursion without having to worry about it getting wet.”

Waterproof phone case

A waterproof phone case is also essential, especially if you plan to take photos. The Hiearcool Waterproof Phone Pouches (available in a two-pack) come with a lanyard so you can both protect your phone and wear it around your neck. They are compatible with most smartphones.

Beach toys

Beach towel

“Although cruise lines provide guests with towels to take off the ship on excursions, they are often bulky and sometimes small,” explains Chrusciel. “The Surfer Towel folds up to nearly nothing, so it takes up almost no room in your suitcase and is super convenient to pack in a day bag. What’s more, its quick-drying technology means that the lightweight fabric won’t be soaking wet when you need to pack up for the day and head back to the ship.”

Towel clips

“Even though giant plastic towel clips shaped like a flamingo are a bit cringey, they make it easy to find your spot in a sea of sun loungers,” says Chrusciel. “They also solve a common cruise problem: keeping your towel securely fixed to your chair while reading or sunbathing.”

Reef-safe sunscreen

Reef-safe sunscreen SPF 40 against white background.

(Courtesy of Badger)

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

You’ll 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 cup of tea and settle into a quiet nook indoors. There’s no need to pack more than one book, however, as many cruise ships have libraries.

What not to pack for a cruise

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 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.

Hairdryer

While you can technically bring you own, it’s not necessary as hairdryers are available in every bathroom on most ships.

CBD and marijuana

CBD that’s derived from hemp and contains 0.3% 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 remains 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.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

For the U.S. News Cruise Packing List, travel writers Gwen Pratesi and Amanda Norcross tapped leading industry experts for their cruise essentials. They regularly update this checklist with new and useful items to pack.

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