Whether it's your first cruise or your 150th, you can always benefit from more tips and tricks. Enjoy this collection of the best cruise packing hacks to make the most of your next voyage upon the ocean.
The Best Cruise Packing Hacks
Cruise travel is its own world, with rules, tips, hacks and a sense of loving the sea which is infectious. While cruise lines differ significantly, some things always stay the same.
So, while this article focuses on the best cruise packing hacks based on my recent cruise on the Discovery Princess, it should help you even if you are planning to board a different ship.
Cruise tips, here we come!
Disclosure: I travelled on the Discovery Princess as a guest as part of a promotional campaign. If you buy or book through any of the links on this page, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Cheers! Also, as ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, what on earth is the point?!
Pack your hand luggage wisely
One of my favourite cruise preparation tips involves putting anything you’ll need in the first few hours in your hand luggage
You’ll leave your main baggage with the porters as you board the ship and they’ll deliver it to your stateroom later. But you don’t want to spend the first hours or your trip waiting for it. If you need anything like medication, sunscreen or a bikini or bathing suit, then pack that in your hand luggage and don’t waste a moment of your free time!
Protect your valuables
Also, it’s a good idea to pack any fragile or valuable items in your hand luggage, too, much as when you fly.
Pack a wet bag or dry bag
Wet bags have made my travel life much easier. They’re confusingly called both wet bags and dry bags by different people but the principal is the same.
They’re made of robust waterproof material and the top rolls over and down to create a seal.
Thus, if you have wet clothes at the end of your holiday, like swimwear, you can keep the rest of your things dry in your suitcase.
Even more cleverly, during the trip, the same bag can also keep things dry. This is a great idea for shore excursions like kayaking, white water rafting or even a rather enthusiastic shore transfer or fishing trip.
Most bags also come with a clip, so if you have your phone and keys and so on inside, you can clip the bag to something fixed to avoid it falling overboard on your excursion.
Pack a day pack
If you plan on being off the ship all day in a gloriously sunny destination, then you’ll probably need a bottle of water, a sunhat, your phone, keys, sunscreen and maybe some bug spray.
Pack some miniatures for your shore excursions
Sun screen and insect repellent are handy in miniature form so that you don’t need to carry heavy stuff around all day.
Check the dress code
This is a top cruise hack for beginners: check the dress code. Many cruise ships have formal nights where you may be expected to wear cocktail dresses or even Black Tie. People tend to make a big effort with this. It’s fun to join in with but, obviously, you need to pack the right clothes.
Consider a beach bag
Obviously, this won’t work if you’re going on a cold weather cruise, all wrapped up in snowy Alaska or the Norwegian fjords. But in sunny destinations and on Caribbean cruises, it’s handy to have a beach bag good to go from your room to the pool and deckchairs.
So what should go in to this mysterious bag? Your cruise appointed towel, some sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, cover up, book or phone and a bottle of water. Check out these expert-led tips on how to have a sustainable beach trip and you’ll be good to go.
Pack a beach cover up
A little more about this in case it’s not that clear. It’s handy to have some loose, flowing piece of fabric to throw over your swimwear so you feel a little less like you’re wandering around the ship in your underwear.
Check the weather conditions
Ach. This sounds so obvious, I almost left it out. But weather can be surprising! Always check the forecast before you pack for a trip. And bear in mind that the deck can feel cooler if a breeze picks up and you're zooming along. Use the forecast to guide your packing but include plenty of layers. Pack a cardigan or scarf for warm weather destinations. Then stuff in The Full Monty of hats, scarf, gloves, fleeces and waterproofs for colder locations.
Tackle seasickness head on
Hopefully, you won’t be seasick on your first (or any) cruise. If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to try a few local boat trips first to test things out. In general, the motion of a cruise ship is far smoother than a small boat on a choppy sea. But just in case, learn from these ninja cruise hacks and:
- Try some wristbands. Try some motion sickness wristbands like this Some people swear by them and they can’t cause any harm so they’re worth a try.
- Position yourself strategically. Choose a stateroom in the middle of the ship on one of the lower levels. On water shuttle transfers, sit towards the back of the boat and keep your eyes on the horizon.
- Try some medication. With all the caveats of not taking medical advice from the internet, you have several options when it comes to anti-emetics (anti-sickness medication.) Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before your trip and travel with your own stash of rescue meds.
Try packing cubes
Yes, travel bloggers and writers get some stick for talking about packing cubes all the time. But honestly. Once you've tried them once, you'll never look back! Or repack ;-)
What are these mysterious beings? They're zippable compartments for your stuff. They typically come in different sizes, with semi-transparent windows or meshes to make it easy to see what's inside.
Not only do they keep your things organised, but the fabric prevents creasing and makes it easier for you to get things in and out of your suitcase without crumpling everything else up.
Take a look at these packing cubes on Amazon and give them a try. You won't regret it!
And a toiletry bag with a hook
This is a great travel hack for all trips, not just a cruise hack.
Many bathrooms have small surfaces, leaving you with next to nowhere to put your toiletries. If you have a toiletry bag with a hook, like this, you can hang it up and be done with it. Everything you need will be right there, not on the floor, on the toilet, or in the next room.
And Perhaps a lanyard
Different cruise ships have different mechanisms of opening the door. Many use key cards, so a lanyard is really handy to stop you fumbling around every time you reach an area which needs a card.
On the Princess cruise line, they have this very nifty MedallionClass® experience. Each passenger has a medallion, a coin size device which opens doors, tracks your movements and helps you order food and drink.
If that sounds a little creepy, it's not. It's a great way to find friends, for drinks to find you, and for you to open your stateroom door and access premium areas with ease. They come with their own lanyard but you can also buy a range of cool accessories like necklaces and wristbands made from recycled plastic as well.
For other passengers to be able to track you, you must accept their invitation first. Oh, and you can disable the tracking again any time you like. Kids and teens cannot do this to their parents, though ;-)
Pack a Travel adapter
Many cruise lines have USB ports for charging your phone (for example, the Discovery Princess has them in both bedside lamps) but I always think it's a good idea to travel with an international adapter like this so you never get stuck.
You can buy worldwide adapters so that almost everywhere you go in the world, you can plug into the grid and access that all important news update (or cute cat video.) No judgement...
Consider some Towel hooks
As I mentioned above, the top deck of a cruise ship can get a little breezy! As well as a wrap around of some sort, you can display ninja organisation skills by bringing along some towel hooks for your sunbed.
While most cruise lines frown on bagging a sun lounger, we all live in the real world. It happens and you may as well make the most of it!
Also, a towel hook can prevent the edge of your towel from flapping in your face.
What toiletries to pack for a cruise
- Toothpaste (& toothbrush)
- Hair conditioner or special hair products
- Eye drops
- Optional: shampoo and shower gel
Throw in some Highlighter pens
Most ships provide you with a printed itinerary every day, complete with a list of optional activities. On a smaller cruise through, say, the Galapagos Island, this may only consist of a handful of events.
On the Discovery Princess ship, however, there were literally hundreds, every single day. Sudoku challenges, singles get togethers, morning stretch routines, golf tournaments, acupuncture consultations, quizzes, teeth whitening consultations, cocktail lessons, DJ sessions, live music, afternoon tea, basketball shoot outs, movies beneath the stars, Lotto draws, shop sales, production line ups and more, more, more.
On a trip like this, a nifty cruise packing hack involves brining along a set of highlighter pens so that you can zone in on which activities you want to prioritise while you're away.
What not to pack for a cruise
As well as all those cruise packing tips, this is just as important. Packing light for a cruise means you can move more easily to the port, while still having everything you need.
You don’t need to pack the following:
- beach towels or room towels.
- plastic wrap
- shower gels and soap
- toilet paper
Cruising Tips for beginners
Want more cruise hacks to help first time cruisers have the time of their life? On top of packing tips for a cruise, there are some strategies that I wish I'd known about.
Boarding is an efficient but strict process, much like making your way through an airport. You’ll get there in the end but you can make it easier if you prepare in advance.
Cruise companies usually provide luggage tags in advance - complete them and you can often go in the faster queue.
You’ll drop your luggage off first and then enter the queue to have your paperwork checked and go through security, just like at the airport.
Make sure you have your paperwork in order in advance. Of course, this includes your cruise booking confirmation but also, in these pandemic times, things like covid tests, vaccination records and certificates of recovery.
Boarding will take place over a long period of time so that the ship can stagger the arrival of passengers and minimise queues. From what I saw on the Discovery Princess, the crowds and queues thin out the closer you get to departure time.
So, take a short personality quiz and work out which suits you best. Are you anxious until you get through everything? Board early. Are you happy to leave things to the last minute? Wait until close to the end to beat the crowds.
Again, disembarkation takes place over several hours in order to keep it organised. Princess offered to help with your luggage but to take advantage of this, you need to pack your main suitcase and leave it outside your cabin the night before with the appropriate colour-coded tag.
If you’re happy to bring your own luggage with you, that’s fine. It’s quicker but, of course, more awkward.
Food and drinks are served up until the point you need to leave so have a think about when you want to go and arrange accordingly.
Booking in advance
While you'll never go hungry and get bored on a cruise, for certain restaurants and activities, you may need to book in advance. Take a look at these areas...
- Dinner service: you may need to book in advance
Ships provide plenty of food and drink. It’s one of the highlights of booking a cruise! However, some restaurants need to be booked in advance. On the Discovery Princess, for example, those dining options included the Crown Grill and the Bistro Sur La Mer. The earlier you can book these, the better, if you want to make sure you get a table with your friends at the right time. To make life easier, you can book through the MedallionClass app.
- Spa service
Some ships have an entire spa on board, like the Discovery Princess, which offers The Sanctuary space and full Lotus Spa. Again, it’s wise to book treatments in advance - as early as you can.
- Theatre Tickets. Again, drawing on my experience with the Discovery Princess, they had a full theatre with professional cast and shows like their brand new Spotlight Bar. However, tickets could not be booked in advance, so you need to be on time or early to make sure you get a seat.
- Swimming on your own
People ebb and flow around the ship with a predictable pattern, as they do elsewhere in life. If you want to have somewhere to yourself, like the swimming pool for laps, for example, then the following times always work well:
- first thing in the morning, while everyone else is luxuriating in bed and getting themselves together.
- Over lunchtime or dinner time when, well, people are eating.
- While people are off on shore excursions.
Download the app
Increasingly, cruise lines are moving online with their check-in procedure and guide to their on board services. While Princess still made sure you could do everything you needed do the old-fashioned way, they also had an app.
On this app, you could upload your covid paperwork, order room service, make restaurant reservations and more. Again, it just makes sense to download this in advance and save yourself some time at check-in.
Cruise Packing List
Here is a list of the basics plus some cool things to bring on a cruise...Don't miss our complete guide to packing for every kind of trip here.
- Toiletries & Medication
- Pool clothes and cover ups
- Day clothes and layers
- Comfy shoes for shore excursions
- Dressy clothes for formal night
- Books, crossword puzzles, kindles etc
- Handy hacks: highlighters, towel clips, adapters
- Chargers for electronics
- Day bag for shore excursions
Top 10 Cruise Tips
- Realise you can't do it all on a cruise trip! So, don't stress and don't try.
- Be friendly. Cruises are a great way to meet new people.
- Be organised - book key activities in advance.
- Brush up on strategies for seasickness
- Pack at least one piece of snazzy evening wear
- Bring a day pack for excursions
- Try something new
- Pack what you need in the first few hours in your hand luggage
- Don't call it a boat!
- Never be late back to the ship!