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What should I pack for my cruise holiday?

Cruising can be a very relaxing and enjoyable way to travel. With your hotel room on the water, where else can you wake up in a different destination each morning? Whether you're cruising for the first time or are already a seasoned cruiser, with the changing destinations and uncertain weather conditions on the ocean, knowing what to pack for a cruise can be difficult! What you should pack will depend on how long you're at sea, what your activities may be and what parts of the world you'll be visiting. To help ensure your holiday is smooth-sailing we've set up this helpful guide of some essential packing tips to help you make the most out of the experience. At Holiday Extras we also provide comprehensive cruise travel insurance that you may want to consider adding to your packing list before you set sail!

Essentials items for your cruise

Normally on a cruise, you'll be allowed one suitcase and a carry-on bag. In this smaller bag you can bring everything you think you'll need for your first day aboard the ship. This can be an essential for starting your journey well because on the larger cruises (where there are several thousand passengers), it can take a while to receive your suitcase - some cruisers reporting having to wait up to 6 hours!

Important items to include in your carry-on bag are:

  • any medication that you need to take regularly,
  • documents, passports and relevant visas,
  • toiletries, a change of clothes, and
  • swimwear - it can be quite inconvenient if you want to go swimming in the ship's pool but packed your swimsuit in your suitcase rather than the carry-on!

What clothing should you pack for your cruise?

Clothing for onboard your ship

When thinking about what clothing to pack remember to check the cruise line's dress code. There may be several formal nights scheduled which are a cruising tradition. These evenings will usually require men to wear suits, and a dress or smart outfit for women. The majority of men may wear business suits rather than tuxedos but it's entirely up to you and will depend on how you feel comfortable. If you don't fancy getting dressed up then you could always dine at the buffet or enjoy delightful room service. After all the formal wear dining evenings are optional and are meant to be fun - not a hassle!

Longer city shorts or walking shorts are usually fine for daytime wear onboard and most cruise lines will permit smart, clean jeans. Women can also enjoy wearing summer dresses, skirts and flowing pants. The destination you're heading to will ultimately determine your clothing choices. Remember if you're going on a Caribbean cruise, or somewhere to enjoy the glorious sunshine, that evenings can be chilly in the middle of the ocean so taking a light jacket will help. A Nordic or Alaskan voyage however may require a few extra jumpers in general!

One essential you must not forget is your swimming attire, as most cruises will have extensive pool-side and water-based activities to enjoy. If you're planning to use the onboard fitness centre then you can bring your gym kit along too. Another good tip is to pack loose and comfortable clothing for your days spent lounging around the ship and by the pool, as well as comfortable shoes for wandering around the decks without the risk of slipping on the uneven surfaces!

Clothing for onshore excursions

When deciding on outfits to pack for your shore activities your clothing will largely depend on the time of year and your destination. You can enjoy wearing loose, light fitting clothing for hot countries, and good footwear if you're going to be visiting busy cities. For cruises to colder countries, you could pack coats and jeans to ensure that you stay warm when you're exploring the ports. Do remember to check the weather forecasts - it's a great idea to pack a light rain coat in case of rain when you're venturing about on dry land!

Casual or smart-casual clothing is best for resort days and make sure you have comfortable shoes for sightseeing and walking tours, and flip-flops or sandals for the beach. If you're planning to participate in lots of active excursions, like hiking, it's important to make sure you have appropriate clothing and footwear so that you're able to fully indulge in the exerience without worrying about sore feet!

How to pack for a cruise

Cruise packing list essentials:

Check out the following list of essential must-have items to remember to put in your suitcase!

  • Extra power outlet or power strip - very often in your cabin, there'll only be one power outlet, if any. Bringing a power strip with several extra outlets will make life so much easier - meaning you won't need to unplug the TV every time you want to dry your hair or charge your phone.
  • Earplugs and a sleep mask - chances are you'll sleep okay but, just in case, ear plugs could prove useful if you're cabin is close to a nightclub or the engine room, and a sleep mask could ensure a peaceful nights rest.
  • Alarm clock - this will help to ensure you don't miss breakfast or any early-starting port days.
  • Phone and phone charger - great if you get lost on an onshore trip or for keeping in touch with family and friends back home.
  • Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses - it's important to be protected when you're up on deck, basking by the pool because the sun can get very strong out at sea, especially in areas close to the equator. Having proper sunscreen is an absolute must-have - this may be available onboard but could be pricey so save being at the mercy of such eye-wateringly high prices and purchase a couple bottles beforehand at your local pharmacy.
  • Seasickness medication - if you suffer from seasickness and are concerned that being at sea may affect you then speak to your doctor beforehand to see what medication is available, just in case there are some rough seas during your holiday. Some people wear Sea-Band Wristbands, which are said to curb nausea. Ginger tea could also help fight motion sickness and it's often available with room service.

Optional extras to bring along:

  • Clips - it's usually windy up on deck, and if you're relaxing by the pool, you don't want your towel or jacket blowing away. Some kind of peg or clip can be handy in these situations, as you can just clip your towel to you chair.
  • Travel size laundry bags - these are useful if you're cruising for a longer period, as the laundry bags provided in the room may not be big enough. Chucking all your unwashed clothes into one place and stowing it away in the cupboard, does much to save space. A tube of travel wash to take care of small laundry items while you're at sea may be helpful too.
  • Over the door shoe rack - cabin space is tight, so an over the door shoe rack will save a lot of room, keep things less cluttered in your cabin, and prevent you feeling stressed. Extra clothes hangers can b helpful in your wardrobe too.
  • A pair of binoculars - these are a fun thing to bring on a cruise and could come in handy for anything from spotting whales or dolphins from the port, to glacier gazing if you're heading to a destination like Alaska.
  • Phrase books - these could come in handy at the places you visit and help you make new friends onboard the ship too.
  • Lanyards - one of these could be useful for putting your room key/ship's card in easy reach. This may save having to find it in your purse when you need it for opening your room, playing in the casino or for ordering drinks.
  • Day bag - cruise ships can be the size of small towns, and you don't want to be making several trips to and from your cabin during the day. A day bag is great for storing everything you'll need for the day in one convenient place.

Fun things to pack for a cruise- a checklist

You may not have thought of packing the following items into your suitcase but they could be great novelty choices to bring along and make the experience even more enjoyable!

  • A snorkel mask - obviously this will depend on destination and your itinerary plans but they could come in handy, especially if you're not keen on renting someone else's snorkel gear!
  • A pack of playing cards - you could play solitaire on your journey or play card games in a group, either way these could be a fun item to have with you!
  • Post-it notes - great for leaving notes for family back at your cabin, or to use as a bookmark if you still prefer reading paper books to kindles!
  • Printed tee-shirts - you may fancy getting cruise themed tee-shirts to add joy to your holiday with your friends. They can be great to help you spot people when you're travelling in a group too!
  • Glowsticks - they are cheap, lightweight and easy to pack. You can hand them out when attending one of the various onboard parties to add an extra bit of glow to your evening!

Packing for a Cruise - FAQs

What travel adaptors should I bring onboard?

All cruise lines have different socket types. Some cruise lines supply a selection of European, US and UK plug sockets for you to use, so you don't have to fork out for additional adaptors for your electrical items. However, many cruises will only have the choice out of one or two different types of sockets. This will most often be the socket-type that is available in the cruise line's home country. For instance, Royal Caribbean use US sockets and P&O uses British plug sockets.

Will towels and other essentials be provided?

For the majority of cruises, packing towels is not necessary as they'll be provided in your cabin, along with other essentials such as hairdryers, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and prams. Although it is worth mentioning that this may be at an extra cost and you should always check the facilities of your cruise ship before travelling.

Can I bring a bottle of wine onto the cruise?

It is important to check your cruise line's alcohol policy as some lines strictly limit bottles per passenger, or do not allow your own alcohol to be brought on to the ship. You can see an overview of various cruise line alcohol policies on the Cruise Critic website. Contrary to popular belief most cruise companies allow you to bring a bottle or two of wine aboard which could be enjoyed whilst watching the sunset from your balcony one evening. Be aware there may be a corkage fee if you plan to drink it in a public restaurant or a bar onboard though. A safe tip for transporting your bottle would be packing it inside two shoes to make sure it's protected in your luggage. Don't forget a corkscrew or a champagne corker (if you don't drink the bottle in one sitting).

Am I allowed to bring snacks onto a cruise?

One of the best things about cruising is the amazing food and, rest assured, there will be many dining options available, including lots of snacks and drinks to suit most tastes and preferences. If you feel you need to, you may be allowed to bring snacks onboard, but this will depend on the cruise liner and they usually must be unopened, prepackaged and ready to eat - homemade items or pre-cooked foods are usually prohibited. It's also important to check the restrictive rules regarding drinks that are applied to your cruise liner, as even non-alcoholic drinks and bottles of water are prohibited from certain cruise lines as well as alcoholic drinks.

As soon as you book your cruise you must inform the travel agent or cruise line of any specific dietary requirements or allergy needs you have. Cruise lines can usually provide food if you're vegetarian or vegan, or if you require food that is low in fat or salt. Also inform your cruise line if you are lactose intolerant, require dairy-free, gluten or wheat-free food (celiac), or if you need low-cholesterol foods, are diabetic, or have a kosher or halal diet.

What's the easiest way to pack my suitcase?

Rolling your clothes is an old fashioned but pretty useful way of packing everything tightly into your suitcase. Other smart space-saving techniques include rolling up your socks and stuffing them in to your shoes. You could also curl your belt and store it inside the collar of a shirt to keep it from creasing. Don't forget to leave a bit of room in your luggage for souvenirs and items you buy - looking out for local crafts and clothing is what the fun is cruising is all about!

If you would like some helpful tips on packing your suitcase like a pro then enjoy our Holiday Extras how-to guide below and if you enjoy watching you can subscribe to our YouTube travel guides channel. For more information you can also check out our Holiday Extras Cruise travel blog.

Holiday Extras reviews

"With Holiday Extra's dedicated Cruise insurance policy, our customers are able to be totally confident that they have high-quality insurance cover in place specifically designed for a cruise holiday at sea"

Jeremy Hatton | Head of Customer Services | Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

"Holiday Extras offer our guests cruise specific policies that give them peace of mind and confidence when booking their cruise"

Clive Jones | Senior Director | Guest Services | Prestige Cruise Holdings (Regent Seven Seas Cruises & Oceania Cruises)

Cruise travel insurance for your holiday

  • - Voted best insurance provider 12 years running
  • - Over 25 years experience selling Travel Insurance
  • - Single and annual policies available
  • - Maximum age limit of 85 years old on single-trip policies
  • - UK based contact centre and 24/7 helpline

Finding the right cruise travel insurance will help ensure you have a peaceful time at sea and is essential in order to cover costs including changes to your cruise schedule, being confined to your cabin and any missed port departures or unused prepaid shore activities. At Holiday Extras we provide comprehensive cover for your trip at a competitive price. We've even been awarded "Best Travel Insurance Provider" for more than 10 years in a row at Globe Travel Awards to prove it!

We have 3 levels of comprehensive cover available for you and our Bronze, Silver and Gold Cruise policies starting from just *. We have a maximum age limit of 85 years old on our single-trip and multi-trip policies, and this includes customers with pre-existing medical conditions. If you are looking for an annual policy we could also insure you with either our Silver or Gold cover. You could also look at our standard travel insurance cover for any other holidays you have planned this year!

Further Cruise guides

If you found these tips and insights into packing for your next cruise useful, then please visit our other helpful guides before you board!

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The insurance is underwritten by Great Lakes Insurance SE. Great Lakes Insurance SE is a German insurance company with its headquarters at Königinstrasse 107, 80802 Munich. UK Branch office: 10 Fenchurch Avenue, London, EC3M 5BN, company number SE000083. Great Lakes Insurance SE, UK Branch, is authorised and regulated by Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht. Deemed authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number: 769884. Subject to regulation by the Financial Conduct Authority and limited regulation by the Prudential Regulation Authority. Details of the Temporary Permissions Regime, which allows EEA-based firms to operate in the UK for a limited period while seeking full authorisation, are available on the Financial Conduct Authority’s website.