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Your Cruise Essentials Checklist

Even if you’re a packing pro, we all forget things sometimes when packing for a trip. Usually, it’s as easy as making a pit stop at the appropriate store to replace whatever it is your forgot. It can be a nuisance, but it probably won’t ruin your vacation.

what to pack for a cruise

That’s not necessarily true if you forget to pack something for your cruise. When you’re on a ship in the middle of the ocean, suddenly that one thing you forgot can be very hard to get. You’ll either have to buy it on the ship (which can be expensive), or you’ll have to wait until the ship docks and hope you can find what you’re missing somewhere on shore.

A great way to avoid either of those options is having a cruise essentials checklist. This handy list will help you stay organized when you’re packing for your trip and hopefully ensure you don’t forget anything.

An important thing to keep in mind from the start is cruise ship rooms are generally half the size of a normal hotel room. The best trick is to pack light and stick to the essentials. If you follow the checklist below, you’ll have everything you need for an enjoyable cruise!


As a tip for both men and women, the level of formality for evening attire varies depending on which cruise line you choose. Make sure to check with your travel agent or the cruise line’s website for the dress codes.

Men’s Checklist:

  • Tuxedo or business suit
  • Dress socks and dress shoes
  • Belts
  • Ties
  • Dress shirts and Polos
  • Dress pants
  • T-shirts
  • Shorts
  • Socks
  • Swimsuits (bringing more than one is best, no one likes to put on a wet suit!)
  • Pajamas
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • A light jacket or sweatshirt

Women’s Checklist:

  • Formal dress
  • Informal/casual dresses
  • Sweater, cardigan, or scarf to wear over the dresses
  • Tops varying in sleeve length
  • Shorts
  • Skirts and/or dress pants
  • Swimsuits (again, multiple is best)
  • Swim cover-up
  • Underwear and bras (include a sports bra and a strapless bra if you need one)
  • Socks
  • Pajamas
  • Dress shoes
  • Tennis shoes
  • Sandals
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Light jacket or sweatshirt

If you are notorious for over packing, a good rule of thumb is to lay out all that you think you need, and take about two-thirds or half of it. Chances are you will still have enough clothing for the trip. If for some reason you run out of clean clothes, some ships offer on-board laundry!

Also, clothes are easy enough to replace or live without if you accidentally forget something. A nice scarf or t-shirt from a cruise ship or port city would even make a lovely souvenir.


  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Makeup remover
  • Makeup
  • Shampoo and Conditioner (most cruise lines provide you with some shampoo and conditioner, but it can be limited; it’s best to bring your own so you don’t feel like you have to ration)
  • Hair dryer (some cruise lines provide hair dryers as well, but they’re not usually high quality)
  • Lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Shaving kit and supplies (for both men and women)
  • Feminine products (if needed)
  • Sunscreen
  • Aloe Vera or after-sun lotion
  • Medications and prescriptions (make sure to leave them in their original bottles and bring a little more than you think you will need on the trip)

A great tip for toiletries is to always use the same bag. Get a clear, zip-top bag of the appropriate size for TSA and fill it with travel size toiletries; small toothpaste tube, shampoo and conditioner, even deodorant. Then, never fully unpack the bag. Whenever you’re getting ready for your next trip, top off the shampoo bottle, make sure you’ve got enough deodorant, and you’re good to go!


  • Travel documents: make sure these are easily accessible in your carry-on bag. You should always know where your boarding documents are and be able to get to them quickly.
  • Drawstring or tote bag for day excursions: It’s nice to bring along a small bag for when the ship makes port and you want to go exploring. Rather than emptying one of your packed bags and carrying that around all day, bring a small tote bag to carry around when you’re not on the ship.
  • Books/Kindle/Tablet: Don’t forget about light entertainment! Cruise ships have about a hundred different activities going on every hour, but if you’re the type to relax by the pool with something to read, don’t forget to pack it!
  • Chargers for phones and computers
  • Headphones

Another important tip when packing for a cruise, especially if you have a flight to the port city first, is to pack your toiletries, a swim suit, and at least one change of clothes in your carry on. That way, if your luggage were to get lost you have your essentials until the airline can track it down. It’s always best to be prepared!

This checklist may seem a bit exhaustive, but you can pick and choose what is essential for you based on what kind of cruise you’re taking and which cruise line you’ll be traveling with. If you’re unsure about bringing your own shampoo or how formal the dress code is, check with your travel agent! They are the know-all resource for your cruise packing needs.

Use the tool below to find a travel agent who specializes in the cruise you want to take. Let them do all the booking and planning so all you have to worry about is which pair of sunglasses to toss in your bag.