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7 things to pack for a cruise (and 5 to leave behind), from someone who has cruised half a dozen times

15 Mar 2024
Calista Kiper

The closer the date of your cruise comes, the more daunting packing can feel.

Packing suitcase

Whether you like to get your packing done early or put it off until the last minute, it’s important to know exactly what to pack.

There are obvious things you want to bring, of course, like swimsuits, casual clothing, shoes, and formal wear.

However, if you’re new to cruising, there are some items that you may not think about.

Things to pack for a cruise

You can’t bring the same items you’d take on a land vacation when it comes to a cruise.

After having been on six cruises, I’ve established a feel for the kind of things that are necessary—and those I could have left behind.

Here are 7 things you’ll want to pack for your cruise, and 5 items to leave at home

Read more: 40 essential things to bring on a cruise

Essential Items to Pack for Your Cruise

1. Sunscreen


Many locations on Royal Caribbean cruises experience strong UV rays.

Whether you’re enjoying the pool deck or an island excursion, you’re likely to spend lots of time in the sun on your cruise.

To prevent a nasty, painful sunburn, you’ll want to pack along some sunscreen.

Also, be sure that you check what type of sunscreen is required at your ports of call. 

Some locations ask you to pack reef-safe, mineral sunscreen to protect local reefs and wildlife from chemicals.

2. Jackets

Woman wearing jacket in Alaska

The beauty of a cruise ship is the way it blends many different atmospheres and elements all into one location.

However, this is also a challenge when it comes to packing!

Even if you’re cruising to a warmer location, you’ll also spend time inside, where the A.C. may run colder than you expect.

For those formal dinners and nights inside the theater watching a show, be sure that you pack a couple light jackets or sweaters.

3. Magnetic hooks


Did you know that cruise cabin walls and ceilings are magnetic? 

The walls and ceilings inside each stateroom are made of steel, meaning anything magnetic will stick to them instantly.

Bringing magnetic hooks along allows you to stick them directly onto your cabin walls and ceilings, creating hanging space and more room for storage hacks.

Read more: This cruise hack turns your cabin into a private area, which is ideal for light sleepers

4. Lotion

With all the pool-hopping and beach-lounging you’ll do on your cruise, not only is sunscreen important, but you’ll also want lotion.

Soaking in chlorine pools or salty beaches, and taking multiple showers can really dry out your skin.

Pack along some lotion to keep yourself moisturized and looking hydrated for the remainder of your cruise. 

For a product that combines moisture with sun protection, I recommend aloe vera. It’s a natural option that will soothe your skin if you happen to get a burn or rash.

5. A passport

Passport on the bed

Indeed, a passport isn’t always required on a cruise. 

On closed-loop cruises that begin and end in the United States, you can bring along a birth certificate and valid ID if you are a U.S. citizen.

However, having a passport is always a good idea in case of an emergency. 

If you get left behind, or the ship has to dock at an alternate port or undergo an unexpected evacuation, you’ll need a valid passport. 

If you don’t have one, you’ll have to stop at the nearest U.S. embassy.

Additionally, owning a passport opens up your options of ports to travel in and out of. Why not take the opportunity to try a cruise at an international port?

6. Medication


Royal Caribbean ships do have shops onboard with a few toiletries for sale. 

However, they won’t have full pharmacies available.

To avoid running out of essential medication—or stressing out and spending extra money trying to find more—pack all the medications you might need, even over-the-counter varieties. I recommend packing more than you think you need, just in case you're delayed returning home.

I usually bring allergy medicine, pain relief, motion sickness medicine, antacids, and Bandaids.

7. Close-toed shoes


Again, you might expect to need warm-weather or pool clothing on your cruise.

But don’t forget that a wide variety of activities are available on Royal Caribbean ships, from ziplining to bumper cars.

The types of activities onboard vary depending on which ship you are sailing on, so be sure to do some research ahead of time.

For events like ice skating, laser tag, and gym basketball, close-toed shoes are required. 

No exceptions will be made, so be sure you pack everything you need for your desired activities. 

Items You Can Leave At Home

1. Appliances

Confiscated items

Photo by Timmy Markwald

Before you laugh, you'd be surprised how many people try to bring kitchen and home appliances on their cruise.

I've seen rice cookers, humidifiers, electric blankets, heating plates and more all end up on the confiscated items table.

Not only are they not allowed, but they're unnecessary.

2. Iron

Iron on a cruise ship cabin

Even though I just mentioned appliances, I feel obligated to specifically call out irons. To prevent any fires, cruise lines do not allow clothing irons or steamers to be brought onboard.

You will have to get creative or pay staff to launder or iron your clothes for you.

If you’re looking for a way to keep your clothes wrinkle-free while you travel, we recommend a wrinkle-release spray.

3. Alcohol

Bottles of liquor at a bar

You can pack up to 750 mL (one unopened bottle per adult in a cabin) of wine or champagne on your cruise.

Any other alcoholic products, such as beer or liquor, will be confiscated if you try to bring it onboard.

Security examines all liquids and confiscates any alcohol that they find. 

It’s not worth wasting that money on liquor when you know you can buy it onboard. 

Royal Caribbean wants you to purchase alcohol at cruise ship bars while you’re on the cruise. 

Whether or not you choose to splurge on the drink package, it’s best to wait for onboard options.

Read more: We asked our readers what one thing they regretted packing for their cruise

4. Beach towels


A cruise vacation will have plenty of watery activities to look forward to: cool swimming pools, luxurious hot tubs, and white, sandy beaches.

But you won’t need to pack your own beach towels.

Royal Caribbean provides complimentary beach towels on the pool deck for your use throughout the cruise. 

You can even bring them to your ports, as long as you return them at the end of the cruise! There is a $25 fee for each towel you misplace.

Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island, also provides towels free of charge.

5. Marijuana 


Even if it is legal in your home state, many countries have laws against the use of marijuana. 

No illegal drugs or substances are allowed to be brought on board, and this includes even products like CBD oils or edibles.

You could be denied boarding, kicked off the ship, or even banned from the cruise line if you attempt to pack marijuana with you.

Packing any marijuana is a risk you don’t want to take. 

Read more: I packed for a 7-day cruise and bringing this electronic was a total waste of space

Calista Kiper graduated from Wheaton College, IL, with a B.A. in English Writing. 

Growing up traveling around the world, she developed a passion for diversity and cross-cultural communication. From her first cruise on Wonder of the Seas, she has delighted in the intersection between travel, diversity, and writing in the cruising world.

Calista spends her free time reading, cooking, and researching the latest human-interest stories. 

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