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How early should I pack for my cruise?

02 Apr 2024
Calista Kiper

Many cruise tips and hacks cover what to pack on your cruise. 

You probably already know to bring essentials like sunscreen, swimsuits, formal clothing, and medication.

But an equally practical question also arises as you’re planning ahead: when should you pack for your cruise?

The answer depends on multiple factors, such as the weather and length of your cruise, and personal preferences.

It’s important to find a good middle ground when you’re deciding when to pack away clothing and other essentials.

Packing for a trip

Too early, and you might end up needing items you’ve already packed away. 

Too late, and you could forget something while rushing.

What’s the optimal time to pack before your cruise? 

This guide will explore the best length of time based on where you are and what you’ll be packing away.

Factors to consider before packing

Things to pack for a cruise

The optimal time to pack depends on several factors. 

There’s no one answer for everything, but packing earlier has many benefits, such as reduced stress, more time to prepare, and limiting overpacking.

I recommend beginning to pack about 2 weeks before your cruise, but the best time for each person depends on personal preference and other factors.

The length of your cruise

Sun rising in Alaska

The duration of the cruise plays a significant role. 

If your cruise is a shorter one, such as a weekend cruise or only 3-5 days, you can pack closer to the departure date.

However, if your cruise is longer than a week, you’ll want to give yourself more time in advance to pack. That way, you’ll make sure you have everything you need for the long voyage.

Any special activities or occasions

You should also consider any special activities you’ll be participating in. Packing items like scuba gear, surf equipment, or hiking supplies can take extra time to prepare.

If the cruise is to celebrate an important occasion, you should also pack earlier rather than later. 

A birthday or anniversary might require that you plan ahead to pack gifts or decorations. Especially if any items are a surprise, make sure to pack early and carefully!

The climate and season

View from balcony in Alaska

When you’re packing for a cruise, the season and climate of your home and your destination all play an important role.

Generally, if it’s winter or fall at home, and you’re cruising to a warm destination, you can pack much earlier because you won’t need to wear any of the clothes you’re packing away.

The closer your home and your destination are in their current climate, the later you’ll want to pack so that you still have outfits to wear before you leave.

Either way, be sure that you research the weather at your destination and plan ahead accordingly.

How you’re traveling to your cruise

United plane at Fort Lauderdale airport

How you’re getting to your cruise can influence when you start packing.

If you’re driving, you have more leeway for how late you can pack. Not only do you choose when the car leaves, but you also have more time and space for bags.

If you’re flying, I recommend packing earlier and more stringently. You will have to make sure that your luggage fits both airline and cruise ship restrictions.

Hotel with shuttle

You’ll also need to arrive at your port ahead of time, so you may need to pack extra items.

Keeping in mind that all of these factors affect the right timing to pack, this is a general outline of how I recommend you begin.

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

Two weeks before: Make a packing list

Being organized and prepared helps you plan the best cruise experience possible.

First, start by making a packing list 1-2 weeks before your cruise.

Making a list early on will give you an idea of what items you need to obtain for the cruise.

You’ll be able to make sure you have everything you need while giving you plenty of time to purchase any items.

Suitcase open for packing

Especially if you need to purchase anything online, preparing at least a week before gives you plenty of time for those packages to arrive.

Consider the activities and attractions you plan to participate in. If you want to use the FlowRider surfing simulation, pack a tight, secure swimsuit. If your cruise has a “white night” theme, pack an all-white outfit.

And don’t forget about any activities you’ll be doing on port days. Make sure you bring a broad range of options.


Pack clothing that is both comfortable and appropriate for each occasion.

Also, be sure that you look into the cruise line's regulations so that you don’t bring any prohibited items or go over a weight limit.

After considering everything you need, create a checklist. This will ensure that you don’t overlook anything important as you pack.

1 week before: Pack away clothes


Packing clothing for a cruise is one of the most challenging parts of packing.

It’s important to choose versatile, efficient outfits that can be mixed and matched.

You should also opt for lightweight, wrinkle-resistant fabrics.

Personally, I like to take the weekend before my cruise to do laundry and pack away all the clean clothes I want to bring into packing cubes divided by type of clothing: tops go into one packing cube, bottoms into another, swimsuits in a third.

Packing cubes

This way, I don’t dirty any of the outfits I want to wear on my cruise, and I know that everything is already prepared for the trip.

In case I feel worried about keeping track of the clothing I’ve packed away, I take a picture of the outfits so that I know what’s already in my bag.

This also helps you match your outfits to the shoes, jewelry, and makeup you’ll pack later on.

If completely packing away clothes more than a week before the cruise makes you nervous, you can also just create a pile of everything you’ll be bringing along. 

Clothes in a closet

You can dig into this pile anytime, but it will stay there so that everything you’re packing is collected in one area.

Packing early also helps you check if everything you want to bring fits into your luggage. If something doesn’t fit, you’ll have time to adjust your list or obtain new luggage.

Some cruisers find that packing early also prevents them from overpacking because they’ll have more time to consider what they actually need and take out any unnecessary items.

5 days before: Collect travel documents and electronics

About five days before your cruise, collect all the essential travel documents and electronics you need.

Most of these items, especially laptops and phone chargers, can’t be packed away just yet, but try to collect them in one space so that you can confirm you have everything.

Forgetting essentials like your passport or headphones can ruin an entire trip. 

Sitting in Central Park with laptop

I like to gather these items into a basket that I keep on my desk. That way, everything is at hand if I need it, but also kept together so that I can confirm I have everything I need for my trip.

This is also a good time to collect the shoes you want to bring on your cruise. Depending on how many pairs you own, you might still need to wear them at home, but I still recommend collecting them in one place. 

Since the shoes you pack need to be versatile, it helps to have them planned out ahead of time.

The night before: Pack toiletries

The night before your trip, you can begin to pack toiletries, medicine, and jewelry.

While you might need items like deodorant or toothpaste for the next day, you can still pack them into a bag that you keep in your bathroom.

You must pack medicine the day before. You never want to forget your medication while rushing to leave!

Again, I recommend placing your important toiletries in a bag in your bathroom. Double-check with your packing list that you have everything you need.

The day of your trip: Pack makeup and last items

Toiletry bag

The day you leave for your cruise, pack away these important travel documents and essential items.

Reference your packing list so that nothing is forgotten!

This is when you can finally pack essential items that you use every day, like your phone or glasses.

Read more: 21 Cruise Cabin Essentials Everyone Should Pack

For those who wear makeup, I recommend packing it on the day of your trip. 

When I get ready before the trip, I do my makeup. As I finish each step, I’ll put the item I just used into my bag.

With this strategy, you can confirm that you’ve brought all the products and brushes that you really will use—and your makeup is done for the day!

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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