Fresh off a 7 day cruise, with a few pre-cruise vacation days, I still have packing lists top of mind. Overall, I did a reasonably good job preparing for our 11 day journey, with a little room to spare in my suitcase for souvenirs, but there are a couple of things I could have included.
There are so many fun things to do on a cruise in addition to all the great excursions. How to pack for everything? This post will provide a detailed list of what to pack, along with some helpful tips.
Planning ahead can be a great time-saver, as no one wants to use valuable vacation time doing detours while in port in a search for a forgotten item. Or missing out on a great activity, such as a galley tour, because you don't have closed toe shoes.
Here are some of my best packing strategies and suggestions for your cruise:
Before you start packing, it is always a good idea to make sure you have the right luggage. Royal Caribbean does not have a specific limit on the number of suitcases. For most, this will be guided by transportation options, especially flying, which has restrictions on both the size and weight of bags.
For ease of travel, I like a good, 4 wheel rolling suitcase, along with a travel style knapsack. I prefer a hard case, after an unfortunate experience with my soft-covered suitcase being out in the rain too long. Everything was completely soaked inside.
When cruising, it can be a couple of hours before you receive your suitcases, so consider carry-ons that you can easily manage with all your necessities until your cabin is ready. Your carry-on should have room enough for important valuables, required documents, and anything else you need right away, such as flip flops and a bathing suit.
I have a couple of primary considerations, my packing philosophies if you will, that I use to help make sure I pack what I need for my vacation, Clothes and shoes must be multi-purpose, looking at everything head to toe. There is nothing that goes in my suitcase that will be worn only once.
It is essential to pick fabrics that travel well and can easily be rolled (my favorite packing technique). I swear linen just wrinkles from looking at it, so it is a definite no for me. Also, keep in mind you can’t bring irons or steamers onboard, as they are considered a fire hazard.
Some people like packing cubes, and I have tried them in the past but was not overly impressed by them. A couple of years ago, I did convert to rolling most of my clothes, which decreases seams and maximizes space.
Daytime clothes and accessories
How many outfits to pack? That depends on the length and type of cruise. There are no self-service laundry facilities onboard but washing, pressing, and dry-cleaning services are offered (prices vary per item). It is best to plan clothes for the number of days plus a return home outfit. Two outfits per day is a good rule of thumb (day and night).
Pack clothes that are appropriate for the climate. For the warm Caribbean sun, consider garments to keep you cool and comfortable at the pool. I monitor the weather several weeks ahead of time, looking at average temperatures and projected rainfall amounts.
- Clothes for lounging and the pool such as tees and tank tops, shorts, sundresses, swimwear, and cover ups
- Comfortable pair of flip flops and sandals
- Jeans and pants
- Active wear including running /walking shoes
- Clothes for onboard activities, such as the all-access ship tour, zip-lining, and rock climbing which require closed-toe shoes.
- For chillier spots like the ice rink, include pants and a sweater
- Don’t forget socks!
- Sun hat or visor
- Lanyard for SeaPass
Tip: Magnetic hooks can be helpful in organizing clothes while onboard.
Evening clothes and accessories
For evening events, the dress code varies, but cruisers are less formal than they use to be. Many guests wear "Smart Casual" for formal night; Royal Caribbean's website explains the dress code to help with packing for evening wear.
- "Smart Casual: Think of this as a step up from your typical dinner wear. Dress to impress with collared shirts, dresses, skirts, blouses, or pantsuits. Jackets, sports coats, and blazers are snazzy and welcomed.
- Formal: Make it a night out in your best black-tie look – suits and ties, tuxedos, cocktail dresses, or evening gowns, although I have to say less and less of this.
- There are also fun theme nights, such as the White Party, 70s or 80s nights. They differ by ship, but a previous Cruise Compass will indicate what can be expected.
- Again, think about shoe selection. Neutrals or metallics go a long way as they match with so much.
- Sleepwear for when your fun evening comes to an end
It is a good idea to keep jewelry to a minimum, the less flashy the better. I don’t want to worry about losing a piece of jewelry while swimming or attract unnecessary attention in ports.
Personally, I don’t even bring fancy costume jewelry as some of it is so real looking and again, I don’t want to attract unwanted attention.
Waterproof items are also a plus, so consider them if you plan on doing anything that can get you wet like swimming and boating.
Ports and excursions
Whether it’s a beach day, bicycle tour, or snorkeling, there are a few things you should probably include for your port days.
It's always a good idea to keep valuables such as a phone and wallet safe when venturing out in ports. Cross-body bags with secure locks or a money belt are good options. It never hurts to stick an umbrella or rain ponchos in your bag in case any tropical showers pop up.
For general water/ beach outings, consider:
- Mask, goggles and snorkel
- Water shoes (where needed)
- Life jackets /flotation devices (especially for children)
- Waterproof phone carrier
- Towel clips (the ship provides towels)
- Beach bag
- Bug spray
- Sunscreen and lip balm
Bring good, comfortable shoes for walking and what is considered appropriate for the activity. Some people like goggles or bandanas for ATV tours, which can be dusty.
Colder Climate Packing
Cruising to colder climates, like Alaska, has become increasingly popular, and requires different considerations for weather and activities.
The amount of rain and temperature can vary during an Alaskan cruise, so you should be prepared to keep warm and dry. Layered dressing is the way to go in this climate. Here are some suggestions:
- Shirts and t-shirts for inner layers
- Warm layers, such as fleece pullovers
- Waterproof jacket
- Suitable closed toe shoes
- Boots for hiking where needed
- Gloves, hat and scarf
- Water-resistant backpack/cross-body bag for onshore
- Insect repellant is especially important for Alaska
Tip – Hand warmer packs are helpful to keep hands nice and cozy on a cold day.
Location specific requirements
The cruise planner will list important details for excursions. For example, in Rome, there is no access to the Vatican or St. Peter’s Basilica with exposed shoulders or knees (common for churches in the region). This applies to both men and women.
For those who love camouflage clothing, it is important to note that it is illegal in some Caribbean countries, such as Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Lucia as it is reserved for military use. Some non-camo options should be included when packing.
Sunscreen is a must and cruisers should be aware that some destinations require reef-safe sunscreen to help protect the health of their coral reefs. These products don’t contain harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone, octocrylene and octinoxate. Reef-safe sunscreens are readily available in popular drugstores and other retailers. Ports in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba and Hawaii are some of the locations that require these types of sunscreens.
Traveling with younger kids can definitely add more to your packing list. Beyond the standard clothes suggested for adults, consider including:
- Diapers – pack plenty of extra ones, including regular and swim
- Baby wipes
- Rash cream
- Extra plastic bags for wet items
- Extra clothes
- Light blanket
- Car seat where necessary
- Bottles/sippy cups
- Baby food and formula
- Activities like coloring, stickers, books, etc.
- Download favorite shows and games on tablets
Kids love sand toys, which are a great part of any beach day. Collapsible silicone toys are a fantastic option for saving space in lieu of traditional bulky toys.
Many parents prefer a bath for young children and bring small blow-up bathtubs that can be placed in the shower during a cruise.
Most of us use several products throughout the day, from our morning routine to bedtime regime. This can translate into a fair number of things to bring along. When I start the packing process, I walk through everything I do to get ready and make brief notes.
The cruise line provides soap and shampoo, but many people prefer to bring their own. Here are some of the main things to consider:
- Shampoo and conditioner, and other hair products.
- Skin care products
- Eye care – glass cleaners and contact solution
- Dental – toothbrush and toothpaste (and floss for the 1% that actually do as their dentist tells them)
- Curling / flat irons (cabins have blow dryers)
- Shaving products
- Brush, comb, elastics/ hair accessories
- Nail products
Many travelers find an over the door shoe rack and magnetic hooks helpful in organizing toiletries. Many people also suggest a small sewing kit as well.
Tip - For some reason, travel sized products can be pricey despite their size. Reusable travel bottles are a good solution, especially if you don’t need a large quantity of product..
First Aid and Medications
While some items can be purchased onboard, it is a good idea to have a ready made first aid kit for easy access during the cruise. The last thing you want to do, is spend time running around in port to find something,
Unfortunately, some people suffer from sea sickness, but there are a number of well known remedies such as Gravol, wrist bands and patches. Don't assume that there will be an adequate supply on the ship. Best to pick them up at the local drugstore pre-cruise; a pharmacist can assist with determining what is best for you.
Here are some common medications/ first aid items to pack:
- Sea sickness remedies
- Pain and allergy products
- After-burn care (aloe), lip balm (SPF), and bug spray
- Anti-itch cream/ hydrocortisone
- First aid items such as band-aids and anti-bacterial ointment
- Upset stomach medications
- Cold medicine
- Eye drops
Valuables / Carry-on
The last bag to pack is your carry-on. Once the luggage is dropped off at the terminal, this should contain everything needed until the cabin is ready.
Cruisers will need all their required travel documents such as personal identification - passports, and driver’s license. Also:
- Money (small denominations for tips/ foreign currency), credit cards
- Electronics – phone, tablet, earbuds, charger, camera
- Required medication (at least 3 days extra worth)
- Eyewear – glasses, sunglasses, contacts
- Comfort items such as gum/ mints/ snacks
- Phone battery (can’t be packed)
- Masks (where required)
- Hand sanitizer and wipes
- Covid 19 test kits if you plan on doing proctored tests
Although most people keep documents on their phone, I always feel better having hard copies as well just in case something happens to my phone. Documents to consider:
- Boarding passes
- Negative Covid-19 test results
- Country specific entry requirements
- Hotel reservations
- Transportation details
- Insurance details
- A list of key numbers and reservations
- SetSail passes
- Luggage tags
- Excursion details
- Tip: Passports applications are taking longer right now, so do keep this in mind if you are traveling to a destination that requires one. It is important to check the expiry date as some countries require passports to be valid for at least 6 months.
Drinks and Beverages
Royal Caribbean allows its guests to bring a specific quantity of drinks onboard. This can be a great money saver or is nice if you have a specific beverage you really love. These must be carried on and cannot be packed in your suitcases.
According to Royal Caribbean, each stateroom (not guest) can bring:
- Two 750 ml bottles of wine or champagne, as long as one guest is of legal drinking age.
- Guests can also bring non-alcoholic beverages up to 12 standard (17 oz.) cans, bottles or cartons per stateroom.
- Milk and distilled water brought on for infant, medical, or dietary use are permitted.
Corkscrews will be provided for guests to enjoy their drinks in their stateroom, and if guests wish to enjoy their wine or champagne in our dining or bar venues, there will be a corkage fee applied.
Guests who purchase alcohol bottles onboard, in a port-of-call, or bring more than the two permitted bottles on boarding day, will have their items safely stored by the ship. These bottles will be returned on the last day onboard for enjoyment once home.
Royal Caribbean ships have standard plugs and most Caribbean ports have the same electrical outlets as those in the United States. However, for your pre-and post stay for international cruises, you may require adaptors and converters.
Adaptors are inexpensive to purchase but do vary by destination, so check what is required for your travels destination.
In addition, some items may need a converter that, as the name implies, converts it to the proper voltage. This is more likely to be an issue for items like flat or curling irons. These can be much more expensive, so best to do your research ahead of time to determine what is needed.
Although there is plenty of food and drinks on the cruise, there are times when it is helpful to have a pre-packaged snack on hand. Protein and granola bars can be great options, as well as favorites like goldfish or cheerios that can calm down a tired toddler.
A water bottle is a definite plus, and an item I wish I had brought along on my most recent cruise. There were plenty of places to fill up, and with the hot weather, this would have been well used.
If you are worried about water-borne illnesses or bacteria, water bottles from companies such as LARQ and Lifestraw will clean the water, getting rid of E.coli and bacteria. Helpful if you are unsure how safe the drinking water is.
Other items to consider:
- A night light, as cabins can be dark
- Reading material – some people love reading on a kindle or their tablet, but for those that don't remember to bring a book or magazine.
- Towel clips to keep your towel from blowing away
- Fan, but must be cordless (can plug into USB)
- Multi-outlet USB Charger (non-surge)
Tip – Ziplock bags are invaluable. I suggest bringing a couple of different sizes, they can be used for shoes, dirty clothes, organization etc.
This is a growing category that I have added to my packing list. With more and more apps and Covid protocols, and other health requirements, I have to give more thought to what I need to have on my phone for travel, what I consider e-packing.
Some people like to print out everything, which is a good strategy as well, but for some things, it is best to have an app.
- Royal Caribbean App you will need this onboard, to get information on activities, your schedule, book entertainment etc.
- Airline and transportation apps
- Boarding Passes
- Vaccine proof
- Negative Covid-19 results
- Any country specific entry codes, for example for Spain, you need to complete a health form and receive a QR code for entry
- Excursion details/ tickets
- Country specific requirements like Canada’s ArriveCAN app, that much be completed prior to arrival
I also create a specific travel folder for all of my travel related emails, such as transportation details, and cruise planner purchases.
What to leave at home
There is a whole list of items that can’t be brought onboard, so it's best to know about this ahead of time and not waste space or risk losing them.
There is a detailed list of prohibited items on Royal Caribbean's website, and among many are items that heat up, which can cause a fire hazard on the ship. Anything that could interfere with the safe operation of the ship or the safe and secure environment of guests and crew are prohibited.
Here are some common items that the cruise line does not permit onboard:
- Beer, hard liquor and spirits
- Marijuana (even if medical products), CBD Oil / CBD Products
- Irons and steamers
- Kettle, coffee maker or hot plate
- Any other device that produces heat
- Baby Monitors
- Extension cords
- Perishable foods and meats
- Hookahs and water hookah pipes
- Weapons including pepper spray
- Toy gun replicas
- HAM radios