17 Cruise packing “essentials” you didn’t know were essential

In honor of wave season, when many people are planning cruise travel, I wanted to share the things I bring on every cruise to make my cabin more comfortable and efficient, and to make my cruise better! While some of them may seem odd, I now consider these to be cruise packing essentials. I’ve included links to search some of these items; note that if you purchase something through those links, I may receive a commission.

  1. Packable backpack: While you can bring any old rucksack for a day-bag, a packable backpack folds in on itself and takes up almost no room in your luggage, is super-lightweight, yet can carry all the supplies you need for a day in port! I pack a beach towel, sunscreen and a hat for a day at the beach, or my binoculars and a rain jacket, gloves, and beanie for a day by a glacier, and the backpack adds almost no weight to what I’m carrying. This cruise packing essential is so much more comfortable to carry around than a beach bag, as well!
  2. Strong Magnet Hooks: Cruise cabin walls and ceilings are made of metal, so magnets stick almost anywhere! I use this cruise packing essential for hanging up wet swimsuits, jackets, backpacks, and once I even used them with a shower curtain to create a private dressing space by the closet. Put one by the door to hold your key card lanyard, as well!
  3. Pop-up laundry hamper: These are inexpensive and can go right in your cabin’s closet. Many cruise lines have laundromats on board, and all of them offer laundry service, so you can save some money on checked luggage by running a load while on board. Another possibility is to leave a suitcase open under the bed and put laundry straight in there…when it’s time to leave, you’re already partially packed!
  4. Hanging pocket organizer: These have so many uses in cruise cabins: toiletries in the bathroom to keep the sink clear, kids’ outfits separated by day, or even socks and underwear where you can see them, since most cruise cabins have a lot of hanging space and shelves, but few drawers. However you use yours, it’s bound to make a small cruise cabin feel just a little bigger, and a lot more organized!
  5. Outlet multiplier without surge protection: this one comes with a BIG caveat: do NOT bring a surge-protected power strip on board a cruise ship! They can cause fires and will be confiscated from your luggage, causing inconveniences for you as you board as well as if you want to retrieve it at the end of the cruise. However, many cabins have very few outlets and we all have so many devices these days, so what can you do to keep everything charged? My cruise packing essential is an outlet extender that has USB ports, and I check the label on the back to make sure it’s not surge protected. This way, you can charge all your gadgets safely. If you use the link above, double-check that your choice does NOT have a surge protector!
  6. OTC medications: while I usually prefer to travel light and grab what I need at a local pharmacy on my travels, cruises are another matter. when I’m packing for a cruise, I pack every over-the-counter medicine I think I might need, could possibly need, or probably won’t need but-you-just-never-know! The reason for this is because the ship’s store will be limited in what they have, and what they do have will be overpriced; if you need something they don’t have and must visit the ship’s doctor, you may be charged for a visit AND an overpriced medication. Here’s a short list of what I bring: motion sickness medicine, pain reliever, allergy medicine (both pills and cream), stomach relief medicine, cold medicine, and cough drops.
  7. Night light: this is helpful for those traveling in an interior cabin, or those who clip their curtains shut with a pants hanger like I do! Plugging in a simple night light in the bathroom will give you just enough light to keep you safe when you need to get up at night.

There are some things you may want to pack for a cruise to the Caribbean, the Bahamas, or other warm-weather cruise destination!

  1. Snorkel gear: This won’t help you pack light, but having your own snorkel gear means being ready to snorkel anywhere you go. While there are often places to rent snorkel gear both on private islands and at beach destinations, the rented equipment is not always clean or well-maintained, and often it’s hard to fit on smaller faces (children, teen girls, and me) so I tend to bring my own. The bonus here is that a small investment and taking the time to get it to fit properly while at home makes for a much more enjoyable snorkeling experience later. If you are snorkeling with kids, being able to practice in a pool near home is invaluable, as they often need practice to avoid breathing snorkelfuls of water, and it’s much less traumatic to do that practice in a familiar place, without time constraints.
  2. Collapsible sand toys: Oh how I wish this had been in existence when my son was little! These toys take up little room, but fold out to become the perfect sand-castle-building tools! There are lots of options, and they’ll be just as great on your next domestic or international beach trip after your cruise.
  3. Insulated cold cup: You will want one of these, no matter what you like to sip while on deck or on the beach! Fill this up with ice and water (or tea) at the lido buffet and you’ll have a refreshingly cold beverage for hours, or have the bartender pour your tropical frozen concoction in this cup to keep it from melting. Either way, you’ll be so glad you brought it. Pack your jewlery wrapped in a pair of socks or two inside to take up even less space in your suitcase.
  4. Towel clips or bands: because everyone on the ship has the same beach towel, it can be hard to tell which chair is really taken and where your chairs are when you run to the pool or the bar. Clips or bands can help hold your towel on the chair, mark your place, and make sure the pool attendants know you’re coming back! I prefer bands because they hold better and provide a place to hang a cover up or t-shirt on the back of the chair, but others love clips and use them as clothespins and curtain-closers in their cabin, as well!
  5. Waterproof pouch: This cruise packing essential will keep your phone, cash, and cards dry and safe. I don’t like to leave my valuables on the beach while I’m swimming, snorkeling, or walking, so I keep everything with me in a waterproof pouch. I think vendors and waitstaff appreciate dry cash, as well!

Are you headed on a cruise to Alaska, Canada, or other scenic destination? There are some items you’ll want to pack that you hadn’t thought of for those cruises, too!

  1. Inside passage map (Alaska): You can find good maps of Atlantic Canada and other scenic regions, as well. However, if you’re cruising the Inside Passage or Gulf of Alaska, you might really enjoy using a map like this to follow along with your ship’s progress. We like to hang ours with magnets on the wall of our cabin and use a colored pen to mark the path of the ship. This could be a great learning opportunity for young cruisers, too!
  2. Binoculars: At this point, binoculars are a must-pack for any cruise for us, but we first learned their value in Alaska! You’ll want them close by so you can see wildlife and geographical features up close. In fact, that reminds me, I want to buy a second pair before our Alaska cruise this summer!
  3. Insulated travel mug: there is nothing cozier than a hot cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate on deck while watching glaciers go by! Unfortunately, the chilly breeze off the ice will cool your beverage crazy-fast, so you’ll want an insulated cup to keep your drink warm. This cruise packing essential can also keep a cold beverage cold when the sun is out and your ice is melting!
  4. Layers: rain jacket, base layer, gloves and warm hat: The weather can be unpredictable in Alaska, Atlantic Canada, the Baltic, and other scenic regions, even in summer! A rain jacket will keep you dry, but also keep you warmer in windy conditions. Base layer, or long underwear, can make a huge difference under jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. You won’t need extremely thick winter gear, but a simple pair of stretchy gloves and a beanie will keep you warm when the temperatures drop near a glacier, and I often pack a simple fleece jacket that I can put under my rain jacket if needed or wear it on its own for chilly mornings or evenings.
  5. Hiking boots: You will be so thankful for a good-quality pair of hiking boots when you are in port during a scenic cruise. There are so many wonderful places to wander just off the ship, and having the right footwear means you’ll be ready to go. Many of the best cruise excursions include some off-road walking, and having good ankle support and grippy soles will give you the support and confidence you need to try those more-adventurous excursions!

Ready to plan your next cruise? Let’s chat!

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