One of the great things about going on a cruise is that you can visit multiple destinations without ever having to haul your luggage with you. You don’t need to drag all your belongings from one hotel to another, or make your way to a train station or an airport every few days. Once you’ve made it to your cabin, you can unpack in the drawers and cupboards provided, just like you would at home, and you won’t have to deal with your suitcase until disembarkation day. But while you can stuff your case to the brim without it being too much of an inconvenience, you still need to know what to pack for a cruise to make your trip as enjoyable and safe as possible. Here is the ultimate packing list for every cruise line and destination for all the essentials — and some extra.
- What to pack for a cruise, no matter the destination or the cruise line
- What to pack for an Alaskan cruise
- What to pack for an Antartica or Arctic cruise
- What to pack for a Caribbean cruise
- What to pack for a Carnival cruise
- What to pack for a Virgin cruise
- What to pack for a NCL cruise
- What to pack for a Royal Caribbean cruise
- What to pack for a Holland America cruise
- What to pack for a Cunard cruise
What to pack for a cruise, no matter the destination or the cruise line
The list below contains all the items you absolutely need to pack for a cruise, no matter where you’re going and who is taking you there, from paperwork to clothing items to footwear and accessories.
All the necessary documentation
Buy a waterproof plastic folder that zips up securely to put away all your documents, including:
- Printed luggage tags
- Printed cruise ticket and check-in confirmation
- Proof of travel insurance
- Proof of COVID vaccines and/or COVID test results
- Passport and passport photocopies
- Printed flight tickets
- Printed pre- and post-cruise hotel bookings
- Any other documentation provided by the cruise line prior to travel
Having a folder will also allow you to put away all the documents that the cruise line will give you throughout the sailing, from daily programs to your final statement, among other pieces of important paperwork.
Make sure to keep that folder with you in your carry-on or personal item until you get to your cabin, and, after disembarkation, until you get home.
All you need to stay healthy
While cruise ships have a medical center with trained staff on board, there are certain items you should bring with you for sickness prevention or for quick fixes:
- All your usual prescribed medications in their original containers and with the daily dosage clearly marked.
- Sea sickness pills: indispensable no matter the cruise. If you want an effective, non-drowsy option, try out Option+ Ginger Anti-Nauseant Tablets — it’s incredibly effective.
- Band-Aids: for blisters and other minor cuts and scrapes.
- Face masks: COVID on cruise ships is not a thing of the past. Bring a few N95 masks in case you are worried about catching something or spreading something to others.
- COVID tests: In case you feel unwell during a cruise, test yourself.
- Over-the-counter pain relief medication such Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) for headaches, menstrual cramps, etc.
- Sunscreen: Bring the highest UV index and don’t be stingy with it. You can get sunburnt even in cold or cloudy weather.
- Period supplies: tampons, pads, menstrual cups
- Contraception if not included in your medication
- A couple of packs of tissues or a few handkerchiefs
Toiletries, hygiene, and beauty products
Cruise lines usually provide shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, and a small vanity kit containing a couple of Q-tips, cotton swabs, and a shower cap. All these toiletries get replenished daily when the stewards clean your cabin or upon request. Towels of all sizes, face cloths, and robes are also provided and replaced whenever you wish — no need to bring your own. The rest is all up to you, including:
- Toothbrush (don’t forget the charger if you’re using an electric toothbrush)
- Comb and hair brush
- Shaving kit (don’t forget the charger if you’re using an electric razor)
- Lip balm
- Skin care
- Nail cutters and nail file
The onboard shop carries essential hygiene products so if you forget something or run out, you can always purchase more without even leaving the ship.
Each cruise ship cabin is usually equipped with a hair dryer, however, if you need more specific hair tools, that’s up to you to bring them. Matador Network’s selection of travel hair tools may help you pack more efficiently. (Note that some hair tools may be on your cruise line’s list of prohibited items. Check before you pack.)
Clothing items you need on any cruise
Beyond the obvious pants, t-shirts, underwear, socks, shorts, etc. make sure to pack the following clothing items on your next cruise:
- Several bathing suits: Cruise ships all have pools, hot tubs, saunas, thermal suites, etc. for which you need a bathing suit, but you’ll want spares for beachy ports of call or for the traditional polar plunges that take place during Arctic and Antarctic cruises.
- Dress-up clothes for any semi-formal evening, activities, or meals at specialty restaurants. In most cases, slacks, a button-down shirt or blouse, and loafers will suffice. Many cruise lines only suggest that passengers dress up and never enforce the dress code, while others may be punctilious. Pack one dressy outfit just in case and read the recommended dress code on your cruise line’s website before packing.
- Rain gear: No matter where you’re going, it’s always a good idea to pack a waterproof jacket (Patagonia’s rain jackets work perfect). If you’re tight on space, there are plenty of packable options on the market — like this great model from Jack Wolfskin — that take next to no room in your luggage.
- Warm clothing: Even if you’re going on a cruise around the Mediterranean, make sure to pack at least one warm sweater. A hoodie or fleece like PAKA’s hoodie shirt or a Cotopaxi fleece will do the trick.
- Gym clothes: shorts, t-shirts, sweat pants, leggings, tank tops, etc. whatever your preferred items of clothing for exercising are, bring them. Every cruise ship has a gym, a jogging track, and many offer fitness classes. Also, depending on the ports of call and the excursions you book, you may want to bring comfortable clothes you can walk a lot of miles in.
- Costumes: Many cruise lines organize theme nights. Look closely at their websites before you pack to make sure you have the recommended 80s outfit or all-white attire. There is usually no pressure to wear a costume if you don’t want to or don’t have one. You can still party with the rest of the passengers in your usual jeans and sneakers.
Footwear you need while cruising
Fitting footwear in a suitcase is the worst part of packing. However, you can’t go on a cruise with only one pair of shoes and hope that they’ll do. Make sure to bring:
- One pair of flip flops for the pool, spa, beach, and for times when you just want to hang about on the deck of the ship taking in the sunshine.
- One pair of comfortable sneakers for exercising and for everyday walking, whether on the jogging track or in the ports of call. If they are waterproof, it’s even better.
- One pair of loafers or dress-up shoes for special evenings and venues on the ship.
- One pair of waterproof hiking boots: If you’re going places where you know you’ll be doing a lot of walking or hiking in unpredictable weather, you need appropriate footwear.
Must-have accessories and miscellaneous items you need for a cruise
- Sunglasses: Whether in Alaska, Antarctica, or the Caribbean, you need to protect your eyes.
- Books: Long days at sea are best spent by the pool, on the top deck, or in the café with a good book, especially if you’re on a transatlantic crossing. Note that most cruise ships have libraries on board from where you can borrow books of all genres, so don’t pack more than two. Also, most cruise ships have a book exchange area where you can drop off a book that you’ve read and pick up another one.
- A reusable water bottle and an insulated mug: Depending on the cruise line and drinks package you opted for, you may or may not have a coffee machine, kettle, pitcher of water, or complimentary bottles of water in your cabin. Having a reusable water bottle and an insulated mug allows you to get whatever you need from the buffet area and take it all over the ship with you. Also, when on shore exploring a new destination, a filled-up reusable water bottle will always come in handy.
- Binoculars: indispensable if you want to spot wildlife.
- Universal adaptor for all your electronics
- A small backpack: You’ll need something to carry all your stuff when visiting ports of call. Patagonia’s Ultralight Black Hole Tote Pack 27L is a good option for a versatile bag that takes very little room.
- Steamer or wrinkle-release spray: Unlike hotel rooms, cruise ship cabins are not equipped with irons and ironing boards. If you want wrinkle-free travel clothes and don’t want to pay to get them pressed, bring a travel steamer with you or a wrinkle-release spray. You’ll especially need them during cruises where semi-formal or formal outfits are required. (Note that some cruise lines prohibit the use of steamers so make sure you’re allowed to bring one before you pack.)
What to pack for an Alaskan cruise
Cruisers to Alaska should be aware that the weather can change very fast in The Last Frontier state. Beyond what is listed above, travelers cruising to Alaska, no matter the time of year, need to bring:
- A woolen hat
- Touchscreen gloves so you can still take pictures and remain warm
- A scarf or cowl
- A baseball cap or hat for when the sun shines
- Base layers (top and bottom)
- A warm fleece
- A warm waterproof jacket
- Rain pants or water-resistant hiking pants, especially if you stop in Juneau
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Thick and warm hiking socks
- A waterproof backpack
What to pack for an Antartica or Arctic cruise
Cruise lines that travel to the Antarctic and the Arctic usually provide cruisers with outdoor equipment such as parkas and boots. However, besides the essentials listed above, cruisers should also bring:
- A woolen hat
- waterproof and warm touchscreen gloves so you can still take pictures
- A scarf or cowl
- Base layers in warm material like merino wool (top and bottom)
- A couple of warm fleeces or woolen sweaters
- Snow pants
- Thick and warm hiking socks
- Hand, foot, and body warmers
- A waterproof backpack
- Sunglasses/glasses retainer, preferably tight ones made of neopren for wet Zodiac outings
- Heavy-duty sea sickness medication for the Drake Passage.
Make sure to read the cruise line’s clothing requirements very carefully before you set off. Some may not provide any outdoors equipment and you may need to bring your own warm waterproof jacket and waterproof footwear.
What to pack for a Caribbean cruise
Protecting yourself from the sun is an essential part of enjoying your Caribbean cruise. To do just that, you need to pack the essentials listed above, as well as:
- A hat or baseball cap
- Sunscreen with high UV index
- Lightweight clothing with UV protection
- Several bathing suits
- A reusable water bottle so you can stay hydrated in the heat
Note that beach towels are usually provided by the cruise line.
What to pack for a Carnival cruise
Carnival cruises of three nights or more include theme night, such as 80s Rock’n’Glow, Silent White Hot Night, and Superhero Music parties. Note that costumes are not sold on board the ships.
Carnival cruises of three nights or more also include elegant evenings during which the dress code range from semi-formal to formal, especially in the dining room. Men are asked to wear slacks, button-down shirts, sport coats, or suits and ties, or tuxedos. Women are asked to wear skirts and blouses, cocktail dresses, pantsuits, or evening gowns.
For more information about theme nights on board carnival cruises, consult the cruise line’s website.
What to pack for a Virgin cruise
There is no dress codes on Virgin cruises. That said, Virgin Voyages organize two types of theme nights on board its ships:
- Scarlet Night where the dress code is simple: Wear something red (and dressy and sexy if you feel up to it.)
- PJ Night where passengers sport their best nightwear, from flannel pajamas to silky nighties, and fuzzy onesies.
For more information about Virgin Voyages’ theme nights, consult the cruise line’s website.
What to pack for a NCL cruise
There is no dress code on Norwegian Cruise Line ships. “While Norwegian Cruise Line does not have set dress codes, as the company was historically the first to move away from set dining times and dress codes, it should be noted that some specialty restaurants may require slacks,” explains a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line.
NCL sailings have scheduled theme nights in which you may want to participate, including: Latin Nights, 70s Nights, GLOW parties, and many more.
What to pack for a Royal Caribbean cruise
The dress code on Royal Caribbean cruises range from casual to formal, depending on the venue. Have a look at the dining venues you’d like to try out on board and pack accordingly.
Royal Caribbean organizes theme nights on cruises of four nights or longer, including: Formal, Black and White, 50s/60s/70s/80s, Country Western, Masquerade Ball, and Toga nights. Unfortunately, cruisers can’t pack for the occasions since the theme nights are not revealed until the passengers have boarded the ships.
What to pack for a Holland America cruise
Holland America’s dress code depends on the venue and the time of day. While passengers tend to dress a little smarter for dinner, there’s no pressure to do so in the dining room and Club Orange (don’t come wearing shorts or jeans with holes, however.) It’s better to dress up if you’re planning on dining at specialty restaurants.
Every Holland America cruise includes a Dressy Night during which passengers are encouraged to wear their fanciest attire, and an Orange Party during which passengers are encouraged to wear something orange. (Orange accessories are available for sale on board the ship.)
What to pack for a Cunard cruise
While the dress code on Cunard cruises depends on the time of day and the venue, all passengers need to pack semi-formal and formal outfits for dinners, Gala Nights, and for most evening entertainment. Cunard is strict about its dress code, so pack accordingly.