Packing for a cruise

If you’re like me, you’ll look for any excuse to feel like you’re going on holiday.  I tend to start to create lists and pack a week (or more) in advance of any holiday.

Depending on whether you’re flying and how long your holiday is, a benefit of cruising is that you can take as much luggage as you want on board.  If you are flying there are inevitable space constraints, unless you’re willing to pay fairly significant charges for additional baggage allowances, so I’m always on the lookout for any space saving tips.

What to take on a cruise can also be quite confusing, with different lines having different policies, not to mention the weather.  So here’s some of my top tips for what to pack and where.

The two and a half bag rule

I personally have a two bag, or rather, a two and a half bag rule that I try to stick to for 7-night or more cruises.  I have one suit case, a ruck sack and then usually a small fabric jute or similar bag for things I need to access quickly such as travel documents (I find this particularly useful when flying).  The last thing I want is to be encumbered by loads of hefty bags trying to get to and from the ship, or not being able to find things easily.

Hand luggage

The best tip I can give is that hand luggage is your best friend when packing for a cruise.

When you get to the cruise ship there will be a few hours where your main luggage is making its way up to your cabin and out of reach.  So it’s important to have everything you need easily accessible in your hand luggage to start your holiday right.  Why should you waste a day of the holiday waiting for your belongings?

Things to keep with you include:

  • Your cruise and official documents, such as correct ID and completed cruise forms. Oh and don’t forget things like your wallet and appropriate currency for your destination.
  • Make sure you have all medication and prescriptions you need with you. You may want to have a selection of toiletries with you as well.
  • Of course, depending on your destination, make sure you have a change of clothes. For example consider taking swimming gear if you’re in sunnier climes.  Just in case you fancy taking a dip.
  • On that note, try and keep a change of clothes with you as well. For instance you could wear this onto the ship and change into something more comfortable for the day.  Your luggage should arrive by dinner, but it may not. Most lines have a relaxed policy to clothes on the first night of the cruise, but it’s useful to have something with you.  Plus, on the off chance that your luggage gets lost at least you’ll have something for the time being.
  • Bring anything you may need for your kids as well. Again, if your bags go missing you’ll want anything you can’t go without available.
  • Don’t forget your camera, phone and other tech. Once on board you’ll want to start capturing and sharing every moment of your holiday, so have your camera at the ready!  Take a look at this guide for taking cameras on holiday. If you have other valuables, such as jewellery, you may want to consider keeping these with you as well.

Main luggage

How much luggage you take on a cruise is almost a personal choice.  I know people who are able to take very small cases with all the essentials that will see them good for a week, whereas others will take a number of cases for all eventualities.

I personally try to sit in the middle of this camp (of course within the 2 ½ rule).  I want to have the essentials, but have a little choice depending on how I feel that day.  There are plenty of guides out there to tell you what men and women should take on a cruise, but I find that it’s entirely dependent on personal choice and style.

Typically during the day tees with shorts and jeans/chinos are acceptable attire around the ship.  Cruise ships suggest daily evening dress codes, which can be found in the daily newspaper on board.  These range from casual, to smart casual, to formal (though vary line to line).  These take effect in the public rooms and restaurants from 6pm onwards.  On a 7-night trip you can expect two formal nights, a couple of casual nights (usually after an intensive day in port) and the rest smart casual.  Refer to the cruise line’s dress codes and plan your wardrobe accordingly across the cruise.

Personally, I do like to dress up, but equally feel comfortable.  So I will take a selection of t-shirts, shorts, trousers (chinos and jeans), shirts, a blazer and of course matching shoes.  All this together will give me the flexibility to wear what I feel like every day without worrying.  It may mean a slightly heavier case but it’s worth it in my eyes.  Depending on the line I’ll also take a more formal outfit as well.

Formal night can be particularly worrying for some, though it needn’t be.  Depending on the line this can mean what some call ‘elegant casual’ or ‘evening chic’, where there’s more flexibility in how you want to present yourself, or for other lines this can mean full tuxedo, suit or formal evening dress.  Again, read up on this and how many formal nights there could be on board and plan accordingly.  I think formal nights are lots of fun and something that you don’t tend to do that often.  You can also rent tuxedos on board most ships if you haven’t brought one with you and the mood strikes.

Here’s my top tips on packing your suitcase:

  • First things first, where are you going? The destination and weather will determine the majority of what you take and to a certain degree the amount as well.
  • Roll up t-shirts, vests and other clothes. Sounds odd but if you layer the rolled-up clothes it actually takes up less space, and because they’re rolled up it reduces creasing.
  • Speaking of which, creases really are a pain when travelling. I have a particular bee in my bonnet about creased shirts.  But there’s a number of ways around.  Some lines offer self-service laundry rooms where you can freshen up garments, or you can opt for paying the cruise line to do this for you.  If you’re a loyal passenger or a suite guest some lines will offer this service for free or at least discounted. Finally, another trick is to iron outfits and things like shirts before you go.  If you save dry-cleaning cellophane (or buy a roll cheaply from places such as amazon) and wrap your garments in this, it does a remarkable job at keeping the creases to a minimum.  This is particularly handy for short cruises.
  • Resist the temptation to pack your case fully. If you’re like me, you’ll inevitably buy some bits and bobs from your holiday, so make sure you have enough space.  Once you know what you’re taking edit it all down, do you really need all those t-shirts?
  • Shoes are and will always be a bulky item to travel with. Use this to your advantage by filling that empty space with small bits including chargers, toiletries, socks, ties and underwear.
  • If you are travelling with others consider packing half of each other’s belongings in each other’s cases. That way, if one goes missing then at least you have something.
  • Leaking toiletries are another concern. I personally use and reuse any carrier bags in the house to double bag my toiletries. Particularly if flying certain liquids always leak, so if you have additional concerns you can remove the lid of the container, put cling firm over the neck and replace.  The last thing you want is shampoo going everywhere.
  • Finally, consider purchasing packing cubes.  These handy organisers will let you pack your suitcase more effectively.  You can view a variety on amazon.


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