What to pack for a cruise – an expert’s guide

There's a secret hack that will transform how you travel.
Reav view of group of mature friends walking on pier, arriving to yacht

Cruising is now more popular than ever, and around the world millions of travellers who have never cruised are joining those in the know aboard these floating hotels. And why not, there’s no better way to explore the farthest reaches of our planet!

If you’re a first-time cruiser, or even if you’ve done a few cruises but aren’t sure how to equip yourself for all the diverse experiences a cruise throws at you, then help is at hand.

Even though I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy 70-plus voyages to hundreds of amazing destinations, knowing what to pack for a cruise is still not intuitive. That’s why I swear by a cruise packing list – I keep it on my phone and update it after every trip, noting whatever I’ve forgotten or didn’t use at all.

What you need to know before packing for a cruise

The main thing to remember is cruise-ship staterooms generally have considerably less storage space than hotel rooms. A soft-shell suitcase that can be stored under the bed immediately frees up valuable living space – and because you may be onboard for a few hours before you can get to your stateroom to unpack, you’ll also need a good-sized carry-on bag.

I always print out my itinerary so I can see what’s on every day and evening and, working with my master cruise checklist, lay out everything I’ll need on the bed. Then, because I tend to over-pack, I put half of it away!

Packing clothes that can do double duty is always a good idea – for example, tops and classic black pants that can be dressed up one night then worn again during the day. Remember to choose items in limited and neutral colours you can mix and match.

Cruise packing must-haves

While your destination and type of voyage determines key items on your cruise packing list (a warm jacket and gloves for an Arctic expedition are obviously not necessary for a midsummer Mediterranean cruise!), there are some basics that work on every cruise. And even if you’re cruising in tropical waters, the onboard air-con is often freezing, so don’t forget a wrap or light jacket to wear in the evenings.

Your cruise essentials check-list

  • Cashmere wrap – warm, light and versatile, it rolls up into a tiny ball.
  • Sarong – for the pool, beach, and to cover your head and shoulders if you’re visiting a sacred site.
  • Foldable, waterproof backpack for offshore adventures or extra shopping.
  • Thongs for pool and beach; closed-toe lightweight walking shoes, for excursions and onboard activities; smart flats or sandals that can go from day to evening (Bared Footwear’s collections are designed for comfort and style). That’s just three pairs of shoes altogether!
  • Socks for walking (even in warm weather) and onboard fitness classes.
  • Long/exercise pants for onboard and onshore activities.
  • Universal adapter – ships’ power sockets can be UK, US or European. The Lencent Universal Travel Adapter also has USB ports and Type C charger for mobiles and laptops.
  • Small pump pack of ‘wrinkle-release’ spray for clothes.

Cruise essentials for your carry-on bag

This one is important – and it may change how you pack forever. Your carry-on bag – which can double as a daypack or beach bag – should contain valuables, travel documents, medication and a change of clothes in case your luggage is lost or delayed in transit. Pack a swimsuit so you can jump in the spa or pool while waiting for your stateroom to be ready.

What not to bring on a cruise?

Electrical items such as irons will be confiscated because they are a fire risk – much easier to bring clothes that don’t need ironing. Win win!

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