If you’ve ever taken a cruise, you know that your packing list may look slightly different than that of a land vacation. Ship cabins tend to be smaller than most hotel rooms, and they may lack some of the features you’re used to on a regular getaway. With unique situations to consider, you may need to rethink some of the items you bring on board — and figure out the best way to pack them for your trip.
U.S. News has compiled the following roundup of cruise ship essentials to simplify your experience, as well as keep you connected, organized and refreshed on your next vacation at sea. Read on to find out which supplies you should bring on your next voyage. (Note: Some sailings may be affected due to the coronavirus pandemic. For the latest information regarding COVID-19 rules and requirements, please visit the CDC website and each individual cruise line’s website.)
Storage space in cruise ship staterooms can be tight, especially if you need to squeeze in enough clothing and accessories for a weeklong itinerary (or longer). Over-the-door organizers (available online on Amazon or at stores like Target) may come in handy to keep everything in its place. The clear pouches allow you to find items like socks, shoes or jewelry quickly. And if you pack the organizer ahead of time, all you’ll need to do is hang it up once you settle into your stateroom.
[See: Bucket List Cruise Itineraries.]
A little-known fact about cruise ships: The cabin walls are made of metal. This means that if you bring magnetic hooks on board with you, you can utilize the wall space to organize items that don’t fit in drawers or closets. You can also use this space to hang clothes and swimsuits up to dry. The hooks are especially convenient on expedition ships, where you’ll probably have wet gear that will need to dry overnight.
International travel adapter or converter
Electrical socket shapes and voltage strengths vary by country, and cruise ships originating in worldwide locales are no different. Depending on your cruise line, your ship may have American-, Asian-, Australian-, European- or U.K.-style sockets. Cover all the bases by purchasing a reliable travel adapter or converter to charge your smartphone, camera, computer and other electronics with ease. You may also need the appropriate adapter pre-or post-cruise if you’re extending your stay in another country. Before purchasing an adapter or converter, check to ensure it is compatible with the destinations you’ll be visiting.
There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep on the rolling waves, especially after a busy day exploring exciting ports of call. One of the best ways to achieve a tranquil, restful sleep is to use noise-canceling earbuds. For example, comfortable QuietOn 3 Active Noise Cancelling earbuds block out boisterous passengers returning to their staterooms late at night, as well as snoring spouses. The earbuds can also come in handy for afternoon naps. Purchase this gadget on the QuietOn website.
Hanging toiletry organizer
Cruise ship bathrooms are compact, which means there may not be a lot of counter or storage space for makeup or toiletries. A hanging toiletry bag, available on Amazon or at retailers like The Container Store, allows you to organize smaller items (think: toothpaste, mascara or eye drops) and maximize the space you do have on shelves or in drawers for larger belongings. Clear, plastic pouches make it easy to find what you’re looking for and get ready quickly — another plus if you’re sharing the bathroom with a travel companion.
Travel-size air freshener
Pack a travel-size air freshener to keep your cabin smelling pleasant. Spritz the bathroom and bedroom as needed for a quick refresh, especially if you don’t have access to fresh air via a private veranda. There are many air freshener options, including a 2-ounce bottle of Poo-Pourri, which comes in citrus and lavender-vanilla scents. Alternatively, Air Wick’s 1.85-ounce containers are available in aromas like lemon and lavender.
Another worthwhile travel-size item for your cruise adventure is wrinkle-release spray. Clothing irons and steamers (regardless of size) are prohibited on most ships for safety reasons, which can make it hard to eliminate wrinkles in your outfits. While you can opt to use onboard ironing facilities or have your items pressed by staff on the ship, a wrinkle-release spray allows you to smooth your clothes in the comfort of your stateroom. Simply spritz your items with Downy Wrinkle Releaser spray and hang them in the bathroom to combine with the steam from your shower.
Disposable rain poncho
Although you may hope for constant sunshine on your cruise vacation, the weather does not always cooperate. Purchase a lightweight, disposable poncho and keep it in your suitcase, backpack or handbag for unexpected rain showers on shore. The ponchos are typically inexpensive and are usually sold in packs, so you can keep multiple on hand and toss them after one or two uses.
If there’s a chance you’ll shop for souvenirs on your cruise but you’re worried about having enough space in your luggage, bring a dedicated collapsible suitcase to fill up as you go. Such bags come in a variety of shapes and sizes and range from soft-sided duffels to cases with molded sides — such as the 22-inch Thinkspace collapsible carry-on suitcase. Just be sure to read up on any luggage limitations on your cruise ship or airline since you will be leaving with one more bag than you arrived with.
[Read: The Best Carry-on Luggage.]
Most of us are used to carrying around hand sanitizer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it remains a good option to keep germ-free when hand-washing stations aren’t present (like when you’re on an excursion or touring a port). The Transportation Security Administration currently allows travelers to pack one 12-ounce bottle per person in their carry-on luggage — an exception from the usual 3.4-ounce liquid allowance. If you’re packing a larger bottle, be sure to secure it in your checked baggage.
Lightweight jacket or sweater
Even if you’re sailing to the Caribbean (or through Europe in summer), heavily air-conditioned restaurants, bars and theaters on board can get chilly. Additionally, outdoor decks can become quite breezy once the sun goes down and ship speeds pick up. It’s worth tossing a lightweight jacket, sweater or wrap into your suitcase for those evenings when you need another layer of clothing.
[Ready to plan a cruise? Find the best value sailings on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Extra medication in the original bottles
Many people prefer the convenience of using a pill organizer when traveling. However, it’s best to bring personal medications with your attached prescriptions on your cruise, especially if you’re sailing internationally. It’s not likely that you’ll be stopped by TSA agents while traveling, but it’s best to avoid the risk of unidentified medications being confiscated should that occur. For added convenience, request that your pharmacist give you smaller, travel-friendly bottles with your prescription — and don’t forget to bring at least two weeks’ worth of additional pills in case of travel delays.
[Read: Tips for First-Time Cruisers.]
Wet wipes are great to keep on hand for freshening up when soap and water aren’t available. Keep them in your purse or backpack while sightseeing off the ship. These moistened towelettes can also remove certain stains from your clothes, such as makeup streaks, so that you can wear your dress or top again without sending it to be dry cleaned on the ship.
Passport and vaccine card holder
To stay organized (and stylish) during your travels, purchase a leather or vegan leather passport holder that has a designated pocket for your COVID-19 vaccination card. Available on Amazon and other sites, these holders are a convenient way to keep both documents together. You may need to show your passport or vaccination card when boarding your plane or cruise ship, or to visit attractions, restaurants and stores in some countries.
Sea-Bands are soft wristbands that use acupressure techniques to prevent and relieve motion sickness. Rough seas can cause nausea and vomiting for some travelers, wreaking havoc on an otherwise fun-filled cruise vacation. These natural bands are a reusable, drug-free alternative to anti-nausea medications like Dramamine, and they can be purchased in drugstores or online.
Alcohol or wine (if permitted)
Whether you want to bring a celebratory bottle of Champagne on board or you simply prefer to bring your own alcohol to save money, some cruise lines will permit you to bring a limited number of booze bottles on your ship (with certain restrictions in place). There may be a corkage fee to drink your own wine with a meal in a restaurant on the ship, but there’s usually no fee if you consume it in your stateroom. Be sure to check your individual cruise line’s website for more information.
[Read: Fun Adults-Only Cruises.]
Stateroom night light
It can be hard to navigate a small, unfamiliar stateroom in the dark when bedtime arrives. You may consider leaving the bathroom door ajar to allow some light into the room, but if the ship encounters rough seas, the door may loudly swing open and shut and disturb your sleep. Instead, consider bringing a battery-powered night light on your cruise to move around your cabin safely once the sun goes down.
Portable luggage scale
Between souvenirs and wet swimsuits, luggage always seems to weigh more at the end of your cruise than the beginning. Purchase a compact, portable luggage scale to weigh your bags before disembarkation to ensure that you’re within the weight limits set by your airline. You’ll be thankful when you avoid overweight fees at the airport.
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