Packing for a cruise can seem like a daunting task. Beach days and gala nights, snorkeling excursions and museum walks, chilly dining rooms and humid ports: How can you possibly pack for all of it? What are you forgetting? How can you avoid excess baggage fees? Fear not. We’re here with some of our best cruise packing tips, making sure that you remember the essentials – and maybe learn a few tricks that will turn you into a packing star.
We've partnered with the lovely ladies over on the Luxe Travel Moms Facebook group to get their fav items to take on a cruise. So, whether your goal is to avoid checked or excess bag fees by packing light, reserve your in-port shopping for souvenirs rather than necessities, or simply make sure you take everything you need on your next vacation.
Pack your carry-on bags wisely.
Pack a change of clothes and important meds or toiletries in the carry-on bags you will take on the plane and personally transport onboard. This is important for two reasons: First, if your luggage gets lost by the airline on the way to your cruise, at least you'll have some essentials with you. It can take a while for your luggage to be found and then shipped to the next port of call. Second, in case your suitcases are delayed in being delivered to your cabin, you'll have a bathing suit or dinner attire on hand and can enjoy all the onboard activities right away, rather than waiting for your bags to show up.
Luxe Travel Mom Tip: This Vera Bradley backpack is one of our favorite travel bags because it lays flat and has lots of pockets for staying organized.
Organize your checked luggage like a pro.
Be smart about your checked bags, too. If you tend to overpack, lay out all the clothes you think you'll need, then only pack half the clothing and three-quarters of the shoes. If you're traveling with family, consider packing half of your things in one suitcase and half in a separate one (and have your spouse and kids do the same). That way, if one bag gets lost, then everyone will have some clothing -- rather than one person having nothing. To save space, roll your clothes rather than fold them. Finally, never pack valuables in your checked bags, as they could be stolen. Carry all cameras, electronic games, jewelry and prescription medicine in your carry-on.
Luxe Travel Mom Tip: To keep things organized and save space, we highly recommend these packing cubes. Packing cubes are great for families because you can pack each kid in a separate cube and put their cube right in the hotel drawers.
We also love these Stow-N-Go luggage organizers. Pack them then hang them up in the closet and you are done! So easy!
Know the dress codes.
If you love to dress up, some lines do offer tux rentals, so you don't have to pack your own. But while some folks still dress to the nines (formal gowns and tuxedos) for ships' formal nights, most people dress more informally (suits for men and cocktail garb -- flowing pantsuits or little black dresses -- for women). "Resort casual" is now the ubiquitous evening dress; think date night, with men in slacks and buttoned shirts (no jackets) and women in everything from sundresses to skirts or slacks with cute tops. Even jeans are now a staple in many cruise ship dining rooms.
Luxe Travel Mom Tip: Pack lightweight items that don't wrinkle to save time when you are trying to get ready for dinner. We love this black dress from Amazon because it's lightweight, comes in a variety of colors, and inexpensive. This halter maxi dress is another favorite and so cute!
Dealing with the dirties
If you want to pack light (and do laundry en route), make sure to research; not all ships offer self-service laundromats. The ones that do have such facilities usually don't offer them for free, and it can get expensive. (Cruise lines often offer complimentary laundry and pressing services to suite guests and top tier past passengers, so it pays to be loyal.) You can always save on laundry costs by bringing travel detergent and rinsing out underwear and shirts in your cabin's bathroom or packing a bottle of travel-sized Febreze to get one more day's use out of a gently worn outfit.
Luxe Travel Mom Tip: Traveling with men can be fun but also stinky, so we recommend stocking up on this "Before you go" spray. It will knock out any smells so you can enjoy your vacation without having to ask for a courtesy flush.
Don't assume your favorite toiletries will be in your cabin.
You'll always find basic toiletries onboard, such as soap and shampoo. In main cabins on some cruise lines -- Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival -- toiletries offered are limited (in some cases, it's pump bottles of mystery soap affixed to the shower wall). You might want to make room in your luggage for your favorite brands. Same goes for hair dryers. Most staterooms come with weak dryers, so if you're picky, pack your own. Another tip: Never unpack your toiletry kit. Leave it filled with travel-sized bottles and an extra toothbrush or razor. When it's time for your next cruise, all you need to do is top off or replace the bottles -- rather than wasting time collecting items and possibly forgetting something.
Luxe Travel Mom Tip: Our must have travel item is this Vera Bradley Hanging Travel Organizer. It's perfect on a cruise because space is limited, and you can hang this right on the back of the bathroom door. If you are looking for travel size bottles, we love these from Amazon, they are easy to fill and do not leak.
Dress for your destination.
Simply put, some places are more formal than others. Expect to pack more resort-casual wear if traveling to Europe (all regions) or Bermuda. (Golf courses in Bermuda have strict dress codes.) Other cruise itineraries, such as Hawaii, the Mexican Riviera, the Caribbean and French Polynesia, are more casual than the norm. And don't forget to think about your in-port activities. Flip-flops are fine for a beach day, but you'll want more comfortable shoes for long days of sightseeing or active excursions like hiking or biking. If you're visiting religious sites in the Middle East or some parts of Europe, you'll want modest clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, even if it's quite hot.
Luxe Travel Mom Tip: Pack a comfortable outfit for mornings where you are lounging on the deck before heading to the pool. A breezy tank with lounge capris or shorts is perfect for those lazy mornings. Don't forget a sun hat. The sun on the ship during sea days can get quite hot and you will need protection. This one from Amazon doubles as a visor or a hat for various hairstyles.
Save some room in your suitcase.
You'll likely pick up at least a few souvenirs during your cruise, so you'll need room in your luggage to bring them home. Whether you're picking up leather goods in Italy, Aloha-wear in Hawaii or duty-free goods in the Caribbean, consider packing a foldable duffle. It won't take up much space in your suitcase, and you can fill it up and check it for the flight home.
Luxe Travel Mom Tip: Packing the extra duffle sets the tone and avoids any unnecessary arguments about over buying. You will thank us later!
Mix and match.
If you can make your clothes do double duty, you won't be hit with excess bag fees or find yourself fighting with your spouse about who gets the last hanger in the cabin's small closet. Stick with one color theme so you can re-wear bottoms with different tops or bring shirts that can be dressed up for dinner on one night and worn sightseeing the next. Opt for the layered look to handle differing temperatures in the various cruise ports. Change up the look of one formal outfit with different accessories (jewelry, ties, scarves), rather than bring two suits or cocktail dresses. Your shipmates won't know (or care) if you wear the same outfit twice.
Luxe Travel Mom Tip: Do double duty with a stylish kimono that can be a cover up or casual blouse for dinner. This adorable sundress can double as a dress for dinner with some heels and a belt. Pack heels that will match with everything, so you only need to bring one pair. We love these block heels from Amazon, they come in a variety of colors and are perfect for the day to night look.
Remember the basics.
Most cruise ship cabins don't come with alarm clocks, so bring your own. If you're using your cell phone for this job, put it in airplane mode so you don't incur roaming charges in foreign waters. Other items you might want to pack because they're not provided or super-expensive to buy onboard include: over-the-counter meds, batteries, camera memory cards, sunscreen, ear plugs, bikini bag for wet swimsuits, a wet dry bag for keeping water out of your gear on water-based tours and power strips to charge all your electronics.
Keep all important documents with you.
Always make sure you bring your necessary IDs and cruise documents -- and never pack them in your checked luggage. You'll want your photo ID and cruise ship boarding pass on hand (or even in a special document wallet). Make sure you have the correct type of identification for your cruise destination, whether it's a passport or birth certificate and photo ID. Wannabe cruisers have been turned away from the pier for having just a copy of their birth certificate (and not the required original) or a passport with a name that doesn't match the one on the ship's manifest (often in the case of a honeymoon cruise). If you need visas or immunizations for your cruising region, carry those documents with you, as well.
Luxe Travel Mom Tip: Put your passport and vaccine card in one holder so you don't lose them. Take pictures of both your passports and your vaccine cards, this way if you lose them, you have them on your phone.
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