The Ultimate Cruise Packing List

·22 min read

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All the clothing, shoes, and accessories you’ll need before you set sail.

<p>Travel + Leisure / Marcus Millan</p>

Travel + Leisure / Marcus Millan

For many, a relaxing or adventure-filled cruise is the ultimate vacation. One of the most notable benefits about a cruise — aside from all the great food, entertainment, service and excursions, of course — is that you only have to unpack once, but you’ll often wake up in a new country, island or city every single day. It’s an ideal way to travel, whether you’re looking to get a little taste of a lot of different destinations or want an all-inclusive option where most of the planning and logistics are handled for you.

However, packing can be the trickiest part, especially if it’s your first cruise. There’s a lot to consider, from water-based activities in tropical locations to properly gearing up for expedition cruises in cooler climates — and let’s not forget the dress code requirements for dinner that differ from “smart casual” to “formal” based on cruise line.

Once you’ve figured out the best times to book a cruise for deals and optimal rooms, zero in on your destination’s weather and use this guide — curated based on advice from cruise enthusiasts and experts — to pack accordingly. Plus, don’t forget other necessities, like your passport and travel documents, prescription medications, toiletries, undergarments, a portable charger, and a great bag to carry it all.

Packing Checklist for a Cruise

Here’s everything you need to pack for a cruise with our top pick for each item. Use this checklist and read more about each of our specific recommendations below.



Gear and Accessories

Bags and Luggage

T+L’s Top Picks and Tips

When narrowing down your clothing pile while packing, Betsy O’Rourke, chief commercial officer for Windstar Cruises suggests focusing on clothes that are light, cool, and made of natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and silk. “In the evening, pack and dress as if you were going to a country club or an upscale restaurant — that means slacks, polo shirts/button down shirts, shoes other than athletic shoes, chic sandals, skirts/tops, and sundresses,” she says. “Nice jeans without rips or holes are also a smart choice for everyone.”

Headed to Northern Europe, Alaska, or a fall Mediterranean cruise? “I can't underscore the importance of layers when it comes to your clothing,” says Cynthia Drake, a freelance travel writer who has taken more than 20 cruises, including a recent one to Antarctica. “You don't need to pack all the bulky sweaters that you think you do. Instead think of lighter wool base layers, a lightweight fleece middle layer, and then a waterproof outer layer. You can always shed layers.”

RXRXCOCO One Piece V-Neck Swimsuit

Best Swimsuit for Women

Cruises are known for their abundance of food, from never-ending buffets to multi-course dinners. Feel free to indulge to your heart’s content, because this RXRXCOCO one-piece swimsuit has tummy control in the form of flattering ruching that creates a ripple effect instead of a flat silhouette. It comes in more than 40 colors, which is great because at this low price, you’ll probably want to buy a couple. The material is lined and thick enough to provide plenty of coverage, so you don’t have to worry about any wardrobe malfunctions.

Price at time of publish: $36

Maamgic Men’s Swim Shorts

Best Swimsuit for Men

Get into the cruise spirit with these navy anchor swim trunks (there are plenty of other tropical colors and patterns to choose from, too — from fish and lobsters to palm trees and flamingos). They feature a mesh lining for maximum breathability and a quick-dry polyester that only needs about 10 minutes to dry out. The waistband has an adjustable drawstring and the length runs about 7 inches (above the knee). There’s a Velcro pocket so you don’t lose your valuables in the ocean or pool, and these trunks won’t turn see-through when wet.

Price at time of publish: $32

Columbia Women’s Freezer Maxi Dress

Best Dress

If there’s one dress that can take you from day to night effortlessly, it’s this Freezer Maxi Dress from Columbia. By day, pair it with some sandals for ship and port activities. It’s designed to keep you cool despite heat and humidity thanks to its moisture-wicking fabric, plus it contains a UV-blocking layer to protect your skin from sun exposure. In the evening, swap out your sandals for something dressier, add some jewelry and a pashmina or cardigan and you’re ready to head to dinner. It comes in more than a dozen colors and is machine-washable, too.

Price at time of publish: $65

Related:The Ultimate Long-trip Packing List

ZESICA Strapless Jumpsuit

Best Jumpsuit

Another easy way to switch from daytime casual to nighttime chic is with a jumpsuit, like this soft and adorable strapless number from ZESICA. It runs true to size, comes in Caribbean-inspired colors or more subdued shades, and the matching waist tie is a cute touch. Did we mention it has pockets handy for holding your ship card and lip gloss? This garment is especially great if you’re on the shorter side, but will also hit above the ankles for a cute cropped look if you’re a bit taller.

Price at time of publish: $43

Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants

Best Pants for Men

Men have their own version of day-to-night clothing, in the form of convertible pants — like this breathable pair from Columbia. Zip them off to wear as 10-inch inseam shorts for all your adventures on and off the ship, and then zip them back into full pants for dinner in the dining room (the partial elastic waist should be a welcome feature after a scrumptious four-course dinner). This pair is made of nylon, offers UPF 50 sun protection, and there are nearly two dozen colors to choose from.

Price at time of publish: $65

Hanes Cool DRI Performance Polo Shirt

Best Shirt for Men

The best thing about this shirt is its versatility: it can be worn all day and into the night. This Hanes Cool DRI Performance Polo is the ideal solution to keeping packing to a minimum — it has classic polo detail, is made from a comfortable polyester jersey fabric, holds up to machine washing, and even helps fight the embarrassment of stinky pits with FreshIQ odor-protection technology. Pair these with your convertible pants and you’ll be set morning, noon, and night on your cruise.

Price at time of publish: $22

REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket

Best Outerwear for Men and Women

Whether you’re at sea or on land, there’s nothing more important than staying dry, no matter the forecast. Don’t miss out on all the cruise fun just because of a little inclement weather. The REI XeroDry rain jacket has men’s and women’s versions, each sporting two-layer GORE-TEX Paclite waterproof and breathable laminate, core ventilation, hook-and-loop adjustable cuffs, a hem drawcord, and a two-point adjustable hood. The jacket comes in several fun colors that’ll look great in photos even if it’s a dreary day.

Price at time of publish: $169

Craft CORE Wool Mix Base Layer Set

Best Base Layer for Men and Women

When taking a cold-weather cruise, skip the bulk in your suitcase without skipping out on the warmth with REI’s Craft ORE wool mix base layer set. It’s made from a recycled polyester and merino wool blend that’s super soft while helping maintain thermoregulation. Your neck to your ankles will be kept nice and warm when you layer these under your outfit, and the natural material will wick away any wetness or sweat. A couple sets like these will go a long way toward keeping you from complaining about the cold as you explore parts of the world you’ve always dreamed of.

Price at time of publish: $140

Resist the temptation to pack all your favorite footwear for a cruise, and instead focus on a few pairs that can be worn with multiple outfits — like comfortable sandals, sneakers, and one dressier pair for a five- to seven-day itinerary.

“Not only is room in your luggage precious, but it's also a hot commodity in your cabin,” says Megan duBois, a travel journalist who has taken more than two dozen cruises. “Skip the flip flops in lieu of a sandal with a backstrap for a bit of extra insurance while taking the stairs around the pool decks and between floors to your cabin. Cute sandals can easily transition from day to night if you're planning on going to the main dining room for dinner as well.”

Another type of footwear that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, especially on tropical cruises, is a trusty pair of water shoes. “You never know what the terrain of the beach will be, and you never know how hot the sand is,” says Jill Whelan, Celebrations Ambassador for Princess Cruises. “When I forget them, I always regret it.”

Xero Aqua X Sport Water Shoes

Best Active Shoes for Men and Women

You’ll be amazed at how many land- and water-based excursions you can enjoy in your Xero Aqua X Sport shoes, and even more amazed at their 5,000-mile sole warranty (just think about how many cruises you can take in the same pair!). Xero is all about delivering natural comfort, with wide toe boxes to let your toes spread out, flexible soles that let your foot bend naturally, and a patented FeelTrue sole that feels like you’re barefoot but offers plenty of protection, no matter if you’re running, walking, climbing, hiking, or swimming. The ultra-light, minimalist Aqua X Sport has mesh to shed water and an all-terrain traction sole, which will keep you dry and on even footing.

Price at time of publish: $130

Vionic Rosabel Heeled Sandal

Best Evening Shoes for Women

A not-too-dressy but not-too-casual chunky heeled sandal with an ankle strap is all you need to pair with your evening outfits, and this Vionic Rosabel is the perfect choice. It comes in several tempting colors (including a bright verde green and more subdued terra cotta), though the wheat will go with everything in your suitcase. Worried about comfort while navigating a large ship? These offer three-zone comfort with arch support and the built-in orthotic can help treat plantar fasciitis. The bow detail really seals the deal on style.

Price at time of publish: $140

Ace Marks Travel Derby Shoes

Best Evening Shoes for Men

Men’s dress shoes take up so much room in a suitcase, which often makes it tempting to just leave them at home — but what if there was a pair of snazzy leather Derby-style shoes that also folded down to fit in your carry-on without creasing? Meet the Ace Marks Travel Derby, which does exactly that. Each pair is handcrafted in Italy by fourth-generation artisans, it comes in three classic colors, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find this level of flexibility and comfort in another brand’s construction.

Price at time of publish: $299

NAOT Kayla Sandal

Best Versatile Shoes for Women

When luggage space is at a premium, you can feel confident about packing the Naot Kayla. These three-strap sandals breeze through pool days and port days thanks to the hook and loop strap for extra stability, and the anatomic cork and latex footbed to cradle your feet — they even come with the American Podiatric Medical Association seal of approval for promoting good foot health. Throw in the fact that they can easily transition from day to night, come in 25 colors, and are available in wide sizing, and you’ll be all set in the shoe department.

Price at time of publish: $140

OluKai Lae’ahi Men’s Slip-On Sneakers

Best Versatile Shoes for Men

What does every man want in a cruise shoe? The ability to go from roaming around the ship to meandering around a port to heading straight to dinner all in the same pair — and you can do that with the OluKai Laeahi Slip-On. The wet-grip rubber sole will handle any conditions you encounter, but the coolest part is the two-in-one drop heel design that gives it both shoe and slide functionality. The mesh is water-resistant and breathable for even the most hot and humid weather, yet nobody in the ship’s restaurant will question if you’ve met the dress code.

Price at time of publish: $100

For warm-weather cruises, don’t forget to pack a cute beach bag that’ll help haul all your gear to the pool or on excursions. “Try to find a bag that has multiple pockets where you can keep sunscreen, sunglasses, and phones all separate,” says duBois. “There's nothing worse than a bottle of sunscreen accidentally opening on the bottom of a beach bag and getting all over everything else.”

And never underestimate the importance of great accessories, such as hats and jewelry, to really jazz up a casual outfit and make it evening-ready. “Accessories can change the look of an outfit, which I try to build around just a few mix-and-match components,” says travel writer Theresa Russell, who has cruised six continents so far.

Hello Beaches Straw Beach Bag

Best Beach Bag

Nothing says beachy vacation like a straw beach bag, and this fashionable option that’s hand-embroidered with a cute message takes the cake. It folds down like a dream for easy packing (or feel free to use it as your carry-on, because you’ll no doubt get plenty of compliments en route to your ship), has a magnetic closure, and has several interior pockets to keep your beach-going belongings well organized. There’s a supportive base so it doesn’t tip over and several colors and messages to choose from, too.

Price at time of publish: $60

Psi Bands Acupressure Wrist Bands

Best Motion Sickness Solution

While your cruise ship is more than happy to hand out Bonine or Dramamine sea sickness medication, a chemical-free option — like Psi Bands — comes free of any unwanted side effects (read: sleeping through your entire vacation, because even the non-drowsy versions can leave a lot to be desired). They are adjustable acupressure bands that snap securely onto your wrist and come in several fun colors and patterns so you won’t feel silly wearing them. Plus, they are waterproof, so you don’t have to remove them when taking a shower or swimming, either.

Price at time of publish: $13

Simplicity Women's UPF 50+ Wide Brim Roll-up Straw Sun Hat

Best Beach Hat for Women

Sun hats seem like a great idea for protecting you from intense rays, until you realize your hair is stuck to your sweaty neck and back. Choose a visor style, like the Simplicity, that allows you to plop your hair in a pony or messy bun to instantly feel cooler. It’s made from 100 percent straw, offers a UPF of 50+, and the adjustable hook and loop closure allows the perfect fit on any size noggin. It folds up into a small cone shape for easy packing and the bow detail is absolutely precious. Choose from a number of colors to match your vibe.

Price at time of publish: $22

Fancet Packable Straw Fedora

Best Unisex Hat

Packable, foldable, crushable — these are all words that help define the perfect Fedora for any vacation. Protect your scalp from the scorching sun and your face from a burn with the Fancet Packable Straw Fedora, which comes in four adjustable sizes and 10 colors. Whether you stuff it into your suitcase, jam it into your backpack, or accidentally step on it, this hat welcomes the abuse and keeps coming back for more. There’s also a built-in sweatband inside to keep you looking cool even on the hottest days.

Price at time of publish: $26

Related:The Ultimate Business Trip Packing List

Minus33 Ridge Cuff Beanie

Best Warm Beanie

Don’t be fooled by how thin this Ridge Cuff Beanie from Minus33 is — it’ll keep your head warmer than you’d ever imagine. That warmth comes from the 100 percent merino wool, which helps wick moisture away so you stay dry, even when sweating through winter-weather activities like glacier hiking or ice fishing. It’s machine-washable, comes in an array of neutral and fashionable hues, and will hardly take up any room in your suitcase.

Price at time of publish: $23

Ray-Ban Unisex Polarized Sunglasses RB4194 53

Best Unisex Sunglasses

Polarized sunglasses help eliminate the amount of reflecting light that hits your eyes, which is crucial for enjoying glare-free ocean views from your cruise ship balcony or while on deck (and during excursions, too!). These unisex Ray-Bans are durable, come in a classic black or tortoiseshell, and are sure to help you spot any whales or other passing ships at sea while protecting your eyes from wind.

Price at time of publish: $176

There’s plenty to think through in terms of choosing the right suitcase and bags for day and evening use, but try to keep things as simple as possible. “A crossbody or fanny pack for shore excursions or exploring cities are must-pack items,” says Jill Robbins, a freelance writer and self-proclaimed “less is more” packer who’s been on 14 cruises. “I recommend a bag that keeps your valuables close to your body — a backpack makes it too easy for someone to reach into a zipper pocket and grab your wallet or passport.”

For luggage, duBois says to look for bags that will easily roll under the bed in your stateroom — styles that have expander zippers usually have enough clearance. And those packing cubes everyone raves about? Definitely bring them! “Add compressible packing cubes for easy organization and unpacking in under 10 minutes in your stateroom,” say Mickey and Vickey Popat, who have spent over 150 nights at sea. “These cubes fit perfectly in the stateroom drawers and make finding your clothing really easy.”

Deux Mains Mission Essential Duffle Bag

Best Duffle Bag

Set sail in style with the Mission Essential Duffle Bag from Deux Mains, a handcrafted luxury goods brand sustainably made in Haiti that helps artisans earn a livable wage and health insurance. Yes, it’s made of leather, but it's sourced in small batches locally to reduce waste and carbon emissions, and the high quality is made to last. This bag features a separate shoe compartment, cotton twill liner, an interior and exterior pocket, and adjustable shoulder strap, and will fit airline carry-on requirements for your journey to and from the ship.

Price at time of publish: $495

Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Expandable

Best Suitcase

Many frequent cruisers swear by their 24-inch suitcases, like this Omni PC Hardside Spinner from Samsonite. The micro-diamond polycarbonate texture is scratch-resistant, it only weighs 8.34 pounds when empty (giving you plenty of room to work with before you reach your airline-mandated limit), the TSA locks help deter theft when you leave them outside your cabin the evening before disembarkation, and the expansion feature helps compress your clothes and give you a bit more room when you need to pack some extra souvenirs on the way home. Plus you can’t beat the 10-year warranty.

Price at time of publish: $209

BAGAIL 8 Set Packing Cubes

Best Packing Cubes

The ultimate space-saving solution in your suitcase becomes the ultimate organizational tool in a cramped cruise cabin. The BAGAIL packing cube set comes with eight sizes and shapes — including a shoe bag, cosmetic bag, and a drawstring bag for dirty clothes — and features a mesh design so it’s easy to see what’s inside without having to rifle through everything. Make sure everyone in your cabin chooses a different color set of cubes, and you will always know which ones are yours in the dresser drawers at a glance.

Price at time of publish: $25

Simitri Island Half Moon Bag

Best Evening Handbag

When you’re keeping your wardrobe simple so you can mix-and-match outfits, let your accessories show off your personality. This darling Island Half Moon Bag from Simitri practically screams “tropical cruise,” with its vivid hues and floral stitching. The detachable pearl strap and pop of sequins elevate the look for specialty restaurant dining, and the playful aesthetic is also perfect for hitting the nightclub afterwards. There’s a metal flap closure to keep your belongings in place and a faux leather cross-body strap for dancing the night away.

Price at time of publish: $350

Related:The Ultimate Vegas Packing List

Sea Bags Convertible Bucket Bag

Best Daytime Crossbody

Want a hint of nautical style without going overboard? The sustainable Sea Bags Mariner Stripe Convertible Bucket Bag is made from recycled sail cloth, handcrafted in the USA — no two bags are alike, as sails that have been reclaimed have earned unique marks and colorations which enhance the charm of this handcrafted bag. It morphs from a cross-body, to an over-the-shoulder, to a handbag, to a backpack, as you go from one cruise activity to the next, all day long. Want a design that’s a little bolder? Check out the barnacle print, navy anchor, and sea glass designs that are sure to be the talk of the ship.

Price at time of publish: $130

Terra Thread Gaia Sling Bag

Best Daypack

Behold! Your perfect daypack for on-ship activities and off-ship excursions. The Terra Thread Gaia Sling Bag is made of eco-friendly cotton canvas, comes in a wide range of colors, has an adjustable strap, only weighs 10 ounces, and is machine-washable in case it needs a little refreshing after too much fun. There are several pockets, each secured with a zipper, so you can separate your belongings into various compartments — one is even big enough for a bottle of water.

Price at time of publish: $25

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I avoid packing on a cruise?

To ensure you have a hassle-free and safe trip, avoid packing the following items: illegal substances, such as drugs, firearms, or explosives; irons and other heating elements that can pose a fire hazard; excessive amounts of cash and valuables (your room will have a safe, but is it really necessary to bring your grandmother’s irreplaceable pearls?), and large suitcases that can’t store underneath the bed. Finally, double check your specific cruise line’s policy on bringing alcohol onboard, as the rules vary.

How many outfits should I pack?

When leaving on a five-to-seven-day cruise, it’s important to pack efficiently while also bringing enough clothing for all your planned activities. Generally speaking, you’ll want a handful of mix-and-match daytime outfits for exploring ports of call, lounging by the pool (two bathing suits), or participating in onboard activities. Plus, you’ll need appropriate evening wear for dinner — some cruise lines have formal nights where you may want a cocktail dress or suit, while others are more casual and only require slacks and polo shirts, blouses, or dresses. Plan on four outfits for evening, as there will likely be a couple of nights you choose to enjoy room service or visit the buffet instead. For longer cruises, know that most cruise lines have self-service laundry options or full-service laundry for an extra fee, so you can pack for five nights and wash and repeat your outfits.

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

Jill Schildhouse is a Phoenix-based travel writer who has taken more than 15 cruises over the last two decades, from 300-passenger yachts to mega-ships — some of her favorites include Alaska, the Mediterranean, and Southern Caribbean. She not only relied on her own experience (she owns and swears by many of these products herself) but also spoke with other travel writers and cruise experts to determine the best things to pack for a cruise.

Related: The Ultimate Costa Rica Packing List

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