The Essential Cruise Packing List (2024)

The Essential Cruise Packing List (1)

Illustration by Shutterstock

One of the best things about cruising is the variety it affords—you’ll visit different ports of call and participate in diverse shore excursions, too. Scuba diving in the Galápagos or an after-hours visit of Spain’s Alhambra palace, anyone? And then there’s everything to do onboard, such as the fancy dinners, live entertainment, and time poolside or, on splashier ships, full-service spas and tricked-out recreation areas.

But all of that can pose a problem when you’re packing. Sure, you only have to unpack once, so you can bring a little more than you normally would on a one- or two-week trip, but how much is too much? What do you absolutely need to be prepared without being overprepared? To answer, here’s AFAR’s essential cruise packing list, complete with packing tips.

Luggage and organizational accessories

Most cruise companies don’t restrict the amount of luggage you bring, except for some expedition lines that might limit passengers based on the weight restrictions for chartered flights to get to more remote locales. Your best bet is to opt for a medium-size or large checked bag—without going oversize or overdoing it since cruise cabins can be on the small size—rather than trying to cram everything into carry-ons. Ideally the bag will fit under the bed in your cabin so it is out of the way once you’ve unpacked and settled in. Also remember that if you’re flying to your port of embarkation, you’ll need to check those full-size bags, and most airlines have a 50-pound weight restriction.

Since you’ll be settling into one room for anywhere from 5 to 14 days (or longer), it’s nice to be organized. Pack your formalwear in a hanging garment bag, and pick up a set of magnetic hooks from Amazon. Most walls on cruise ships are made of metal, so these will help keep hats and other items handy.

For shore excursions, or even just for an afternoon by the pool, you’ll want a day pack or tote bag to carry your sunscreen, books, and other sundries, as well as your wallet if you’re heading ashore. You can use this as your personal item or pack a smaller collapsible bag in your suitcase.

  • A medium-size or large checked suitcase (We like the 60-liter Rimowa Original Check-In Medium, $1,650, for its durability and because its classic design reminds us of the golden age of cruising.)
  • Hanging garment bag
  • Packing cubes
  • Magnetic hooks
  • A packable day pack or tote, like the Baggu Cloud Bag ($56)

Essential travel documents

On a “closed-loop” cruise route—meaning you depart from and return to the same U.S. port, after visiting at least one foreign port of call—you are not required to bring your passport, but you will need a driver’s license or other form of photo identification. (If you’re flying to a domestic cruise terminal, don’t forget that you’ll need to have a Real ID to fly, starting May 2025.)

Here are the travel documents you don’t want to leave at home:

  • Passport, or other photo ID (if it’s not an international cruise)
  • Any visas required
  • Confirmation information for your cruise and any flights you take—these are often electronic documents, so make sure they are accessible on your mobile device or any relevant apps
  • Emergency documents, such as your health insurance card, travel insurance information, emergency contact
  • Cell phone
  • Wallet with cash and credit cards (Even if you’re on an all-inclusive, you may want to have cash for onshore purchases and tipping—however, the main gratuity for the majority of the cruise can often be left at the end and many cruise lines offer the option to bill it to your credit card.)

Cruise-friendly clothing

Clothing is often the biggest question mark when you’re packing for a cruise. First, check the weather in the cruise ports you’re bound for and pack for the climate. If layering is the name of the game, then a capsule wardrobe is your best bet for success. On a five-day cruise or a two-week itinerary, you’ll likely need to change clothes a few times a day. Many—but not all—cruise ships have laundry facilities, but even if you rely on laundry service, you’ll want to employ a mix-and-match strategy. For example, on an Antarctic cruise, Aislyn Greene, the associate director of podcasts at AFAR, found that cashmere sweaters from Everlane were nice enough for formal dinners and cozy enough for lounging around her cabin.

Every cruise is different, so take note of what sort of shore excursions you’ll be going on and how many formal or semi-formal dinner nights you’ll be expected to spruce up for, plus any theme nights. You can also opt not to dress up at all, but in that case you may be limited to dining at the more casual buffet or eateries.

And don’t forget to bring clothing for your port of departure, especially if you’re staying an extra day or two. When Greene went to Antarctica, she made sure to bring shorts and T-shirts for her extra days in Buenos Aires.

Clothing to pack:

  • 2–3 swimsuits (We like Summersalt suits, $23–$125, which are made with recycled polyamide fabric and include sizes 0 to 24.)
  • 1–2 swim cover-ups—if you don’t want to dash back to your room after an afternoon at the pool, you’ll need something to throw over your suit if you want to visit any ship restaurants.
  • Rashguard for additional sun protection in the water
  • 3–4 shirts and T-shirts for everyday wear and shore excursions
  • 1–2 tops or shirts for casual evenings
  • 3–4 pairs of pants or shorts for everyday wear
  • 1–2 pairs of nicer pants or skirts for casual evenings
  • 1–2 versatile dresses that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion (Cruise writer Terry Ward recommends Reformation’s cult midi-length Rou Knit Dress, $98, which can be tossed over a bikini aprés-swim, belted with sandals for traipsing around a port town, or paired with heels for dinner.)
  • 1–2 sweaters—even in tropical destinations, it can get chilly out on the water, so bring a sweater or two.
  • Pajamas and loungewear
  • Underwear and socks
  • 2–3 activewear outfits for shore excursions—this will vary depending on your shore excursions, whether it’s walking, hiking, or biking.
  • A light rain jacket—weather can be changeable; be prepared.
  • A warm jacket if you’ll be cruising in colder climates

For formal evenings:

It may sound like you’d need to pack the tux for formal or semi-formal evenings and captain’s dinners, but don’t let it stress you out. Yes, some people do bring tuxedos and full-length dresses, but on the whole, the dress code tends to be resort evening wear.

  • 1–2 formal dresses or skirts
  • A pair of slacks
  • 1–2 blouses or button-down shirts
  • A blazer or suit coat
  • Ties


  • Sandals or flip-flops (Note that these are usually not allowed in dining rooms.)
  • Dress shoes/heels
  • Tennis shoes or walking/running shoes
  • Any specialty footwear you might need for shore excursions (hiking boots, water shoes, cycling shoes)


  • A sun-protecting cap or hat
  • Polarized sunglasses, like the Maho Positano shades ($195), to reduce glare from intense sun on the ocean or snow (depending where you are)
  • Watch—don’t miss the boat after a shore excursion
  • Belts, scarves, and for polar trips, gloves
  • A warm hat for cold-weather cruises

>> Still stymied by cruise fashion? Find more specific recommendations in The Ultimate Guide for What to Wear on Your Next Sailing.

Toiletries and hygiene products

Like hotels, most cruise ships will provide basic toiletries, including shampoo, conditioner, soap, and/or body wash. But if you choose to bring your own, you won’t have to worry about using travel-size containers if you checked your bag—cruise ships have no size restrictions for liquids.

Don’t forget sunscreen: It’s important in tropical destinations where you’ll be snorkeling or relaxing on the beach, and on Antarctic or Alaskan cruises too—the glare from the ice can make the risk of skin damage even greater on such excursions.


  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Skincare and other lotions
  • Eye drops and contact solution (if needed)
  • Shaving items
  • Feminine care products (if needed)
  • Tweezers
  • Sunscreen (Opt for reef-safe sunscreen like Thinksport or Australian Gold Botanical sunscreen—Hawai‘i and an increasing number of other destinations are banning sunscreen with toxic chemicals, including oxybenzone and avobenzone.)

A basic first-aid kit:

While you can usually purchase any emergency first-aid supplies on board, chances are they’ll be more expensive than whatever you’d get at home. Even if you don’t think you’ll have a problem with seasickness, consider tossing a pack of ginger chews into your bag just in case—they do wonders for nausea. And read more about how to beat motion sickness here.

  • Pain killers
  • Any medications or sleep aids you take
  • Allergy medications
  • Anti-seasickness medications, like over-the-counter like Dramamine, or prescription medications, like the Transderm Scop
  • Antidiarrheals
  • Bandages
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Antibacterial wipes (AFAR senior commerce editor Lyndsey Matthews found on a Galápagos cruise that while she didn’t need to bring her own snorkel gear, she wanted antibacterial wipes to clean the shared equipment the ship provided.)

You may also want:

Travel gear and electronics

With more and more destinations banning single-use plastics, it’s an increasingly good idea to BYO water bottle on any trip. We recommend bringing a water bottle—it’s especially important to stay hydrated in tropical places where you’ll sweat a lot—for regular use and shore excursions, as well as a wide-mouth drink cup for strolling on deck with a frosty beverage.

And while you might want to disconnect completely, you might also appreciate having a laptop or e-reader with you. But know that you will likely have to pay big bucks for reliable Wi-Fi, so consider downloading books and movies ahead of time. (For instance, you have to pay for expensive upgrade packages if you want to download movies onboard.) On a similar note, if you’re bringing a cell phone and are planning to use it, check with your carrier about international options so you don’t get stuck with roaming charges; you will be out of the country on the water, after all, and the charges on ships can be huge.

  • Reusable water bottle
  • Travel coffee mug or other drink cup (so you can take your other beverages to the deck)
  • Wrinkle-release spray (Fire-safety regulations usually prevent irons in cruise cabins.)
  • Umbrella
  • Laptop and e-reader (with movies and books aleady downloaded)
  • Chargers
  • Universal travel adapter

You may also want:

Greene found that her iPhone camera was just what she needed on her Antarctic adventure, but Matthews felt that an underwater camera GoPro was a necessity for her snorkel-heavy Galápagos cruise.

  • Camera
  • Underwater camera, like the GoPro Hero12 Black ($400), which is waterproof down to 33 feet and comes with accessories like a floating hand grip if you purchase it in a bundle directly from GoPro
  • Beach blanket (The cruise will have pool towels, but this is nice to have for beach days.)
  • Binoculars (We like the Bushnell Legend L-Series 10x42mm Binoculars, $150, as a good entry-level set.)
  • Small flashlight (Some ships will have flashlights or nightlights in their cabins, but it never hurts to pack a small one of your own—just in case.)
  • Sticky notes (Many cruisers swear by these. They’re particularly useful for leaving notes for new friends on their stateroom doors.)

This story was originally published in 2020, and was updated on March 29, 2024, to include current information.

Maggie Fuller

Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.

The Essential Cruise Packing List (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jeremiah Abshire

Last Updated:

Views: 5817

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jeremiah Abshire

Birthday: 1993-09-14

Address: Apt. 425 92748 Jannie Centers, Port Nikitaville, VT 82110

Phone: +8096210939894

Job: Lead Healthcare Manager

Hobby: Watching movies, Watching movies, Knapping, LARPing, Coffee roasting, Lacemaking, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Jeremiah Abshire, I am a outstanding, kind, clever, hilarious, curious, hilarious, outstanding person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.