Top Items You Must Pack in Your Carry On For a Cruise

Top Items You Must Pack in Your Carry On For a Cruise

So you’ve booked you’re stateroom, you’ve got a cruise coming up, so exciting!  But what do you pack?  Depending on how long is the voyage, many people will have a larger suitcase, a carry on, and a purse and/or backpack.  Staterooms on cruises are smaller than most hotels so it’s important to pack smart.  Packing a carry-on to bring on a cruise is different than packing a carry-on for an airplane.  For example, there’s no restrictions on liquids.  So it’s not an issue to bring things like your water bottle, sun-screen or toiletries. If I’ve flown into the city of wherever I’m going to cruise, I’ve definitely taken a few minutes to move things around from my larger suitcase to my carry-on, because I wasn’t allowed to bring on the plane (ie sunscreen) but could very well need on Embarkation Day.

Assuming you have both a larger suitcase and a carry-on, here’s a list of things you’ll want to keep in your carry-on and DO NOT leave behind in your larger suitcase.  Why does it matter?  Because good news:  when you’re at port, one of the first things you do is hand over most of your luggage to the porters, who will deliver directly to your stateroom.  Yay!  Less to lug around.  Bad news:  You might not see your luggage for hours.  So it’s really important to pack the things you might need while you’re waiting for the rest of your stuff.  Here’s a comprehensive list of what you’re going to:

Travel Documentation

✓ Passport – Make sure that your passport is up to date.

✓ Visa – If you need a visa for your cruise, make sure that you apply for it 3 to 6 months before your cruise.

✓ Driver’s License – If you plan on driving in certain destinations when the ship is docked, you may want to get yourself an international driver’s license.

✓ Auto Insurance Card – In case you want to rent a car on days when the ship is docked at the port.

✓ Cash – Always bring cash, especially for the little towns who don’t exactly take credit card.

Pro Tip: For safety, always keep a physical (print out) and virtual copy (screenshots on your phone) of your travel documents and identification. You can download any of these apps to scan your documents. You can also send them to yourself as an email attachment.

Important Documents

✓ Tickets – The night before your cruise, make sure that you have your tickets secured inside your carry-on bag.

✓ Travel Insurance – If you’re unsure whether you should get travel insurance, check out why you absolutely should.

✓ Medical Insurance – It’s important to note that your travel insurance and medical insurance are quite different. Before your cruise, check with your provider what your policy covers.

✓ Medical History – If you have any special or chronic conditions, make sure to let the cruise manager / director know about it prior to your trip. Also, prepare a detailed copy of your medical history, including instructions (e.g. where your medication is located, what medication you take, allergies, etc.) should an emergency occur.

✓ Emergency Contacts – Include phone numbers, emails, and mobile messenger profiles.

Pro Tip:You can make individual travel document kits – especially if you’re traveling in a big group – using ziplock bags. Label each one before storing them inside your tote or backpack.


✓ Mobile Phone – For most people this is a no-brainer but hey, you’ve got a lot to remember.  use this as a checklist and make sure your phone is where it should be. Load your smartphone with offline maps of your excursions so you don’t have any excuse for not exploring!

✓ Camera + Charger – A waterproof camera if you can budget for it is recommended! Don’t forget to pack extra batteries and memory cards.

✓ Table/Ipad/Kindle- Before the cruise, download some movies / series from Netflix for offline viewing. Don’t forget to download while still on WiFi!  WiFi on cruises is sometimes…not the best.  Download at home so you have some content to watch without interruption from slow connection speeds. Don’t forget to download some e-books to read while you’re on the ship (or for less techy, head to the library to check out books made of actual paper!).

✓ Chargers – Use velcro cable ties or twist ties to keep your cables organized. You can also label each for quick access.

✓ Cruise approved Power strip bar- Since your cruise ship stateroom will likely have only 2 electric plugs, a power strip can be very practical. However, it is against cruise line policies to bring a surge-protected power strip (and will confiscate), so you need to be very careful to only buy one this “cruise approved”.  Look for USB chargers, especially if most of your devices are charged with a USB cord.  This also lessons the adaptors you need to bring on your trip.

✓ Portable Charger –  So you can keep charging your devices offboard!

✓ Waterproof Watch – Opt for a cheap, waterproof watch and remember to set it on your ship’s time.  This the time you’ll need to keep track of while you’ll on or off the ship.

✓ Headphones – If you feel extra nice to who you are traveling with, bring a headphone splitter so you can share one device.

Must Haves

✓ Wallet – Keep some pocket money in your wallet for you to use in case of an emergency (meaning if you get hungry and need some snacks, or for a real emergency).

✓ Sunglasses and/or reading glasses  – Keep them in their own storage, so they don’t get scratched

✓ Prescription Medication – Keep them in their original containers. Less questions will be asked when going through security.

✓ First Aid Kit – This is especially helpful when traveling with kids.

✓ Toiletries – pack travel size (and TSA Approved) toiletries like toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturizer, contact lens solution, etc. Also helpful:  need sunblock, aloe gel, lip balm and hand sanitizer.

✓ Change of Clothes – You don’t have to bring an entire outfit.  Pack clothes made from lighter, wrinkle-free fabrics like jersey or linen. I always recommend to bring a bathing suit and flip flops, in case you want to hit the pool before your luggage arrives (or arrives late).

✓ Outerwear – Depending on the season you’re traveling, you might want to bring a light cardigan or jacket with you. You can tie bulkier items like outerwear around your waist (or wear on the plane when it gets cold), so it doesn’t take up space in you carry-on.

✓ Kids Entertainment Kit – If you’re going to be stuck at the airport for a period of time or have nothing on your schedule yet after boarding, pack a backpack with books, art materials, puzzles and their favorite toys to keep them entertained.

Extra Stuff to Pack with Kids

✓ Diapers & wipes – obviously if you have kids in diapers, this is a no-brainer.  Pack enough for the  trip and then some, just in case.

✓ Sippy cups – You pack your water bottle, make sure to pack theirs too!

✓ Kids Snacks – I still bring some of my kids favorite tried and true snacks, even when on a cruise and we’re surrounded by food.  It never hurts to have some of their favorite pre-packaged granola bars, fruit snacks, trail mix and the like.  Especially for when you’re off the cruise ship and at port.  I will admit that when you’re on the ship when we’re by the pool  their “snack” is more often than not the soft serve ice cream dispenser.  But since we’re on vacation it doesn’t really count, right???



✓ Wine and/or Soda? – Some cruise lines allow you to bring one or two bottles of wine, and up to a certain amount of cans of soda in your carry-on.  If you are trying to stay in budget this is a great way to do so!  I do not think there is anything wrong with bringing a can of soda to the dining room if you just one Diet Coke with dinner, vs paying up the nose for the drink package.  Now a lot of people do opt for the drink package and that’s fine.  But for others if you want to save yourself some money to spend on other things like gratuity or excursions, check out your cruise line’s policy on bringing drinks onboard the ship. 

Bonus – What you CAN’T bring on a cruise

There are a couple of things that many new cruisers don’t realize are absolute no-no’s on a cruise. Don’t bring these.

1. Iron or steamer – This is a fire hazard and you can’t bring this on your cruise, not in your carry on and not in your luggage.

2. Household power strip bar – Since there are not a lot of electric outlets in the cruise cabin, many cruisers have heard that it’s a great idea to bring a power bar. It is, but you must only bring one that is cruise-approved.

So there’s our list!  Is there anything we’re missing, or what do you make sure put in your carry-on that is your must have?  Leave a message in the comments below because I would love to hear all about it.  And if you’d like some help planning your next vacation click here because I would love help make your vacation dreams a reality!

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