What to pack for a cruise (to look like an expert cruiser!)

*Collaborative post
Unsure what to pack for a cruise? Packing for your first cruise can be rather daunting. Not only do you need to pack for smart/casual, informal, formal and possibly themed evenings you also need to pack for your days onboard the ship and also prepare for different scenarios when exploring ports (sightseeing, water sports, etc).  I’ve already shared my cruise packing list for adults and cruise packing list for kids which cover cruise clothing and necessities.  I’ve also covered how to minimise the hidden costs of cruising.  This guide lists what to pack for a cruise if you want to look like an expert cruiser!
what to pack for a cruise
I’m sat around the pool onboard the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas writing this. It’s the first sea day of our 80’s cruise and we are sailing towards Vigo in Spain. Looking around I can easily spot the expert cruisers. They walk around confidently, fully kitted out and dressed for the rather windy weather as we sail across the Bay of Biscay. The rookies, first timer cruisers, stand out. They’re wearing summer gear, looking unprepared and rather surprised by how windy it is.  A couple of them have even got bags from the cruise shop, possibly carrying a few cruise essentials that they forgot to pack!  I thought I would put this list together now whilst it’s fresh in my mind because it’s so easy to forget these items when you are packing for a cruise.

What to pack for a cruise: Sea days

Travel Plug Adapters

An essential item if you want to use phone chargers, hair styling tools etc.   This is top of my list as I failed to pack a plug adapter for this cruise!  As I’m travelling on Royal Caribbean, an American cruise line, they have the US two pin sockets.  I’ve listed below the main cruise lines and the plugs you can expect onboard most popular cruise lines to ensure you travel with the correct plug adapter.

British plug socket (three pin that we use in the UK so no need for a plug adapter) – P&O Cruises and Cunard Line.
Continental European socket –  Cunard, MSC Cruises, Fred Olsen Line,Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line.

US two-pin socket – Cunard Line, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruises, Fred Olsen Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruises and Holland America Line. **You’ll notice that Cunard tend to have all three plug socket types in their passenger cabins and Celebrity Cruises, MSC Cruises and Fred Olsen Line feature both European & US plug sockets. 

Lanyard for cruise card

All cruise pro’s take their own lanyards onboard to hang their cruise card around their neck and save on the inconvenience of constantly going in and out of a bag to retrieve.  (A cruise card is all you need when at sea, it’s your cabin key and it’s registered with your credit card details so you can use it to buy drinks, items in the shop, etc. So with it hanging around your neck you literally have everything you need for a day at sea!).

Warmer clothes for crossings to and from Southampton

As mentioned above it can get a little chilly and windy when sailing through the Bay of Biscay.  It’s not like a regular holiday where you jump on a flight to a sunny destination and immediately need to be in summers clothes.  Pack a jumper or jacket and have a couple of pairs of trousers as well as shorts to be fully prepared for all weather.  I always pack wetsuits for my kids for the chillier sea days so that they can still use the pool (they’ve come in very handy for beach days in port too).

Large day bag

A bag which can double up as a pool bag for carrying towels, suncream, book etc to go to pool, that can also be used for port days (sightseeing, beach days) is a cruise essential.  Particularly handy if it’s got pockets to keep the ships newspaper handy (which lists daily entertainment and also emergency contact details of the ships agent in case you miss the ship!)

Sun protection and after sun

You can buy essentials including sun cream from the on-board shops, but they have a fairly limited range. So, if you prefer to use a particular brand, SPF level etc. it’s definitely worth stocking up on your favourite sun care prior to embarking. For this cruise I’ve packed a few Solero sun creams from LloydsPharmacy – an anti-ageing SPF 30 facial suncream to protect my face from burning, a high UVB and UVA sensitive suncream, Solero SPF 50 lip protection stick and an Solero after sun lotion (which is doubling up as my moisturiser).  For my son I’ve packed Solero kids sun spray with high SPF 30 protection, which I’ve used for a couple of weeks now and really like.  (He doesn’t like to waste precious playtime on applying sun cream so the spray makes it quicker for me to apply and fun for him so he is more willing to cooperate!).  Click here to read my full review of these Solero suncreams here.

Sun hats and sunglasses 

Sun hats with a strap underneath for kids are particularly handy to avoid losing them during windy sea days and any tender boat trips.

Pegs to hold pool towels on sun loungers

Sea days can be windy.  Cruising pro’s know this and so pack clothes pegs for pinning down towels to their sun loungers.

Sea sickness tablets, bands and/or ginger products

I’m very lucky, in my three years working at sea I very rarely felt sea sick.  The few times that I did I found being out on the promenade deck, midship where I could look at the horizon and get some fresh air made me feel much better.  I also found sipping on ginger beer and eating ginger biscuits eased any queasiness.  Passengers I’ve spoken to swear by sea sickness tablets and motion sickness wrist bands which may be a good investment if you are prone to sea sickness or are unsure if it’s your first cruise.

Alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks

Complimentary soft drinks depend on the cruise line you are sailing with.  For example P&O Cruises offer just water and hot drinks for free.  Royal Caribbean also offer lemonade and fruit squash in their buffet restaurants.  To save money when cruising with kids it’s worth popping a couple of small bottles of cordial concentrate into your bag.

You may be considering sneaking alcohol on a cruise? If so you’ll be pleased to know you don’t have to try and hide it from security as most cruise lines you are allowed to bring some alcohol onboard on embarkation day.  For Royal Caribbean the limit is two bottles of wine or Champagne (750 ml each) per cabin to be brought on during embarkation day.  For P&O Cruises you are allowed to bring on one bottle of wine per cabin.  This is a really helpful guide if you want to check out the alcohol policy for other cruise lines.

Highlighter pens

Really handy for highlighting any activities and entertainment in the ships newspaper that take your fancy.  (I’ve seen pro cruisers walking around with highlighter pens on lanyards around their necks!)

Dry shampoo

I always find that I’m rushed to get ready for evening meals when cruising.  I tend to stay in port until as late as possible and/or around the pool on a sea day.  Dry shampoo is brilliant for the evenings when you just don’t have time to wash you hair before dinner.

Suit or dress carrier

I prefer to travel with my formal dresses in a dress carrier to prevent them from getting crushed.  It also makes unpacking a much quicker job which is a bonus!

Radios or mobile phones with wifi access

Cruise ships are huge and it’s really difficult to keep in touch with your travelling companions if you don’t have WiFi access on your phones.  On this cruise with Royal Caribbean I’ve purchased a Voom high-speed internet access plan prior to sailing and saved 30% so $9.99 a day.  For past cruises we’ve saved on the cost of wifi and taken radios onboard which can work quite well.

Other gadgets and gizmos

Relaxing with a Kindle book on deck during a sea day is a very pleasant way to spend the day.  (A Kindle also takes up less space in a suitcase than several books).  Also definitely worth packing extra batteries, battery packs for cameras, mobile phone chargers for all the photos and videos you’ll be taking whilst at sea and in port.

What to pack for a cruise: Port days

Local currency

Unlike a regular holiday where you usually just need one currency you may need several different currencies for the ports you are visiting during your cruise.  It’s difficult to judge how much money you will need for port days, (not very much if you are on a shore excursion) so I always buy my currency from a travel exchange store where I can return at no cost if not used.

Refillable plastic water bottle

Not only does this save money whilst you are exploring ashore, they are also convenient and much better for the environment than buying bottles of water.

Comfortable walking shoes

Often cruise ship terminals are a fair distance from the nearest towns or beaches.  You can usually jump on a ship shuttle bus to get into the main town (check out the ship newspaper and/or port guide) it’s definitely also worth being prepared for walking with comfortable shoes.

What do you not need to pack for a cruise?


Save space in your suitcase and leave your towels at home.  Towels are provided onboard the ship and can be used both onboard and for port days.

Prohibited items

Similarly to airlines, cruise ships have a lengthy list of prohibited items not allowed onboard.  I’ve been stopped before now from embarking because I was carrying a scuba diving knife, it just hadn’t occurred to me that I wouldn’t be allowed it onboard.  Luckily a kind security guard offered kept it safe for me for the duration of my cruise and I picked it up as I disembarked 6 months later (end of my work contract) otherwise it would have been confiscated.

Pin for later – Packing guide: What to pack for a cruise 

what to pack for a cruise to look like an expert cruiser including lanyard, travel adapters, warmer clothes for the Bay of Biscay crossing and lots more! #cruise #whattopackforacruise #cruisepackinglist

Disclaimer – What to pack for a cruise is a collaborative post with LloydsPharmacy.  All words and opinions are, as always, my own. 


  1. KD
    4th July 2018 / 5:47 am

    well written and explained article. These tips are very useful.

  2. 3rd July 2018 / 8:35 pm

    I’m quite fascinated by this list, especially interesting to read about the highlighter pens. Would never have guessed!

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