11 Must-Pack Items For A Cruise

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It’s no secret – I love a great cruise! There’s something about having the whole moving hotel/ amusement park/casino/nightclub in the same place that just appeals to me. It’s like every vacation you ever wanted to have rolled up into one. You can party your heart out, relax, or both.

The great thing about cruises is that they’re often more budget friendly than other vacation options, especially if you do your homework and book a special. However, if you haven’t properly planned, you’ll end up spending a whole lot more than you bargained for. Having to buy things you didn’t pack can turn your dream vacation into a nightmare pretty quickly.

So how do you know what you should bring and what you shouldn’t? We all have the basics down pat like clothing, bathing suits, and passports, but there are items many people don’t think to pack (nor will you find on a typical cruise line website as “must have” essentials.) Possibly because they are not the obvious choices and possibly because cruise lines and resorts would love to have you pay the premium to purchase them during your vacation.

11 Must-Pack Items For A Cruise

To help save you time and money, I’ve put together a list of cruise essentials to add to your standard list to help increase your fun on your vacation while keeping your budget intact:


That stuff is liquid gold on board and the cruise line.  The owners of the stores on shore know it! Because of that, it costs a fortune! Sunburn will instantly dampen your vacation fun and may lead to long-term health concerns. Make sure you stock up and include plenty of sunscreen for your entire cruise party. Be sure to include a few small, portable sunscreen tubes that you can easily tuck into a towel or your purse for times when you need a boost in protection.

Sun Hat

Even if you are not the sun-hat-type-person (I’m normally not,) it’s a wise investment to purchase a collapsible hat that offers quality sun protection, especially if you are cruising in the Caribbean. Getting a sunburn on your scalp is a very painful experience and can lead to hair damage, too. If you shop ahead of the cruise, you’ll have a better selection and won’t have to pay high prices for souvenir hats that may not even offer enough sun protection.


Yes, the cruise line has them, but counting on having enough isn’t the best idea. Bring your own favorite beach towels to lay on chaise lounges and for extras just in case. You never know when you’ll need them. You’ll also want them for off-shore excursions. If you lose a cruise towel during your adventure, it can set you back around 20 dollars. Bringing a 5 dollar towel from home will help you have a stress-free experience when toting them off the ship.

Inflatable Pool Floats

Many cruise lines have private beach ports and you’ll also have access to local beaches in other port locations. Playing in the ocean is always fun, but sometimes it gets a bit tiring combating the waves and you’ll wish you had a fun pool float to rest on. Renting one from the beach vendors will cost around $12 to $20 dollars for a few hours. Bringing one from home will only cost around $1 to $5 depending upon the style. Plus, in their deflated state they are easy to pack and transport, so you won’t be taking up valuable luggage space.

Hydration Helpers

The effects of dehydration can be staggering and will certainly curb your enthusiasm for fun while cruising. It’s easy to think when we are surrounded by water that we are staying well hydrated, but the opposite is true, people tend to get dehydrated from travel and too much fun in the sun. To help, try packing these essentials into your cruise luggage:

Refillable water bottle. Cruises offer free water and often other beverages like lemonade and iced tea for free, too. However, the cups are small and geared towards dining room use, not for transporting around the ship. Bring a few refillable water bottles to help you carry your beverages around the ship to ensure you stay hydrated. They are also perfect for filling up for in-room use on board and for shore excursions. Love your morning coffee, too? Bring a refillable coffee mug for the same purpose!

Pocket Change

Bring a few rolls of quarters for vending machines and laundry services. Most cruise lines have both a valet service for laundry as well as coin operated machines. Just like at home, you’ll save money by doing it yourself. You can probably get change from the guest services desk as well, but bringing your own will make it easier. It’s also handy to have some small bills for quick purchases on shore.

Your toothbrush!

You’d be amazed how many people forget their toothbrush and end up paying ridiculous amounts for a new one. The same goes for things like deodorant, shaving cream, and other toiletries.


If you take medication on a regular basis, be sure to refill before you go and bring it with you. Also, if you have a need for an Epipen, be sure to pack it! Tylenol, Motrin, and something for motion sickness are also helpful and will be very expensive on board.


This one needs a mini list! With continued development in technology, there are so many devices that are perfect for cruise and adventure travel.

Action Camera

When you are on a cruise adventure, whether you like watching the ocean life outside the ship or snorkeling at every port stop, there are plenty of times when your standard camera, cell phone or video recorder will not be able to preserve the memory.  This is one of the best extras we pack that continues to delight us after the travel is done. My kids love sharing their view from our activities like zip-lining and deep sea diving and I’m totally enamored with the ability to record the sea life we spot on our water adventures.

E-reader or tablet

If you’re looking to have some “me” time, bringing a tablet full of some great e-books is a good idea. It will also give you and any kids in tow something to do if you’re stuck at the airport or waiting in line to get on or off the ship. Along with your tablet, bring along a comfortable set of ear gear for in-flight or poolside listening of your favorite tunes, films or audio books. You might even use them to learn a new foreign language (with the aid of an app) during your trip!

Phone and power bank

Don’t forget your phone and consider using it as your primary camera. You may wish to go off-grid on your vacation (we often opt to!) but you can easily set the phone on “airplane mode” and use it for recording memories. There are also plenty of apps you can download ahead of time to enhance your cruise. Be sure to check with your cell phone carrier what ports do offer service through your basic plan in case you do wish to check your email or send a photo during your journey. Also, bring a power bank so that you can charge on the go if you need to. There’s nothing quite as disappointing as attempting to take a picture and finding out your phone is dead.

Collapsible Bag

Unless you bring along an empty suitcase, chances are you will be scrambling for storage space to stash all the terrific shopping finds and souvenirs you picked up on your trip. My favorite is the Fold-Over Weekender from Thirty-One Gifts as it can be personalized, folds up small but expands wide, and doubles as an great beach bag or shopping bag to take along with you for shore excursions. It also meets the carry-on standards for size so you won’t have to worry about checking another bag at the end of your trip.

All of these items will contribute to your positive vacation experience, save you money upfront and take up very little room in your luggage.

For more ideas, the best thing you can do is find out as much as you can about your trip. Go to the cruise line’s site and read everything you can. With a little bit of planning and a few sunny days, you’ll come with some amazing memories for a much smaller price tag!

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Barb Webb. Founder and Editor of Rural Mom, is an the author of "Getting Laid" and "Getting Baked". A sustainable living expert nesting in Appalachian Kentucky, wen she’s not chasing chickens around the farm or engaging in mock Jedi battles, she’s writing about country living and artisan culture.
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