Cruise essentials

Packing for a cruise is a lot like packing for any other holiday. You’ll want to bring comfy walking shoes for sightseeing and to leave your best jewellery at home. But there are other items – beyond seasickness medications – that expert cruisers never set sail without. Here, a few of our favourite professional cruisers tell us what you’ll find in their suitcases.

Do: Stash all your pool items in your carry-on bag

“You may not see your checked bag until late on your first day on board,” says Gene Sloan, cruise editor of USA Today. “It can take hours from the time you drop your bag off with the ship-side porters for it to arrive up in your room.” As a result, when we asked him what to pack for a cruise, he recommended stashing your swimsuit, sunglasses and suntan lotion in your day bag so you have them available immediately upon arrival.

Do: Pack clothing that can be layered

“Weather from port to port can vary significantly,” explains Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of “Packing layers can help combat temperature changes, without the need to pack multiple outfits that can take up precious room in your suitcase.” McDaniel adds that this is especially important in places where the weather is unpredictable.


Don’t: Leave home without sunscreen and aloe vera

“Chances are you’ll get more sun than you’re used to,” says McDaniel. “And while a good sunscreen can keep you from getting burned, aloe vera will give you some relief if you do.” So when you’re thinking about what to pack for a cruise, remember to buy the sunscreen and after-sun lotion at home – you could end up paying a markup on many ships.

Do: Bring a portable charger or two

If you’re someone who doesn’t like to unplug during a vacation, this one is a biggie – especially if you have more than one device or spend hours on social media or email. “You won’t have easy access to outlets around the ship,” explains Fran Golden, chief contributor of Porthole magazine. “And there may be a limited number of outlets in your cabin.”

Do: Toss your portable mug in your bag

Cruise ships often have complimentary coffee, and it’s usually part of the deck buffet. But your cabin isn’t, so many people go up on deck, grab a couple mugs of coffee first thing in the morning, and burn themselves as they walk back to their cabin. Mike Jirout, founder of the Ship Mate App, has this clever suggestion in his blog: If you’re a big coffee drinker, pack a portable mug with a lid in your suitcase. Travelling with kids? You’ll want sippy cups for their morning milk or juice.

Do: Throw in some kitchen magnets

“Little-known fact for those who haven’t cruised before: Cruise cabin walls are made of steel,” says McDaniel. “Packing magnets – or magnetic hooks – can help keep track of daily programs and other loose papers, or make it easy to hang items that need to dry. We’ve also used heavy-duty magnetic hooks for stashing away cameras, lanyards and even binoculars.”

Do: Bring along a marker board

If you’re travelling with a group of friends or family, magnetic marker boards are handy to bring along, says McDaniel. “Hang one outside your cabin door so that you can leave notes for your travel companions.” Now, you’ll never miss out on meeting spots or reservation details.

Do: Pick up a pashmina

Just because you’re heading to a tropical region, doesn’t mean you won’t want to bring a cover-up to use on board. “I always pack a shawl (a tan cashmere is my go-to-these days), even in tropical climates,” explains Golden, “because sometimes the air-conditioning on ships is intense.” Also, as ships reach full speed, the wind on outdoor decks picks up, and you’ll be happy you brought along a wrap.

Do: Pack plenty of reading material

“Make sure you have a couple of books on your Kindle or iPad, because for once in your busy life, on a cruise ship you will actually have time to read,” says Golden. “Sometimes I’ll even pick novels based on the destination where I am cruising, or a sea theme. If I have a balcony cabin, the balcony becomes my favourite reading spot.”

Do: Invest in a small blow-up pool

“One complaint that we hear a lot from those travelling with young kids,” says McDaniel, “is that many cruise cabin bathrooms don’t have bathtubs. A simple solution is to bring a small blow-up pool to place in the shower stall and use as a makeshift tub for the little ones.”

Do: Bring your own hot sauce

“Cruise lines do a lot of things right on ships, but for the most part, stocking condiments is not one of them,” says Sloan. (The exception is ketchup on kid-friendly ships, where it’s ubiquitous.) “You’ll find the occasional bottle of Tabasco on the buffet line of many ships, but little else with a punch.”

Do: Pack some spare change

Irons are a no-no at sea (too much of a fire hazard), but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck wearing just-pulled-out-of-a-suitcase clothing. Instead of showing up for dinner looking like an unmade bed, consider one of these tips. “Many cruise ships have self-service laundrettes that offer irons (and ironing boards) as well as pressing services (for a fee),” says McDaniel.

Or some wrinkle-release spray

Worried about wrinkles, but not into the idea of ironing on vacation? Try bringing along some wrinkle-release spray for a fast fix. It’s not a perfect solution, but it will certainly do in a pinch – and leave you more time for the pool or the spa.