Packing for a cruise is different from packing for other vacation types. Because you go back to the same room every night, you can go a little heavier on the goods, especially if you don’t have to fly to your cruise port.
Between formal nights, beach days, and afternoons lazing by the pool, you’ll want to be sure you have just the stuff to feel comfortable and at home.
How to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise
Generic packing lists are available everywhere. Instead, I wanted to give a list of truly useful tips from real people who regularly vacation on cruise ships.
I gathered information from seasoned cruisers and have thrown in a few of my own tropical destination must-haves. These are my top tips for how to pack for a Caribbean cruise.
Start With a Checklist
There are a number of checklists online you can use for inspiration. Start with those, then add items specific to your needs.
I like to use sharable list-keeping apps like Google Keep. You can add items to the list from your laptop or phone, and share the list with others.
Make sure to also read our “International Travel Checklist” guide! We’ll point out things both big and small that are must-haves on any international trip. Trust us — you’ll be glad you checked it out!
Packing Cubes Really Do Change Everything
Remember when everyone was suddenly crazy about packing cubes? Well, they were right. Packing cubes are so convenient I even use them in my drawers at home.
These can help you keep track of smaller items like underwear, socks, and light shirts and wraps. My only must-have features are double zippers for easy opening and a see-through top, so I can tell what’s inside.
Pack Your Important Documents and Medications
Start with these, since they can stop the show if you forget them. Your passport should be in your carry-on. There is always a chance you’ll be separated from your checked bags.
While you’re thinking about it, make sure you have at least six months left on your passport before it expires. Pack both prescription and over-the-counter medications you use regularly.
I like to keep an emergency stash of daily medications separate from my full supply. This way, if something goes wrong or a bag gets lost, I have enough to get me to a place where I can replace them.
Bring a Couple of Warm Items
Yes, it’s a tropical destination. But, that doesn’t mean you’ll never get cold. Bring a lightweight sweater for dining and for walking the deck at night. Evenings can be surprisingly chilly. And, the dining room AC can feel pretty intense after a day in the sun.
Think About Your Feet
Bring some comfortable shoes with a nonslip sole. You’ll probably walk a lot more than normal while you are on a cruise. Decks around the pool can get slippery, so a nonskid shoe can help you avoid a spill.
Flip-flops or sandals are great to have on a day-to-day basis. You can keep the soles of your feet covered while enjoying a bit of freedom. But, don’t wear flipflops on excursions that will involve a lot of walking, or you’ll be in pain by the end of the day.
I also like to have closed-toe water shoes if I’m wading or walking on the beach. They tend to be more comfortable and protect your feet from sharp shells or rocks.
Prepare for Motion Sickness
Everyone gets seasick. If you’ve never been seasick, you just haven’t gotten seasick yet. Pack seasickness patches or Dramamine, so you have it available if you need it.
I like sea bands because they are a non-medicated option, but they don’t work for everyone. Plus, they aren’t exactly the aesthetic you wanna rock on formal night.
Bring a Long Sleeve Rash Guard or UV Shirt
Don’t underestimate the power of the equatorial sun.
“People really under underestimate how strong the sun is in the Caribbean,” says JC. “They end up super burnt on the first day and then can’t go in the sun the rest of the cruise.”
Physical protection from the sun can be a lot more effective than a sunscreen you have to reapply. Bring a couple long sleeve UV protective shirts and a hat with a wide enough brim to protect your face.
These are to use in addition to lotion-based sunblock. When you are choosing your sunblock, by the way, look for reef safe formulas. They’ve come a lot way, and no longer have the chalky feel of the original ones.
Invest in Luggage Tags
These can help you ensure your bags wind up in the same place you do. Cruise luggage tags need to be printed out, then folded and stapled onto your luggage. If they get wet, they can become lost or damaged.
If you plan to cruise regularly, consider investing in some permanent cruise luggage tags. There are even cruise line specific tags you can buy on Amazon. They’re made to fit different cruise line’s tags for convenience.
Spring for Magnetic Hooks
There never seem to be enough hooks in a cruise ship room, especially where you need them.
Magnetic hooks can be attached to the walls of your stateroom to make it easy to hang a dress or sweater. You can also use them in the shower to hang a wet bathing suit.
Keep Electronic Items Charged
If you have any battery-operated items, bring along extras. One cruise fan told me they had to give their tablemates the extra D batteries they’d packed. The cruise ship’s store only had AA’s, and their new friends needed D batteries for their bedside fan.
Bring a USB hub for charging your stuff. Cruise ships do not allow surge protectors. A USB hub lets you keep multiple devices charged without running afoul of the rules.
Pack Some Hobby Items
Chances are good you’ll be doing things on the ship you don’t do when you are at home. Bingo is a daily activity, so slip an ink blotter into your bag if you think you might get in on the fun.
It’s a chance to meet other cruisers and maybe win a prize or two. Sketchbooks, pens, crochet kits, and embroidery are all great ways to pass the time while you’re on board.
Use Waterproof Bags
A phone case is the minimum. This can keep your phone dry even when you are splashing in the water. Some even make it possible to take photos through the plastic.
I have a cute waterproof purse I carry when I might get wet. It has a locking top to keep water out and is big enough for my phone, some lip balm, some cash, and my ID. Bigger dry bags will make your life easier if you go on any water-related excursions.
There are bags in sizes from half a liter up to 20 liters or more. A 10 liter bag is enough to hold the contents of your towel, a light change of clothes, your sunscreen and a snack or two.
Don’t feel like investing in a special bag? Grab a few ziplocks instead. They won’t hold up to repeat uses, but will do just fine if you only expect to bring your phone and wallet on one day trip.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’ve never been to the Caribbean or on a cruise you may have some questions. These answers might help:
How many outfits should I pack for a 7-day cruise?
Who wants to do laundry on a cruise? Pack enough that you have clothes to take you through the duration. This means having back-ups, like multiple swimsuits. Pack more underwear than you think you need, four or five pairs of shorts, and about seven t-shirts.
You should also have a couple of dresses that can be dressed up or down.
What should a woman wear on a Caribbean cruise?
Most people spend most of their time in bathing suits. Bring a couple in different styles so that you feel comfortable. A few light cover-ups can take you from poolside to dinner. Lightweight sundresses and cute but comfortable sandals can round your wardrobe out.
How do you pack for a cruise without overpacking?
If you are going to be traveling by plane to get to your cruise port, you probably want to pack a bit lighter. Choose items that are multifunctional, such as dresses that can be dressed up or down for day or night. Items that can layer are great, because you can stay comfortable without having to pack too much.
Do you dress up every night on a cruise?
Most modern cruises do not require you to dress for dinner every night. Causal dining options can be found all over the ship, so you don’t need to worry about what you’re wearing. In general, as long as you have on a shirt and shoes, you’re dressed up enough.
Does it get cold at night on a Caribbean cruise?
Even in the tropics, it can get surprisingly chilly on the open water. Plus, indoor locations on the cruise ship like the restaurants and casino often run the AC on high. Bring along a light sweater or sweatshirt so that you can stay warm.
Summing Up: How Do You Pack for a Caribbean Cruise?
Make a checklist, pick items that work with each other, and most of all, don’t overthink it. Cruise ships are more casual than ever, and you will likely spend most of your time in shorts and bathing suits.
Bring the celebratory outfits you really want to share and set your mind at ease for the rest of the time. So, with so many fun activities onboard a ship, what are you waiting for — book your cruise trip today!