Luggage on the dock next to a cruise ship.

Packing Tips for Cruises

How to Pack for a Cruise Vacation
By Kara Murphy

The average standard cabin on a cruise ship is less than 200 square feet, so pay careful attention to the square footage when booking and packing for your cruise. Learn how to maximize the smaller space with these expert packing tips.

Do you have a smart packing tip for cruises? Share your best packing tips on the Packing Forum.

Photo Caption: A luggage set on the dock next to a cruise ship
Wheelie coated canvas bag by Jane Marvel, $165. <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Jane Marvel
Pick the right suitcase.
The good news is that "cruise companies are increasingly designing cabins with room underneath beds to accommodate larger bags," says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of Cruise Critic (

If there isn't space to store a larger suitcase, pack your things in soft-sided bags -- such as rolling duffels, backpacks, and totes -- that can be flattened after you unpack them.

Keep in mind that there are closets in most cabins, but it is unlikely that they will be stocked with enough hangers to accommodate all of your clothing. You may want to consider bringing several extra hangers with you if you plan to completely unpack your bags (not a bad idea if cruising for longer than two or three days). Pack extra hangers at the bottom of your suitcase, and plan to leave them behind on the ship.

In addition to your suitcase, bring a day bag for ports of call and to carry essentials to different activities around the ship. When boarding, treat your day bag as your carry-on bag. "The first day you check your luggage at the check-in desk, and you're most likely going to be without your bags for about six to eight hours," says Brown. "So pack anything you're going to need for the day, like your bathing suit, sunscreen, and any medications you need to take."

Photo Caption: Wheelie coated canvas bag by Jane Marvel, $165,
Matte jersey 3/4-sleeve dress by Tahari by ASL, $118. <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Board wearing a resort-casual outfit.
Since it can take some time for your luggage to arrive in your stateroom, pay attention to what you wear when embarking. "Aim for resort casual because whatever you're wearing when you board may even need to take you into the evening, especially if there are delays delivering your baggage to your cabin," says Cruise Critic's Carolyn Spencer Brown. "But the first night of dinner is always casual. People are still getting their luggage and most will not have unpacked."

When in doubt, just stick to classic styles in neutral colors or bright colors and patterns that transition easily from day to night. Consider wearing a dress or a pair of khaki or black pants with a blouse or a polo shirt. Save your extra casual clothes for later, but if you think you'll want them on the first day (for instance, if you plan to hit the pool immediately after you board), just pack them in your tote or personal bag.

Photo Caption: Matte jersey 3/4-sleeve dress by Tahari by ASL, $118,
Adults-only dining at Remy, Disney Dream's premier restaurant.
Disney Cruise Line/Todd Anderson
Check the dress code.
"It used to be that you had to pack for all different occasions -- formal, semi-formal, evening -- but the dress code has been simplified," says Cruise Critic's Carolyn Spencer Brown. "Now most cruise lines stick to a casual dress code most of the time. Even if they do have formal nights, if you don't want to participate, you can just eat at a different restaurant that night. You won't see many people wearing jeans or shorts in the dining room at night, but during the day, anything goes." In general, a jersey dress, easy skirt, or casual slacks will work for dinner, along with a pair of strappy sandals or loafers.

There are, however, several cruise lines that take formal nights seriously. "Cunard and Crystal Cruises are both lines where people dress more formally. Princess and Carnival are two others where people get excited about getting all dolled up on formal nights," says Brown. "Even on some Disney cruises, there are dress-up nights where parents will dress their little boys in tuxedos, and little girls in princess dresses -- it's a really fun and special ambiance."

Most cruise lines have detailed descriptions of dress codes on their websites. Keep in mind that nearly all cruise ships offer some sort of casual dining service and room service, so you can certainly avoid formal dinners if you want to.

It's always best to leave valuables at home, but if you do want to bring jewelry (perhaps to wear on formal nights), most ships have safes in each cabin. Stash your valuables there along with your passport.

Photo Caption: Adults-only dining at Remy, Disney Dream's premier restaurant
GEL-Nimbus 13 sneakers by Asics, $130. <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Make a list of activities, and pack accordingly.
Remember to pack clothes according to the types of activities you plan to participate in (both on the ship and at ports of call).

Do you want to spend lots of time at the pool? If so, bring a couple of bathing suits and cover-ups, flip flops and plenty of sunscreen. Do you want to exercise? Be sure to bring comfortable athletic shoes and workout clothes. Do you plan to sign up for shore excursions? Make a list of any additional gear, so that you don't end up having to miss out because you forgot to pack the right shoes.

"As far as clothing, I typically bring three of everything and use the ship's laundry service if needed," says Brown. "It's usually reasonably priced, and some ships even have self-service laundry you can use in a pinch."

Photo Caption: GEL-Nimbus 13 sneakers by Asics, $130,
Flat-Out toiletry kit by Magellan's, $29.85. <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Magellan's Travel Supplies
Be prepared for small bathrooms.
Small cabins mean cramped bathrooms, so pack your toiletries in a hanging toiletry bag. If you're sharing the bathroom with other people, you might want to even bring along a fabric hanging shoe caddy that folds up flat when not in use. "Put it over the back of your door and let each person keep their stuff in their own compartment," says Carolyn Spencer Brown of Cruise Critic. "It's a smart way to stay organized."

Most cruise lines offer basic toiletries, including lotion, shampoo and conditioner, but that's about it. It's always good to bring your own, especially if you're particular about which products and brands you use.

"Every ship has some sort of small shop for toiletries, so if you forget stuff you can always buy things there. They typically even have items like underwear and socks," says Brown. "If you use a blow-dryer regularly, consider bringing your own -- the blow-dryers provided on ships are always weak!"

Also, because of their size, most cabins are equipped with just one power outlet. "So if you have several devices you're going to want to use and charge at once, bring your own power strip," says Brown. "Cruise lines don't advocate this, but it's a good item to bring along so you're covered in case you need it." An outlet multiplier will also do the trick.

Photo Caption: Flat-Out toiletry kit by Magellan's, $29.85,