Going on a cruise sometimes feels like entering a parallel universe—after all, where else is it considered socially acceptable to have soft-serve ice cream and a beer for breakfast?
The unique social mores of cruising extend to packing. Or, more precisely, to not packing the items prohibited aboard cruise ships.
Some of the things you’re not allowed to bring on a cruise might strike you as obvious: firearms, explosives, swords, crack.
But other banned items are more surprising and, in some cases, include stuff that’s permitted in other travel-related spaces such as hotels and airplanes.
To avoid having your belongings confiscated by security personnel (or worse outcomes) when you board the ship, it’s wise to take a look at the cruise line’s list of prohibited items before you start packing for the trip. That info can be found on the company’s website; we’ve provided links below to the pertinent web pages for several major lines.
Be sure to check what’s not allowed for the specific cruise company you’re sailing with—policies vary here and there.
We have identified some common restrictions shared by all the players in the industry, however. With few exceptions, you can’t bring the following items aboard, across the board.
Items with a heating element or open flame
A fire breaking out on the ship could of course have dire consequences, especially if the vessel is far from rescue services. So cruise lines are cautious about appliances and devices that get hot enough to pose a fire hazard.
That means no heating blankets, coffee makers, hot plates, clothes steamers, candles, incense, or, perhaps saddest of all for fastidious dressers, clothes irons.
Some ships, such as those operated by Disney Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line, have self-service launderettes equipped with irons and ironing boards you can use free of charge. If you're on a ship without such facilities, you'll have to pay extra to get your clothes pressed.
While we're on the subject of electrical appliances, check in advance whether you can bring extension cords, power strips, or surge protectors on your cruise. Royal Caribbean bans all three; Holland America Line allows extension cords and power strips only if you use a surge protector.
For whatever reason, several lines make exceptions to their bans on heating appliances when it comes to personal grooming devices such as curling irons and hair dryers. Electric shavers are also allowed.
Here's where you'll want to read your cruise line's policy carefully, though, because there are minor variations from company to company. Princess Cruises, for instance, expressly forbids flat irons, while Norwegian Cruise Line says flat irons are allowed on board "when used with proper caution."
Curiously, cruise lines do generally allow matches and cigarette lighters on ships, presumably for use in the vessels' areas set aside for smoking.
So to review: Items that could cause an accidental fire are forbidden, but items designed to start fires on purpose are fine. Makes sense.
Speaking of lighters, Royal Caribbean clarifies that torch lighters and "novelty lighters that look like guns" are not allowed.
Which brings us to our next category.
Weapons and their various accoutrements, including guns, pepper spray, ammunition, and martial arts gear, are verboten. Ditto for long knives, though shorter blades are another case-by-case situation, with some lines allowing lengths up to 2.5 inches (Holland America) or 4 inches (Norwegian), and others banning knives of any length, including straight razors (Disney).
On nearly all ships, even toys that look like weapons are banned, whether or not they shoot out water, air pellets, paintballs, or any other projectile (though you should definitely not pack any of those, either).
As you might expect, Disney Cruise Line makes the most exceptions to the no-toy-weapons rule, allowing store-bought lightsabers, plastic pirate swords, and plastic replicas of Thor's hammer. Never let it be said that the Walt Disney Company prevented anyone from buying its officially branded merch.
Sporting equipment has also been deemed dangerous on cruise ships, so keep your baseball bats, hockey sticks, and skateboards at home.
Heavy-duty scuba diving equipment such as dive knives and breathing tanks are also tightly restricted. Because of their flammability, compressed gas tanks are almost universally a no go, so that bars scuba tanks (on the other hand, medically necessary oxygen cylinders are allowed, with clearance from the ship's health services; small aerosol toiletries such as hair spray are okay, too).
Recreational dive knives fall afoul of ships' prohibition on sharp objects, but some lines, such as Princess, allow passengers to pack their own dive knives for shore excursions, provided those guests check in the knives with the ship's security personnel upon embarkation and only retrieve the equipment for excursions. Additionally, divers may need to show proof of a valid diving license in order to bring a dive knife onto the ship.
Different safety and environmental issues related to getting around a ship's decks and avoiding sending stuff overboard likely inspired the industrywide embargoes on passengers using hoverboards, those shoes with built-in wheels on the soles, remote-controlled aerial devices or drones, kites, small boats, and catapults (just how big are the suitcases you people travel with?).
Note that in some cases, you might be able to bring along certain of the above items for port use as long as you don't take them out while on the ship. According to Carnival, for example, drones are allowed on board "but must be held in the custody of the Chief Security Officer and must be checked out/in by the owner for PORT USE ONLY."
But other lines, such as Norwegian and Virgin Voyages, won't let guests have drones with them, period.
Food and drink
You can board with unopened packaged snacks, but not homemade or perishable food. This can be easy to forget at ports of call, where you might stop at a restaurant and want to save your leftovers for later when you're back on the ship. Sorry, not gonna happen.
And because cruise lines make a whole lot of money from the booze sold on board, they're loath to let you bring outside alcohol on the ship, too. Beer, hard liquor, and spirits are prohibited outright. If found in your luggage, they will either be seized and returned at the end of the journey (as with Virgin) or taken for keepsies (as with Royal Caribbean and most other lines).
If you purchase a souvenir spirit at a port, hand the bottle over when you re-embark and retrieve your purchase from storage at the end of the cruise.
Most lines do allow passengers to bring on a bottle (Carnival) or two (Disney) of wine. Just make sure the stuff is unopened and in your carry-on rather than checked luggage when you board the ship.
There are usually limits to how many nonalcoholic beverages you can carry on board as well. The standard cap seems to be 12 cans or cartons, each containing no more than 12 ounces.
Marijuana and CBD products
As Frommer's has previously reported, U.S. cruise lines unambiguously adhere to U.S. federal regulations with regard to marijuana, banning the possession and use of pot with no exceptions.
Even though, as Carnival's policy puts it, "some state and local governments in the U.S., and in the destinations we visit, might allow marijuana use," cruise lines follow the federal prohibition that's still on the books. It doesn't matter if recreational marijuana is legal in the state or municipality where you embark, disembark, or stop for a port visit—cannabis is not allowed on the ship.
And yes, the ban covers medical marijuana and all CBD oils and other CBD products.
Violators could be denied boarding or suffer hefty fines and other legal penalties.
Prohibited items by cruise line
To read the full policies on banned items for a dozen major cruise lines, click the web pages linked below.