A cruise can be a relaxing and unique way to see the world. But figuring out how to pack for a cruise can be incredibly stressful. Not just because you have to navigate tricky wardrobe etiquette situations (just what do you wear to formal night, anyway?), but because once you set sail, you won’t be able to simply run out and pick up what you need at the local mall (and last we checked, Amazon doesn’t deliver to staterooms).
But rather than just regurgitate the same old cruise packing list you’ve read dozens of times before, we came up with this list of 10 unexpected things to pack for a cruise. They might not seem essential upon first read, but we think they’ll make your time on the ship much more efficient and enjoyable, so you can spend less time fretting and more time cruising the buffet or drinking free champagne at the art auction (trust us, this is a thing).
Depending on where you’re cruising to, and what your coverage is, there is a very good chance you’ll find your smartphone completely worthless at sea (devastating, we know). This may mean you’ll have trouble communicating with friends and family members when you’re doing different activities on the boat. Save yourself the time and the steps and invest in a good pair of walkie talkies instead. We promise it will be worth it in the long run.
If you’ve never cruised before, know this: your bathroom will be incredibly small. Like, can’t-shower-without-climbing-over-the-toilet-first small. As such, we recommend saving as much space as possible by using one of these over-the-door organizers to hold as many vanity items as possible, from your shampoo and conditioner to your styling tools.
We’re calling out razors here, but you should be sure to pack all toiletries (and we do mean all) you might think you’ll need during your time away. Yes, it is true that there may be a small (very small) convenience shop on the cruise ship itself, but you’ll pay a (likely very high) premium for items purchased on the boat. And many cruise ships do not accept cash on board, meaning the item will be charged to the room, and that can get confusing if another member of your party is the primary booker of your excursion.
Yes, it is time to finally invest in a swimsuit coverup that you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in for an extended length of time, as you may have to walk the entire length boat to get from your stateroom to the pool. On the bright side, sporting a fun robe or caftan in bright colors will make you feel like you’re guest starring in an episode of Love Boat, and isn’t that what cruising is all about?
Take our point about bathing suit cover-ups and apply it to footwear too. You’re going to feel pretty funny strutting around the Lido deck in your sneakers, and flip-flops are a bit of a slipping hazard on deck, so invest in a nice pair of water socks or shoes that you can also wear to the cruise yoga class. Bonus: they also take up virtually no room in a suitcase.
While on a cruise, you can expect to be parted from your luggage more often than you’re used to on a typical vacation. This is especially true if your trip has a land portion, since your luggage will be be picked up by cruise staff each night and transported to your next location. This simply means there are a lot more opportunities for your luggage to accidentally end up in the wrong place, and telling a staff member, “it’s the one with the pizza-shaped tag” could potentially make it that much easier for them to locate your bag quickly.
When I went on an Alaskan cruise two years ago, I remember looking down at the water from my stateroom, and spotting what looked like small spotted fish swimming alongside the ship. It took me a moment to realize they were actually killer whales—their size completely dwarfed by the massiveness of the ship. The point being that while the ship will get you close to wild animals, you’ll still be relatively far away, so consider a good pair of binoculars one of the things you must take on a cruise.
You might be tempted to just rely on the cruise ship’s infirmary to treat any scrapes or minor injuries you might incur on your trip. But keep this in mind: ship infirmary hours are often very limited, and if you wind up needing to purchase your own bandages or antibiotic ointment during off-hours, you’ll wind up paying the same premium as you would for toiletries. Plan ahead instead and enjoy the added peace of mind while also saving your souvenir fund.
Did you know that most cruise ships will actually allow you to bring one bottle of wine with you on your voyage? This is one of the best things to pack for a cruise if you aren’t on an all-inclusive voyage where drinks are included. Or, if you just want to order some room service and enjoy a romantic meal in your stateroom instead of in the crowded dining room.