There are tons of posts out there telling you all the cruise must-haves you have to buy, but this one is coming from a family of five that’s about to share the nitty gritty about which ones are the actual cruise essentials.
These are the cruise must-haves that you’ll actually say, “Oh, I’m so glad I brought that,” and then you’ll go on to recommend it to a friend.
I know this because everything on this essential cruise must-have list is stuff I’ve personally told friends in real life that they have to have before they go on their next cruise.
Here’s the cool part: this cruise essentials list will work for just about any cruise you go on, whether it’s sailing around North America, exploring the Baltics, sightseeing around Europe, or relaxing for a fjords or Alaskan cruise.
What you won’t find in this must-have-for-your-cruise post are the clothes that you need to pack. Because I can guarantee you that your cruise packing list will look very different if you’re going to beaches in the Bahamas with a baby compared to sailing around Sweden sans kids.
Where to Get Things to Take on a Cruise
I’m going to save you a lot of time with your cruise packing list by sharing everything from this post right here in my Amazon shop.
Likewise, a lot of these things can often be bought at your local dollar store—I’m always surprised by what I can find there!
Shop all the things we take on a cruise in my Amazon shop here.
Your One-Stop Packing List for a Cruise
Just in case you don’t want to scroll through everything, here is everything you need right here in a short and sweet bullet form that you can essentially copy and paste into your own cruise packing list.
But if you’re curious about why we love everything, keep reading and I’ll explain why we’ve singled out these cruise must-haves, and why we consider them “cruise essential.”
Things to Take on a Cruise: For Your Room
Things to Take on a Cruise: For You
Things to Take on a Cruise: For Excursions
Things to Take on a Cruise: For The Ship
Things to Take on a Cruise: For Packing
OR grab these free printables to make packing for your cruise even easier!
Add These Essentials to Your Cruise Packing List
Let’s just jump right into it, shall we? If you need some of the best things to take on a cruise and want to know why we love them, here ya go:
Cruise Essentials: For Your Room
Even if you’re lucky enough to have a suite, you may find yourself shocked at just how small the cabins are on a cruise. But speaking of luck, there’s also a lot more space, even in the tiny rooms, than you might realize. You just need to know how to work with what you’ve got.
Pro tips: Utilize the space under the beds for your luggage, take advantage of all the drawers and closet space, and as you’ll see later down on this cruise essentials list, you can even make the most out of the walls in your cabin and the space in the bathroom.
Here are some things to take on a cruise that will make your little
tin-can cabin work to its best ability.
A “Shoe” Hanger Organizer
Spoiler alert: you probably won’t use this door-hanging organizer for your shoes. Cruise ship bathrooms can be tiny—not as small as on an airplane, but you may wish you had a little more counter space, especially if there are up to five of you sharing a cabin.
So if you’re worried about space, grab a shoe hanger organizer and fill that sucker up with things you might want to put on a counter/shelf.
⫸⫸ Get your door-hanging organizer here ⫷⫷
A Magnetic Whiteboard
A magnetic whiteboard on the front of your cabin door is such a little addition but is so much fun to have aboard your cruise. Write daily questions on it and watch the answers roll in throughout the day.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that my kids all race to the room to see who wrote what while we were away.
⫸⫸This magnetic whiteboard includes dry-erase markets and an eraser!⫷⫷
A Pop-Up Laundry “Basket”
Nobody wants stinky clothes hanging around a small space, so throw this pop-up laundry basket in a closet and toss your dirty clothes in it.
For what it’s worth when it comes cruising with kids, I always have them put their socks and undies in the basket and then I do a once over their shirt/pants/dress. If it still looks clean enough I let them wear it again. Washing clothes on a cruise ship in a tiny sink isn’t ideal, and it will take longer to dry things, so I use my best judgment here.
Pro tip: you can sometimes find these foldable, pop-up laundry baskets at places like a dollar store! Or just grab yours here while you’re adding everything else to your cart!
Washing Detergent and a Clothesline
Speaking of washing clothes on a cruise ship…do not skip over this part.
Unless you’re sailing on a super short cruise, you’re probably going to want to do laundry while you’re traveling. Yes, your cruise line most likely has laundry facilities, but you don’t even want to know how much it’ll cost you. It’s also true that they may offer a fill-the-bag “special,” but it’s still pretty pricey.
Here’s the deal: take versatile and durable clothes, and plan on doing laundry in your room in your sink. Stretch your clothesline across the room or out on the balcony while you’re at port (if it’s not a windy day) and let them air dry while you’re out for the day.
If things still aren’t dry, stretch the clothesline across your bathroom (make sure you won’t run into it in the middle of the night), and let things continue to dry overnight.
We regularly give socks and undies a wash since they dry quickly, and only do tops and bottoms if they get really dirty.
Pro tip: add some Tide To-Go sticks to your luggage and your day packs for on-the-go or quick messes you need to get out.
LED Tealights as Nightlights
I’ve tried using nightlights before…and I always accidentally leave them in the hotel when we check out. LED tealights, on the other hand, are super inexpensive, so if/when I forget them it’s not that big of a deal.
Even if you don’t think you need a nightlight, add some to your cruise packing list—they come in super handy because those rooms can get pitch black.
Money Saving Tip: LED Tealights are another thing you can grab at your local dollar store! Or just add a pack of them to your cart now.
Magnetic Hooks and Magnetic Clips
Remember when I said you can maximize the wall space in a cruise cabin? Here’s how. Cruise ship walls are magnetic (as are their doors). So grab some super heavy-duty magnets with hooks and/or magnetic clips, and voila!
Now you have a place to hang your lanyards, hats, extra bags, swimsuits, etc. If you have the magnetic clips (or just some regular magnets) you can attach your daily cruise itinerary and other notes and papers that end up getting shuffled around the room.
Pro Tip: Some of these magnets come in fairly large quantities. If you’re traveling with friends/family, consider splitting a pack with them.
Look, let’s just get this out of the way: everyone poops.
And you’re going to need to go number two on your cruise. We’ve already established that it’s a small space. So do everyone you’re traveling with a favor and spray some of this in the toilet before you do your business.
This should be on every cruise packing list…just sayin’.
Pro tip: You won’t need a ton of this spray, but consider getting this multi-travel pack and then you can pass the extras along to friends or family. Christmas gag gift, anyone? What? We’ve already established that everyone poops!
A Small USB Fan
Each cabin is temperature controlled, but if you run hot you may want to bring a little USB fan to make things even more comfortable. Plus, it doubles as white noise if you need a little extra help falling asleep.
Cruise Essentials: For You
When you’re thinking about things to take on a cruise, don’t forget to think about yourself. These are tried and true necessities if you’re traveling by cruise.
Sea Sick Meds
Even if you don’t think you need them, you should definitely have something handy just in case. You never know when things may get a little rocky on the ship.
Here are some options for you to consider.
Pro tip: if you suffer from carsickness pretty easily, you may want to chat with your doctor about some prescription meds for seasickness.
MegaBabe Thigh Rescue
Megababe is the holy grail when it comes to stopping the thigh rub. I’ve tried different ones out there, and I 100% highly recommend this, especially for your summertime cruises. Even if you’re just going to hang out at the pool all day, glade this thigh rescue on and kiss those biker shorts goodbye.
⫸⫸ It’s a little pricey, but this is the best anti-thigh-rub out there. Tried and tested it, and I can wear it all day without having to reapply it. ⫷⫷
Pack some Liquid IV in your bag and thank me in the morning. Seriously though, you can very easily get dehydrated on a cruise. First, there are all the drinks (especially if you have a drink package), then there are all the excursions. And then there’s the lack of routine and that leads to a lack of hydration.
Do your body a favor and give it some extra electrolytes.
Wine and/or Beer
Perhaps this one should’ve gone before the Liquid IV, or maybe this is really the best place for it. Either way, did you know that most cruise lines let you bring certain alcohol aboard?
Check with your specific cruise on the requirements, and enjoy your own booze.
Worried about taking your wine on board? I’ve got you covered on how to pack it carefully in this post.
Pro tip: If you decide to take your own bottle to dinner most cruise lines will charge you a cork fee. We personally like to drink our own on the balcony after we get the kids to sleep…
Swim Shoes or Sandals
If you’re not headed on a beachy itinerary, this might skip your mind. But if you’re planning on hitting up the pool or spa aboard your ship, you might want to bring some swim shoes or sandals with you.
Otherwise, you’ll be walking barefoot or have to put on sneakers after the fact. Been there, done that, which is why this made the cruise essentials list.
A Water Bottle
Stay hydrated! Some cruise lines charge for bottled water, but you can always ask for water to fill up your own bottle. Yes, lugging a water bottle around (this is my favorite!) can be annoying, but so is being dehydrated.
PRO TIP: Don’t forget to take your water bottle with you on your excursions. You can also ask your stateroom attendant for ice, just FYI.
Cruise Essentials: For Excursions
Cruise excursions are part of the fun of taking a cruise. Don’t forget to put these cruise essentials on your packing list.
A Great Day Bag
Day trips on port days are all part of the fun, so make sure you pack a great day bag to carry all your extra things. This can be anything from a regular backpack to something a little fancier. Just make sure it’s large enough to hold all your things (sunscreen, jackets, souvenirs, etc.)
PRO TIP: If you’re worried about theft while traveling on a cruise excursion, get an anti-theft bag to help ease your mind.
A Portable Charger
There’s nothing worse than being in another country (or place) and having your phone battery die. Pack a small portable charger in your bag (don’t forget the cords!) and you’ll be good to go…just in case you need it.
An Extra, Reusable Bag
Many stores across the world have stopped handing out plastic bags when you shop. Do yourself a favor and pop a small, reusable bag into your day pack just in case you need an extra bag while shopping.
If you have a potential wet adventure during your cruise excursion, make sure to add a dry bag to your cruise packing list. This bag can hold everything from phones and wallets to swimsuits and towels.
While everyone hopes they’ll have perfect weather during their trip, the reality is that it could potentially rain at any time. Save yourself the stress and pack a small umbrella in your day bag.
Cruise Essentials: On the Ship
This cruise essentials section is filled with a few extra things that are nice to have while aboard your ship. Are they absolutely essential? No. But will you be happy you have them? Yes.
Yes, a lanyard is kinda dorky. But also: they’re totally essential; your room key is your lifeline on a cruise. It’s how you get on/off the ship; it’s how you get into your room; it’s how you pay for anything, and it basically has to be on you at all times.
Wearing a lanyard is a perfect way to make sure you don’t lose it, and if you have kids I highly recommend they have one, too.
⫸⫸ Make sure when you get a lanyard it also comes with a clever clear badge holder like these ones. ⫷⫷
Fanny Pack/Crossbody Bag
I wish I was the type of person who could leave everything in my room except my room key, but I’m not. I like having my phone, and (at the very least) chapstick with me at all times.
But not all of my clothes have pockets, so a fanny pack/small cross-body bag like this one is the way to go. Plus, this one is anti-theft, so that rocks.
If you have a balcony (verandah), these binoculars have to go on your packing list for your cruise. We’ve spotted whales, dolphins, jellyfish, birds, animals, and other wildlife from our verandah.
If you don’t have a verandah and think you might go up to the top decks to watch the seas for signs of life, then pack these, too.
Pro Tip: My favorite time of day to watch for whales and dolphins is the early morning. I like to go up to the top deck and look out using the binoculars just as the sun comes up. There’s something magical about seeing them appear. Dolphins also like to ride the waves that the ship makes, so watch near the sides and back of the boat.
Walkie-Talkies (or Spare Phones)
Okay, truth be told, this is the only thing on this list that isn’t technically “essential” for your cruise must-haves, but if you have (older) kids it’s pretty fun. Walkie-talkies are a good way to keep tabs on the kids, or for them to play with each other.
Likewise, if your cruise has an internal chat system in place using the ship’s wifi, an old phone (without a sim card) is a great way for them to chat with you to stay in touch.
Cruise Essentials: For Your LuggAge/Packing
These are things that we find helpful for pretty much any trip we take, so I’m including them as things you should bring on a cruise.
Family Passport Holder
If you’re carrying more than two passports then you need this passport holder in your life. There’s no question about it: keeping passports from wandering off is essential, so this keeps them all in one place.
Shout out to my husband for this electronics bag, because otherwise our stuff would be scattered everywhere. It’s super handy to keep it all organized and to make sure you’re not forgetting anything behind when you leave.
Pro tip: Most cruise ships will have dual outlets (North American plugs and European plugs, but double-check with your cruise to see what they have in case you need to buy some adaptors).
Using packing cubes helps keep things organized, and when you have limited space on a cruise, organization is key.
Pro tip: If you have kids, I give them their own color-coded packing cube so they know which contains their clothes.
Every cruise will have an infirmary, but there’s no telling how much things will cost there. When you’re out and about shopping for your cruise, pick up some of the medicines you frequently use, but in their smaller sizes.
As far as things to bring on a cruise, zip-top bags should actually probably be at the very top of this list instead of the bottom. These are completely essential for any trip you take, not just a cruise.
They can double as a throw-up bag (you never know when you’ll need that) or as a place to toss a wet swimsuit. It’ll contain loose papers and as a trash bag when you’re out and about. Stuff several bags in your luggage and thank me later.
All the Things to Take on a Cruise
And that’s it! Do you think I covered all the cruise essential things to take on your vacation? I know this list may seem extensive, but they’ll make your trip run so much smoother.
Where are you headed on your cruise? I’d love to hear all about it! Is it your first cruise or are you a seasoned pro?