What to take on a cruise: 10 smart tips


Deciding to take a cruise is easy. Deciding what to take on a cruise, not so much. I’ve seen people arrive at the dock with mountains of luggage — but no matter how much you pack, there can still be a few things missing.  Life in a tiny cabin on a big ship has its own demands, and experienced cruisers have found ways to meet them.

I’ve cruised numerous times, both on ocean ships and European river ships, so I know some of the secrets of packing smart. And veteran cruisers like to share their knowledge in the forums of websites like Cruise Critic and Cruisemates. So I’ve put together a few of my best suggestions and a few of theirs, to hep you figure out what to take on a cruise.  Some of these tricks are basic, some are ingenious, but all are smart and cruise-tested.

Here are my 10 ideas for what to take on a cruise.

Appropriate clothing for your cruise

If you haven’t cruised on a particular cruise line, it can be a puzzle figuring out exactly what clothes to bring. Will there be formal nights, and if so, what does “formal” mean on this line? Some lines want tuxedos; others hardly do formal at all. “Leisure wear” has different definitions on different lines, too; it can mean jeans, or smart slacks and polo shirts. Consult your cruise line’s website for its dress code. Then check the seasonal weather where you’re cruising, and you should have an idea of what to bring.

A warm sweater and an umbrella

Umbrella in AthensWhile you’re choosing your wardrobe, remember that even in hot places, it can get cold. So it’s always wise to bring a jacket or sweater for protection if a chilly wind happens to sweep in, or if you decide to take an excursion in the mountains. It can come in handy when they crank up the air conditioner in the dining room or theatre, too. And while it seems obvious, it’s easy to forget to bring an umbrella or fold-up raincoat. Even if you use it once, it’s worth the weight.

A power bar

A lot of cruisers find there aren’t enough outlets in a cruise ship cabin for all the electronic devices they bring along, plus appliances like hair dryers. A power bar lets you charge several things at once using only one outlet. Some have USB ports for charging things like cellphones and tablets, too. Another trick to maximize your power outlets: bring a European electrical converter so you can use the Euro-style outlets you may find in your cabin. Why should they go to waste?

Zip-lock bags

These are one of my travel essentials, and they’re just useful on a cruise ship as they are for regular travel. You can use them to organize your what to take cruising z[p-lock bagstuff, keep power cords and jewellery from snarling, bring wet bathing suits back from the beach, carry food, protect your camera or cellphone from water and sand … the list of uses is endless. Many cruisers advise putting bottles of sunscreen or other liquids in these when you pack them so they don’t leak all over everything in your suitcase. Others find them perfect for packing their medications. Bring several sizes: you never know what you might need them for.

Over-the-door shoe organizers

It can be hard to keep all your stuff organized in a cruise ship cabin, especially if you’re travelling as a family. Experienced cruisers say they can multiply their storage space by hanging these organizers over a door in their cabin. With their multiple pockets, they can hold a lot of stuff — everything from shoes to cameras to sunscreen to kids’ toys. And they keep frequently used things in plain sight, so you don’t have to go rummaging through the drawers to find them.

Downy Wrinkle Releaser

Do your clothes sometimes come out of your bag looking like an elephant sat on them? Some veteran cruisers put their trust in a product called Downy Wrinkle Releaser when it comes to saving clothing in distress. A travel-sized spray bottle of it is all you need. Give the wrinkled areas a few sprays, smooth them with your hands, then hang the garment on a hanger for a couple of hours. If you can’t find Wrinkle Releaser, try a spray bottle filled with plain water – not quite as good, but cheaper.

The Scrubba

If you’re on a long cruise, and your ship doesn’t have self-serve laundry facilities, this device can save you from paying the cruise line’s laundry What to take on a cruise The Scrubbaprices. The Scrubba is an ingenious little bag that lets you wash your clothes anywhere you have water. You put the clothes inside, add soap and water, and scrub for three to five minutes. A little “washboard” inside helps get the clothes clean. Afterward, the bag folds up small enough to put in your pocket. My colleague the AlteCocker swears by these. Many outdoor stores sell the Scrubba, including Canada’s Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Google Translate

If you’re going to foreign countries on your cruise, it’s nice to speak a few words of their language,or at least understand what the street signs mean. Short of a crash language course, the best tool for this is Google Translate: this amazing web utility translates instantly, from almost any language. You type, paste or even speak the foreign words, and voilà — they appear in English, or whatever language you prefer. All you need is a cellphone, tablet or computer. Google Translate also works offline if you have an Android device; you download the languages you want and call them up when needed. The translations are not always perfect, but you get the gist.

 Travel guides

It seems like a lot of effort to bring along travel guides when you’re only going to spend a day in each port. But nowadays places like Amazon sell thewhat to take on a cruise Paris guidebook Kindle or Kobo versions of travel guides for less than $10. The maps and background info in these guides can add a lot to your port days. They can help you decide whether you really need to take an excursion, or provide the information to plan an itinerary on your own. Even if you don’t buy the published guides, think about making your own port guides, using info from travel blogs like this one and other web resources. You can check out The Travelling Boomer’s city guides here).

Business cards

We’ve all met someone we liked on board and then lost them in the crowd, never to be seen again. How to prevent this? Some experienced cruisers recommend writing your cabin number on your business cards, or bringing personal cards with your shipboard contact info. This doesn’t have to be expensive — you can make simple business cards on your own computer, for next to nothing. Give these to the people you meet: they may give you their contact info in return.

Those are my 10 suggestions for what to take on a cruise. Hopefully, you found a few that will make for smoother cruise the next time you set sail. If not, just spend some time at the bar …


About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.


  1. Paul: These are good recommendations for any kind of travel. I’ve never been on a cruise – may I assume that all cruise lines have standard US-style power outlets so that no adapter is needed? As someone who wears glasses, I always pack a second pair (even if they’re an older prescription).

  2. Thanks for sharing these great tips. I can vouch for a few of them, but I’ve never seen The Scrubba before! For longer cruises, I can definitely see that little laundry bag becoming a lifesaver for getting clothes clean.

    • Thanks, John. The Scrubba seems to have been designed principally for backpackers, but it’s well suited to cruisers a well. A lot better than adding more charges to your on-board tab.

  3. Interesting tips, good for travel in general! I have taken a few cruises and on my next one next year I will use the tips here for the Downy wrinkle release and the over the door shoe organizer. This last one in particular I think is really useful as we are a family of 3 and always short on counter and drawer space for all our toilettries, sunscreens, socks, etc. so this would be a great solution! Also, I looked into the Scrubba, it looked like a great idea especially for us washing underwear, but it is actually really expensive ($64 CAD at MEC) for us where we would just use it to wash underwear if anything, which even if we used the laundry service (which we never do) wouldn’t cost that much for a bag of underwear.

    • Thanks for commenting, Astrogal. That does seem expensive — I wonder if you can buy the Scrubba online for less. If so, it’s probably worth it, since you can use it over and over again. Some people use them for camping trips and other kinds of travel where getting laundry done can be a problem.

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