What to pack for a cruise? This question sends many cruisers into a panic. And no wonder: what with multiple destinations, variable weather and formal nights on board, you might be changing outfits three or four times a day. So how on earth can you fit all that into a tiny suitcase? Well, although some items are non-negotiable – medication, adapter, phone charger, sensible shoes for exploring – the rest is up to you.
And, as the most experienced cruisers will tell you, you don’t need as much as you think. We’ve spoken to the experts to see what they always have in their suitcase – and what they leave at home.
1. Be prepared
When thinking of what to pack for a cruise, try adding your first-day essentials to your hand luggage, advises stylist Lauren Jobling.
“Embarkation day is busy and it may take a while for luggage to reach your stateroom. But if you carry your swimwear, sunglasses, sun cream, medication and a change of clothes, you’ll have extra space in your case and you’ll be ready to start your holiday straight away. It’s also a good idea to keep travel documents and make-up inside a clutch, which you can pop inside a tote. Then you can use the clutch as an evening bag.”
2. Under cover
Whatever the dress code on your cruise, cover-ups are essential. “When people pack for warmer destinations they often think they won’t need an extra layer,” says Lauren. “But it can get chilly on deck in the evenings, so ladies should pack a pashmina – which can be rolled really small – while men should take a light crew-neck jumper that can be draped over the shoulders or layered over a shirt.”
3. Dress up, dress down
Image consultant Jacqui Cooper advises choosing outfits that can multi-task. ‘Take a maxi dress and glam it up with some shiny jewellery and heels in the evening,” she says. ‘Then you can wear the same dress with trainers, a floppy hat and a small leather backpack to go sightseeing by day. Jersey, Lycra and high- quality polyester are good fabric choices, as they won’t crease.”
4. Good night, sleep tight
If you’re sharing a cabin, your shipmate will thank you for not putting the light on every time you go to the bathroom at night. ‘Take a small torch,’ advises cruise vlogger Gary Bembridge, “and it’ll save you walking into the bedside table in the dark.’
Gary also packs earplugs and an eye mask. “You might get noise from cabins above or below you,”he says. “And if you’re heading north, maybe for the fjords or the Northern Lights, it may not get dark at night so an eye mask is a godsend.” These are just a few to tips to make sure you get a good night’s sleep while sailing.
5. Layer your luggage
Pack in three layers, advises Sue Hall, a regular traveller and blogger for Samuel Windsor menswear. “A combination of rolling and folding is best,” she says. “Put all the odd-shaped, awkward things, such as shoes, chargers and toiletries on the bottom layer. Then fill in all the gaps with rolled-up socks and underwear to make it as level as possible. The next layer is anything you can roll – T-shirts, pyjamas, jumpers and even some trousers.”
Once that’s flat, add your top layer of folded shirts, dresses, smart trousers and jackets.
6. Get organised
A shoe organiser is great for hanging over cabin doors and it can hold more than just footwear, says Gary Bembridge, author of The Cruise Traveller’s Handbook. An organiser may not be something that comes to mind when you’re thinking of what to pack for a cruise, but it will come in handy.
“Storage space can be an issue in smaller cabins,” he also says, “Use a shoe organiser for all your everyday things like sun cream, sunglasses, cruise cards and water bottles. Then they’re always to hand but not in your way.”
“You could even put your things in the organiser before it goes in the case. That way, when you arrive, you just take it out and hang it up.”
7. Let’s be clear
Every year, £150 million-worth of beauty products are confiscated at UK airports because they’re too big to take through security. Victoria Green, founder of the eponymous beauty-bag company, suggests using three-in-one bags that detach, so you carry the clear pouch through security and pack the rest in your case.
“I’d also take a waterproof wash bag with coat-hanger handles, as these are great for hanging up in small cabin bathrooms,” she adds. “Choose one with transparent pockets and you can see all your products easily.”
8. Some enchanted evening…
Formal nights not your style? Still take one glam outfit, says Lauren Jobling. “You might win a competition to have dinner with the Captain, or you might arrive at a beautiful destination and spontaneously decide to go out for a special meal.”
“If you don’t have the outfit, you don’t have the option – so take one cocktail or maxi dress or a wide-legged jumpsuit that could be super dressy. Gentlemen should pack at least one smart suit – they can always use the jacket with jeans for a smart casual look.”
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.