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How to pack for a cruise holiday

Don't let packing become a nightmare. Following our guide and ensure that you have everything you need for your cruise holiday

Packing a suitcase

Posted on

18 Aug 2017

There are usually two types of people when it comes to packing for a holiday: those who have a detailed list and ensure their suitcase is ready weeks before they travel, and those who leave it to the day before. No matter which you are, our guide on how to pack for a cruise holiday is sure to give you some extra inspiration.

The majority of us have been through that exasperating panic as you blindly dig through your luggage on your hotel or cabin bed looking for that pair of shorts, charger or sun lotion before the realisation sinks in that you’ve forgotten it. It is, at the end of the day, always better to have something and not need it than need something and not have it.

Monica Stott from the stylish adventure blog The Travel Hack offered her thoughts on packing for a cruise holiday:

“My top tip when packing for a cruise would be to not worry about space and pack everything you think you'll need. One of the joys of a cruise is that you have a lovely bedroom where you can unpack your bags and make yourself at home for the duration of your holiday. You don't need to worry about lugging your bags about and packing and unpacking your suitcase as you move to each new destination. A cruise is one of the very rare travel opportunities where you can take as much as you like without it worrying about it all weighing you down!”

As Monica says, you don’t need to worry about traipsing around a city centre in a foreign country with all of your luggage looking for your hotel. On a cruise holiday, whether it’s a no-fly cruise or not, you just need to worry about taking it to your cabin once aboard. If you have booked a world cruise holiday and are away for months rather than a couple of weeks, Monica’s advice really rings true. You want to ensure that you have enough for you to get by and enjoy the trip.

That said, if you are conscious of over-packing or maybe misplacing anything, perhaps you should heed the advice that John Roberts, a cruise travel writer who operates the website In The Loop Travel, offered:

"Travellers always want to get the optimal use out of their often-limited packing space.

So, the key to smart packing - for any environment - is to always think about versatility. You want to pack items of clothing that can be used more than once on your trip. You can mix and match to create different outfits and keep your packing lighter. Look for light, breathable materials that can be layered, so you can add or subtract layers as weather conditions dictate."

The fact is, a cruise holiday isn’t like a regular getaway. You’re aboard a moving vessel for weeks at a time, miles from the nearest store. That is why it’s important to know how to pack for a cruise holiday.

This guide will offer advice on packing for some of the most desirable cruise destinations, whether you are visiting them individually or as a part of a world cruise. Each is different to the next, offering a different type of cruise experience and therefore, a different packing list.  


A Caribbean cruise holiday is the ultimate in luxury travel. There are few more desirable destinations; the sun, crystal-clear waters and brilliant beaches. But what do you pack to really make the most of your time? We spoke to Jason Leppert, the founder of Popular Cruising, who offered some advice for anyone heading to the Caribbean:

“The Caribbean is pretty toasty year-round, so it’s helpful to pack lighter clothing in the shorts and t-shirts families, but it’s also important to consider your shore side touring once you arrive. The tropical atmosphere also certainly warrants protection by way of hats and sunscreen. Of course, staying hydrated is crucial as well. Be mindful of each individual cruise line’s restrictions for bringing your own drinks on board and check to see if they offer discounts on purchasing bottled water packages on the ship since many do. Lastly, in some regions it can be a good idea to additionally bring along insect repellent.”

Packing light

This can be taken two ways, but we’re talking about the clothing. With glorious sunshine and hot climates, you’re going to want to pack light and non-restricting clothes that will keep you cool when you’re enjoying the entertainment on board or exploring the islands ashore. Check out our great infographic if you’re not sure what you can wear on your cruise.

Prepare for the sun

Swimsuits, shorts, flip flops and sunscreen are a must on a Caribbean cruise. Ensure that you are packing at least two of everything because after all, you are heading to a tropical paradise of turquoise waters and white-sand beaches, so the likelihood is that you will enjoy some water sports or swimming. That said, you should still pack a couple of sweatshirts, pashminas or jumpers for the cooler evenings underneath the cruise ship’s air con.

Bring the basics

There are some things that some cruise ships lack that you should consider bringing. Some may be without alarm clocks, so bring your own or simply use the one on your mobile phone. More of the basics include the obvious sunscreen - imperative in the Caribbean given the regular sunshine - and batteries and extra storage space for your devices and gadgets. You don’t want to be enjoying your dream cruise holiday destination, only to find that your camera has run out of juice, or that you have filled up the memory card with much of your trip still to come.


You’re really going to want to make the most of the sunshine. Fortunately, there are plenty of outdoor pursuits for you to enjoy in the Caribbean and aboard your ship. So be sure to pack a pair of ‘sport’ trainers for any tennis or walking, as well as some flip flops and sandals for the inevitable beach trip. It is also advised to pack a pair or two of dress shoes that you can wear to dinner.

Women on the beach with hat

Day bag

This is something that is relevant for almost any cruise destination. Your day bag can be your trusted rucksack or anything that you can just sling over your shoulder. Here you can stash all of your sun lotion, games, towels, spare clothes and even valuables. It may seem obvious or even unnecessary, but you will be glad you packed it.

Northern Lights Cruises

The Northern Lights are quite possibly the most spellbinding natural phenomena on the planet. The dancing colours have inspired people for thousands of years, with the event steeped in legend. We’ve all seen photos and videos of the spectacle, but there is nothing quite like experiencing the spectacle in person. And the best way to do it is on a Northern Lights cruise.


You have been waiting weeks for the chance to catch a glimpse of the most famous event in nature and you don’t want to waste a moment. When Mother Nature presents the Northern Lights in the skies above your head take your time to appreciate the magnitude of it; its beauty and spellbinding ore. Savour the moment.

But the truth is that human retinas can only pick up the redder parts of the Northern Lights, meaning the best way to encapsulate the moment is through a camera. Often, you’ll be surprised by your results of vivid colour and size, as it will reveal more than you could see in person.

As John Roberts says, the most important thing to do is pack the right camera and the right lenses:

“For Norway and a Northern Lights cruise, make sure you have the right type of camera, with the proper lens capabilities. You don't want to travel all that distance to see this phenomenon and not get your best shots.”

You should invest in a full frame or 35mm camera, as these will provide a much superior image quality. Add to this a wide angled lens. Having such a lens means that you can capture the stunning landscapes of your surroundings, which will no doubt make for a much better photo.


It will be cold when you go to see the Northern Lights. The areas where the event is most common is in the polar regions with temperatures ranging from -5C to -35C depending on where you are going and the time of year.

Danielle, also known as Cruise Miss, offered her advice for packing for a Northern Lights cruise:

“If you're heading out on a Northern Lights cruise then it is essential you have the correct clothing for it. Thermals (including thermal socks) are an absolute must, but also be sure to have a warm and waterproof coat, waterproof trousers, snow boots and a hat and earmuffs. It can be very cold indeed, especially if you're out all night chasing the Aurora Borealis. Gloves are also an absolute must, but be sure to take 2 pairs with you at all times. If you're out and you get wet, you still have warm and dry hand coverings.” 

The northern lights


Of course, you want to be warm, but you should also be comfortable. When preparing for the Lights, adopt the three-layer principle: inner, middle, outer. The inner layer should be long underwear from a synthetic material which will help to move moisture away from the skin. Avoid cotton, as this can actually cool your body down.

For the middle layer, try thermal leggings or woollen padded trousers. Many feel the need to bring waterproofs with them for such trips, but the reality is that these areas are very dry, even the snow. To regulate your temperature, choose several thinner layers of clothing, as the air trapped between items will create a warm insulation. So, wrap yourself up in a couple of t-shirts, jumpers, sweaters or pullovers.

Also known as the shell layer, your outer layer will provide further insulation on top of the middle layer. You want something large and comfortable that will fit well over your other layers, so choose a thick jacket with pockets and a hood.

Elsewhere, make sure you are bringing along a warm hat. Though you don’t lose 40% of your body heat through your head, a warm hat that covers the ears will help to keep your core temperature up. Similarly pack some thermal gloves and socks. You can be exposed to the elements for a number of hours and your hands and feet can suffer.


You can see the lights aboard your ship, but if you are venturing on land then you should pack one sturdy pair of bunny, mukluks or muck boots. They provide thick insoles as well as insulated uppers which will not only prevent heat loss, but ensure you have a sturdy footing amongst the snow and ice. On the ship you can get away with walking boots, but remember that it will be cold.

The little extras

With so many layers you’re bound to have a number of pockets at your disposal, but none will manage to compete with a good backpack. In there you can pack some water, snacks, your camera and camera equipment and much more. It also means it is a safe and secure place for you to keep hold of any important items - you can easily drop or lose your phone or key when your hands are cold.

Along with your hats, gloves and thermal socks, pack a windproof balaclava or a face mask. These will protect your face from the cold and wind while you are outside under the spectacle of the lights or among the various activities you can enjoy at your destinations.

With the weather being particularly cold, we advise bringing some lip balm and moisturiser. On top of this make sure you are packing some sunscreen. It might sound a little unnecessary, but exposure to the snow can put your skin at risk.


Your Northern Lights cruise isn’t all about the night sky, so pack a pair of polarised sunglasses. Ultraviolet (UV) light reflects four times more off snow so make sure you have them with you when exploring or appreciating the views during the day.


Bali is widely decorated across travel guides as the jewel in Indonesia’s crown and indeed, a tropical paradise that few other destinations can compare with. The island has been enticing travellers for centuries, from surfers to writers and artists. And now, yourself. Ahead of your world cruise you should be suitably prepared for beautiful Bali. 

Couple snorkelling


John Roberts from In the Loop Travel offered a couple of suggestions to include when packing for Bali aboard a world cruise:

“For Bali, of course you'll want your swimwear, but also be ready to battle the bugs. Pack a good sunscreen with bug repellent and breathable, comfortable walking shoes. Also, women can pack flowing and colourful scarves that serve as proper cover when visiting holy sites and as protection against insects and blazing sun.”

Bug spray

Being well equipped before any cruise is important, but particularly so when heading to Bali. Bug spray is an absolute necessity when visiting the area. If you are around any bodies of water, particularly in the evening, be sure to be well covered in repellent.


Indonesia is a tropical destination and one that does spark the thoughts of swimsuits, bikinis and shorts. But you’ll find that the locals dress rather conservatively. Bali is a Hindu island and as such you should respect local customs and ensure that you are wearing clothes which cover your knees and shoulders, particularly if you plan to visit any temples or religious sites.

Of course, you’re not going to get cold on the island, so try light, flowing cotton clothing. Thanks to the temperature your packing will be much lighter than a cruise to other locations and there are many places where you can buy a hat, flip flops or t-shirts and smaller items. 


Depending on what you plan to do with your time in Bali you can happily go about your business in a pair of flip flops or sandals. What with the pristine beaches and strong sun you’re not going to crave a decent pair of walking boots or robust trainers, but it is worth packing some if you plan on exploring the local terrain. Mount Batur or Gunung Agung are awaiting your discovery and offer some unforgettable sights, but you will need to be wearing suitable footwear to prevent any injury.

First aid bag and sanitiser

Bali is an unspoilt paradise and you really don’t want anything ruining that, particularly not a stomach bug or small ailment. A first aid bag is something that no one really wants to think about before their long anticipated cruise holiday, but as we said before, you would rather have something and not need it than need something and not have it.

Walk-in pharmacies offer just about everything you may need, but if you have specific needs or requirements then ensure that you bring plenty of your own. Include plasters, bug spray, Imodium, hand sanitiser for public bathrooms and ibuprofen if you’re planning on indulging in a couple of those beach cocktails.

A cruise to the Antarctic

There are few sights on Earth that quite compare to the incredible white horizon of the Antarctic. With a quite unbelievable landscape, your cruise to this far-flung corner of the world will be unlike any other.

Antarctica cruise


Like the Northern Lights, you are going to want to make the most of your time in this area by not only being comfortable, but also by recording it effectively.

Suntan lotion

We spoke to Megan Jerrard from Mapping Megan, the award winning travel blog, about what we should pack for Antarctica and she suggested suntan lotion:

Pack suntan lotion on an Antarctica Cruise. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? But I highly recommend you pack solid sunblock before you go. As winter in Antarctica is severe and inhospitable, trips are only run during summer months between November and March. And even though summer temperatures might dip below zero, the sun can shine out in full force.

“Summer is a great time to experience Antarctica, because you benefit from extended hours of sunlight; it’s almost never dark. However don’t let the chilly conditions fool you – the hole in the ozone layer and the light’s reflection off the water and ice means high levels of UV exposure, and you’re not safe from the sun.

“Antarctica may not exactly be a tropical location, but you can easily get sunburnt in the snow. UV radiation is reflected from light surfaces on the ground, and because snow reflects up to 80 percent of the UV light from the sun, it means you’re often being hit by the same rays twice.

“So to protect your skin, make sure you pack water-resistant sunscreen (at least SPF30+) and wear sunglasses (they help with the glare a lot too)!”


Antarctica is a quite dry place in reality. That said, you should still bring with you waterproof gear, as you may get wet on trips on smaller boats closer to shore. John Roberts suggests the following before your cruise holiday:

“For Antarctica, you know you will need all sorts of warming gear (hats, gloves, boots, parka) and waterproof gear. If possible, you might seriously consider whether it would be better for you to rent these items and save the hassle of an enormous amount of packing. Most expedition lines traveling to this region offer rental options to cruisers.” 


It is hard to ever quite prepare yourself for a cruise to Antarctica. It is magnificent. But to combat the sun’s rays bouncing back from the snow and ice, make sure that you pack some sunglasses and plenty of face cream and moisturiser. These will help to protect your eyes and skin from the strong UV rays, as well as the temperatures which can cause the skin to crack. 

Cruises to Antarctica


One thing that is often forgotten when packing for a cruise holiday is an extension cord, or power strip. It is one of the things that Jennifer Fishkind from Princess Pinky Girl picked out as when we asked what she would bring: “I would say my must haves are a power strip (for plugging in multiple devices at once! And my package rain coat. It packs into nothing and is perfect to throw into my daypack. Best advice for those not so typical destinations is dress in layers. Makes it easy to adjust what you are wearing for unsuspecting weather changes!”


Leave the flip flops at home. For this cruise you’re going to want to pack warm and sturdy footwear, durable enough to give you a sure footing. Lace up boots will work well to insulate your feet, but accompany any footwear with insulated or even heated socks that you can find online or on your high street.


When choosing what camera to bring with you, why not do as the professionals do and go for a DSLR. Their delivery of excellent image quality will help you to perfectly capture the alien landscapes.

Along with that, you’ll need to bring a couple of lenses. Try a telephoto lens for wildlife and for longer shots, while bring a wide angle zoom lens for its versatility. Ensure that you have packed plenty of batteries or chargers for you camera, as well as some memory sticks or even a hard drive to store your shots.


Antarctica isn’t just a great land of snow and ice. There is plenty of wildlife to be seen on your cruise, so pack some binoculars to make sure you don’t miss out on anything. Whales breaching, seals relaxing on ice or birds fishing can be seen in the surrounding waters.

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