Cruise Carry on Packing List

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Cruises aren’t like any other form of travel. They’re a closed ecosystem: a mode of transport, hotel, amusement park and restaurant district all rolled into one. In part, that’s why people gravitate toward them – they offer a comprehensive, self-contained way to see the world.  Keep reading to check out our cruise carry on packing list.

Holland America Rotterdam

But that self-contained quality also makes packing a little tricky. Sure, if you forget to pack a toothbrush, you can find one at the on-board shop. But if you forget that green blazer you love so much? Unfortunately, you’re out of luck.  

For that reason, we recommend a methodical approach to packing for your next cruise. You want to ensure that you have everything you need without all the added baggage of an overpacked carry-on. To help you, we’ve compiled a complete cruise packing list, broken down into four convenient categories: clothing, essential items, electronics and toiletries. 

Before you set sail on embarkation day, use this guide to create a packing list, and divide your belongings into the following categories using packing cubes.  Now let’s talk about what you need for your cruise carry on packing list.

Why do I need a carry on?

If you’re taking a cruise, you might be wondering why you need a carry-on bag. After all, you’ll be spending most of your time on the ship, so what do you need to bring with you? The answer is that a carry-on bag can be very helpful, even on a cruise. First, it’s a good idea to have a place to store any valuables such as jewelry or important documents. Secondly, a carry-on bag can be useful for carrying any essential medications or other items that you might need while on the ship. Finally, if there’s bad weather or an emergency, having a carry-on bag can make it easier to evacuate the ship. So even though you might not think you need one, a carry-on bag can actually be very helpful on a cruise. I should also mention that sometimes your luggage can arrive late so you may want to pack your toiletries and a change of clothes for dinner as well as swimsuit if you are eager to get that tan going. Now let’s talk about what should be on your larger cruise carry on packing list.


There’s a lot to think about as you pack clothing for a cruise. You want to feel comfortable and leisurely, but you also need a formal change of clothes for evening wear. You want to pack light, breezy clothing for those hot summer days, but you also need warm wear for the chilly evening air. To cap everything off, you need sun-safe accompaniments and swimwear. 

Let’s start with the basics. For our money, the single best garment for a cruise is a merino wool t-shirt. Merino wool shirts – like these travel t -shirts for men or women’s merino wool t shirts – are the epitome of versatility. 

On their own, they are casual and stylish enough for the poolside. But with a suit jacket or drape jacket, they instantly transform into sophisticated evening wear. Merino wool is also highly adaptable to climate fluctuations, staying breathable in hot weather and insulating in cold weather. Finally, the material is naturally antimicrobial, meaning you can stay fresh for days in a merino t-shirt. These garments are basically tailor-made for your cruise carry-on. 

Aside from a merino t-shirt, consider packing the following clothing items: 

  • A Pair of Shorts
  • Underwear and Socks
  • A Casual Button-Down Shirt
  • Formal Wear (an evening wear option in case there’s a dress code prohibiting t-shirts; a button-down shirt and blazer or a cocktail dress should do the trick! Most cruise lines offer formal nights)
  • Flip Flops ( for a caribbean cruise)
  • Water Shoes
  • Pajamas
  • A Bathing Suit
  • A Brimmed Hat

Gather all of these items into two or three packing cubes for your cruise cabin, leaving out pressed items like suits, and fit them in the most accessible region of your carry-on luggage.  Sometimes having a carry -on packed with a change of clothes is great for the first day in case your suitcases don’t arrive to your cabin until late.

Cruise Carry on Packing List

Cruise Essentials

While cruise lines always feature an on-board medical staff, immediate access to a prescribing doctor with the requisite medications can be a dice roll. And as you travel from port to port in various countries, local authorities will need to see documentation for entry. These are the kinds of things to think about as you pack your “essential items.” 

For reference, here’s our list of essential items that we think is a good idea to pack, further subcategorized into: cards and documentation, medical, and miscellaneous. 

For “cards and documentation,” pack: 

  • Credit Cards
  • Travel Documents – like passports, immunization records and vaccine status
  • Travel Insurance
  • Alternative Photo ID

In the “medical” section of your luggage, include: 

  • Prescription Medications
  • Motion Sickness Meds
  • A First Aid Kit

And don’t forget a few miscellaneous to help make your trip safer and smoother: 

  • Luggage Tags
  • A Padlock
  • A Beach Bag – for shore excursions on land
  • Refillable Water Bottles – to stay hydrated on those day trips
  • Magnetic Hooks – to hang clothes in the cabin
  • And a Few Bottles of Wine – because, hey, you’re on vacation! Just remember to bring alcohol within the designated limits. (if your cruise line allows it)


While cruises are the perfect excuse to unplug from the hustle and bustle of the digital age, the fact remains that we still need our various electronics. It’s up to you which of these electronics you pack; as always, you’re packing for the trip you want

  • Cell Phone
  • A Portable Phone Charger – in case you can’t find an outlet on a debarkation
  • A Universal Adapter – if your cruise connects with countries that don’t use the North American type A/B plug or supply different voltage
  • Power Strip
  • Camera
  • Extra Memory Cards – if you’re trigger-happy with the camera!
  • A Portable WiFi
  • A Laptop
Cruise Carry on Packing List Toiletries


While most cruises supply you with the basics – shampoo, conditioner and body wash – it’s still best practice to top up your toiletries. If you’re loyal to particular brands of the products above, include them in your packing list. 

Here are a few items to pack in your toiletry kit for a cruise: 

  • Toothbrush and Floss
  • Razor with Extra Replacement Blades
  • Lip Balm – for that dry ocean air
  • Deodorant
  • Hair Products
  • Nail Clippers
  • Makeup
  • Feminine Products
  • Extra Contact Lenses and Solution – If applicable

What Not to Bring

So far, we’ve covered what you should bring aboard your next adventure. But just to be safe, let’s review a few items to leave at home. For most readers, these are common sense omissions, but they are worth mentioning nonetheless: 

  • Expensive Items/Valuable Items – go ahead and pack a couple of pieces of jewelry to complete your formal wear look, but leave the expensive stuff at home. 
  • Flammable Liquids 
  • Illegal Drugs

Hopefully, our cruise carry on packing list will help you plan for your next sailing. If you have any hot packing tips, or want to add your own essential items, use the reply section below to post a comment. Happy sailing!

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