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We are getting ready to leave for our latest cruise: Miami to Key West to Cuba & back!
I CANNOT WAIT!!
That’s me^^^, freaking out, because I cannot wait to get out of the midwest for a week in the SUN.
This is our 3rd cruise and I feel like I learned a lot of what to pack, and what not to pack, on the first two cruises we took.
What’s not to like about a beachy cruise port with cocktails & sand??
Our first cruise was a Western Caribbean family cruise that included 3 of our 4 daughters and one boyfriend. We left out of New Orleans, which was *amazing*, and we went to Roatan, Belize & Cozumel. WE thought it was great. The kids? Eh. Two of them weren’t 21, so they couldn’t drink or go to the clubs/bars at night, and they were too old for the “teen” stuff, so they were a little bored while on the ship. They hadn’t mastered the art of lounging, no WiFi was an issue and lets just say we haven’t been compelled to include them again, lol!
The second cruise was just me and my husband and we left from Miami and went to Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. We have mastered the art of lounging and we had a FANTASTIC TIME.
My #1 Reason for Loving Cruises
My husband has a very demanding corporate job that is basically 7 days a week, 10+ hours a day, with random phone calls at all hours of the day and night, even on weekends, and constant checking of email. Rarely is there an evening he doesn’t log in from home to work some more. He doesn’t go into work on the weekends, but he puts in time every single weekend.
Aside from international travel (which we are yet to experience) a cruise ship in the middle of nowhere with no cell signal and no WiFi is the ONLY WAY my husband can get a break from his job. Literally the only way. He’s had to cancel trips with the family at the last minute, I’ve had to drive the kids to Florida and have him meet us there, he’s missed outings, events & tours due to phone calls…it’s ridiculous and I wish we’d discovered cruising years ago. Last year we went to Florida and he worked from there with intermittent trips to the beach and I made an executive decision that this year’s vacation would be a cruise. So here we are, headed to Key West & Cuba in just a few days!
What to Pack
Cruise ships are fantastic and they have a lot of amenities, but if you forget something you’re pretty much stuck paying an outrageous price for it or waiting until you get to a port so you can pay a slightly less outrageous price for it. I highly recommend you start making a list of things as you think of them to minimize what may be forgotten. Of course you’ll pack what you usually pack for vacations- clothing, toiletries, makeup, medicine, etc. If you’re cruising to tropical locations you’ll want to pack what you pack for beach vacations: sunscreen, hat, coverup, etc. If you’re cruising to a mild climate, like Alaska, you’ll want to pack winter items to keep you warm on the deck, your balcony and in the ports.
This post is to suggest some items you may want to pack specifically for your cruise ship that you probably haven’t thought of unless you’ve suddenly thought “well it would be nice to have a _____” while on a cruise.
Your stateroom will be nice, but it’s minimalist and when you’re dealing with multiple people in a *VERY* small space the easier you can make it on yourself the better.
First And Foremost
When you arrive at port your luggage is going to go one way & you’re going to go the other. It’s like checking baggage on a plane, except it’s not there when you get on the ship. It will be brought to your stateroom. While the baggage handlers are usually speedy, be sure to have a few items with you so you can make the most of your trio from the minute you step on board: sunscreen, your floppy hat, etc.
I am going to recommend several products that I either use myself, will be purchasing for my upcoming cruise or that have excellent ratings. I’m not going to link to every little thing because a lot of these items you can probably find laying around your house. Dollar stores are also a great source for some of these items!
For Your Stateroom
- A bungee cord to hold your balcony door open for breezes and also to string up a clothesline in your teeny tiny bathroom to hang up your swimsuit.
- A nightlight, especially if you are in an interior room without windows. It is DARK.
- A small power strip or multi-plug outlet– outlets are few & far between so a multi-plug outlet with ports for USB cords are necessary. Please note power strips with surge protectors are not allowed on cruise ships because they can be a fire hazard.
- A small oscillating fan because the rooms are often warmer than you’d like and not all boats have extra fans. If you are hot like me you’ll be happy you made room for a little fan. It’s a far better use of suitcase space than *another* pair of shoes, trust me.
- Wine. Most cruise ships will allow one bottle of wine or champagne per person. (No beer or liquor.) It’s so nice to have a bottle of wine in the evening while on your balcony! Bring bottles with a “screw top” so you can open them because your corkscrew may be confiscated as a “weapon.” (Also, as a note- most cruise dining rooms will hold your bottle of leftover wine for you for the following evening’s dinner if you don’t finish the bottle! I know, I know. Leftover wine?) Double check before attempting to bring wine, pop or a case of water as things change & all lines are different.
- A carabiner – these things are so darn handy! Use them to clip your reusable water bottle to your backpack or life jacket or belt loop while you’re out on excursions.
- Over the door hooks – space is limited and having a few extra places to hang things is really helpful.
- Magnetic hooks – your stateroom walls will be metal. The hooks will allow for additional storage & also double as magnets so you can stick important things tot he wall, like itineraries, port maps & schedules.
- A white noise machine – you may want to check where your room is in relation to the engine room or elevators. If your room is near either one you may want to bring a noise machine. (You can also download an app before you leave if that’s easier.)
- Over the door organizers/ hanging sweater bins – we’ve never needed these, but if you’re traveling with kids or you wear a lot of accessories people swear they are a lifesaver in a cramped stateroom.
- Towel clips for your towel on your coveted lounge chair on the deck. It’s windy out there and you don’t want to lose your seat because your towel flew away. Why would you leave your chair? Cocktails, potty breaks, and dips in the pool or hot tub. If you want to be able to spot your chairs from far away in a sea of towel clips, the more obnoxious the better. These are great!
- A highlighter to highlight things you want to do in the daily ship agenda.
- Post-It Notes – it’s difficult to communicate with cabin-mates or friends you are traveling with (or meet on board!) because there is often no cell service. Sticky notes let you leave notes in your cabin or on other peoples’ doors.
- Hotel key card – we have not personally experienced this, but I do have a couple in our “cruise bag” just in case. Apparently on some ships you have to put your key card in a slot to turn on the lights or the AC. A couple old key cards solve the problem of potentially forgetting your key- and it lets you leave your AC running while you’re out. (I’m telling you, the rooms get HOT.)
- Laptop. No! Not for work. Did you know you can download shows & movies from Netfilx before you go on your trip? Something to watch during downtime (or goodness forbid you get sick!) is often nice.
- Backpack or fanny pack – you’ll need something to hold the copy of your passport (don’t take the actual passport into port!) or your passport card, your first aid kit, anything you may need for your excursions, like your water shoes & sunscreen, and whatever else you can’t be without while you’re off the shop for 10 hours.
- Beach towels – depending on your cruise line you may not have unlimited access to beach towels, which means they may not dry completely by the next day. A second towel may be helpful. I’ve also read that Carnival charges $30 for lost beach towels. That wasn’t the case when we cruised with them, but it makes me want to double check our cruise line’s policy!
- Snorkel masks – it’s one thing to rent flippers, but I’d like my snorkel to only have graced my mouth. It’s a matter of personal opinion, of course, but if you’re going to snorkel it’s something to think about. Plus it may be cheaper to buy than rent in port.
Personal Care Items
- Bug spray if you’re going anywhere tropical.
- Motion sickness medicine – either pills or the bracelet, but at the very least ginger chews.
- Imodium AD for tummy troubles.
- Sunburn relief – such as aloe or special lotion, just in case.
- Wrinkle release spray – most ships don’t have irons, so if you’re packing items that tend to wrinkle, like linen, you may want to take some wrinkle spray.
Clothing & Accessories
- Cruise-specific luggage tags – these are heavy duty to hold the tags you will print at home that can easily become damaged during the baggage handling process. Better safe than sorry!
- Water shoes – especially important if you are doing any sort of waterfall climbing or cave tubing.
- A market bag – to hold all of the items you purchase in port or to carry items you’ll need in port for whatever activity you’re doing. (I am so excited that I just found this bag on Amazon! I bought it in Vancouver and then accidentally left it at a restaurant in Mt. Dora, FL. <weep>)
- Exceptionally comfortable shoes – if you leave the ship you’re going to do a lot of walking.
- An umbrella – I swear we buy one almost everywhere we go! Now I have one in our “cruise bag” with the rest of this stuff!
- Sun hats – pretty much anywhere tropical you go is hotter & sunnier than anywhere in the US. Avoid raccoon eyes & a nasty sunburn by taking a cute sun hat. Don’t forget about your husband’s head, especially if he is follically challenged. (Errrr..bald.) Because I need one more hat I’m treating myself to this one:
- Sandals that easily go from day to night.
- A poncho or foldable raincoat.
- A bathrobe. Did you know you can often shower in the spa? This is particularly helpful information for mama’s who need a break. 😉 You can shower in a nice, large, luxury shower while Dad gets the kids in & out of the stateroom’s tiny shower. This is also helpful for two people who want to get ready at the same time.
Random Miscellaneous Stuff
- Small denomination bills for tipping and inexpensive souvenir purchases. Bring LOTS of $1’s and several $5’s- you’ll be surprised how many people there are to tip for little things, especially in port. (Tour drivers, shuttle drivers, chair & towel setter uppers- so many people.) On board ATM fees can be as high as $15, so get plenty of cash before you leave the US.
- Local currency – the rate to get Cuban money in Cuba is crazy! I’m sure other ports are similar and while most accept Visa & USD not all do. Check before you leave.
- Reusable water bottle – both boats we’ve been on had refill areas and it’s just easier, especially if you drink a lot of water. Plus you’ll want to take your own fresh water into ports & on excursions.
- A Go-Pro – this waterproof camera is *awesome.* It is compact and takes fantastic pictures. If you’re scuba diving or snorkeling I’d say it’s a MUST! Be sure to check out the accessories you can get, too.
- A small first aid kit. The staff may be able to assist with some things but that’s kind of a pain if you need a bandaid, bug bite cream, a safety pin, nail clippers, etc.
- Plastic umbrella bags – like the complementary ones from Target or Walgreens to keep your umbrella from dripping. These are perfect for sandy beach shoes and wet bathing suits on the last day.
- A lanyard for your keycard. This may seem “dorky” but it’s really helpful because odds are you won’t be hauling your purse around the ship with you. The card unlocks your door and lets you charge things to your room, so you’ll want to have it handy.
- Gallon ziploc bags – you just never know what will be too gross to go right in your bag…
- Waterproof phone & money cases – this is especially important if you are doing any water sports that you’ll want to capture on your phone. There will likely not be anywhere safe off of the ship to leave your phone so you’ll need to take it with you.
- A “dry bag” – if you’re going on a wave runner ride you’re going to want to bring alll of your stuff. A dry bag can clip to your life jacket strap so your valuables can stay with you.
- Walkie- Talkies – we haven’t felt the need to bring these, but we’ve seen a lot of people with them. I think if we were traveling with tweens or young teens we wanted to let explore the ship, but still keep tabs on them, we would invest in a quality, water-resistant set. (I’d label them with your room #, too, just in case they are lost.) Some cruise lines have less expensive “messaging only” wifi you can purchase, but we’re yet to find it!
- Power banks – keep them charged in your stateroom and bring them with you in the ports in case your phone dies. I’ve bought so many cheap ones that either break or don’t give you a full charge that I am definitely upgrading before this next trip!
- Playing cards – just in case the weather is bad on a sea day or your travel companion is feeling under the weather.
- Small binoculars in case you see something “out there” and you want a closer look. WILSON!!
- Dual headphone splitter – my husband and I are kind of weird. Sometimes we listen to the same podcast at the same time (like on the plane or while lounging in the sun) so we can discuss it over dinner or while walking. The dual headphone jack works great for this!
- Little safety scissors – hard to come by on board if you need them! (None with sharp tips, though, as they may be confiscated.)
- A small collapsible cooler – save some money by ordering room service sandwiches and fruit to take into ports for lunch or snacks. This is especially helpful if you’re traveling with little kids who eat constantly. (Room service has been free on the cruises we’ve been on & researched.) Check with your cruise line that they permit coolers – most allow small beverage coolers.
What Not to Pack
- The obvious: weapons, including pocket knives & pepper spray, ammunition, illegal substances, prohibited alcoholic beverages, fireworks. Replicas of weapons are also not permitted.
- Some things you may think are not a big deal that are in fact prohibited for being a fire hazard, such as clothes steamer/iron, power strips with surge protectors, candles, hookah supplies, incense.
- Anything that is slightly questionable should be researched prior to boarding: drones, martial arts gear, HAM radios, hover boards, inline skates, etc.
- A lot of clothing and shoes! Space is really limited. Try to plan to wear things more than once and save yourself the stress of an even more cramped state room.
- The first cruise we went on I took “formal night” way too seriously. It’s not *that* dressy. Try to find photos from previous cruisers by checking Trip Advisor and join the message boards for your specific cruise line and ship on Cruise Critic for specific formal night details.
- While formal night typically has the best food, you may want to consider skipping it in favor of a reservation at one of the ship’s restaurants. This way you don’t have to worry about being overdressed or underdressed or buying new clothes you’ll only wear once.
- Too many books. They are heavy and unless you are a voracious reader you’re not going to read as much as you think. Many cruise lines have libraries on their boats, too!
- Hairdryer – your room will have one.
- Ripped jeans or “booty shorts” – most cruise lines have dress codes that are loose, but not *that* loose.
- Baby monitors.
IMPORTANT TRAVEL TIPS FOR EVERY VACATION
- Do you need a passport? It’s kind of important! US residents can check out this article on obtaining (or renewing) a passport.
- At least a week or two before our trips I start writing down items to pack as I think of them. This way I have a better chance of remembering to pack easy to forget items and I don’t have to purchase them in pricey resort sundry shops. (Think contact eyedrops, allergy meds, extra earbuds, etc.)
- Make copies of important documents, such as your passport, ID, credit cards, bank info, reservation info, etc. and keep it separate from the actual documents. If you are traveling out of the country be sure to have copies of your passport and extra passport photos. In a pinch you may still be able to travel if your passport is lost or stolen. You should also alert your bank that you will be traveling so there are no issues with your accounts or credit cards.
- Change the lock screen on your phone to a screenshot of your “in case of emergency” contact info and info on how to reach you if you misplace your phone and someone finds it. This way if your phone is locked, the information needed is available without the passcode.
- The best travel tip I have ever heard is to take half as much clothing, and twice as much money, as you think you will need. This is so true! You probably know from experience that you overpack and don’t wear half of the clothing you brought. If this is the case, you also know that because you brought too much clothing, anything you bought on your trip is almost impossible to fit in your already stuffed suitcase! And, you’ve probably gone on a vacation and thought, “shoot! I really want to <do something awesome> but I don’t have enough money! Since I started following this advice I have been a much happier camper! I’m able to fit more in my suitcase upon our return, and we’re able to do more spur of the moment activities because we’ve brought a little extra money. If you save up for an additional month you’ll be happy to have that extra money with you. And if you don’t spend it? Great! Use it to jumpstart your next vacation savings!
- Consult the locals about restaurants and hotspots. We had the best Jamaican chicken ever by asking a local in Jamaica where to eat that wasn’t flooded with tourists. He took us down the road and around a corner to a restaurant, ate with us and told us some great stories. In exchange, we treated him to lunch. It was one of our best lunch experiences because it was authentic.
- And last, but possibly most importantly, be flexible! Things happen. There are delays. Reservations are lost. It rains. None of these things should ruin your vacation- not even for a day. Go with the flow and make the most of the day. This also applies to local customs. They may not be in line with what you’re used to, but they are the way of the world you are in. Be courteous and respectful and have a great trip!
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