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Cruise Essentials: Checklist for Packing for a Cruise

by Lisa Stentvedt
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As you may have gathered by now, I recently went on a cruise for the first time ever. Costa Cruises were kind enough to invite me on board the Costa Magica for a week-long cruise in the Western Mediterranean, and you can only imagine my excitement! However, I didn’t know anything about cruise essentials or what I should be adding to my checklist for packing for a cruise, and so I had to create my first-time cruise packing list all on my own.

I quickly learned that some things on my list were absolute cruise necessities, while others weren’t very important at all (I had some items that were left in my suitcase for the entire cruise). This is why I decided to share my cruise essentials list here on the blog, so you guys could use it as a checklist for packing on a cruise. If you are going on your first cruise, I hope you’ll find this helpful, but those of you that are cruise experts might also find a thing or two you hadn’t thought about.

If you want to read more about my experience on the cruise, here are some of the posts:

cruise essentials list, costa cruise ship chimney
Keep reading for my first-time cruise packing list!

Cruise Essentials for 2020 – 26 Essentials for a cruise

The list of cruise essentials and cruise necessities below is divided into headings, and I have included links to several options where I could, so that you can choose the best item for you. Some of the things on the list are more generic (such as “swimming clothes”), whilst others are quite specific (such as the foldable bag). Either way, I hope this list for packing for a cruise is helpful and has you covered on your next trip!

If you find that anything is missing, or you have any cruise packing tips to share with everyone else, why not leave a comment below and let us know? I’m sure everyone would appreciate it! Now, onto the actual list of essentials for a cruise.

Side note: Scroll further down for clothing essentials for a cruise. I decided to keep this separate of the actual list of cruise essentials, as I believe you obviously know that you need to pack shoes. However, it’s there if you want to double-check what clothes to bring on a cruise (such as formal wear and what to think of when it comes to themed nights.

#1 A thermos / Coffee mug with a lid

Regardless of which drinks package you have on your cruise, coffee is included in it (my advice: get a drinks package to save you quite a lot of $$$). My biggest fail on my cruise was that I didn’t bring my favourite travel mug, and I ended up carrying cups of coffee to my cabin whenever I wanted to enjoy one out on my balcony. So; my advice to you is to ensure you have a travel mug with you on your cruise, so you can enjoy all the coffee wherever you please.

Side note: this is also great for those early port days where you want to be off the ship at 7.30 am. Drop by the breakfast restaurant, add some coffee to your mug, and get going!

Another side note: My sisters gave me this exact bottle (in purple) 3 years ago, and I still have it and use it all the time. It’s the actual best.

#2 A collapsible water bottle

If you’ve ever visited my page of travel gadgets I can’t do without (see them all here!), you’ll know that I swear by this when travelling. It’s a lifesaver at airports to avoid paying $8 for water bottles, but it turned out to also be a lifesaver on board the ship, and thus an absolute cruise essential. This clever bottle takes up no space in your bag but makes it so easy to take water with you from the bar or cafe, regardless of where you are on the cruise.

#3 Offline shows and movies on Netflix/Hulu etc.

I didn’t realise this until I was already on board, but there is practically no way to watch your favourite TV shows or movies with the wifi on cruise ships. Therefore, I spent every port day ensuring that I was downloading Desperate Housewives (I was rewatching it, let’s never forget how good of a show that was) so I had a few episodes to get me by until the next port day.

So, if you want to be a little smarter than me; download the show you are currently watching so you have offline access to it, and can watch it when you are out in international waters with no data.

#4 Packing cubes

I have been raving about packing cubes and their magic ever since I started using them about a year ago. They make for such easy packing, and I am now in complete control of my suitcase and whatever I put inside of it. What I realised on the ship was that there was no way I wouldn’t add them to my list of cruise essentials, because they made everything so easy for me in the cabin. As the cabins can be quite small, it is hard to stay organised. But with these, I was able to stay on top of all my clothes and things throughout my week on board!

In conclusion: you should own packing cubes regardless of whether you are going on a cruise or not, but especially if you are.

#5 A hanging organiser

Here’s another way to keep your cabin organised. Personally, I travelled alone, and so I was perfectly fine with just my packing cubes to stay organised, but if you are more than 1 person, I recommend calling in the big guns. These hanging organisers were made for cruise cabins and easily hand on the back of your cabin (or bathroom) door, so you can organise shoes, clothes, or simply keep everyone’s shit separate (if you are travelling with the whole family).

#6 A waterproof pouch for your gadgets

You probably know how clever these are already, and you probably own one too. If you don’t, now is the time to get one. Spending hours up on the pool deck with kids running around and water going who-knows-where, one of these will help you relax. I actually have one for my phone and for my Kindle, as I have a tendency to bring the latter into the pool with me.. If you are anything like me, opt for this 3-piece set to cover all your stuff.

#7 Earplugs (depending on the location of your cabin)

Before you go on your cruise (after you have read my post with first-time cruise tips), check the location of your cabin. Costa allows you to do this on their website here, but you can also use websites like Cruise Deck Plans (though I would only expect the official websites to be 100% accurate). If you find that your cabin is located near a night club, one of the live music bars, or even the casino onboard; I recommend adding earplugs to your checklist for packing for a cruise. This will help you sleep easier, in case there is any music or noise coming through to your cabin.

#8 Foldable laundry bag

I often found myself wondering where to put my dirty laundry when travelling, as I didn’t want to keep it with my clean, unworn clothes (packing cubes help to an extent). So, one of these foldable laundry bags became the answer! Since I don’t like the idea of using a packing cube for dirty clothes and underwear, I now always travel with a foldable laundry bag. It takes up no space in my suitcase when it’s empty, and when I get home I can simply throw it all in my laundry basket.

Side note: most cruise ships do offer a laundry service at an additional cost.

#9 Foldable bag (for anything else)

Honestly, I had to keep this as a separate item on the list of cruise necessities because it deserves it. This tote bag was actually made for going on a cruise, and it is so clever. Bring it with you to the pool deck, or on shore days. Regardless, you can fit whatever you need into it, and the best part; it’s waterproof!

#10 Cruise cabin night light

I actually didn’t know this existed until I started writing this post, and found it as a suggestion under the Collapsible Bag listed above (it is made by the same company, that specialises in cruise gadgets). I now wish I had one on my cruise, because it is just so clever! Basically, it is a motion sensor cabin light that lights up gently when you step on the floor or move around in your cabin. This is perfect for those midnight toilet visits when you don’t want to wake anybody else in your cabin (because it gets pitch dark in there at night).

#11 Walkie-talkies (if the ship doesn’t offer free communication)

Check-in advance if your cruise company offers a way to communicate at sea (for example; Costa allows you to communicate with your travel party through their app, for free!). As mentioned before, there is no wifi (unless you purchase it) and no data in international waters. So, if you want to get a little crafty, and make sure you don’t lose your group, bring walkie-talkies! This would be especially clever if you want to grab a drink at the bar while the kids are in the kids playing area for example. Leaving them with a walkie-talkie ensures you can reach them if needed.

#12 A lanyard (with card holder)

Such an odd thing to include on a list of cruise essentials, but bear with me here. In short, when you are on the ship you literally only need your cabin key card (or fob, or whatever way you open your cabin). You don’t need anything else to make purchases, get drinks, or access the onboard amenities, which is just so clever. However, if you look very young, do bring your ID to the bar as well.. A lanyard is such an easy way to ensure no-one in your party lose their key card, and you’ll have easy access to it for those trips to the bar. If you don’t have one already, get a muli-pack so your whole group is covered!

#13 Sea-sickness pills, sticker or wristband

Whether you usually get sea-sick or not, make sure you are covered before embarking on your first cruise. I met people onboard who were incredibly nauseous and uncomfortable and even saw someone throw up on the floor in the main atrium of the ship. I felt so bad for them, and luckily they were taken care of by crew members immediately (and the sick was cleaned up right away). Whatever method you prefer for ensuring that this doesn’t happen to you; get it in advance. That way, you don’t have to queue up to buy it on board (and you don’t have to pay extra).

Whether you prefer patches, wristbands or pills, here are my top suggestions (if you prefer the seasickness pills, make sure to get the correct one for kids and for adults).

#14 A smarter makeup/toiletries bag

Let’s go back to clever ways to stay organised in your cabin. I’ll be honest and say that the bathrooms onboard cruise ships aren’t the biggest, and all though you’ll find clever shelves that help, there are ways you can make sure you stay on top of all your toiletries before you go. This is mainly if you have brought more than just a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Bring a toiletries bag that helps you stay organised, and that fits everything you need for your cruise. Personally, I have one of these, but the one below might be even better (as mine only has one big room in it and just one pocket). With the hook, you can simply hand it on a hanger (or the bathroom door) and get super easy access to all your things!

#15 A money pouch or belt for shore days

I really wish I brought one of these on my cruise, simply to feel a little safer with my money and credit card as I was making my way through the streets of Barcelona on my own (a city that is known to have a real issue with pickpockets). Now, I’m not one to instil fear into people that are travelling, and would never avoid a destination because the media claims it is “unsafe”. However, I will always advise people to be smart when travelling. And with one of these, you’d be smart.

Side note: the last one below is for women only, and it goes in your bra! How clever is that? Honestly, I can’t even count the number of times I have put money or credit cards in my bra for safekeeping (actually, it’s every Saturday night), and this makes it easier!

#16 Binoculars

I added this one to my checklist for packing for a cruise after I was already on the cruise. Actually, I was sitting out on the deck with a martini (they made the best ones) wishing I had a pair of binoculars so I could look a little closer at the coast we were passing (it was the coast from Valencia to Barcelona, if it matters). So, if you are curious, like me, make sure to pack a small pair of binoculars for your cruise!

#17 A power strip made for cruise cabins

Here’s another item that is actually made for people going on a cruise! I quickly found that I only had two outlets for electricity in my cabin, and they were both in the same place, which resulted in me having to do a lot of prioritising when it came to what to charge, and when. However, if I had brought one of these, life onboard would have been a lot easier. So, don’t make my mistake, and bring one.

#18 Foldable Clothesline

If you have kids, things will get wet. If you go to the pool, things will get wet. Also, if you choose to do some quick laundry in your cabin; things will get wet. If you add one of these to your cruise packing list, you’ll be able to dry these clothes on the balcony (or in your cabin) in no time!

Clothes to bring when packing for a cruise: essentials

Now, let’s talk clothes! As mentioned, I wanted to keep this as it’s own list. In case you wanted the cruise packing list to include what clothing necessities to bring on a cruise, keep reading. If all you wanted was to learn of a few cruise essentials and fun gadgets to bring; the post is over (though you can still scroll down and give it a share on Pinterest or send it to your friends who are going with you). Here is a quick packing list of what clothes to bring on a cruise.

#19 Shore day outfits – Warmer Days

For shore days, I kept it simple. I opted for jean shorts or jeans (depending on the temperature that day), and a simple top (plus a sweater if it was cold). This formula had me sorted for the whole week, as I only had to pack 1 pair of jeans and 1 pair of jeans shorts. To put that into perspective; my cruise was 7 nights, 8 days.

#20 Shore Day Outfits – Colder days

In the widget above and below, I have included options for several sizes. Hopefully that is helpful!

#21 Formal wear

As I have mentioned in my post about things you need to know before your first cruise (read it here), people get really dressed up for dinner onboard. Like, really dressed up. I realised on the first evening of the trip that my jeans and hoodie combination just wouldn’t cut it and that I had to pull out all my blogging dresses. Flowy maxi dresses and cute shorter dresses were all acceptable, and I have found a few (budget) options for you below that are perfect for your cruise packing list.

#22 Themed outfits

Now for the fun part of the cruise. Check-in advance which themed nights are held onboard during your cruise, and add the appropriate clothing to your checklist for packing for a cruise. For example, my Costa cruise had a “White Night”, a “Gold Night” and an “Italian Night” (where you dress in red, white and green). Super fun, especially if you have clothing to match.

Side note: do not stress about this. If you have a white evening dress; perfect for White night. If you don’t; don’t worry about it.

#23 Swimwear

This one is a given, but it is such an easy thing to forget. Take it from someone who just returned from 10 days in Spain without her swimsuit..

#24 A wrap/sarong

Bringing one of these on your cruise will ensure that you don’t have to get dressed to simply head to the pool or spa. Wrap a sarong or beach wrap around your above-mentioned swimsuit, and you’re good to go!

#25 Flip-flops

It feels silly to even have to mention these, but I’m doing it to spare you the annoyance of having to put sneakers on over your bare feet to go to the pool. Thank me later. Personally, I have been obsessed with Havaianas ever since getting my first pair years ago, and there are (in my opinion) no flip flops that can beat them. Seriously, bringing the right shoes for your trip can go a long way.

#26 For cheese-balls only; matching t-shirts

This one is quite far out there, and I both hate and admire the people who do this. You’ve seen them at Disney World with their matching family t-shirts (the classic is the dad’s “most expensive day ever” tee), but you’ll be surprised that they exist on cruise ships too. So if you want to go all out with your cruise essentials list; this is it. Get matching t-shirts for your entire group, and make sure to wear them on sea days. If you are ready to take it a step further, opt for custom-made ones.


Summing up my cruise essentials list

In short, there are lots of things you may think you don’t need for your cruise, but that in fact can be an absolute lifesaver on board. For your checklist for packing for a cruise, don’t forget your foldable bag (for laundry and everything else), the hanging organiser to use in your cabin, and of course the travel mug (so you can enjoy alllll the coffee on your balcony or in your cabin).

The most important of all the essentials for a cruise is of course to bring your passport and your smile; because everything else will be taken care of by the crew onboard. However, if you want to stay prepared for your cruise (and have everything you need), use this post as a checklist for packing for a cruise to make sure you have all the essentials and necessities onboard.

I hope it was helpful, and if anything is missing from the list; leave a comment below!

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