My husband and I have been on seven cruises together, on various cruise lines and all sorts of locations (Caribbean, Europe, Alaska). While we luckily haven’t had a lot of travel disasters on cruises (other than the airline that lost my luggage going to Rome, and we got it only minutes before the cruise left) so maybe that is why we love cruises. It takes care of so many of the logistics of a vacation and lets you focus on making the most of your time in the ports. Many times we will use cruises to pinpoint where we would like to further explore in a later vacation since it gives us a good idea of where we would like to go back.
During our vacations, we have developed some good tips that hopefully will be helpful to new cruisers.
- Pack less than you think you need – you will be surprised how little you actually use.
- You don’t need a lot of fancy clothes – Cruises are not as formal as they used to be. I remember taking a cruise in the nineties and needed two formal outfits, two semi formal outfits and three business casual just for dinner. Now cruises are much more casual. Dinner can be nice pants and a shirt the entire time. My husband stopped bringing a sports coat and tie and was fine the entire time. I brought a summer dress and two pairs of nice pants (black and gray, so I can wear the same shoes). Then I bring about four tops that I can rotate. Don’t forget that there are laundry services available if needed.
- Reduce the amount of shoes you bring – Shoes take up a lot of room, so think about them carefully. I now bring a pair of running shoes (for a lot of walking and working out), a pair of nice sandals (I can use these for dinner and just walking around the city ports), and flip-flops/slide on sandals for walking around the pool area.
- Cross pack – If you are traveling with someone else and flying, pack half of each of your clothes in one bag and half of each in the other. This is in case your luggage doesn’t make it and takes a couple of days to get there (I have learned this through experience). Hopefully, both of your suitcases won’t be lost, but if they do, you will at least have some things to wear during the wait.
- Bring a change of clothes in your carry on – Again, from experience of losing luggage while going to a cruise, make sure you bring a change in your carry on luggage. This will also give you something to wear during the day or two that it takes to get your luggage to you.
- Label your suitcase with your cruise information – Many times the online cruise documents will provide a luggage tag to print and attach to the suitcase. If they don’t, make your own with a folded lengthwise and taped piece of printer paper. Put your cruise line, ship name, last name and room number on the tag. These should be attached before you check in your luggage on the airline. If your luggage is lost, it will be able to find you even after your cruise has left.
- Use packing cubes – You can maximize your luggage space with packing cubes. I like to use one for tops, one for pants, one for smaller items (like socks, undergarments, hats), and some smaller ones for shoes.
- Take a picture – It does not hurt to take a picture before you close it so that you have some proof of what it looked like and the items you brought. Again, you never know when it might not show up!
- Bring a lanyard for your room key – the easiest way to keep track of your room key (since it is used for everything on the ship) is to punch a hole in one of the sides and attach it to a lanyard. You can buy lanyards on the ships, but since they are around $8-10, it is much less expensive to bring one from home. If you don’t have any lying around your house, you can usually buy them at a dollar/discount store. The cruise help desk or the store will have hole punch to punch the hole for you.
- Get an extra key for your other rooms – If you have more than one room in your party (especially if your kids are in one room and you are in another), go to the cruise help desk to get an extra key for the other rooms. They will do this for no charge usually.
- Bring a large empty water bottle – Disposable water bottles for purchase on the ships is usually pretty expensive, and you usually can’t bring water bottles from home with you (they would take up too much room in your bag anyway). We have large wide mouth reusable water bottles that we bring on the boat for this purpose. You can fill them with water in the buffet dining room during breakfast (when you are filling them get two cups (don’t bring the water bottle up to the drink machines) – one for ice and one for water and make multiple trips to fill so you don’t hold up the drink line unnecessarily). We then bring these filled water bottles on our excursions to save a lot of money
- Decorate your door if you have small children – If you have small children traveling with you, consider decorating your cabin door with some inexpensive paper cutouts (like school class bulletin boards). It is fun to have them help and makes it easier for them to find their room later. Just make sure you take it all down before you disembark the ship
- Bring battery power banks – In most cruise cabins, I have found that they have one open electric outlet, and it is usually on the other side of the room as the bed. Since I use my phone as an alarm and will use it as a white noise machine, I will charge up my battery power bank during the day from the outlet and then will use the battery to charge my phone at night. Works out well for all day excursions too. One added feature is to buy one with the ability to solar charge it. (One note: make sure to pack these in your carry-on and not check in luggage).
- Bring a backpack for excursions – If you don’t want to use a backpack as a carry on, pack one flat in your larger suitcase. They are very useful to bring your water bottles, battery power banks for your phone and other items since you can be away from the ship for a good part of the day.
- Make sure to visit the specialty restaurants – Most cruise ships are creating more specialty dining areas with themes. While most of the food on cruises is very good (in the various included dining rooms), these restaurants sometimes have the best food and experiences. The specialty restaurants do cost extra, but you can sometimes get a package deal option when you are booking, and if you have the choice, pick the specialty restaurant package. If you don’t have access to a specialty restaurant package option, it is definitely worth it the extra cost.
- Look for the alternate date cruises – We booked a cruise that spanned Wednesday – Wednesday. This was actually half of one cruise and half of another. This arrangement works out well if the embarkation and disembarkation ports are interesting and you want to spend some time in each – makes for a nice two-week trip. Also since we were not at the primary embarkation/disembarkation port, it was less crowded, and we got on and off the ship much faster
- Take the cruise photos – Your cruise has some wonderful photographers that will take your photo at dinner or when you leave the ship at a port. Go ahead and take the photo. You are under no obligation to purchase, and you get to see them before you have to decide to buy them. You could get a wonderful family photo out of it.
- Know the airline lost luggage numbers before you leave – Check out our post on Lost Luggage tips as well. We have had experience with this before.
- Bring clothespins – We use this for everything – clipping clothes to drying line in the shower, clip towels to the pool chairs, so they don’t fly away, clipping hard to hang items on the hangers in the closets, etc. These are very useful and take up very little space in your luggage.
- Bring hand sanitizer – Cruise ships are notorious for spreading sicknesses like Norovirus. Use hand sanitizers frequently. Many cruise ships have this available in public areas and are actually having staff members stand in front of dining rooms and other popular points and making sure everyone is using the hand sanitizers
- Cruise Insurance – Consider buying the insurance offered through the cruise line or other travel insurance plans. It can cost between $100-$200 per person, but it will cover a lot of costs that can occur. Try to get one that will cover both the airfare and cruise. Benefits vary, but most cover the basics. Sicknesses that would make you miss your cruise and other issues are the obvious ones, but what we think are even better benefits are the medical reimbursements. Most of these insurance plans will pay for emergency medical costs (helicopters to take you to a better medial facility and other uncovered medical expenses that can add up quickly). Make sure to read the plan benefits before buying, but it can definitely add some peace of mind to the trip.