What to Buy for a Cruise (15 Packing Essentials!)

Wondering what to buy for a cruise? We’ve got you covered with these top 15 items to add to your cruise packing list. Planning a cruise vacation is such an exciting time. There are so many destinations, cruise lines, and ships to choose from. But before you race across that gangplank and hit up the buffet line, make sure your luggage contains cruise essentials. Here’s what to buy for a cruise to maximize fun and stay healthy at sea!

Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas docked in St. Maartin
What to buy for a cruise (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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1. Seasickness Prevention

Whether you already know the personal curse of seasickness or you just want to be prepared, pack some remedies to stave off the nausea caused by movement. You’ll be very grateful should you need them. Or you may be the hero if you share with fellow travelers who didn’t plan as well as you.

Dramamine comes in a few different formulas, including Less Drowsy and chewable grape-flavored tablets for kids. For a medication-free alternative, purchase Gin Gins Candy, which is made with real ginger, known for its ability to soothe tummy troubles. Another naturopathic option is acupressure bands like those by Sea-Bands, which stimulate a point on the wrist that acupuncturists and acupressurists believe relieves nausea. Toss all three in your travel bag for handy access on embarkation day. Read more about how to prevent motion sickness while traveling.

Even when you take all necessary precautions, you or your child may get motion sick like my daughter did during a snorkeling tour in Hawaii
Even when you take all necessary precautions, you or your child may get motion sick during your cruise (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. First Aid Kit

A small, portable first aid kit is a must for your cruise packing list. Ensure you’ve customized your kit with your favorite creams, ointments, and pain relievers. Be sure to get prescriptions filled before your cruise, and don’t forget about the kids’ medications, either. There is an infirmary aboard cruise ships; however, it’s easier to pack the health items you know are best for your family. You can also buy necessities in ship stores but note that these are only open while at sea.

3. Water Shoes

If you prefer beach time to excursions or shopping on port days, make sure you pack water shoes and not just flip-flops. Some ports may have unexpected rocky beaches rather than soft sand. Water shoes are also handy for water adventure excursions like kayaking and waterfall climbing. Check out your port day beaches online before departure, and be prepared, just like the Scouts and Guides told you! Take a look at the array of water shoes available from Zappos.com.

Beach located across the street from Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Hotel
Bring water shoes for pebble beaches and water-based shore excursions (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Portable Smartphone Chargers

You’ll want to keep your smartphones charged up while cruising whether you sign up for an expensive Internet package on your ship or not. There are photos to snap, downloaded videos to watch, flashlights to use, and clocks to check. When in ports, you can sign up for local WiFi with your cell phone provider or use WhatsApp to connect with your travel mates. And in an emergency on shore, you want your family to be able to reach for help. To keep those electronic devices functioning, be sure to add a portable charger to your cruise packing list for everyone in your crew.

5. Power Bar with Surge Protector

A power strip with a surge protector is great for charging your family’s smartphones, chargers, and other tech. After all, standard cruise ship cabins only offer so many electrical ports. This cruise power strip is approved for use at sea with most cruise lines, including Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Norwegian (but not Disney).

Burger station at Royal Caribbean's Windjammer Cafe
Use hand sanitizer after loading up at the cruise buffet (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Anti-Bacterial Wipes and Hand Sanitizers

My family has embarked on many cruises, and for each sailing, I add plenty of anti-bacterial wipes to my cruise packing list. These are perfect for cleaning cruise stateroom surfaces like door handles, phones, and TV remotes. Tubes of disinfectant gel are great for mobile use, too, especially after loading up your plate at the buffet.

Rent or bring snorkeling gear to explore underwater wonders at Castaway Cay
Capture images under-the-sea with a waterproof camera or phone case (Photo credit: Matt Stroshane, Disney)

7. Waterproof Digital Camera or Diving Smartphone Case

Cruising and snorkeling go hand in hand for many Caribbean Islands and Mexico destinations. The reefs, fish, and water in ports are perfect for snapping brilliant color shots. Therefore, you need to make sure your camera is seaworthy.

I’ve tried using waterproof covers for our existing point-and-shoot, but it was a waste of money. The camera moved within the housing and ruined our underwater pictures. Instead, invest in a small waterproof camera that can handle some depth without costing a mint, like this one by Kodak.

There are some bargain waterproof smartphone cases on the market, but from reading reviews they seem to be more for protecting from splashes than taking high-quality photos while submerged in water. This ProShot Dive Case, however, promises to fit all iPhones and function for photography up to 130 feet (4 meters) under the sea.

Castaway Cay souvenir shop
Souvenir shop on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

8. Reusable Water Bottles

Also, do include a reusable water bottle for every traveler, both for on-ship and for port-of-call day use. You can fill these up for free in at the breakfast buffet in the morning. You’ll be thankful at the beach or walking up a hill in Old San Juan. So many discarded plastic bottles end up in the ocean, so do what you can to cut down on that waste.

9. Earplugs

The noise and motion of a cruise ship may take some getting used to. If you prefer a really quiet sleep environment, you probably already have earplugs in your toiletry bag. If not, buy some earplugs, just in case. Your neighbors around or above you may make more noise than you’re used to, and at different hours of the day or night.

10. Eye Mask

Bring along an eye mask for full sensory deprivation while cruising. Some cruise lines offer blackout curtains, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Tip: Use a pants hanger to clip the curtains’ edges shut for better light blockage.

28Pcs Cruise Door Decorations, Birthday Magnetic Cruise Ship Magnets Funny Door Decorations for Stateroom Cabin Door
28Pcs Cruise Door Decorations, Birthday Magnetic Cruise Ship Magnets Funny Door Decorations for Stateroom Cabin Door (Photo from Amazon.com)

11. Stateroom Door Decorations

Decorating the exterior of your stateroom door with festive magnets adds extra flair to your cruise. Let fellow cruisers know what you’re celebrating, like a birthday, anniversary, or first cruise.

It’s fun to spot these displays as you walk the ship’s hallways. Plus, door decorations make it easier to spot your cabin.

Some luxury cruise brands (besides Norwegian and MSC) allow cabin door decorations. Make sure to use magnets and not adhesive items because those are forbidden.

Mom and daughter on beach during cruise
All ages and skin tones need sun protection while cruising (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

12. Sun Protection

Many cruises take place in sunny climes, and you’re more likely to burn when surrounded by water, even when sitting in the shade. Also, vacationers can get sunburns and skin damage even on a chillier Alaskan cruise.

Sun protection is notoriously expensive at cruise ship shops and in closeby stores in ports. The best option to avoid these hefty fees is to buy sunscreen lotion or spray in advance. Also, add lip balm with SPF and sunglasses with UV protection to your cruise packing list. Don’t forget to toss sun hats in your beach bag, either!

13. Door Organizer

Storage space is at a premium on the high seas. Pack a door organizer to make the most of a small space. Keep small items like sunglasses, hair ties, face masks, excursion tickets, and travel snacks out of the way but easy to reach. This Cruise Essentials Over the Door Shoe Organizer uses magnetic hooks, making it a great way to add extra space to your cabin.

3 Pack Waterproof Cruise Lanyard with Detachable Buckle & ID Badge Holder for Cruises Ships Key Cards
3 Pack Waterproof Cruise Lanyard with Detachable Buckle & ID Badge Holder for Cruises Ships Key Cards (Photo from Amazon.com)

14. Cruise Lanyards

Do yourself a favor and buy cruise lanyards before you set sail. Tuck your stateroom key cards into the plastic badge holders for easy access.

You will usually use that key card to purchase items on board the ship and on private cruise islands and to reboard in ports of call. It’s so much easier to wear a lanyard while cruising than to worry about carrying a purse or remembering which pocket you put your card in last.

Lanyards are typically available for purchase in onboard shops but, again, you’ll pay a premium. Get this affordable pack of three cruise lanyards for your family or buy this fancier rhinestone lanyard for some bling at sea.

Formal night on a Royal Caribbean Cruise
Formal night on a Royal Caribbean Cruise (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

15. Formal Night Outfits

Most cruise lines host at least one formal night during a sailing. You can skip this and dine in the more casual buffet restaurant if you like. But how often do we have an excuse to dress up and look our best? The dress code varies from line to line, with Royal Caribbean suggesting “suits and ties, tuxedos, cocktail dresses or evening gowns” and Norwegian Cruise Line skipping it altogether. Even on Royal, you should feel comfortable wearing a nice sundress or a collared shirt with khakis on formal night. If you want to participate, plan ahead and buy something fancy to wear!

Allure of the Seas setting sail from Galveston, TX
Sunset cruise view (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Get More Cruise Tips

Now that you know what to buy for a cruise, read these tips for cruising with kids.

Discover the dos and don’ts of Disney’s Castaway Cay.

Setting sail with your buddies? Learn how to plan a cruise with friends.

Enjoy all of the flavor and festivity without the booze with this list of best cruise mocktails.

Explore romantic things to do on a Royal Caribbean Cruise.

What to Buy for Your Next Cruise (15 Packing Essentials!)

Save This Cruise Packing List

For future vacations, save this list of handy cruise items to buy. Simply pin the image above or below to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

What to Buy for a Cruise to Maximize Fun & Comfort

Do you have any questions or suggestions about what to buy for a cruise? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. I would also recommend bringing a portable charger. It’s a lifesaver when you’re out exploring ports and can’t find a place to charge your phone.

  2. So many great items that you don’t think about until you’re on the boat! The water shoes, the walkie talkies the ear plugs! Yes!