Six Savvy Packing Tips from Expert Cruisers

On my first cruise, now distant in my aft mirror, I was the very model of a novice cruiser — over-wrinkled and under-caffeinated, seemingly unprepared for every outing and always searching for an outlet to charge electronics.

All around me though, I spotted what I came to regard as “Super Cruisers.” These crisp-clothed travelers were caffeine-filled, completely charged and ready to roll no matter the circumstances.

Since my first amateur-crinkled cruise, I’ve gathered advice from seasoned cruisers. Along the way, I’ve become a Super Cruiser myself. These six packing secrets will help novice cruisers and old sea hands alike make the most of every voyage. Anchors away!

1. Pack for success.

To make the most of my first hours onboard a cruise, I pack a bathing suit, sunscreen, hat and book in my carry-on bag. Then I sip drinks poolside while everyone else sits in their stateroom waiting for the ship to process and deliver their suitcases. On a ship with thousands of passengers, this can take the better part of the afternoon.

2. Stay wrinkle-free.

It was only when I unpacked that first tightly stuffed suitcase that I realized my stateroom lacked an iron. Since cruise ships feel like hotels, I expected similar amenities, but I now understand the obvious safety hazard of allowing hot irons (or steamers, or anything heat producing) in a cabin. So how do Super Cruisers keep shipshape, without running up laundry bills? Wrinkle release spray! I now hang, spray and watch the wrinkles melt away.

Quick Tip:

Remember to pack wrinkle release spray and any other liquids in your checked luggage.

3. Prepare for coffee in the clutch.

Another nonstarter in most staterooms: coffee makers (remember, heat equals danger). Although room service is generally free — and a cup of coffee delivered in the morning is a grand cruise perk — real caffeine addicts like myself need a hot brew later, too. I bring an insulated mug and fill it at the ship’s coffee and tea station each morning, and then I return for a hot drink each afternoon.

4. Think organized.

Even the most spacious cabin may feel a little tight when shared by multiple people for a week or more. An extra-large suitcase, I discovered, occupies valuable cabin space and it’s just not practical. I now use a soft-sided bag that squeezes under the bed when empty. Being organized is the key to a happy stateroom, so I use multi-colored packing organizers for each traveler in my family. In the room, these cubes stack straight onto shelves or into drawers, creating separate, color-coordinated spaces for each person’s items. Everything has a place, making it easier to locate items quickly and dress for every occasion.

Quick Tip:

If you have a lot of clutter in your stateroom and you run out of storage space, you’ll be grateful that you packed magnetic hooks (ships walls are metal) and suction cups. On the fly, you can create spots to hang scarves, lanyards, hats and tote bags (plus, I feel like it personalizes my room a bit, too).

5. Power up.

Cell phone, camera, laptop, e-reader, iPad… so many devices that all need plugs and power. Unfortunately, ship cabins often have limited outlets. I learned that if you pack a mini power strip with USB ports, you can charge multiple devices simultaneously, ensuring your camera never dies just when you’re snapping a memorable moment.

6. Enjoy H2O to go.

Water, water, everywhere, but boy can bottled water prices add up! So in addition to packing my insulated mug, I pack a refillable water bottle, too. Drink stations offer potable water for free fill ups — it’s both eco-friendly and a money saver, since you can use your bottle throughout the ship, and on shore excursions, too.

Quick Tip:

If you cruise often, keep a “grab-and-go” bag packed with the special items above and just pop it into your suitcase for your trip. Consider including a few additional items: binoculars to watch for dolphins and sea life, duct tape (it’s great for fixes big and small) and a magnet from home to help you identify your door in long corridors.


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Melissa K. is a travel journalist who lives in New Jersey.