There are essential items to pack in your carry-on bag. Both first-time and experienced cruisers should plan to take these items with them when boarding a cruise ship. Once you drop your check-in luggage at the cruise port curbside, you will not have access to them. In fact, you will not see the bags again until they are delivered to your cabin. On many ships, you normally gain cabin admission around 1 to 1:30 p.m. if your ship departs between 4:30-5:00 p.m. This is especially true on large ships boarding 3,000 or more passengers. For that reason, you should keep any valuables or things that you may need or want in your carry-on bag.
The following are essential items to pack in your carry-on bag when you cruise.
Passport, Birth Certificate, and Cruise Documents
Always keep necessary documentation with you when traveling and leaving your cruise ship. Of all the essential items to pack in your carry-on bag should be your passport and cruise documents. This is important because you need these to board the ship. Additionally, without a valid passport or acceptable alternatives, you board an international flight. Neither can you re-enter the United States without your citizenship documents. The exception is if you are traveling between U.S. territories by cruise ship and other approved countries. Alternative proofs of citizenship include either an original or notarized birth certificates, along with an acceptable government-issued photo identification card. Travelers should visit the U.S. Department of State website for additional information on travel requirements for cruisers before leaving the country.
In addition to proof of citizenship, you also need all the cruise documents that you receive from the cruise line. Put transportation (e.g. airline or train tickets), sailing documents and your passport into a folder or envelope. This will keep them readily available when needed.
It goes without saying that you should never put any jewelry, electronics or other expensive items in your checked bag. Always put them in your carry-on and make sure they are not easily accessible to others.
Included in the essential items to pack in your carry-on bag should be any medicines needed on your cruise. When packing prescriptions keep them in original bottles with the pharmacy label intact. This can help prevent problems with customs or and allow refills during your trip. Bring along enough of each prescription for at least a couple of extra days after your cruise. This is a contingency plan in case something unexpected occurs and you are delayed getting home. Similarly, leave over-the-counter drugs in original packaging. Also, make sure that they do not contain any ingredients prohibited in countries where you will be getting off the ship with them. Check the legality of your medicines against the listing on the Center for Drug Control site https://www.cdc.gov/features/travel-medicine/index.html to avoid problems.
Change of Clothing
If you are going from a cold to warm climate or vice versa, pack a change of clothing in your carry-on. Once aboard, you can change and get comfortable. This includes bathing attire if the weather is nice enough for a dip. Embarkation day is typically one of the few days that the pool is not overwhelmed with people. As other passengers are checking in, you can take advantage of starting your cruise by catching a few rays. You can also start your cruise by slurping down one of the specialty drinks sold on the first day.
If you plan to hit the pool area, do not forget to put sun protection (sunscreen oil, sunglasses, and hat) in your carry-on bag. Towels are provided in the pool area, so no need to fill up your bag with those.
Reading Material or Craft Items
While you are waiting to get into your cabin on embarkation day, you might want to relax, read a book, or work on a magazine puzzle. You may also enjoy crocheting or knitting. If so, put your materials in the carry-on bag with all your other embarkation goodies. Some experienced cruisers also pack a deck of cards, board or electronic games, and a pad of paper with a pencil. This allows them to play a game to occupy themselves while waiting for cabins to become available.
Put any electronic devices you plan to bring aboard in your carry-on as well. This gives you immediate access and provides security for them. Once you settle in aboard, you might want to check email or text messages. You can also work on a project or read something electronically. These are great distractions for any young children traveling with you as you wait for cabin access.
Do not forget to stash your favorite deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, feminine products, or other such items in your carry-on bags. While not common, something might delay your checked bag from arriving in your cabin in a timely manner. Along with other essential items to pack in your carry-on bag, do not forget your favorite personal items. These items might come in handy if there is an unusual delay in receiving your checked baggage.
Alcohol or Non-alcoholic Drinks
Some cruise lines allow you to bring a limited quantity of alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, or water aboard. Check your cruise line website for policies on bringing beverages aboard. Carry allowed quantities with you at embarkation rather than packing in your checked luggage. This helps prevent breakage or leakage and damage to your packed clothing.
Additional ideas on planning your cruise and additional information related to essential items to pack in your carry-on bag and in checked luggage can be found in The Complete Guide to Ocean Cruising: Everything You Need to Know for a Great Vacation.
Cruiser At Heart was created and is managed by Robert (Bob) W. Lucas, who is passionate about cruising, world travel, meeting people, and sharing information with others. He has visited, lived, and worked in over 50 countries on four continents. He and his wife, MJ, took their first cruise in 1994 and have not stopped since. He shares his travel experiences about the wonderful people and cultures he has experienced, along with tips for maximizing a cruise vacation.