Cruise Carry-On Bag Packing List (And What You Don’t Need)

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Cruise Carry-On Bag Packing List

You will absolutely want to take a carry-on bag with you on your cruise vacation.  There are several cruise carry-on bag packing list essentials that you should never place in your checked baggage.  See our tips and what we always carry onto the ship!

cruise carry on bag packing list

Packing for a Cruise

Packing for a cruise can definitely be intimidating, even for veteran cruisers. Bob and I are closing in on our 12th cruise after many years of traveling, and our kids have joined us for 7 of those. Packing your bags for a cruise can take some real planning for a couple of reasons.

First of all, storage space in cruise cabins is usually extremely limited.  Unless you are sailing in a posh suite, cabins are smaller than even the most boutique-y hotels in NYC. Closet space often leaves you wishing for more, though some ships have under-the-bed storage for your luggage which is helpful.

If you are flying to your departure port, you will be restricted by airline baggage limits.  As if all of that wasn’t enough, depending on your cruise itinerary, you may find yourself packing to accommodate more than one weather climate.  For example, when we cruised to Alaska in 2007, it was in early July. Our days before boarding the ship in Seattle were warm, but several cruise ports were chilly and damp. One of our excursions was to Mendenhall Glacier and we were bundled up in heavy fleece jackets with gloves and knit hats.

This post is NOT Disney Cruise Line specific.  The info is pretty standard for most cruise lines.

Do You Need a Carry-On Bag for a Cruise?

In one word, yes.

But let me explain…

When you arrive at the cruise terminal, you will need to check your luggage with the cruise line, much like airline travel.  The exception to this is a small day bag, backpack or carry-on rolling bag. Each passenger is typically permitted to bring some sort of carry-on bag with them when they board.  The rest of your (checked) luggage goes through a security screening similar to at the airport. Bags are then loaded onto the ship and they will be delivered to your stateroom at some point that day/evening.

You have no control over when that checked luggage will be delivered to your cabin.  The crew works incredibly hard to deliver everything quickly, but even at one bag per passenger, you are talking about THOUSANDS of pieces of luggage that need to be delivered! On our many cruises, we have had some luggage delivered within our first hour on the ship… while other trips our bags have not appeared until after dinner that first evening.

You need to bring a carry-on bag to hold your absolute essentials so that you can start enjoying your vacation from the second you set foot on that ship!

Cruise Carry-On Bag Packing List

Let’s get to that list!  Here are the items that I always pack in my carry-on bag for cruise embarkation day:

  1. Passport/Identification & Cruise Documents (Some cruises require passports, while others do not and a birth certificate will suffice.  See if your cruise requires a passport and if it does, make sure you plan to get one MONTHS before you actually leave for vacation.) Post-2020 cruise travel also means educating yourself on health and possible vaccine requirements, which vary by cruise line AND by country that the ship will be visiting. You might need to bring proof of vaccination and any required test results. Be sure you are very aware of all current rules before you arrive at the terminal.
  2. Sunglasses
  3. Bathing Suit and Flip Flops (In case you decide to head right to the pool deck and jump into the pool and/or hot tub after you board the ship! Don’t worry about towels – they are typically provided by the ship.)
  4. Spare Outfit (Helpful to pack a change of clothing for dinner in case you don’t want to wear the outfit you boarded the ship wearing, but your luggage hasn’t arrived yet. A shirt and skirt or sundress are great options.)
  5. Tumbler (Great for filling with your fave hot or cold beverage at the lunch buffet and carrying along with you as you explore the ship.)
  6. Sunscreen
  7. Medication (Pack pain meds like Tylenol and possibly Dramamine if you’re concerned about motion sickness.  In addition to those, pack any prescription medication that you might need to take before the rest of your luggage is delivered.)
  8. Alcohol and/or Bottled Water (Many cruise lines will allow you to carry on a certain amount/type of alcohol and bottled water.  These beverages are usually required to go in your carry-on bag and cannot be inside your checked luggage. Check with your specific cruise line for their carry-on beverage policy.)
  9. Reading Material
  10. Phone
  11. Lanyard (Many cruisers love using a lanyard to hold their cruise card for easy access when unlocking their cabin door, making purchases, etc.)
  12. Basic Toiletries (I’m not talking about shampoo or body wash or anything… but you can always toss in a hair brush, deodorant or even a toothbrush and toothpaste if you prefer to brush your teeth after meals.)
  13. Rapid Charger and Charging Cord for smartphones or other devices
  14. Camera
  15. Hand Sanitizer and Wet Wipes

Cruise Carry On Bag Essential Items

What NOT to Pack in Cruise Carry-on Luggage

Here’s a short list of things you should not pack in your carry-on luggage!

  • Weapons or sharp objects (this includes Swiss Army knives)
  • Anything flammable
  • Fruit or homemade food/snacks
  • Live plants
  • Pool floats
  • Drones
  • Power strip or extension cords
  • Any electronics prohibited by cruise line

Best Suitcase Bags for Cruise Carry-on

Another thing to think about: space is rather limited on cruise ships.  Hallways are big enough for people to walk and pass each other, but rolling a gigantic bag behind you can be cumbersome. When you settle in for lunch on embarkation day at the buffet, having a bag that can fit easily under the table and not block the path to other tables is going to be a big convenience.

My best advice is to keep carry-on bags small, light, and manageable. You might be stuck carrying or toting this bag around for several hours, so keep it to a minimum. Our favorite carry-on bags are backpacks (these lightweight backpacks are our FAVORITE for travel day bags!) or small rolling bags.

Who Needs a Carry On Bag?

While it might be tempting to bring a carry on bag for each person in your party, I recommend consolidating carry-ons to as few as possible. For example, besides my purse, we typically only take one bag (either a small rolling bag or a backpack) on board for our entire family (2 adults, 2 kids). We check the rest of our bags.

Embarkation day can be a little nutty with people EVERYWHERE and not a lot of wiggle room. The less you have to lug around and keep your eye on, the better.

Before you head to the cruise port, decide how many bags you will carry on with you and designate family members to be in charge of specific bags. Once you are allowed to enter your cruise cabin, you can drop the bags there!

How to Find Current Information about Your Sailing

For all of my annoyances about social media, this is the place I turn to for sailing-specific, up-to-date cruise info. There are plenty of cruise forums on the internet across thousands of websites, but I typically prefer to hop on Facebook for helpful cruise info. Almost every sailing on every major cruise line ends up getting its own group on Facebook (created by a passenger on that sailing). Simply head to Facebook and go to the groups. Search for your sailing by typing the cruise line/ship name/sail date (you might need to try a combination of these details to locate the group). If a group is available to join, request to join.

These groups can be an incredible resource of information for your trip! I use these groups to glean all sorts of helpful info – from dining tips to shore excursions to fun events.

Facebook is also full of groups that are not specific to cruise sail dates. You can join any number of groups for every cruise line company out there. Some of these groups are actually run by travel agents. Other groups are run by travelers who just love to cruise. Try some out and stay in the groups that suit you best!

Happy Cruising!!


Cruise Ship Carry- On Bag Essentials Packing List

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