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How To Choose The Best Cruise Luggage For Really Easy Family Travel

Cruising with your family can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to make sure you have the right luggage for the trip. Luggage can be expensive, and you don’t want to waste your money on pieces that won’t hold up, that are too heavy to carry, or that are too large to fit in your stateroom comfortably. 

Here are some tips on choosing the best cruise luggage for your family. By following our guide, we’ll help you find pieces that are durable, lightweight, and work well for cruise ship travel. (We also provide some specific recommendations in the last section!)

Best Cruise Luggage: Factors To Consider When Choosing

When it comes to packing for a family cruise, the options can seem endless. But when it comes to choosing the best luggage for a cruise, there are a few key factors to keep in mind. Durability, weight, size, and internal storage space are all important considerations, but so is price. You don’t want to break the bank on luggage, but you also want pieces that will last and hold up well during your trip. 

Beyond that, think about your specific itinerary and what type of luggage will be most convenient for you. If you’re traveling to a tropical destination, for example, you’ll likely want something lightweight and beach-friendly that can hold all of your swimwear and sandals. If you’re going on an Alaskan cruise, you might need something to protect your sweaters and rain jackets and that’s large enough to handle bulky clothes. You’ll also want to consider what you will be wearing in the evening on your cruise.

Ask yourself what you’ll be bringing to get a sense of how much space you’ll need, and reference the cabin size before making your purchase so you don’t end up with luggage that’s too big for your stateroom.

Durability

An important consideration when choosing luggage for a cruise is durability. If your travel involves multiple legs, it will be handled by a wide range of people on many occasions and circumstances. At airports, cabs, hotels, and cruise terminals.

If possible, try to choose pieces that will withstand being dropped or knocked around by baggage handlers. Also, something that will still look decent after your trip is done. Rather than stained, dented, and scratched.

Weight

Consider the weight of your luggage. The lighter your luggage, the easier it will be to carry.

Heavier bags will cause your shoulders and neck to fatigue more quickly, which can be especially problematic if you’re doing a lot of walking during your trip.

Also, if you’re flying as part of your travels, the heavier the bag, the fewer items you will be able to pack without incurring additional charges on your checked bags.

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Storage space

When deciding how much storage space to get in luggage that you plan to take on a cruise, consider the length of your trip, how much you plan to pack, and the climate of your destination. Another factor is the size of your items. Bulky items will take up more space than small items. If you have a lot of bulky items, you’ll need a bigger bag with more storage space.  Eg., beach packing vs Alaska packing.

If you’re going on a short trip, you can get away with a smaller bag. But if you’re going away for an extended period of time or traveling to a colder climate, you’ll need to pack a larger volume of clothing and accessories.

Ultimately, it’s important to choose a bag that’s big enough to fit everything you need but not too big or heavy that it becomes cumbersome to transport. Check out our guide on what to pack for a cruise.

Most cruises last a week or more, which means you will need to pack enough clothing and toiletries for the duration of your trip. You’ll also want to consider what activities or excursions you plan on doing while on your cruise.

You might think that you won’t need as many clothes on your cruise because it is mostly spent at sea, but the reality could be quite different. You will likely be changing more than once a day (for at least some if not all of your cruise days). Even if most days are lazy hours by the beach or pool, you’ll still find yourself donning fresh threads each evening, either for dinner or some other fun nightlife activity.

Maneuverability

For ease of use, consider purchasing luggage that has wheels or bags that can be carried using an adjustable shoulder strap. This will make it easier to navigate airports and cruise ships when you’re juggling other items like passports, carry-on baggage, travel documents, and kids.

Interior organization

To make unpacking easier, choose pieces of luggage that have mesh dividers in their compartments. This allows you to keep your items separated and easier to find.

Affordability

Another factor to consider is how much it costs.

Often times low-cost suitcases don’t have many of the features that high-end ones do, like self-repairing zippers or sturdy wheels that can handle bumpy roads or cobblestone streets. However, there are some inexpensive options out there that will get the job done without damaging your wallet too badly. Shop around until you find one that fits your needs. And check out our specific recommendations below.

Cruise passenger luggage waiting to be distributed.
Passenger luggage awaiting distribution to the proper cabins on embarkation day. (E. Warren, 2018)

What Kind of Luggage Is Best For a Cruise?

For our family cruises, we have found the following types of luggage to be the most useful: suitcases, duffel bags, garment bags, carry-on bags, and something specifically designated for port travel. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Suitcases

Suitcases are typically the centerpiece of your luggage choices. Broadly, there are two key distinguishing factors among suitcases: (1) wheels vs no wheels; and (2) hardside vs. softside.

Wheels vs No Wheels

It’s strongly recommended that you get suitcases with wheels. This feature will make it significantly easier to manage your luggage through airports, hotels, and cruise ship terminals.

There are a few reasons why the best suitcases for cruises have wheels. It’s much easier to navigate through airports and onboard the ship with a roller bag than it is to carry a suitcase. Likewise, it’s much more comfortable to walk long distances with a roller bag than it is to carry a heavy suitcase.

That said, rolling luggage is typically more expensive than luggage without wheels. And, sadly, sometimes wheels break off during travel, which then makes them very awkward to drag around.

Types of Wheels

When it comes to rolling luggage, you have two options – regular wheels and spinner wheels.

The main difference between wheeled luggage and spinner luggage is that spinner luggage can rotate 360 degrees, whereas regular wheeled luggage cannot. This is a major advantage because it means that you can easily move spinner luggage in any direction, even when it’s full. And this makes it much easier to navigate around corners and obstacles. 

Also, wheeled luggage is great for smooth surfaces like airport walkways and hotel hallways but can be a bit difficult to maneuver on uneven surfaces or cobblestones.  

Hardside vs Softside

Hardside luggage: This type of luggage is durable and scratch-resistant, making it ideal for cruises. It typically comes with a TSA lock, which keeps your belongings safe and secure.

There are pros and cons to using hardside luggage for cruise travel. On the pro side, hardside luggage is generally more durable and can better protect your belongings than softside luggage. It can withstand more wear and tear. It’s also less likely to get damaged during transit, either by being thrown around or by having items stacked on top of it. 

Hardside suitcases also provide a bit more stability than soft sides, so your belongings are less likely to move around inside the suitcase during transport. Additionally, hardside luggage tends to be easier to keep clean than softside luggage.

On the con side, some people find that hardside luggage is more difficult to pack into tight spaces than softside luggage. It typically does not have outside pockets for storing small travel items. It also typically weighs more out of the box which can be an issue if you’re concerned about overall luggage weight limits.

Softside luggage is able to conform to the odd shapes of cruise ship cabins, maximizing storage space. But a soft-sided bag won’t offer as much protection against knocks and bumps as a hard one will. The fabric on some softer bags can be damaged more easily than that on harder cases. And it can get ripped or stained.

Duffel Bags

A rolling duffel bag is a great piece of cruise luggage.

We always take a rolling duffel bag on a cruise along with suitcase(s). We have found that having at least one piece of luggage be a wheeled duffel helps make better use of the space under the bed. Because the duffel is typically much narrower, it can easily fit alongside another regular suitcase. Or, in the instances where the cabin attendant has stored stuff under the bed, it can easily share space with that as well.

Duffel bags are roomy and flexible so that you can fit more stuff in there than a regular suitcase. Plus, they offer plenty of organizational options via side sections and exterior pockets.

Best Cruise Luggage | older model High Sierra drop bottom duffel
This High Sierra drop bottom wheeled duffel was purchased in 2017 and has provided excellent service on more than a dozen cruises. (E. Warren, 2019)

Key factors to look for in a rolling duffel?

Size: It should be big enough to hold lots of stuff but not so big as to trigger oversize luggage charges. Structure: You want one with some built-in organization with easy-to-access compartments. 

Over the years, our favorite duffels have been the drop bottom duffels with a U-shaped opening and several exterior storage compartments.

A drop-bottom duffel is a great option for cruise packing. The top compartment can be opened up like a traditional duffel, while the bottom suitcase-like opening has its own flexible divider that separates it from what’s inside your other luggage.

Duffel bags are versatile and can be used for both checked and carry-on baggage. They are typically lightweight and affordable. 

Garment Bags

If you plan to participate in formal nights or otherwise dress up for dinner at times, then a rolling garment bag will be a great selection for your cruise luggage. 

A rolling garment bag is designed specifically for hanging clothes, so they won’t get wrinkled during travel like they would be folded up in a suitcase. And if you need to pack extra items, such as shoes or accessories, larger garment bags come with extra compartments for ample storage.

If you get a large one, you should be able to pack all of your family’s dressy clothes in the same bag. The one we use can hold clothes for two formal nights, including accessories.

Carry-on Bags

You’ll want to pack a “carry-on” bag even if you’re not traveling by plane.

Ideally, you will pack a carry-on bag that can do double duty as a cruise bag for embarkation day. That’s a small day bag with some key items that will tide you over as you’re waiting for your luggage to arrive at your cabin. That’s also where you would store valuables and medications. (Check out our other useful embarkation tips!). 

Look for a bag with several compartments or pockets that will make it easier for you to stay organized. The exterior should feature some type of scratch-resistant material, such as nylon, which keeps marks from appearing when rubbed against other pieces of luggage in transit. Many carry-ons feature wheels for easy transport between the airport and ship docks.

Luggage for Port (A Day Bag)

Assuming you plan to leave the ship and engage in some activities in port, you will need a day bag. If you are traveling with kids, it’s a good idea to have a family day bag. Although different family members may have personal items that they cart around themselves, one primary can house all of your family essentials for your day in port. For instance, items like towels, sunscreen, water, snacks, etc.

 It doesn’t necessarily mean one person carries it around all day; it can be a shared responsibility. But the benefit of having one primary consolidated bag is that it makes it easier to make sure that you have all the key items that you need for the day in one place.

The type of bag doesn’t really matter. It just needs to be big enough to hold everything that you need. If you are going to the beach, a big beach-style tote works nicely. If you have a city day plan, a backpack-style bag may be easier and more efficient. And there are also hybrids between the two styles.

What Size Luggage Should You Bring?

You probably know that cruise cabins have limited space. Whatever luggage you bring with you will need to be capable of being stored in your cabin. So keep the size of your cabin in mind when it comes to choosing the perfect suitcase for cruising.

Ideally, you will be able to nest some pieces of luggage inside others, for instance, if one is smaller in size than another or can be squished into a larger piece because it’s flexible/soft. You can buy luggage sets that have been specifically designed to nest. 

In terms of actually storing your luggage in your cabin, the best luggage for cruise ships are pieces that can be stored in a location where they are not taking up valuable floor space or closet space. So, ideally, it will fit under the bed.


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Recommendations for the Best Cruise Luggage

Hardside Suitcases

Samsonite Centric 2 Hardside Expandable Luggage

Samsonite Centric Hardside Expandable Luggage is our top pick for the best suitcases for a cruise. We think that either the Centric or the Centric 2 would make a good choice because the differences between them are extremely minor. (The most significant difference is that the carry-on in the Centric 2 line has a built-in power outlet.)

These suitcases feature a scratch-resistant polycarbonate shell, four multi-directional spinner wheels, and a full-zip interior divider and cross straps to help you stay organized.

Best Cruise Luggage | photo of open Samsonite Centric 2 Hardside Suitcase
Interior of Samsonite Centric 2 Hardside 28″ (E. Warren, 2021)

Not to mention, it also has generous expansion capability for when you need more space for purchases, souvenirs, or other clothes. And this suitcase comes with cleverly designed side-mounted TSA locks to help deter theft.

Best Cruise Luggage | photo of Samsonite Centric 2 in expanded position
Samsonite Centric 2 as viewed in the expanded position (E. Warren, 2021)

These suitcases come in a range of distinctive colors. We chose Caribbean Blue for our personal collection.

Notably, Samsonite Centric hardside luggage sets have been well-reviewed by cruise passengers. Based on our recent personal experience, we agree with the consensus view of our fellow cruise travelers:

  • Very lightweight – all of our suitcases were filled without ever triggering airline overcharges.
  • Wheels roll exceptionally well, even on the carpet. These suitcases don’t require any significant force to push. My youngest child was able to maneuver it with ease. And I was able to roll two large suitcases with one hand (held back to back) – for an extended trek through the airport.
  • These pieces nest together inside the largest suitcase, which fits easily under the cabin bed.
The best cruise luggage will  fit easily under the bed in your stateroom.
View of a large suitcase being stored under the bed on a cruise ship (E. Warren, 2021)
Photo of
Luggage in “nested” position (E. Warren, 12-2022)

2023 Note: We have now had this particular set for about two years and have used it for both cruise and non-cruise vacations. These pieces have been quite durable. All the wheels and handles still work perfectly, and the outsides have remained free of scratches and dings!

Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Expandable Luggage

This luggage set is quite similar to the Centric and Centric 2 luggage, except that it has a strikingly different visual design and is usually a little cheaper. Like the Centric cases discussed above, the Samsonite Omni is constructed from scratch-resistant polycarbonate material, has four multi-directional spinner wheels, a mesh divider and cross straps, and the same TSA side-mounted locks.

All of the suitcases in this set are also expandable and come with push-button telescopic handles.

This luggage set is also very popular with cruise travelers. It receives dozens of rave reviews from veteran cruisers.

Of particular note, the Omni 2 suitcases receive high marks for being lightweight, their ease of maneuverability, interior organization, and those nifty TSA locks.

Amazon Basics 3-Piece Set Hardside Spinner

The price of the AmazonBasics 3-Piece Set Hardside Luggage may initially give one pause. The cost of the entire set is less than the price for a single suitcase in many luggage lines. But this luggage definitely gets the job done at a value price.

The extra-thick ABS hardshell and scratch-resistant black finish keep your items safe, while the four double spinner wheels provide 360° of smooth-rolling movement in any direction, making it easy to navigate through crowded airports or busy streets.

AmazonBasics Luggage for Cruise
AmazonBasic 30″ Hardside with handle fully extended (E. Warren, 2022)

The sturdy telescoping handle ensures comfortable maneuvering, while the securely mounted short handle provides an easy grab-and-go option when you’re in a hurry. And when you need a little more packing space, the luggage expands by up to 15%.

This economical purchase has simple and limited organization. The most significant drawback is the side with the straps.  Basically, the gaps between the straps are too wide and the straps themselves are too flexible. If you open the suitcase from the wrong side – which is inevitable because there is no easy way to tell which side is up – many of the items will fall out.  Since we always use packing cubes, this hasn’t been a true disaster, but it can get annoying.

We have found that our AmazonBasics luggage has held up very well over time, and it offers great value. This is also a set that’s highly rated by cruise passengers.

The highlights of this luggage set:

  • The set nests well. Each piece fits inside of the other.
  • The wheel roll smoothly and you can easily transition back and forth between using two and four wheels.

Recommended Rolling Garment Bag

Exterior view of Samsonite rolling garment bag (E. Warren, 2022)

Make packing for your next trip a breeze with this rolling garment bag from Samsonite. This garment bag is perfect for those who want to avoid creases in their clothes, as the hangers can face left and right to double hanging capacity.

View of hanger bracket and interior mesh pockets of Samsonite rolling garment bag (E. Warren, 2022)

The hanger bracket makes it easy to move your clothes straight from the closet to the garment bag and back again.

Shoe pockets and a bottom panel that folds out make efficient use of space.

Internal view of large Samsonite rolling garment bag (E. Warren, 2022)

Plus, the corner mesh pockets maximize packing volume and provide extra storage, and the zippered compartment is perfect for storing damp clothing or items like shoes.

Exterior pockets of large Samsonite rolling garment bag (E. Warren, 2022)

Pockets on the exterior provide extra storage and organization.

Recommended Rolling Duffel Bags

This High Sierra 3-Piece Duffel Set is perfect for your next trip. The in-line style skate wheel makes it easy to maneuver, and the recessed, telescoping lightweight handle system makes it easy to store. With three different sizes to choose from, you can find the perfect bag for your needs. The U-shaped openings make packing and unpacking a breeze, and the inner side compartment keeps your clothes and accessories organized.

The set features a lightweight and durable construction, making it easy to take everything you need with you wherever you go. With multiple grab handles for easy carrying, this set is perfect for cruise travel.

Amazon Basics Ripstop 

The AmazonBasics Ripstop Wheeled Duffel is perfect for anyone who wants to travel in style and comfort. The duffel is made of durable black polyester with grey accents, and the top, sides, and base are made of ripstop fabric for extra strength. It has multiple zippered front and main compartments for easy organizing, and it comes with an upright telescopic handle and in-line wheels for easy mobility.

Cruise travelers love this duffel and give it rave reviews. Travelers particularly love the amount of storage space provided and that you can fit two of these bags under a cruise ship bed. Plus, it receives high marks for the superior organization with many convenient compartments. This duffel presents a great choice at a great price.

Frequently Asked Questions

What size luggage is best for a cruise?

The best place to store your luggage in your cruise cabin is under the bed, so you want luggage pieces that will fit there. Typically, if your suitcase is less than 13 inches in height, it should fit. This will accommodate your average large suitcase (28″-30″).

Do cruise ships XRAY your luggage?

Yes. All luggage that comes aboard a cruise ship – whether carry-on or checked – will be scanned. Your carry-on items will be scanned through an x-ray machine similar to what you find at the airport.

Do Cruise Lines search your luggage?

It depends. All luggage will be scanned. If something draws attention, then those individual pieces may be searched by security personnel. Any contraband items discovered will be confiscated (e.g., alcohol, firearms). Depending on the individual cruise line’s policy, some confiscated items may be held by security and returned to you at the conclusion of your cruise.

Closing Thoughts

The best cruise luggage will be lightweight, large enough to hold all of your belongings, and durable enough to sustain being handled by numerous people. Ideally, you should be able to nest the pieces inside one another and fit everything neatly under the bed. Once you have decided on what’s the best cruise luggage for your family, go check out our cruise packing tips!

(This post originally appeared in February 2022, and it has been updated.)

Elaine Warren

Founder & Crew Chief

Elaine founded this website after publishing the book The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids. She has sailed on 36 cruises (and counting). She loves helping families navigate their way to an adventure-filled, fun, and memorable vacation.

Last update on 2024-02-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API