7 Simple Reasons You’ll Want To Skip That Drinks Package

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Trying to figure out whether that snazzy beverage package the cruise line offers will actually be a good deal for your family? It sounds enticing: Pay one flat rate for the privilege of consuming all of the drinks you can stomache. It’s certainly convenient! But will it offer you good value and save money? Read on to find out what you need to know to figure out if this is a good deal for your family. And, learn seven reasons why it actually may not be right for you.

Cruise Drinks Package | photo of 3 cruisers enjoying beverages

We have 3 sections to help your decision making:
    • The basics of a cruise drinks package.
    • The 7 reasons to skip a drinks package.
    • Some additional money-saving tips for beverages.

(An earlier version of this Post was first published on 6/19/2018.)


The Basics on Cruise Line Beverages

Before you can figure out whether a beverage package would be good deal for your family, you need to know what beverages you already paid for in your cruise price. 

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Beverages Included In Basic Cruise Fare

Generally, the basic drinks included in your cruise fare will include milk, some juices, hot chocolate, and regular coffee and tea (i.e, not specialty beverages like lattes, cappuccinos or chai). You will also find some self serve fountain-style drinks at the buffet. Basically non-carbonated drinks like juice or juice based drinks like punch (not sodas). And, of course, you should also be able to get regular non-bottled water. Everything else beyond these basics will incur an additional charge.

What’s Included in a Drinks Package?

Different cruise lines offer a variety of drinks packages that cover different combinations of alcoholic and/or non-alcoholic drinks. The specifics of what’s included in any given package will vary. But, you should generally be aware that not all alcoholic drinks receive the same treatment.  Nor do all non-alcoholic beverages.

The alcohol packages may draw distinctions based on beer and wine vs. hard liquor and cocktails. Or, they may place a cap on the dollar value of an individual drink covered by the package. Or, both.

Similarly, a drinks package for non-alcoholic beverages may draw distinctions based on type of beverage. E.g., bottled water (and/or brand of water), specialty coffees, fresh juices and soda, energy drinks, or mock-tails. A specific cruise line’s drinks package may include all of these items or only a small subset. So, if you have a preference for premium liquor and cocktails vs. beer and wine, or specialty coffees (e.g., lattes) and bottled water, you should determine whether your favorites are covered.

Rules For Drink Packages

Some basic rules generally apply for all cruise lines.

  • A drinks package is per person, not per family or stateroom. Only the person for whom the drinks package is purchased is allowed to consume beverages under the package. People will often try to dance around this rule with varying degrees of success. But don’t count on being able to do so, or you will likely be frustrated. And, your privileges may be revoked altogether. 
  • A drinks package applies only to beverages purchased on board the ship (and, depending on the cruise line, on a private island). 
  • A drinks package will typically exclude room service and in-room mini bars.

7 Reasons To Skip The Drinks Package

If one or more of the following seven reasons applies to you, you will likely spend less money overall if you skip the drinks package.

1. You Drink Few Beverages After Breakfast.

Most of the beverages that folks usually drink at breakfast will be free. The most notable exception would potentially be fresh squeezed juice. So, with that point in mind, you should assess how many drinks outside of breakfast you will likely consume each day. Use this broad rule of thumb: If you are unlikely to drink 5 or more additional beverages while on the ship, then you will probably not break even on a drinks package.  

Do The Math.

Cruise Drinks Packages | photo of family enjoying meal

Typically, cruise lines quote drinks packages as a “daily” charge. But, they only sell packages based on the entire length of your cruise. Not by the day. So, you pay a flat fee based on the total number of days of the cruise, regardless of how many sea days or port days are available. You can’t pick and choose which days you want to include or exclude from the package.

So, for instance, a package on a 7-day cruise that is touted at $50/day for unlimited beverages will cost $350 for one person. Generally, a drinks package that include various alcohol combinations will range from $55 to $79 per day, and a non-alcoholic drinks package will range from $18 to $25. In this context, a non-alcoholic package means something more than just soda and juice. Many cruise lines will also offer a soda package for less. More like $8-$10 per day. But this will typically not include bottled water.

Regardless of the package, the cruise line will also assess an additional surcharge for gratuities of 15-18%. So if you buy a drinks package advertised at $50 per day, you would be charged a lump sum of $350 + 18% (or $413) for each person who buys a package.

When deciding whether a package had value to you, assume the prices for individual drinks will be similar to what you would pay at a hotel resort. So, for instance, about $3 to $6 for non-alcoholic drinks and about $8-12 for alcohol. Keep in mind that the same daily rate applies whether it is a sea day or a port day.

Update for 2019:

Some cruise lines have increased prices for their beverage packages for 2019. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian provide two notable examples. Under Royal Caribbean’s new pricing scheme, prices for the deluxe beverage packages will range from $74 to $84 per day (including required gratuity).  So the total cost for two adults in a cabin who get deluxe packages will start at $1,040 for a 7 day cruise. Also, folks buying the soda package will now pay $12.99 per day (plus gratuity). As for Norwegian, the price of its Ultimate beverage package rises up to $99 a day plus a 20% gratuity. So the total cost for two adults in a cabin will be $1,660 for a 7 day cruise. But, Norwegian continues to offer an inexpensive soda package for about $6 per day.

You can find more information about 2019 pricing on the Travel Market Report website.

Will you drink five or more beverages after breakfast?

Let’s apply that rule of thumb. Let’s say after breakfast, you are likely only to have a beverage at lunch, another one or two at dinner, and perhaps one more at some other point during the day. Then, you would probably be better served paying a la carte. This is particularly true if you will be spending lots of time off the ship.  (See #3 below.)

Conversely, let’s say you know that in addition to beer at lunch and wine at dinner, you will likely consume several specialty coffees over the course of the day, have a cocktail or two by the pool, and indulge in a couple of drinks after hours in the casino. You will probably get full value out of a drinks package.

2. You Should Probably Skip The Drinks Package If You Are Primarily Interested In Non-Alcoholic Drinks.

Cruise Drinks Package - two kids drinking smoothiesIf you are only interested in a non-alcoholic drinks package, you are unlikely to get full value for your purchase. First, some cruise lines don’t even offer a separate non-alcoholic drinks package. In which case, you would be paying the same price for a package whether you are ordering smoothies and speciality coffees or ordering Mai Tais and scotch on the rocks. 

For cruise lines that offer non-alcoholic versions of a drink package, you need to pay close attention to what is actually included. Does it include items such as bottled water, smoothies, shakes or specialty coffees? And how about mock-tails (cocktails without actual alcohol)? Or, does it only include soda and other carbonated beverages?

For example, Carnival’s main drinks package (Cheers!) covers all different kinds of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. This includes smoothies, specialty coffees, sodas etc. But, the only non-alcoholic package available is the Bottomless Bubbles program which covers only sodas and juice. So if you will primarily be drinking smoothies and cappuccinos, then you will not save money buying this package.

Non-alcoholic drinks typically run about $3-5 each. Daily prices for most non-alcohol packages or soda packages run about $8-15 per day. So you, or the package holder, would need to drink 3-5 beverages each day to break even. This may be easy to do if the package covers all non-alcoholic beverages. Less easy if it only covers soda. (Note, Carnival actually offers a discounted price for kids on the Bottomless Bubbles program – $4.95 daily + 15% gratuity).

3. Skip It If You are Sailing a Port Heavy Itinerary.

Cruise Drinks Package - photo of in port waterfront cafeIf you are on a port heavy itinerary and plan to actually leave the ship,  you will not have access to your drinks package for large sections of each day. So, on a port heavy vacation where you plan to be out and about, you would need to calculate how many beverages you are likely to consume in late afternoon and into the evening. (Assuming that you drink typical breakfast beverages.)  Will you be drinking  more than 3-5 each and every day? If not, then you are literally leaving money at the table. Plus, you will have to pay out of pocket for any beverages you want while off the ship.

That said, if you do get a package that includes bottled water, you will at least have the option to carry the bottles of water with you when you leave the ship. Sometimes the cruise ship will even have a station set up as you exit the ship where you can pick up bottles on your way out. Those that don’t have a package can still pick up bottles too, but they will be charged to their ship board account.

What about private islands?

You should also be mindful of whether the cruise line you are sailing extends drinks package privileges to its private island. Not all cruise lines do. So, for instance, if you are sailing on Carnival, Holland America, or Princess, the drinks package applies only to the ship. But, if you are sailing Royal Caribbean or Celebrity, your drink privileges also apply to Labadee and Coco Cay. And, as for Norwegian Cruises, at last report, its Ultimate Beverage Package could be used on its private island in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay. It could not, however, be used at the Belize private island of Harvest Caye.

4. Consider Skipping It, If All Adults Must Purchase Same Packages.

Many cruise lines now require that all adults in a stateroom purchase the same package, if any package is to be purchased. Presumably to cut down on folks trying to game the system. Thus, if one adult buys the full alcoholic package, any other adults traveling in the same cabin must also purchase one. So, unless both/all adults are going to consume more than 3-5 drinks each day, then on a per cabin price, you will not get full value for your money.

5. Skip The Drinks Package If You Primarily Drink Water.

Cruise Drinks Package - photo of woman drinking from bottled waterIf you are happy drinking tap water. You don’t need a drink package. If you prefer bottle water and that is mostly what you drink, some cruise lines offer a bottled water package. Basically, you can buy a certain number of large bottles for a set price. The bottles will be delivered to your cabin at the start of your cruise.

If a water package is not offered, you may be forced to buy a premium package to get the bottled water you want. That is unlikely to save money over a la cart pricing.

Also, you should check your cruise line policies on bringing your own water on board. If it is permitted, and you have time to stop at a store before embarkation, then stock up and bring your own water. (Bottles of water are heavy and subject to breaking – so not a great plan to try and fly with it.)

Check out the “money saving tips” section below for tips on making the most of free water and complimentary beverages.

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6. You primarily drink coffee based beverages.

Cruise Drinks Package - woman drinking coffeeBasic coffee and tea are free. But specialty coffees like lattes are a premium. And, they are usually not included in the basic non-alcoholic package price for cruise lines that have a separate package. If you have to upgrade from a basic package, you will have to drink quite a number of lattes and cappuccinos to come close to breaking even.

That said, some cruise lines offer some type of coffee card option. For a set price, you receive a card that entitles you to 10  or 15 coffees of your choice. For coffee lovers, this can be a great deal. Plus, when this option is offered as an actual card, it is not tied to a specific cruiser. So more than one person can enjoy specialty coffees using the same card. 

7. Skip The Package If You Can Be Satisfied With The BYOB  Allowance.

You may have the option to bring on board your own limited quantity of non-alcoholic and/or alcoholic beverages. This depends on which cruise line you sail. This could include limited amounts of sodas, beers, and bottles of wines. The types and amounts vary by cruise line, and some cruise lines will charge you a corkage fee for opening your wine at a restaurant. You should check with your specific cruise line for the most updated limits, but by way of example:

Sample Allowances
      • Carnival: For non-alcoholic beverages, guests can bring up to 12 cans or cartons (bottles are not permitted) at embarkation. This includes water as well as soda, juices, milk, etc. Guests can also bring on up to 12 cans or cartons of non-alcoholic beverages from ports of calls. Alcoholic beverages, however, will be placed in storage. Each guest can bring one 750 ml bottle of wine or champagne. No beer or hard liquor. The ship charges a $15 corkage fee for opening wine in a restaurant.
      • Royal Caribbean:  Two bottles (750 ml) of wine or champagne per stateroom. No other beverages permitted. A corkage fee of $15 applies to bottles opened in public areas. (UPDATE: Although Royal Caribbean has not yet updated the relevant page on its website, it is being reported at the Royal Caribbean Blog that the cruise line is updated its policy effective 9/1/2018 to allow passengers to carry on 12 bottles of water or non-alcoholic beverages in their hand luggage.)
      • Norwegian: Guests may bring bottles of wine or champagne only. No other beverages. All bottles are subject to a per bottle corkage fee regardless of where consumed – $15 for 750ml bottles and $30 for 1500ml Magnum.
      • Celebrity: Guests may bring up to two bottles per stateroom. Corkage fee of $25 per bottle applies if consumed outside of stateroom.
      • Holland America:  Guests may bring one bottle of wine or champagne. No corkage fee if consumed in stateroom. Additional bottles may be brought for an $18 corkage fee, regardless of where consumed.

These BYOB allowances for alcohol typically only apply at embarkation. The crew will confiscate any alcohol purchased while you are in port after sailing. They will store it until the end of your cruise. (Note that a harsher rule applies if you try to bring on or sneak on excess alcohol at embarkation. It will usually not be returned to you if found and confiscated.)

Cruise Drinks Package -Waitress holding a dish of sangria glasses

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Other Money-Saving Tips

Look For Narrower Beverage Deals. 

Something else to consider is whether the cruise line offers a smaller deal that will better accommodate your needs. For instance, a water package. You buy a certain number of bottles of water in advance. Or, a coffee card for a set number of specialty coffees. 

And, on the alcoholic side, some cruise lines also offer narrower packages for bottles of beer or wine. For instance, Celebrity offers a Taste of the Vineyard package where you can select three, five, or seven bottles of wine at various price points. Holland America offers a Cellar Masters package. You get five bottles of wine and other perks. Princess offers a beer package where you get five bottles of certain beers at a discounted price. (Princess also offers a similar discount package for canned sodas.)

Maximize The Free Beverages.

Another option to consider is bringing along a box or two of flavor enhancers for water. Non-bottled water is free. Flavor enhancers come in a wide variety of flavors. You can easily pick up some that appeal to you and/or your kids and then mix them with the complimentary water.  Either in the cup provided, or in your own water bottles brought from home. This can substantially expand your beverage options without substantially adding to your costs.

Also, make use of the in-room refrigerator. If there isn’t room for you to include your own stuff, see if you can get the cabin attendant to clear it out. If you are sailing with kids, this request is usually easier to get accommodated. Mention that you need to be able to store milk. (This works better if your kids actually drink milk.) Then when you are at the buffet pick up extra cartons at breakfast or other meals to take back to your room.

Likewise, if you have brought extra water bottles, you can fill them up with juice or punch from the self-serve area and store those for later as well.

Investigate Potential Options to Prorate.

Some cruise lines will allow you to purchase a beverage package in the middle of your cruise for a prorated price.  For instance, both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity offer this option. (Similarly, Princess permits refunds on packages until the third day of sailing.)

So, if you are unsure about whether a package is right for you, you could wait.  See how much you actually drink on the first day or two. Then purchase a package for the remainder of the cruise. But there is usually a cut-off past which you no longer have this option. Anywhere from 2 to 4 days prior to the end of the cruise. So depending on where the port days and sea days fall in your itinerary, this may or may not make much sense for you.

Watch For Pre-Boarding Sales on Drinks Package.

If a beverage package interests you, then definitely watch for discounted sales online. You should receive an email about such specials several weeks (or months) before sailing. Such discounts can be substantial – e.g., 30% – for some of the more expensive premium packages.

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Closing Thoughts:

No question that a drinks package can be extremely convenient. Pay once before you even board and then don’t worry about it again. But, if you are seeking price savings and value, you should pause to do some basic math. Follow this rule of thumb to help your assessment. If you are unlikely to drink more than 4 or 5 beverages after breakfast, you should probably skip it.

If, however, you are content with the idea that you may ultimately be paying for convenience, then no worries. Likewise, you may want the freedom to experiment with a variety of cocktails without feeling compelled to finish them. If so, bottoms up!


Need help planning a cruise vacation with kids? Download our free Quick Start Guide now!

Or, for more detailed guidance on planning an awesome family cruise, check out Elaine’s book, The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids (available in print and digital at Amazon).








Now Ride Your Wave To Awesome Savings On 2019 Family Cruise Deals

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3-D illustration of puppet on raft seeking best family cruise deals

Wave season has arrived!  Now that the holidays are firmly behind us, it is a great time to start planning your next family cruise.

“Wave Season” typically runs from January through March. During this period, cruise lines present some of their most aggressive offers for the upcoming year. These are promotions that are available for sailings throughout the year, but the special discounts and perks accrue for booking during the wave season offer period. While the actual discounted cruise fares may not be the absolute least expensive for the entire year, the discounted fares plus a variety of valuable perks can make for some excellent family cruise deals.  Read on to find what 2019 has to offer.

For tips on saving money on cruises year round, visit Try These Top Ways To Stretch Your Family Cruise Dollars.

Current Family Cruise Deals for Wave Season 2019

We have rounded up the current wave season promotions being offered by the major cruise lines.  So, start looking for your family cruise deals here.  Although numerous luxury cruise lines and river cruise lines are also offering wave season promotions, this round-up focuses on the larger cruise lines that are typically the most family friendly.

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Carnival has three basic promotions: Early Saver Sale, Pack & Go Sale, and the Onboard Credit Sale. The Early Saver Sale offers $50 deposits for bookings through April 2021. The Pack & Go Sale offers discounts up to 25% off on select sailings between now and May, 2019. And, the Onboard Credit Sale offers $50 onboard credit on sailings through spring 2019.

Also, Carnival is offering a More=Merrier deal that ends January 11, 2018.  You can save additional money on rooms with 3 or more guests on select sailings through spring 2018.

You can find Carnival promotions here.


Celebrity offers the Sale Beyond Event 

This promotion offers discounts on all staterooms plus additional free perks for families booking oceanview cabins and above. Savings start at $100 per cabin for inside staterooms and go up to $400 per cabin for suites. Also, additional passengers in a cabin receive 50% discounted fares.

Families booking oceanview or verandah staterooms can make two selections from the perk menu. Suite bookings earn four selections.

The perk menu includes choices of a drinks package, wifi package, prepaid gratuities, and $150 per person of on board credit. If you opt for a nonrefundable deposit, you’ll receive an extra perk selection. savings of up to $150 per person for the first two passengers in a cabin. The amount varies based on cabin category. 

Offer is available through January 31.  And, offer valid on travel from Feb. 1, 2019 to May 11, 2020.


For its Wave Season promotion, Disney offers a 50% discount on deposits on select cruises 4 nights or longer.  This offer is valid through February 15, 2019 for cruises departing between June 22, 2019 and May 30, 2020.  Find more information on this Disney promotions here.  (So, this particular promotion won’t actually save money ultimately, but it reduces your immediate out-of-pocket costs.)

While not necessarily Wave Season promotions, families can also currently find discounted family cruise deals on specific sailings of select itineraries:

  • Up to 25% off designated Caribbean sailings between now and April. More information here.
  • The website mousesavers.com reports additional special deals for specific sailings & specific stateroom categories.  More information available here.
Holland America

For Wave Season, Holland America offers its Why Not Now? promotion.

This offer applies to more than 500 sailings of select 2019 and 2020 departures. It includes stateroom upgrades, discounts on shore excursions, up to $1000 in air credit, and reduced deposits of $99 (restrictions apply). 

This promotion ends February 28, 2019.  

MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises currently offers its All-In promotion. Guests booking this promotion receive unlimited drinks and free wifi on Caribbean itineraries. The cruise line also offers reduced deposits of $99 per person. 

This offer expires March 31, 2019.

Be sure to check out our review of MSC Seaside!

Norwegian Cruises

Throughout the year Norwegian offers variations on its Free at Sea promotion.  It is currently promoting “New Year. Big Savings” and offering a selection of 6 different perk offers including free airfare or air credits for select cruises.

On designated sailings, guests may choose from a list of 6 perk offers. The number of your selections varies based on stateroom category. Available perks include: Unlimited Open Bar; Specialty Dining Package; 250-Minute Internet Package; $50 USD Per Port Shore Excursion Credits; 3rd & 4th Guest Sail Free (select sailings); and Roundtrip Air (opportunity for free or reduced flights).  Promotion valid through January 27, 2019.  (The deadline for this offer has been extended a couple of times.)

Find out more about Norwegian’s promotions here.


Princess has two different promotions running: the Exclusively Caribbean Sale (for Spring 2019 through Fall 2019 sailings) and the All Aboard! Sale (for Summer 2019 through Spring 2020 sailings).

In the Exclusively Caribbean Sale, guests can save up to 40% off of select sailings, stateroom location upgrades, and reduced rates of $99 for the third and fourth passengers in a cabin. This promotion ends January 31, 2019.

In the All Aboard! Sale promotion, guests receive up to $900 in onboard credit per stateroom (amount varies based on length of itinerary and stateroom category).  And, everyone in the cabin (up to 4) receives one night free specialty dining.   Offer ends February 28, 2019. 

Royal Caribbean

This Wave Season Royal Caribbean offers its Explore More Sale.

Cruises booked in January receive 60% off cruise fare of second guest and up to $300 in instant savings.  This offer ends January 27.

Find out more information on Royal Caribbean promotions.

More Tips on Finding the Best Family Cruise Deals

As you start checking out different websites for promotions, you may wonder how you should figure out what’s a good deal or not.  For insights on evaluating different deals, check out this article on cruisecritic.com:

3 Ways to Make the Most of Wave Season Cruise Deals

This article provides great tips on how to objectively evaluate specific wave season promotions, and determine what may be right for your family.  In addition, it provides tips on comparing apples to apples when looking at specific fares and itineraries.  And, it also flags special issues to look for in the fine print of individual offers.

For more reading on getting the best family cruise deals check out:

9 Tips for Getting the Best ‘Wave Season’ Cruise Deals  

And, for more tips on saving money on family cruises more generally, check out Try These Top Ways To Stretch Your Family Cruise Dollars.

 Download our one-page 2018/2019 Family Cruise Packing Checklist!

Want more detailed guidance on planning an awesome family cruise?  Check out Elaine’s book, The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids (available in print and digital at Amazon).

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What To Pack For A Cruise: The Helpful List You Need

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Cast your cruise packing worries aside! This list for families has what to pack for a cruise with kids without missing essentials or overpacking.

What to pack for a cruise | photo of family luggage waiting in foyer

If you’re new to the wonderful world of family cruising, questions about what to pack for a cruise are likely lurking somewhere in the back (or front) of your mind. Whether it’s making sure that you don’t forget anything, or wanting to make the most efficient use of space in your luggage and stateroom. Even if you’ve done it a few times, you may be curious in comparing notes for ideas on what could be done differently.

Over the past 10+ years, we’ve been on dozens of cruises with kids and most of them have been to warm weather destinations. And, at this point, our basic packing list is fairly settled. With maybe the occasional tweak depending on what activities we plan to do.  So, whether you’re planning a 7 day Caribbean cruise or a 14+ day cruise of the South Pacific, the following tips and checklist will have you ready to go in no time. Read on to find out exactly what you should consider packing for your next family cruise. (We’ve also compiled this information into a handy family checklist. See below.) 

What To Pack For A Cruise: Basic Clothing

Something that you should keep in mind if you are new to cruising is that you will probably use more clothes than usual because you will likely be changing more than once a day (for at least some if not all of your cruise days). You will have a wide range of fun activities to choose from, many of which have different clothing and/or footwear requirements. Even if you plan on spending most of your time on the beach or at the pool, you will probably change clothes for dinner after washing off that chlorine or saltwater.

Depending on the size of your travel party, packing for multiple wardrobe changes can quickly expand your suitcase count. You can streamline this by making a plan for doing laundry. Check out our post on doing laundry on a cruise ship for more information.

Everyone has their own style of dress and preferences for dressing their children. So it’s not that helpful to try and set out a detailed itemized list. In this instance, one size does not fit all.  Instead, here are some general rules of thumb to use for planning purposes and selecting which wardrobe items you want to pack.

* Casual day outfits

Plan to pack one outfit for each day of your cruise for each person in your family. These would be your everyday items such as shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, sundresses, etc.

If you are planning to work out, include exercise clothes as well. Depending on the size of your ship, you will have access to some kind of track for walking or jogging. And, you will also likely find a complete on-board fitness gym with modern equipment. The ship may also offer fitness classes as part of the amenities. Potentially for an additional fee.

* Evening outfits

Plan to pack an evening outfit for each night of cruise of your cruise as well. Although many cruise lines have flexible dress codes these days, generally there will still be some basic rules about clothing in the main dining room – particularly for adults. How strictly these are enforced varies widely. But generally, the younger the child the lesser the expectations. And the expectations change depending on the venue and time of day. For the buffet, you can pretty much wear what you want. For speciality dining, people tend to dress much more nicely. And, for all venues, if you dine on the earlier side, things are much lower key.

Appropriate evening attire for non-formal nights would include items such as collared shirt and long pants, skirts, dresses, blouses, dressy tank tops. For kids, you can easily plan on respectable shorts or jeans. Some of the items that you pack for your casual days can serve double duty in the evening.

Scroll down for more information on what to pack specifically for formal nights.

* Pajamas

However many pajamas that you usually go through in a week at home should be fine on the ship. But bring extra pajamas if you have kids in diapers or who are still accident prone.

* Underwear

Include appropriate regular underwear for each family member. And throw in a few extra to account for wardrobe changes.

* Accessories

Include whatever accessories are consistent with your personal style. Items such as scarfs, handbag, casual jewelry, etc. And, you should include for each person, a lightweight jacket/poncho that can be tucked away for rainy days or cooler nights.

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Cruise Packing For Formal Nights

You can check in advance as to how many formal nights your cruise will have, but assume 2 for a 7 night cruise. Your participation is optional. But if you plan to opt out, then you should plan to dine in a venue where it’s not being observed – like the buffet, pool area, or room service. That said, you should really consider doing at least one. It can be more fun than you think, and it’s a great way to get some nice family photos. (There will be photographers set up throughout the ship and walking through the dining room. No obligation to actually purchase.)

If you plan to dress-up for formal night, include the following for each person:

  • Suit or better for men/boys – don’t forget the dress shirts.
  • Cocktail-style dress or better for women/girls
  • Ties (men/boys)
  • Appropriate evening accessories – jewelry, purse, etc.
  • Specialty underwear (if necessary)
  • Trouser socks/hosiery (as necessary)

You should also note that some cruise lines have the option for renting formal as well. But this should be arranged in advance.

Cruise Packing: Shoes 

If your schedule of activities will include any variety, you’re going to need to pack more than one pair of shoes. So your itemized list of what to pack for a cruise should factor that in. Consider packing the following sets of shoes for each person:

  • comfortable walking around shoes
  • closed toe shoes (some activities may require)
  • shoes for beach/pool (flip flops, water sandals, etc.)
  • formal night shoes
  • dressy/casual shoes (for non-formal nights)
  • shoes for gym/track (if applicable)

So, as an example, for each child, I usually end up packing a pair of all purpose “active” sandals that can be worn all day, including evenings; a pair of water sandals/shoes; and a pair of dress shoes.

Cruise Packing | photo of mom and daughter packing for vacation

Cruise Packing: Beach/Pool

If you’re sailing on a warm weather cruise, then you will likely be spending some quality time at the beach and/or pool. So when deciding what to pack for a cruise, don’t forget these key items for water fun.

  • Swimsuits (recommend 3 – 1 wet, 1 drying, 1 extra in case you end up doing the beach and the pool int same day, and don’t want to crawl back into a wet suit.
  • Swimsuit cover-up
  • Floaties/swim vest (for kids) 
  • Sand toys (for beach )
  • Goggles
  • Hat

Related Content:  6 Items To Absolutely Include On Your Family’s Caribbean Cruise 

Cruise Packing: Sundries/Toiletries

You will likely have some very basic toiletries in your cabin. This will include hand soap and some version of something called shampoo. And, possibly something that can be used for body wash. It is unlikely that these items will be of the quality that you usually use and like. (If you are in a suite or a concierge level cabin, you will have more items and nicer quality.) Your list of what to pack for a cruise should include your own favorite toiletries.

Although you will also have the option to purchase items through the on-board shops, these will likely be very expensive and can often run out. So pack the following items that can be shared among family members:

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Travel-size lotion
  • Sanitary products
  • Favorite medications
  • Travel-size hand sanitizer
  • Small laundry soap (if don’t want to use onboard laundry service) 
  • Wrinkle away spray
  • Preferred shower gel
  • Shower cap
  • Shaving items
  • toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Preferred shampoo/conditioner
  • Non-perishable snacks (for travel days and/or shore excursions)

Cruise Packing: Electronics/Gear

In deciding what to pack for a cruise, these items are all optional. But, they’re highly recommended useful items for your cruise packing.

  • Day pack/beach bag (something to use during port calls)
  • Outlet expander (read more about this must have cruise accessory
  • Tablets (fully loaded)
  • Extra batteries for anything important
  • Extra headphones
  • Camera (if not using smart phone)
  • A watch/timepiece that won’t auto set (so can remain on “ship time”)
  • A watch/timepiece for kids that are self-signers, or who are allowed to navigate ship independently (so they know when to meet you)

What To Pack For A Cruise: Organization

There are several items that you can pack to help make your cruise ship room more comfortable and make the most of the space available to you. So consider including these items when deciding what to pack for your cruise.

  • Magnets – clip/clamp style
  • Back of the door shoe organizer – for the bathroom to store toiletries and other small items
  • Hanging closet organizer
  • Lanyards with ID card holders (available on-board, but not cheap)
  • Laundry bags

What to pack for a cruise| photo of mom and baby packing

What To Pack For A Cruise With Babies/Toddlers 

Depending on which cruise line you are sailing, you may be able to get some of  your basic baby gear on board and cut down on your cruise packing. You should also check out our post on essential items to pack when cruising with a baby and our Resource Page for going on a cruise with a baby.

  • Foldable compact umbrella stroller
  • Bottle brush
  • Small bottle of dish soap
  • Portable bottle sanitizer (not required; water in bathroom should get hot enough)
  • Extra baby food or formula 
  • An abundance of diapers (add a few more than you think you’ll need)
  • Extra wipes
  • Favorite OTC medications
  • Favorite non-perishable snacks


Would you like this information about what to pack for your cruise in a handy checklist? Download our one-page 2018/2019 Family Cruise Packing Checklist!

Want more detailed guidance on planning an awesome family cruise?  Check out Elaine’s book, The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids (available in print and digital at Amazon).