If you are looking for one must-have cruise accessory that you’ll absolutely love, pack a cruise-friendly travel power strip or outlet extender. Seriously. Based on value for the money and value for the luggage space used, this one will almost certainly top the list every time. Find out why you absolutely should toss one into your suitcase. And, learn about a few factors to consider when deciding which one to pack or buy. (Be sure to check out our take on this newly released travel power strip with an updated design for 2023.)
Cruising With Electronics
There are several items that you can pack that will greatly enhance your overall cruise experience and help maximize the space in your cruise ship room. But in terms of sheer value and all-around usefulness, an outlet expander or travel-sized power strip tops the list. Note that I am using the term “power strip” broadly to mean a must-have cruise accessory that expands the power outlet options in your cruise cabin. This could be an actual power strip or a travel outlet expander. Or, it could be a traditional extension cord (small) or a multi-port USB charger.
No matter what’s the size of your travel party, if you have more than two things with plugs, you will very likely be short on outlets in your cabin. Many cruise cabins will have only one set of power outlets beyond what might be found in the bathroom. Think about how many personal items you typically cart around that require power. Then multiply that by the number of people who will be sharing your cabin.
By way of example, here is a list of items that we took on a recent cruise that required access to power at some point during the trip:
- Individual smartphones for adults. Even if we don’t do much actual calling, smartphones have several other features that make them handy on a cruise. We now rely on smartphones to act as our basic cameras. Plus now, so many cruise ships have great free apps that you can use to keep up with what’s going on aboard the ship, and for making reservations for dinners, shows, etc. And, you can also find free texting apps that make it possible for family members to stay in touch.
- A traditional camera for the kid who doesn’t have a cell phone but likes to take pictures.
- Multiple tablets.
- A portable DVD player.
- Electric hair tools like curling/flat iron (not a blow dryer – which the cruise line already provides)
- Laptop computer
- Kindle e-reader
- Multiple portable power banks (so key items can stay charged during long sojourns away from the ship).
If you are traveling alone and/or planning to have a totally unplugged vacation, then limited access to power sources won’t bother you. But, that’s probably not the situation for most travelers.
A Typical Cruise Cabin
A cruise that we sailed prior to the 2020 pandemic and stop-sail order, underscores why some version of a cruise power strip is a must-have cruise accessory. We sailed on a Royal Caribbean ship that had been beautifully refurbished very recently. But, nevertheless, access to power sources remained extremely limited. Each cabin had only one electric outlet outside of the bathroom. Even if most families won’t necessarily be hauling around the number of electronics we had, even a small fraction of that list would have quickly exhausted the supply of available outlets.
In addition to the limited availability of power outlets, the placement of that one lone outlet itself presented challenges. It was placed on a wall underneath a wall-mounted telephone and a few inches above a narrow counter that served as both a desk and a vanity. (See photos.)
Why was this location particularly challenging? For one thing, any items that needed to be charged using that outlet would take up valuable counter space. And, the outlet wasn’t near a bed or any other comfortable lounging location. So, you essentially would have to sit at the small desk if you wanted to use a device and charge it at the same time.
For this particular cruise, we had two connecting rooms. So we used an outlet expander or power strip for each room, and we had two different styles. Both of these did a great job and offered full value. But both also had pros and cons depending on your particular travel needs.
The Cordless Power Strip
Cordless power strips can be extremely compact making them easy to pack almost anywhere. In this case, a cordless power strip conserved counter space. But, the space saved by plugging directly into the wall was quickly filled by having to have all of the electronic items actually on the (narrow) counter.
Although it isn’t obvious from the photo, this particular strip also had two USB ports.
The particular brand of power strip pictured in the photo features surge protection. Many cruise lines have express policies banning the use of surge protectors because they have a risk of interfering with the ship’s electrical system. (I did not actually sleep in the cabin where this particular power strip was used so I didn’t focus on that issue at the time.) But, you can also find cordless power strips that do not have surge protection.
Power Strip With Cord
While a basic outlet expander can be quite functional, it was helpful to us to have one that also included a cord that moved away from the wall.
The corded option that we used is pictured below. This particular power strip is my all-time favorite one for cruising. I’ve used it on the past 10 cruises or so. And, as you can see, it’s a real workhorse. It can charge six devices at once.
And, for this last cruise, the fact that it had a cord provided many extra benefits given our especially small quarters. Because it was not attached directly to the wall, it could be moved to free up valuable counter space for other uses. We could store it in a drawer and still keep charging (leaving the drawer slightly open for ventilation). Or, we could also place the unit on the floor when we needed additional counter space. And, it could be stretched out completely if someone wanted to read and bed and still keep charging.
My particular model is a little on the larger side (with 6 usb ports and 2 a/c ports), and I believe it has been discontinued. But, there are several comparable and affordable versions available that are just as functional and can serve the same purpose.
Thus, while a basic outlet expander could be quite functional, it was helpful to have one that also included a meaningful cord.
Different Cruise Line Policies
I recently ran across a blog post that was promoting a specific brand of power strip and suggesting that it was really the only type of power strip permitted on cruises. But such blanket assertions are a little misplaced. Let me start by saying that I have no allegiance to any specific type or brand of power strip. Just get something that gets the job done.
There is no blanket policy on power strips that’s applicable to all cruise lines. Here are the basics of what you need to know.
Some cruise lines have no obvious policies limiting power strips.
Notably, several cruise lines don’t have any express policy one way or the other on power strips. Despite listing out other prohibited items, their customer information pages appear to be completely silent on the issues of power strips and outlet expanders. So, for example, Norwegian Cruise Line has posted an extremely detailed list of items that are prohibited on NCL’s ships. It even goes so far as to specifically identify Samsung Note 7 as a prohibited item. But, the list contains no mention of power strips or extension cords (with or without surge protection).
Likewise, Celebrity Cruises specifically encourages guests who are getting ready to cruise to “gather those electronic devices and chargers” and cautions that “you’re going to need to keep your devices charged, so make sure to pack your chargers.” But, its website provides no instructions or precautions about how folks should plan to actually use those chargers. (Notably, the very next paragraph on the same page entitled “What Not To Bring” doesn’t say anything about power strips or extension cords.)
Some cruise lines expressly bar surge protectors.
Carnival’s policies permit “power strips, multi plug box outlets/adaptors and extension cords” as long as they don’t have surge protection. And, Princess Cruises has a list of prohibited items that basically adopts the same policy. Its sister cruise line Holland America states a similar policy in its FAQ Booklet (Page 7 under “packing advice”).
Some cruise lines also bar extension cords.
Disney’s list of prohibited items includes “extension cords or surge protectors.” That said, some folks in various cruise fora have reported that they have encountered no problems using USB style hubs instead.
Finally, there’s Royal Caribbean. Its list of items prohibited onboard includes “electrical extension cords” without specific reference to surge protectors. That said, I’ve never personally had a problem with bringing my power strip shown above (multi-port USB charger with 2 AC outlets) even though it obviously has a cord attached. I’ve taken it on at least 6 Royal Caribbean cruises and openly used it without incident.
Key Features To Look For In This Must-Have Cruise Accessory
- No surge protection – Even though not all cruise lines have an obvious express written ban, the majority of cruise ships don’t allow surge protection features. So, a power strip or outlet expander that doesn’t have such a feature can be more widely used on multiple cruise ships.
- Both traditional A/C ports and USB ports. Many, if not most, of your electronic devices today can be charged using a USB port instead of a pronged plug. Because USB plugs need considerably less space, you’re able to charge more items using one outlet.
- Compact size. So you can minimize the amount of counter space needed for charges. And, a compact size power strip will be also easier to pack.
A cruise-friendly power strip can make your cruise experience significantly more comfortable. Be sure to add one to your packing list!
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