Cast your cruise packing worries aside! This list for families has what to pack for a cruise with kids without missing essentials or overpacking.
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.)
If you’re planning to sail to Alaska, be sure to also check out our tips on what to pack for an Alaska cruise!
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.
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.
Include appropriate regular underwear for each family member. And throw in a few extra to account for wardrobe changes.
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.
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: 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 )
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:
- 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
- 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 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).