Cruises are often called carefree vacations. There's no puzzling over road maps, trekking from one hotel to another or searching out activities to amuse the whole family. Alas, you still have to pack. But following these 10 rules might make that part a breeze, as well.
1. TRAVEL LIGHT
Your suitcase shouldn’t be so heavy that you struggle to even lift it, let alone carry it easily for a few hundred yards. Plan ahead by listing what you’ll need for each day, and try to mix and match items as much as possible to limit overpacking. Keep in mind that many ships have laundry and dry cleaning services.
2. KNOW THE DRESS CODE
Attire varies from ship to ship, but in general, the days of needing a trunkful of beaded gowns are over. On many ships, flexible dining allows you to skip formal nights altogether. If you do want to enjoy the festivities, suits and cocktail dresses are generally appropriate. Plus, the cruise line may even offer a tuxedo rental service.
3. PACK YOUR CARRY-ON FOR THE FIRST DAY
It can be a long wait between the time you board and when you're allowed into your cabin. Even then, your luggage may not arrive for a few more hours. "Unless you personally carry a bag to your stateroom," says Barbara DesChamps, author of “It's In the Bag: The Complete Guide to Lightweight Travel,” you might be wearing your plane clothes while others frolic in their swimsuits."
4. BRING AN ALARM CLOCK AND NIGHTLIGHT
“On our first cruise, my husband and I had an inside cabin," says Texan Patty Walsh, a veteran of 25 cruises. "We slept through half the first day because we didn't know the sun was up! Our cabin was pitch black.”
5. BRING A POWER STRIP
Staterooms are notorious for having few electrical outlets, inconveniently located. "On my last cruise, I brought two digital cameras and a cell phone," says Mike LaMonaca, a regular cruiser from Philadelphia. "My friend brought a camera, cell phone and MP3 player. Our cabin had only two accessible power outlets. Packing a multi-outlet power strip lets you charge all your digital accessories without jockeying for space."
6. CONSIDER AN OVER-THE-DOOR SHOE HOLDER
Counter and storage space is often limited in cruise ship cabins. Hanging shoe holders with pockets allow you to easily access everything from the essentials—cruise ID card and wallet—to toiletries and your kids’ toys, all while keeping it out from underfoot.
7. PACK YOUR OWN FIRST AID ESSENTIALS
"Buying over-the-counter medicines onboard can be expensive," says Boston-based Janice Dottin, who's taken more than 20 cruises. "And sometimes the ship runs out. Once we were on a particularly bumpy trip and the ship's entire stock of Dramamine was depleted."
8. WHEN TRAVELING WITH BABIES OR TODDLERS, CARRY YOUR OWN POOL
Most cruise ships keep small children out of swimming pools unless they're potty-trained. "Bring a small kiddie pool, inflate it on deck and fill it partway to give your little one a place to splash and cool off," suggests Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, editor of the family travel site WeJustGotBack.com. “And since most staterooms only have showers, the pool can also be used as a makeshift tub.”
9. FORGET THE STACK OF BOOKS
Ship libraries stock everything from the latest Ludlum thriller to books about your destination. (Boats bound for Antarctica, for instance, will have a wealth of polar-themed material.) Or consider bringing an electronic reader like Amazon's Kindle. "I tend to get twitchy if I run out of books, so I used to pack at least six for a cruise," says librarian Sherry Mims of North Carolina. "I brought my Kindle on a week-long cruise and read four books on it."
10. CUT BACK ON FOOTWEAR. AT LEAST TRY
Some experts say that cruisers should be able to limit shoes to, gulp, three pairs—a dress shoe, a walking shoe and an around-the-pool shoe. But that's just silly, isn't it?
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.