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Taking a Trip by Ship? 9 Tips to Help You Prepare.

Updated: May 29, 2020

What to pack for your cruise depends, of course, on where you’re sailing, the length of the trip, anticipated weather and the sort of ship you've booked. But there are some general tips and hacks to consider as you get ready for your voyage.

1. Choose your bags carefully. The typical stateroom is too small to leave suitcases out in the open. Closets aren’t likely to fit all your bags, so it’s key to bring luggage that can be stowed under the bed. “Think longer rather than wider,” Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of says. The under-bed bag can store extra clothes or dirty laundry. Expandable luggage is a good option in case you need extra inches of space to bring back souvenirs. And if you pack a thin cloth or mesh tote, it can double as a beach or shopping bag without taking up precious space.  

Note that some veteran cruisers bring spare hangers for closets (or ask stewards for extras once you're onboard). Gray Faust suggests packing magnetic hangers that stick to the magnetized walls on many ships. Another packing tip: Bring sealable gallon plastic bags, which are great for taking home damp bathing suits and preventing packed toiletries from leaking onto other items in your luggage.

2. Coordinate your wardrobe. Stick to one or two main colors of clothing, and mix and match them. “People tend to overpack,” Gray Faust says. “We’re always saying, ‘Scale back.’ ” She suggests choosing shore excursions in advance so you’ll be sure to have proper gear for each. And check whether your ship has a laundromat. If so, you can pack fewer items and wash them and wear again. You'll also want to choose wrinkle-free fabrics, since staterooms aren’t equipped with irons for safety reasons.

3. You (probably) don't need to bring formal wear. Check your ship’s dress code. Many cruise lines no longer require tuxedos, ties or gowns on formal nights. Elegant-casual may be acceptable. Notable exceptions include the Cunard ocean liners Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, which require men to wear jackets after 6 p.m. in the dining room and for men and women to dress up for some dinners (suits and ties or tuxedos for men, and dresses or evening pantsuits for women). But even on these ships, cruisers who prefer to dine in shorts and T-shirts can find casual eateries outside the main dining rooms.

4. Bring appropriate shoes. Flip-flops make great slippers or poolside wear. And women don’t need six pairs of heels. Comfortable footwear for excursions or walking around the ship is essential. (You can easily get in your daily steps on many big ships.) Rubber water shoes are helpful to avoid cutting feet on rocky swimming areas or coral reefs.

5. Don’t forget sunscreen and medication. You’ll probably need more sun protection than you think, so pack a sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and a sunburn remedy for warm-weather cruising. Bring seasickness patches if you need them and over-the-counter medication for possible digestive upsets. It doesn’t hurt to have a prescription drug such as the antibiotic Cipro in case of serious gastric issues. And while ships often have dispensers with hand sanitizer to help guard against noroviruses, it’s a good idea to also carry your own bottle. Drugstore items are often much cheaper at home than if bought on the ship or in port.

6. Bring binoculars. You’ll probably float past spectacular scenery. Why not enjoy a close-up view? 

7. Find out if you'll need adapters. Most cruise staterooms have plugs to accommodate American electronics, but check with non-U.S. cruise lines to see if adapters are needed. Don’t forget phone chargers and perhaps a portable one to use ashore.

8. If you want to bring booze, check the cruise line's policy. You generally can board at the start of the cruise with wine (including Champagne).

9. Keep important documents in your carry-on luggage. You’ll surrender your large bags before you board, so have your passport and photo ID readily available. Also keep handy anything you might want to use soon after you board (perhaps a bathing suit or change of clothes), along with prescription medication and sunscreen, in case you don’t receive your luggage right away. 

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