Packing for a Caribbean Cruise

Everything you need to pack for your Caribbean cruise

Wrought with the fear they'll forget something, some will pack too much, others will pack incorrectly, and still more will leave behind some of the little things that make a stay away from home more comfortable.

Some travelers find packing for their trip to be the least enjoyable part of their cruising experience. Yet, packing does not have to be such an unpleasant chore. Like many other aspects of your vacation planning process, taking a moment to plan ahead can be helpful.

Making a list of the clothing, toiletries, and miscellaneous items you'll need on your trip is a great start. Jotting down specific reminders or concerns can also help, and researching specific concerns may help relieve your anxiety. If you are still feeling overwhelmed, consider using our detailed checklist of items to pack.

Assembling your Luggage

It is important to know what's considered appropriate cruise ship attire when packing for your cruise.  Each individual cruise line has their own unofficial dress code, so it is a good idea to review suggestions the particular cruise line provides.  Be sure to check the details as the number of formal, informal and casual nights to plan accordingly.  Each cruise line offers specific definitions of appropriate attire during these evenings.

Women should follow these basic guidelines:

  • Appropriate clothing for casual settings (both indoors and out) include shorts, pants, skirts, sundresses, and t-shirts. This also applies to on-shore excursions. Short shorts are inappropriate, unless they are worn during exercise in the gym or at the pool. Bathing suits are only to be worn by the pool, unless they are covered up by sarongs, dresses, shorts, or skirts.  Resort casual clothing such as pant suits and dresses are suitable for non-formal evening wear. Items constidered formal wear include anything from evening pantsuits to cocktail dresses and gowns.

Men should review these guidelines:

  • Khakis, t-shirts, polo shirts, sports shirts, shorts, and jeans are generally considered casual-wear. These items can be worn in both indoor and outdoor casual setting, including shore excursions.
  • Evening wear ranges from shirts and slacks to sports jacket both with and without ties, depending on the cruise line policy and the formality of each specific evening.
  • Business suits and tuxedos are the only appropriate attire on most ships during formal nights. For your convenience, tuxedos can generally be rented aboard the ship.


It's important to note that most cruise ships designate certain evenings with a more stringent dress code – generally requiring either “resort casual” (e.g. Jeans) or formal attire (tuxedos and cocktail dresses). This dress code will be in force throughout the public areas on board, and will typically be strictly enforced in the main dining room.

Because of this, you would be well advised to pack at least one outfit that would qualify as 'formal wear', as well as a few dressy, yet less formal, outfits for “in between” evenings. If you prefer not getting dressed up, it is a common practice for cruise lines to provide more casual style dining in a separate dinning venue on formal nights.

Some items that are often forgotten when packing include sun hats, sunglasses and comfortable shoes, or specific types of footwear appropriate for certain excursions. For instance, consider bringing shoes that are suitable for hiking if you want to experience the tropic rain forests of Dominica or Puerto Rico.

Don't forget that you may spend entire days exploring an island on foot, or wandering the duty free shopping areas of St. Thomas or St. Maarten) – so be sure to bring some comfortable walking shoes.

The next set of items to consider are your toiletries. These encompass all sorts of shower and grooming items that can easily be overlooked. Make a list of all the items you use on a daily basis (shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, deodorant, lotion, contact solution, medicines, etc.) to ensure you don't leave any behind. Or, consider purchasing compact travel sizes of each of these items, then setting them aside in a special location until you pack for your cruise.

Don't forget items you may not use on a daily basis, but are cruise necessities, such as sun block. But, if you do forget any of these items, it won't be a crisis. Most toiletries are available on ship, and some items are provided by the cruise line on a complimentary basis. Those that cannot be purchased on board can usually be found at your first port-of-call.

If you are like most travelers, there are many other items you might enjoy having along, even though they aren't necessities. For instance, consider bringing portable DVD players, books, a personal journal, cameras, a CD player or MP3 player. As well, it's a good idea to bring extra batteries for your electronics, particularly if they require an unusual size or type.  Be sure to pack your charges for these devices.

Some other gadgets you may want to consider include a compact extension cords or device to expand the number of available outlets in your cabin. If you are particular about your hair dryer, you may also want to pack your own; the cruise ship will provide a hair dryer, but it may not be as powerful as the one you use at home.

Additional items you definitely do not want to forget, and should place in your carry-on bag, include personal and travel documentation (passports, visas, identification, hotel confirmations, cruise documents) and all medications.

Concerns about your Luggage

Some fears and concerns regarding your luggage have probably come up as you've gone through the packing process. In order to alleviate your concerns, write them down so you can look into finding the answer.

If you're afraid you'll forget to pack something, use our check list, then push that concern from your mind. It's still possible to overlook something, but you can usually replace the missing item either aboard the ship or at one of your ports-of-call.

If you are flying from your home city to the city in which the cruise ship will make its initial departure, you may be worried about the airline losing your luggage. This is something completely out of your control, but there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk, and be prepared for the contingency.

To reduce the risk of lost luggage, avoid flight schedules with tight connections. While the Atlanta airport, for instance, requires a connection time of at least 50 minutes or so, why take the risk of flights with such a tight connection? By selecting flights with connect times that are at least 30 minutes longer than the airport minimum, you greatly reduce the risk of a missed flight, or boarding a ship without your luggage.

Another tip: have each person in your party bring at least one small carry-on item with you on the plane. Your carry-on should include all of your important documents, your medication, anything irreplaceable, and at least one or two items of wrinkle free clothing to insure you aren't forced to wear the same set of clothing until your lost luggage catches up with you.

Fortunately, even if your luggage is lost, it won't completely spoil your cruise. You can almost always make arrangements with the airline to have your luggage delivered to your first port-of-call.

Final Packing Tips

Don't feel as though you have to over pack so that you have new, clean clothes for every day of your trip. Most cruise ships have coin laundry machines, and there is always the option of having the crew do your laundry for you (for a fee). For most people, the best approach is to pack lightly, knowing they have these options.

Finally, remember to leave room for souvenirs! If possible, pack a collapsible bag that you can fill with souvenirs and check on your way home.

Packing Checklist

Important DocumentsMoneyToiletries and Personal ItemsMedication
Passport, identification, and copies Credit Cards Soap Motion sickness remedies
Medical and vaccination records Travelers checks Shampoo and conditioner Allergy pills
Hotel reservation confirmation pages Cash Toothbrush and tooth paste Cold Medicines
Insurance information   Mouth wash First aid kit
E-tickets   Body lotion Nausea and diarrhea remedies
Car rental confirmation   Sun block Contraceptives
Contact information for credit cards   Contact lenses and solution Pain relievers
Birth Certificates for young children   Cosmetics Vitamins
    Glasses (both prescription and sun) Prescription medications
    Razors and shaving cream Insect repellent
    Lip balm with SPF  
    Hand sanitizer  
    Toiletries bag  
GadgetsClothingFamily ItemsMiscellaneous 
Camera Bathing suits Diapers and wipes Guide books
Camera charger Cover up Baby foot and utensils Calling cards
Flim/memory card Dresses Bottles Umbrella
Batteries Shirts Bibs Flashlight
Cell phone and charger Pants Activities for children Book light
Lap top and accessories Shorts Portable playpen Address book
Portable DVD player and DVDs Formal dress Stroller Corkscrew
MP3 player or CD player and CDs Dress shoes Sun hat Pen and paper
Radio Walking shoes Waterproof sheets Sewing kit
PDA Beach/pool shoes Changing pads Tote bag
Adapters Hiking boots Snacks  
  Socks Infant carrier  
  Undergarments Car seat  
  Belt Pacifier  
  Watch Clothing  
  Rain jacket/poncho    

Packing does not have to be a daunting task when you attack it with a simple plan of action. By knowing beforehand what items you will and won't need and having a backup plan for any problems that may arise, you'll be able to pack for your Caribbean cruise like a pro.


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