Packing Advice for a First Cruise (to the Caribbean)

by Janis on October 19, 2015

A first-time cruiser named Morgan asked for our advice as to what to pack for her 7-Day Caribbean cruise.

Cruise packing tips

Here is Mr. Jones’ packing checklist as we are heading out the door for a cruise or any kind of trip anywhere in the world:

  • Got your passport?”
  • Got your credit cards?”

If my answer is “yes” to those two questions, then he says, “We’re good to go. Everything else is gravy.”

Well, he’s right, but mashed potatoes are boring without gravy. And packing the essential items versus too much stuff for your cruise is a good thing.

Here are 7 packing tips for your first Caribbean cruise:

1. Bring cash in small bills – although the cruise ship is mostly a cashless society (shipboard charges are tied to your key card which is tied to your credit card), $1 and $5 bills come in handy for room service tips and when you are in port. Most everywhere in the Caribbean will take US dollars but you want small bills (not the $20s or larger bills typically spit out by ATMs.) For example, when you are bargaining for that carved wood item in Jamaica or Mexico, you don’t want to get agreement on a price of $4 only to have to pull out a $20 bill and ask for change.

2. Pack lightly but do take:

  1. Comfortable walking shoes
  2. Flip flops or similar to wear to and from the pool or hot tub
  3. Tennis shoes for gym or  walking around deck and/or exercise classes
  4. A single pair of dress shoes/sandals (yes, you can pick one pair that goes with all of your dressy outfits)
  5. Two swimsuits so one can be drying if you don’t like putting on a damp suit
  6. Cover-up for swimsuit (to wear from your cabin to the pool, and anytime you leave the pool area)
  7. Shorts, capris, t-shirts or sundresses for daytime wear
  8. Dressier but still resort casual pants, capris, sundresses, etc. that you can mix and match for dinner/entertainment
  9. One-two formal dresses or sparkly tops to go with dressy pants– like you’d wear to formal party or wedding
  10. Sunscreen — don’t skimp on sunscreen – very intense sun and a burn is not a fun way to start your cruise. However, cans of sunscreen can add a lot of weight to your checked bag; you may want to buy at CVS/Walgreens after you arrive in south Florida but don’t wait to buy on ship, where it can be very expensive.
  11. Camera/phone/charger cords/plugs/power cord (there may only be 1-2 outlets in your room)
  12. A small battery-operated alarm clock (you may not be able to have your phone charge by your bedside, and there won’t be an alarm clock in your cabin.)

3. Once at the ship, do not give up your carry-on bag to the porters; keep medicine, your passport, money and credit cards and anything you can’t be without for a few hours with you throughout embarkation.

4. Buy two bottles of your favorite wine in Florida and carry it on with you and your cabin mate.  Each guest may bring one 750 ml bottle of sealed/unopened wine or champagne per person in their carry-on luggage on Embarkation Day only on Carnival Cruises. (Check your cruise line’s website for its current alcohol policy.) NOTE: On Carnival, you have to pay a $15 corkage to drink in the dining room but you can consume in your cabin for free.

5. NOTE THAT FOR CARNIVAL CRUISES, Guests are prohibited from bringing water, sodas and other non-alcoholic beverages onboard that are packaged in bottles.   You can bring a small quantity of non-alcoholic beverages (i.e., sparkling water, sodas, juice, and milk) packaged in cans or cartons on embarkation day in your carry-on luggage. For Carnival, “a small quantity” is considered a maximum of 12 sealed, unopened cans/cartons of 12 ounces each or less per person. (This is a change in 2015 and is designed to speed up the boarding process and eliminate those trying to sneak booze on the ship in water and/or soda bottles.

6. You don’t need traveler’s checks.  Bring small-bill cash, credit cards and your ATM card to get more cash in port if needed.

7. Bring a small packet of laundry soap if you want to hand-wash anything in your cabin; bring dryer sheets if you plan to do self-serve laundry. (Not all ships offer this.) Or, you can have the ship do your laundry by the bag, but that shouldn’t be necessary in 7 days. Shout Wipes and/or Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover Pens can be useful.

The bottom line: most first-time cruisers over-pack. Take your passport, credit cards, a swimming suit or two, flip-flops and a cover-up, sunscreen and some cash in small bills. All the rest is “gravy.”

Cruise fans, what advice do you have to add for Morgan? Please share in comments below. 

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