Packing for a Cruise

Packing for a cruise may seem like a daunting task, but in reality it not all that different from packing for any land based vacation. As much as I’d love to write a definite packing for your Disney Cruise post, I do not think that is possible. The reality is that we all travel differently; we all have different packing needs and different levels of luggage restrictions based on how we are traveling to the cruise terminal. I’m going to start with the most important thing you need to have well before it is time to pack your luggage.

Travel Documents

The most important items you will need when cruising will be your personal documents such as passports, state-issued birth certificates and government-issued photo ID. At the present time, you are not required to have a passport to sail on a closed loop cruise (a cruise that starts and ends in the same port), but this can change at any time. This is not a Disney Cruise Line rule; it is a government regulation. For the most up to date information, I suggest consulting the US State Department’s website for the latest travel restrictions.

United States Of America Passport

There are pros and cons to having passports, with the biggest con being the upfront cost for a family. However, we have sailed with and without passports, and I feel it has worth the investment; plus it provides an added bit of insurance if something were to happen while you are out of the country and needed to fly home. If you already have passports, check the expiration dates to make sure they do not expire before or during your vacation.

Take a few minutes to read the cruise document section of the literature that Disney provides to ensure you have the all required documentation based on your cruise itinerary and citizenship. If you do not have the required travel documentation, you will NOT be allowed to board the ship and you will not receive a refund! No amount of pixie dust will help you if you do not have the proper documentation!

Once you have your government required travel documents in order, it is time to organize the remaining cruise documents that you printed and signed when you checked in online, or received in the mail. We keep our check-in documents in a folder that we keep in our carry on bags for easy access throughout the port arrival and check-in process.

At check-in, you will need to present all required documentation, and proof of citizenship for each member of your family. If you are traveling with a minor without their parent or legal guardian you will need a completed Minor Authorization Form.

Disney Cruise Packing List

We are all different, so there is no possible way my family’s packing list will work for you and your family. I wish there was a universal packing list we could all use, but I think we can all agree that is not going to work. Instead, I am going to try and focus more on the important items that may not be so obvious to newer cruisers and offer some tips that may make packing for your next cruise about 1% less hectic

Over the years, we’ve developed a packing list that is constantly being updated, we even take it with us on our cruises to make changes when we think of them. Here is a cruise packing list for use as a starting point to develop your customized packing list. This list is the boiled down version of our list with some basic items that you may find helpful when packing for your next cruise.

I would like to point out a few items that are on my must pack list:

  • Travel Documents – I realize I covered this already, but it is really important. Keep these documents with you and do not pack them in your checked luggage, you will need to have quick access to these documents during the check-in process.
  • Sun Protection – I cannot stress this enough – bring extra sunscreen. You are not going to enjoy your vacation once you have a sunburn. Plus, if you run out, it is one of those items that is not cheap to replace onboard. Also, be sure to reapply often.
  • Watch – Even though you are on vacation, is very useful to know the current time on a cruise, especially when you venture ashore on port days. The ship is on a time schedule, and unless you are on a Disney Cruise Line Port Adventure, the ship will not wait for if you are running late. It is also important to set your watch to ship time, which depending on your itinerary and time of year, could be different from the local time.
  • Travel Mugs – good news; up on the pool deck there are free self-serve soda machines. The bad news is that the cups provided are the small ones found in the parks. There is, however, one catch; you must use the disposable cups to refill your personal travel mug. If you have never cruised before, you will quickly learn that cleanliness and preventing the spread of germs is a top concern on all cruise ships. It may seem like you are wasting a cup, but you are doing your part to keep everyone from getting sick.
  • Highlighters – Each evening, a Personal Navigator will be delivered to your stateroom. The Personal Navigator is essentially the schedule of events and activities available for the following day. Before we turn in for the night, we look over the schedule and highlight the activities we would like to do the next day. If your family plans to do separate activities, use a different color highlighter for each person. This way, you can have a master schedule to keep track of the kids and each other.
  • Cash – Keep in mind that you do not need cash on the ship, but it does come in handy while venturing ashore paying for cabs, or grabbing something to eat at a local restaurant. We try to have a decent amount of smaller bills available for easy tipping.
  • Sweater – I tend to find the air conditioning a little too much for my liking. I’ve stopped at the gift shop on the way from dinner to the show to buy a sweater on more than one occasion.
  • Medications – You will be leaving the country, and while there is a medical center onboard, it is in your best interest to bring more than you need, especially if you are taking prescription medication.
  • Sea Sickness Aids – This would normally fall under medications, but I did not want it to go unnoticed. We usually do not have any issues with sea sickness, but that does not mean it has never happened. When our daughter was younger we packed Sea-Bands for our daughter to have her wear them on the first night as preventative measure.
  • Rain coat/Poncho – living in Florida you get accustomed to the rain, but it is never fun to be soaked. Our raincoats live in our car for a reason, and depending on where we are cruising I make sure they put in our luggage when we head to the port. On more than one occasion, we have encountered inclement weather during Port Adventures in the Caribbean, as well as rain upon returning to Port Canaveral. Depending on your rain coat, it can also double as a light jacket/windbreaker for times when it is cooler on the open decks.
  • Trash bags – In addition to rain coats, I pack a large trash bags in my camera bag, and any other bag we may take out on an excursion. In the event we are caught in a down pour, we can quickly and easily protect our bags from getting soaked! The trash bags can also be helpful at the end of the cruise if you have wet swim suits you need to pack.
  • Alcoholic Beverages – One of the great things about Disney Cruise Line is that you can carry on your own beer or wine to consume in your stateroom with limitations. Disney does require you to carry-on your beverages to prevent accidental damage to other guests’ luggage if a bottle breaks. If you choose to bring a bottle of wine to dinner, just keep in mind a corking fee will be charged.
  • Multi-port USB Charger – There are a few outlets in the room, but they can be a hot commodity and since DCL no longer permits surge protectors a multi-port USB charger is a great way to charge multiple USB devices while only using one of the staterooms electrical outlets.
  • Thank You Cards – instead of just using the tip envelopes provided, we place the gratuity tickets in with a thank you card which my wife adds a personal note to each person. On longer cruises, you can really become close with your serving team and stateroom host/hostess. In a way, they almost become an extended family member.
  • Return Address Labels – On the last night of your cruise, you will receive luggage tags in your stateroom to affix to your bags before you set your luggage outside your stateroom. Instead of writing your name and address on each tag, we’ve found it really easy to just stick on a return address label.
  • Air Freshener – I really do not need to explain this one; just grab a small travel size spray. I’ve also been told this product is a must pack for any cruise vacation.
  • Beach Blanket – We’ve found having a light-weight, packable beach blanket is worth its weight in gold. We use the Grand Trunk parasheet. It is not waterproof, but does a great job repelling the sand!

Antigua Beach

Clothes

I wish a had a Fairy Godmother that could say those magical words and all my clothes would be packed; but that is not the case. In fact, this is the least desirable part of my pre-cruise planning. Luckily, my wife devised an excellent worksheet we use to plan what we will need for each day of our cruise. Click here to download a copy of our clothes packing worksheet. This worksheet will accommodate up to a seven-night cruise. Start by entering the scheduled ports of call each day. Next, note any planned excursions and dinning reservations at Palo or Remy. With that information, just make a note of what you will wear each day.

DCLBlog Packing Wardrobe Planner Worksheet

Packing for fun in the sun, hiking in Alaska, or exploring Europe is one thing, but you also need to consider what you will be wearing to dinner and the shows. For most evenings, dinner attire is cruise casualDepending on your cruise, you may also have Semi-Formal and Formal evenings. If you plan have dinner at the adult-only restaurants (Palo and Remy), you will need to dress more formally than you would at the rotational restaurants. There is one unique exception to the dress attire, and that is Pirate Night, where Disney encourages everyone to dress up in their best pirate costumes. Pirate night is for everyone; not just the kids! One thing I do is stage my clothes on the bed then remove a few items as I am a chronic over packer. The ships have self service laundry facilities so you can always pack lighter and wash clothes on the ship.

Prohibited Items

Once you have your stuff ready to pack into your suitcase, consult Disney Cruise Line’s list of prohibited items. If found, these items will be confiscated by security and returned at the end of your cruise. Just remember, surge protectors and extension cords are not permitted so plan ahead on how you will charge your devices and camera batteries.

Pack A Carry On

Last, but not least, plan what you will pack in a carry on bag carefully. You should take everything you and your family members may need on embarkation day. First and foremost, make sure you have all your travel documents and identification with you, and ensure they are easily accessible to avoid check-in delays. You will need these documents immediately upon arrival to the port. Depending on when you arrive you may board the ship before the staterooms are ready which is usually around 1:30 PM, your checked luggage will be delivered the hallway outside your stateroom piece by piece up to 5:00 PM.

If you plan to be onboard earlier in the day and want to swim or just enjoy the pool deck, make sure you pack swim suits and sun protection in your carry-on. Additionally, you should keep all your important documentation and medications with you to avoid any issues while you are waiting for your luggage to be delivered to your stateroom.

Remember to take your final packing list with you so that you can make notes during your cruise while it is fresh in your head. It is also helpful to make note of things you packed and did not use and do not think you will need in the future. Keeping an updated customized packing list will make it easier the next time you are packing for the next cruise.

What are your must pack items? Is there anything you’ve packed but realized you never needed?

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29 thoughts on “Packing for a Cruise

  1. Sarah T

    Some of my favorites are ziploc bags for any swim stuff that’s damp or for sandy shoes. I’ve seen people talk about using small ones for taking dry snacks from the buffet to their room too.

    Also blue painters tape. It’s great at holding bottles closed in transit.

    If traveling with small children, a couple toys or imitation Legos are nice for the room.

    Reply
    1. Kim C

      When we bring toys for kids we use the storage ottoman as a toy box…I prop it open with a hair brush or lint brush. A fun piece of advice for all.

      Reply
      1. Scott Sanders Post author

        This is a great tip on the Dream class ships. A follow up tip would be to make sure the supports are working otherwise the lid could slam shut smashing fingers.

        Reply
  2. Nicole

    The address labels are an excellent idea, thanks for that tip! We take a bag of a variety of sea sickness meds every time, have not used them once but I am convinced the one time we don’t, we will need them.
    Do you know if small travel steamers are allowed? I did not see them on the prohibited items list (checked a couple days ago). Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Judy

      It is not allowed-I tried to bring one for my vow renewal dress and they took it and held it until the end of the cruise. PIcked it up at the terminal when claiming luggage.

      Reply
  3. Rhonda

    Steamers are not allowed! They confiscated mine at the port, and I had to pick it up in the terminal once we disembarked. I was in a new formal that I had not tried to iron (thought I would have a steamer, so I didn’t think to try it), so I am VERY wrinkled in my pics with the Captain. This happened two months ago, and obviously I am still not over it. Ha! 🙂 If it happened today, I would send it to be professionally pressed and just take my chances with the iron.

    Reply
    1. Nicole

      Did they show you language stating steamers are not allowed? I have not been able to find anything. Guess I will have to call and ask.

      Reply
      1. Sue

        We did the Dream back in 2013 and they confiscated my cousin’s steamer. I do my homework before a cruise and I found nowhere stating you couldn’t bring a steamer.

        Reply
        1. Scott Sanders Post author

          While not specifically stated, it is considered an electrical appliance and covered in the following bulletpoint.

          • Electrical appliances such as rice cookers, hot plates, coffee makers, blenders, electric irons, electric blankets, heating pads, bottle sterilizers and warmers
          Reply
    2. Judy

      I was able to get my vow renewal dress steamed onboard. It could not be pressed because of the delicate material and embellishments.

      Reply
  4. James a

    The Anker 6 port with 1 port Quick Charge 3 and the rest Quick Charge 2 would be great to have. I have the older 5 port non QC version and will be upgrading for the Alaska cruise.
    Oh, you will want a few 10ft USB cords to reach around the state room to the beds.

    Reply
  5. Kevin

    I like to pack magnets with clips on them. The magnet will adhere to many of the wall surfaces in a stateroom and its a great way to keep all the distributed schedules and other paperwork organized.

    Reply
  6. RichG

    I like to also bring binoculars and we have learned to bring clothes pins for holding a towel down to a deck chair or pinning wet bathing suits onto chairs on your verandah.

    Reply
  7. Jamie

    Slightly off-topic, but leave time on your second to last day of cruise to repack … you’ll need to have luggage outside the stateroom door by 10PM, or possibly earlier. Keep only what you need in your carry on bag, until you reclaim your bags in the terminal.

    Reply
  8. Peggy

    On the Dream/Fantasy we bring an empty gift card to keep near the stateroom door. Much easier to take in and out of the electrical control panel than a key to the world card. Family is frequently in and out of the room.

    Reply
  9. Ryan

    I got this idea from a friend and plan on taking her advise. Pack all your clothes in garbage bags in your suitcases. If it’s raining on embarkation day, your bags could sit in the rain on the dock for quite a while, leaving everything inside soaked.

    Reply
    1. Robbie

      Boy do I agree with this! We took the Halloween cruise out of San Diego last year. We watched the porter take our suitcases (and his tips!) straight over to a huge outside bin that was currently sitting in the pouring rain. My husband did ask him to at least put the luggage “under” other luggage but everyone’s luggage, including ours, got soaked. And yes, all our clothes were wet inside. I’m definitely going to use the garbage bag idea next time!

      Reply
  10. Dave F.

    Soft soap…yes a bottle of liquid soap for the bathroom is actually a good thing.

    Also while not something you want to do on vacation, I’ve learned over the years to take advantage of the laundry room on the ship. It was $1 to wash and $1 to dry. If you do the Castaway Cay 5K or any gym time, you’ll be glad you did. Don’t be afraid to under pack clothes because you can always do a quick wash.

    Reply
      1. Dave F.

        Thanks for the heads up…still a bargain if it means one less suitcase.

        Plus you can’t put a price on not having to deal with the post workout smell or any smell that the kids bring in. 🙂

        Reply
  11. Denny C

    Some other items we tend to pack:

    – Compact power strip. I know it’s listed above as a forbidden item but I was able to bring a compact power strip from Monster Cable that was given the OK because of its compact size (Disney, Carnival, NCL and Royal all gave the OK). A multi-port USB charger is nice but the extra outlets are very handy for items that need an actual outlet to charge (camera batteries, rechargeable batteries, etc.).

    – Outlet adaptors. Adaptors can be purchased to convert those unusable 220v outlets to 115v outlets and vie versa (and if you’re really desperate for outlets there’s typically an open outlet where the TV plugs in).

    – Non-dairy creamer or non-perishable soy milk. Coffee is plentiful but if you prefer soy or non-dairy creamer you’re usually out of luck (though soy is a bit easier to come by).

    – Water proof sneakers! This is a MUST for an Alaskan cruise, pretty handy for most cruises.

    – Photocopies of all travel documents in each checked bag. Passports, boarding passes, etc. just in case something goes missing or you left something behind at home.

    – Extra SD cards for your camera. On our cruise to Alaska we took well over 5000 pictures in addition to a lot of video. There is a lot to see.

    – A list of any medication you may be taking. If for some reason your medication goes missing your doctor may be able to arrange for a limited supply of whatever it is you’re taking to be waiting for you at a pharmacy near or en route to the cruise terminal. This is assuming, of course, that you are still in the U.S. or will be visiting another U.S port. Also, while the doctor can readily access this information, local pharmacies or doctors will not should they have to make arrangements for you.

    Reply
  12. GM

    Wish I had thought of the air freshener when going on our last cruise! It was our fourth time sailing on Disney and we hadn’t had a room odor problem before. This trip, however, there was a smell that I could never quite pinpoint that affected our room from the second day. I was embarrassed for the stateroom host to enter our room….

    Reply
  13. Jenny

    I always pack an inexpensive set of 6 battery-operated tea lights from Target to scatter around the room as nightlights. The glow doesn’t keep anyone awake but works for my daughter if she wakes, and they don’t take up any precious outlets.

    Reply

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