Well, you’ve done it. After months or years of advertising and word of mouth, you’ve actually booked your first cruise. You’ve made your way through a long chain of choices: date, itinerary (Caribbean, Transatlantic, Mexico, Mediterranean, Hawaii), cruise line and its demographics, specific cruise ship, stateroom type (interior, window, balcony), first and second seating. Now, what to pack for your first sailing?
I love cruising. I understand totally the Wall Street Journal profile of the zillionaire who sold his mansions and his cars and now lives permanently, 365 ,on a series of cruise ships, rotating among his favorites and hosting birthday parties for his favorite crewmembers.
(And if you haven’t yet booked, you’re on the sweet end of a very competitive Internet marketplace and currently a buyer’s market full of deals. Of all the many online cruise discounters, my absolute favorite site, free plug, is www.vacationstogo.com. Their website is an amazingly comprehensive one stop shop with links to every cruiseline, every ship, every available possible discount and to the cruise experience itself. Even if you’ve booked already, stop in and check out their tips and links.)
Here are some packing tips to ensure that your first cruise experience is as enjoyable as all of mine have been. Trust me, you’re going to love every minute.
- Stateroom storage is limited compared to the average hotel room. A small closet, some small drawers, and whatever clearance may be under the bed.
Less is more.
- Relax. Anything normal you forget or run out of (SPF 50, sunglasses, toiletries, casual apparel, the cummerbund for Formal Night) is available for sale on one of the ship’s many stores. (Tip: on a typical 7 day cruise, 50% off sales happen suddenly around Day 5). So, no need to pack as if you’re going to spend eight seasons with the Castaways on Gilligan’s Island (How DID the Howells fit all those trunks full of plot-device props into the SS Minnow for ‘a 3 hour cruise’?)
- Soft-side, foldable luggage stows best. But if your Virtual Stateroom Tour shows no safe, consider bringing one hard-side, lockable, pilfering-resistant suitcase to stow your (less is more) valuables out of easy temptation for your hard working, but low paid, and only human, housekeeping staff.
- By valuables, I’m thinking key rings, wallets (one of the joys of cruising is that it’s a cashless society onboard, until the last night, when you tip the staff), cell phones and their chargers (you may be surprised how many islands you can get a signal on…for when you want to call home and rave about what a great time you’re having). Leave the good jewelry at home. Think Casio sports watch, not Rolex. There’s Internet access available onboard, so if you’re thinking of bringing a laptop just for email, you can leave it safely home as well. You’re on vacation!
- Clothing wise, again, less is more. On warm weather cruises, you’ll spend most of the time in surprisingly few changes of shorts, shirts and beachwear. Cargo pockets are a plus, as are all pockets that zip or securely fasten. For dinners in the grand dining room (and don’t miss those, the fine dining is one of the great joys), khakis and a polo shirt for men and any casual cotton summer dress thing for women should be fine.
Formal Night (s) in the grand dining room can be a fun excuse for dressing up and a nice nod to the aristocratic steamship traditions of yore. If you’d like to participate but you don’t want to drag a garment bag, you can prearrange complete onboard tux rental. No need to overreact, though; Formal Night is wholly optional, not a summons to Queen Victoria. Ladies, anything simple and black would be more than fine, and gentlemen, although a blazer and tie would be a nice gesture, black tie isn’t a requirement to claim your rightful prime rib and lobster tail. (If it were, the motto could be ‘No Shoes, No Tux, No Service”).
- Do bring several changes of swimwear/jacuzzi wear; the set you hang to dry in the shower at night takes longer to dry than on land. Supplex fabric’s a good choice, it dries faster than most. Cotton T shirts can stay damp a long time as well; nylon T’s have an advantage. Beach sandals with ankle straps are good choices for deep sand. A good windbreaker comes in handy even on tropical nights when the ship’s average speed is 28 mph. And don’t forget workout gear for the ship’s gym, and for all those free fitness classes on offer.
- Sun hats, sunscreen (SPF 30 to 50), Aloe Vera gel for the inevitable burn, several pairs of cheap expendable sunglasses on a $2 sports neck lanyard. Because they will, guaranteed, slip off exactly as you are leaning out admiring the ocean from seven decks up.
- Don’t forget to bring your passport. New rules.
- Prescriptions in their original labeled bottles will keep Customs happy. There’s also a well equipped medical clinic with most common pharmaceuticals available if you need it.
- Bring a book or two if you like, but remember there’s a great ship’s library and there are going to be a lot of things to do besides read. (Tip: if you xerox the relevant pages from the guidebooks for your itinerary, you can save shlepping the books themselves.) Do bring a diary or journal, pad, pens, etc–you’re going to have a lot of experiences worth writing about.
- Digital camera(s), rechargable batteries and charger. Compact binoculars (with lanyards, like the shades) for checking out the coasts and passing ships.
- Cruise lines officially frown on bringing aboard alcohol in your luggage for in-room consumption. But many people do, discreetly, to keep the end-of-cruise bar tab down.
- I was surprised on my first cruise at the number of people with $40 Wal-Mart walkie talkies. These mega-ships are now so vast that it’s astonishingly easy to completely lose your family members, or your spouse, just working your way through the breakfast buffet (unless that’s already your Master Plan). So the walkie talkies substitute for cell phones. Consider getting a set, and as fallback, arrange a central Plan B rendezvous point for the time you turn around and you’re…suddenly alone.
Again, when in doubt, ‘less is more’. Pack smart, travel light, and have a great first cruise.
Look for my other travel articles here on AC, and more coming soon. Come drop by the table at Second Seating sometime. And don’t forget to try the lobster.