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Caribbean cruise packing list: What to pack for a tropical sailing

May 31, 2022
8 min read
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You’d think your Caribbean cruise packing list would write itself — T-shirts, swimsuits, flip flops, done. However, once you start to think about spending a week or even just a weekend at sea, you’ll suddenly find yourself with questions.

Do I need to dress up for dinner on my ship? Should I be prepared for rain in the islands? What shoes are appropriate for the tours I booked? What if I discover that I left something at home while we’re sailing through the Caribbean Sea with no port in sight?

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Relax. Get some Jimmy Buffett tunes going, pull out your suitcase and print out this Caribbean cruise packing list. I’ll guide you through everything you need to pack before you set sail to the tropics.

What to pack for a Caribbean cruise

(Photo by Buena Vista Images/Getty Images)

Casual is the name of the game when it comes to clothes for a Caribbean cruise. The weather will be warm year-round, but you’ll want some rain gear on hand, especially during hurricane season. Just know that in the tropics, rainstorms are typically short in duration — so don’t be dismayed if your weather forecast predicts rain every day of your cruise. You’ll still get plenty of beach weather.

Related: Caribbean cruise guide: Best itineraries, planning tips and things to do

Daytime clothing

Shorts, T-shirts and sundresses are the keys to your Caribbean cruise wardrobe, as are swimsuits and cover-ups. Choose lightweight, breathable fabrics in light colors for the hot weather. If you’re planning on hiking, biking or getting active on one of the islands, you might prefer moisture-wicking athletic clothing.

If you’re snorkeling or doing a lot of swimming, I highly recommend wearing a rash guard or T-shirt over your swimsuit. The sun is a lot stronger than you think, and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten a sunburn during a snorkeling tour or when hanging out in the waves.

Evening wear

Look to your cruise line’s dress codes for appropriate evening attire on board. On most ships, dressy casual is the norm, though there will probably be one or two formal-optional nights. I find that even on the same cruise line, passengers dress more casually at night in the Caribbean than they do in Europe.

Also, while you’re packing for hot days in the tropics, remember that onboard air-conditioning can be as intensely chilly as the midday Caribbean sun is hot. Women might want to pack a light sweater or shawl to pair with sleeveless dresses, while men might consider a long-sleeved, button-down shirt or blazer to keep them warm during evening activities on board.

Related: 7 cruise ship packing mistakes you want to avoid at all costs

Footwear

I can never manage to cruise with fewer than four pairs of shoes. On a Caribbean cruise, you’ll need at least some kind of waterproof sandals or flip-flops for beach days as well as nicer shoes for the evening. Cute sandals or boat shoes can complement your evening outfit. You might also want sneakers for active tours or for the onboard fitness center. Some kind of water shoe or sock for rocky-bottomed beaches will also be helpful.

Many travelers love active sandals, like Keens, which are comfortable for walking but can also be worn in the water or on rugged terrain.

Gear

I have recently discovered the joys of traveling with my own snorkel and mask. I know my mask fits, is of good quality and – most importantly – no one else’s mouth has touched it. If you’re planning to snorkel on your Caribbean cruise, consider packing snorkel gear.

A good beach bag is a must for beach-heavy vacations, especially if you’re schlepping towels for the whole family. The best kinds have some mesh sections so the sand falls out as you walk back to the ship rather than landing on the floor of your cabin.

You may also want to consider using a beach locker (a waterproof container you wear around your neck to keep your money and credit cards). Additionally, get waterproof cases for your phone and camera to keep them safe while you swim, sail or kayak. Collapsible or inflatable sand and water toys are a must when traveling with young kids.

Related: The best Caribbean cruises for every type of traveler

Tips for taking the stress out of Caribbean cruise packing

(Photo by Shunyu Fan/Getty Images)

Nearly every port you go to in the Caribbean will have souvenir stores selling T-shirts, flip-flops, swimsuits, sunglasses and sunscreen, often just steps from the cruise pier. If you forget an essential item, you will likely be able to replace it in port.

I’ve found that the larger souvenir stores also often have a toiletries section where you can pick up the toothpaste or deodorant you forgot to pack. The same items are typically super pricey on board your ship, so the stores on land can be a better deal.

Related: 13 items you should always pack in your cruise carry-on bag

Caribbean cruise packing list

Use this packing list to keep track of everything you need to bring on your Caribbean cruise.

  • Casual cotton or moisture-wicking shirts for each day of your cruise, because you will sweat through them and not want to re-wear them without washing. Swap in a casual, lightweight sundress for a day or two if that’s more your style.
  • A few pairs of shorts, leggings or skirts to wear during the day.
  • Two swimsuits – one to wear and one to set out to dry, plus a rash guard or an old T-shirt to wear in the water.
  • A sarong or cover-up for the beach.
  • Additional athletic wear if you plan to hit the gym on board.
  • Jeans, slacks, collared shirts or nice T-shirts, skirts or cute dresses for most evenings on board. Tropical-style shirts and sundresses are always in style in the Caribbean. Even better — if you’re just wearing these outfits for a few hours, no one will look askance if you re-wear them.
  • Optional: Cocktail dresses, stylish jumpsuits, blazers or even suits should you wish to dress up for elegant night on board. (On some lines, formal attire is entirely optional; on others, you can dress down if you eat at the buffet or order room service.)
  • Pajamas, underwear and socks.
  • Light rain jacket with hood and a small umbrella for sudden storms.
  • Light sweater or shawl for chilly airplanes and onboard venues.
  • A pair of waterproof beach shoes, like flip-flops or sandals.
  • A good pair of walking shoes or sneakers.
  • A nice pair of dress shoes for evenings on board.
  • Baseball cap, sun hat or sunglasses.
  • Toiletries, makeup, prescription medicine and first-aid kit.
  • Sunscreen, aloe cream for sunburns and bug spray.
  • Day pack or beach bag. (You might want both.)
  • Reusable water bottle or coffee mug.
  • Waterproof phone case, dry bag, beach locker, Ziploc bag or anything to keep your valuables safe and dry during a beach day or water-based excursion.
  • Phone, camera, e-reader or books, tablet, portable video games and all the chargers that go with those electronics. You might consider a plug extender or multi-outlet hub so you can charge multiple devices at once.
  • Beach toys and gear, such as a snorkel and mask, arm floaties, inflatable balls, sand toys, footballs, frisbees and sun shades.

Related: 10 unexpected items I won't cruise without

Bottom line

Check the weather forecast, figure out any special gear you need for your plans ashore and read up on your cruise line’s evening dress code to help you pack. Don’t sweat it – you’ll be doing that soon enough in the hot Caribbean sun!

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Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
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  • Annual Fee

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases