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

Nov. 08, 2022
11 min read
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Hawaii may be the 50th state, but its lush, volcanic islands are also in the middle of the South Pacific and feature a unique climate that mainland U.S. residents may not encounter on a daily basis. While you might think this tropical setting translates to a quick-and-and-easy packing list for a Hawaii cruise, the myriad activities and landscapes that you’ll experience while cruising between Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island) may require a few extra essentials in your suitcase.

Use this Hawaii cruise packing list to ensure your journey is both comfortable and compatible with all you might encounter on its islands, so you can enjoy the state's warm and welcoming Aloha spirit.

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What to pack for a Hawaii cruise

Honolulu, Hawaii. LINKA A ODOM/GETTY IMAGES

Think casual and colorful and you’ll be about 75% ready to fill your suitcase and head to the airport.

However, cruising the Hawaiian Islands may require a few extra items — from moisture-wicking activewear and proper footwear for adventure excursions amid volcanic landscapes to dressier eveningwear for special-occasion onboard dinners.

A lightweight, waterproof jacket is a must, too, since raindrops are likely to fall — tropical foliage and flowering orchids don’t grow in the desert, after all. Plants need plenty of sunshine, too, and that combo is exactly what has created the postcard-perfect vistas you’ll encounter.

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

Prepare for unexpected weather changes

Hawaii is famous for offering four seasons of warm weather and sunshine. Average daily temperatures year-round range from 80 to 87 degrees.

However, each island has both leeward and windward sides. What does that mean? Leeward sides are much sunnier and drier, while windward sides are subject to more rainfall and are noticeably cooler and lusher.

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For example, on the Big Island, the volcanic Kona and Kohala coasts are on the leeward side. Hilo, with its tropical rainforest and rushing waterfalls, is on the rainier, windward side.

On Kauai, which sees the most rainfall of all the Hawaiian Islands, sunny Poipu is on the leeward side, while the dramatic mountains-meet-sea landscapes of the North Shore and the Napali Coast are on the windward side.

As a result, while touring any of the Hawaiian Islands you might enjoy bright and sunny weather one moment and then drive for less than 30 minutes and encounter clouds, mist or downpours. The upside: Almost every day in Hawaii presents a chance to see an incredible rainbow.

Your best bet is to pack for both brilliant sunshine and pouring rain. Bring your weather-related gear along in a shoulder tote or backpack for excursions or independent exploring. You’ll be ready to sightsee in either condition.

Related: Best time to cruise Hawaii

Opt for lightweight fabrics

You will sweat in the tropics, so cotton, linen and other lightweight, breathable fabrics should be at the top of your packing list. Leave silk and less-breathable synthetics at home or restrict them to evening pieces for air-conditioned, indoor spaces. Don’t be afraid of color. Hawaii is the place to wear those vibrant floral-print sundresses or brightly-hued T-shirts and shorts that often feel out of place in urban settings.

For the evening, women can’t go wrong with a mix of breezy sundresses or strappy jumpsuits with a lightweight sweater or shawl and capris or skirts paired with a blouse. Men should pack several pairs of shorts and enough T-shirts for each day along with slacks, khakis or trousers with a selection of collared polo shirts and short-sleeve button-downs. (Guys who don’t own a Hawaiian shirt in a palm tree, orchid or surfboard print before a Hawaii cruise probably will by the end of it.)

Don’t skimp on swimwear

One swimsuit or pair of swimming trunks typically won’t cut it during a Hawaii cruise, unless you enjoy pulling on damp swimwear day after day.

Many activities in the islands require a swimsuit — from snorkeling and stand-up paddleboarding to waterfall hikes and river kayaking, not to mention enjoying a sail-away soak in one of your ship’s pools or hot tubs. It’s smart to pack at least two. This will allow a wet suit to fully dry before you wear it again.

The sun is also extremely powerful in the Hawaiian Islands, so pack a long-sleeve swim shirt or rash guard or even an old long-sleeve T-shirt to wear during extended periods in or on the ocean. Lightweight coverups are also a good idea if you plan to be on the beach or sailing on a catamaran for several hours.

Pack some activewear

COLIN ANDERSON PRODUCTION/GETTY IMAGES

Hiking, biking and sightseeing amid rugged, volcanic terrain require comfortable activewear. Consider packing moisture-wicking tops (both tanks and long sleeves), quick-dry shorts or leggings and no-show socks to wear with sneakers. Additionally, in Hawaii, a lightweight waterproof jacket with a hood and a folding travel umbrella are essential.

Planning to ascend to the summit of one of the Hawaiian Islands’ landmark volcanic peaks, such as Maui's 10,023-foot-tall Haleakala or the 13,803-foot-tall Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island? Pack a lightweight fleece or pullover sweater for layering. Depending on wind and cloud conditions, temperatures at these summits can range from 65 degrees to at or below freezing (it actually snows atop Mauna Kea in winter).

Related: Best Hawaii cruise shore excursions

You’ll need both sneakers and sandals

Sandals are a wardrobe staple in Hawaii. Think waterproof, rubber flip-flops, sturdier walking sandals for daytime and strappy flats, wedges or heels for nights on board.

Sneakers are a must, too, as many cruise excursions in Hawaii visit rough volcanic terrain, such as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. You may also need to navigate uneven, rocky and sometimes slippery trails to see cascading waterfalls. Flip-flops that expose feet and toes to sharp lava rocks and don’t provide adequate traction on wet surfaces aren’t a wise footwear option for either scenario.

Aboard the ship, sandals are ideal for nighttime wear for women, while men should pack a pair of slip-on shoes to pair with long pants. In some of the more casual dining venues on many ships, shorts worn with a polo shirt and sandals or sneakers are acceptable attire.

Don’t forget hats, sunglasses and accessories

The right accessories are key to an enjoyable and safe Hawaii cruise experience. Topping the list are hats and sunglasses.

Pack a wide-brimmed sun hat that covers your ears and the back of your neck for beach days and excursions that involve outdoor sightseeing. A baseball cap works well for more adventurous activities (trail hikes, bike rides, etc.) when you’ll need full 180-degree vision, which floppier hats can sometimes obstruct. Hats made of quick-dry materials are best.

Also, pack sunglasses and consider pairing them with a Neoprene or other fabric safety strap for on-water activities to ensure that those sunglasses don’t slip off as you’re enthusiastically trying to photograph whales or dolphins.

Other items to consider: a reusable water bottle, a waterproof phone case and a dry bag. Note that if you plan to tour Pearl Harbor you should pack a Ziploc bag. Visitors are not permitted to bring bags of any kind — just a camera, wallet, keys and whatever else fits in a clear plastic bag.

For general sightseeing and shopping, I like to bring along a nylon belt bag (aka fanny pack) for easy access to my camera and wallet.

A foldable nylon tote bag and/or a lightweight backpack are also important since you’ll often need to bring accessories, extra clothing layers, rain gear, water, insect repellent and sunscreen with you during many excursions.

Speaking of sunscreen, make sure it’s labeled reef-safe (these are generally mineral-based sunscreens). Hawaii has banned sunscreens containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate since early 2021.

Related: The best Hawaii cruises for every type of traveler

Tips for efficient Hawaii cruise packing

DAVID MURPHEY/DISNEY

Even if bright colors aren’t your go-to wardrobe stables, the vibrant tank tops, floral sundresses and boldly patterned shorts that may be in your closet for tropical vacations will look great and photograph well in Hawaii. Pair them with a neutral (white, black or beige) base and you can mix and match items from day to night.

Forgot something? Don’t worry, Hawaii’s souvenir shops are filled with T-shirts, sarongs, bathing suits, cover-ups, hats, sunglasses, flip-flops and other essentials for a tropical vacation. Cruise ships also stock their shops with fun-in-the-sun clothing and accessories, although prices are typically a bit higher than in stores on land.

Hawaii cruise packing list

Here’s a full packing list to help you keep track of everything you need to bring on your Hawaii cruise.

  • Lightweight cotton or moisture-wicking T-shirts for each day of your cruise. Hawaii’s tropical climate means you’re likely to sweat while exploring during the day, so make sure you pack enough clean shirts to match the number of days you are away.
  • Several pairs of shorts, plus leggings or skirts for daytime wear.
  • Two swimsuits — one to wear while the other is drying. Also, a rash guard or an old T-shirt to wear in the water.
  • A few sarongs or beach cover-ups.
  • Additional athletic wear if you plan to hit the ship's gym.
  • A lightweight sweater or fleece to layer if visiting high-altitude volcanic summits.
  • Jeans, slacks, collared shirts or nice T-shirts, blouses, skirts or summery dresses for most evenings on board. Tropical-print shirts and sundresses are always in style in Hawaii. Since evening wear isn’t as likely to get sweaty, you can plan to wear outfits or individual pieces more than once if trying to pack light.
  • Pajamas, underwear and socks.
  • Light rain jacket with hood and a small umbrella for sudden downpours.
  • Light sweater or shawl for chilly airplanes and onboard venues.
  • A pair of waterproof beach shoes, such as flip-flops or sports sandals.
  • A good pair of walking shoes or sneakers.
  • A nice pair of dress shoes or sandals for evenings on board.
  • Baseball cap, sun hat and sunglasses.
  • Toiletries, makeup, prescription medicine and a first-aid kit.
  • Reef-safe sunscreen, aloe cream for sunburns and bug spray.
  • Lightweight day pack or beach bag (perhaps both depending on your planned activities).
  • Reusable water bottle.
  • Waterproof phone case, dry bag, Ziploc bag or anything to keep your valuables dry during a beach day or water-based excursion.
  • Phone, camera, e-reader or tablet, as well as all the chargers that go with those electronics. Bringing multiple devices? Consider a cruise-compliant power strip so you can charge multiple devices at once.
  • Beach paraphernalia, such as your own snorkel and mask, plus floaties and sand toys if you’ll be traveling with kids.
  • Optional: Cocktail dresses or summer jumpsuits for an elegant night or special occasion dinner. (On some lines, formal attire is entirely optional; on others, you can dress down if you eat at the buffet or order room service.)

Bottom Line

Check the onboard evening dress code for the cruise line you are sailing with, as well as the weather forecast for each island in advance of your Hawaii cruise.

Don’t be discouraged if you see icons for raindrops and clouds. The forecast could just mean brief morning or afternoon showers on only one side of the island. Also, be prepared for warm temperatures, daytime rays capable of inflicting harsh sunburn and slightly cooler evenings with gentle breezes. In other words, prepare to enjoy the tropical paradise that is the Aloha State.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by D3SIGN/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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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
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Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
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    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    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.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees