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

April 14, 2022
10 min read
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When you board a cruise ship, the items you bring with you in your carry-on may be the only possessions you can access for the entire first afternoon you’re on board.

Why? Typically, when you arrive at the pier, you give your larger suitcases to the porters, who bring guest luggage on board en masse for the crew to deliver to your cabin door. Your bags may not arrive until later in the day – or even that evening – especially if you're on a larger cruise ship carrying six or seven thousand passengers.

Smart cruisers carry on everything they need for check-in and the first day on board – plus emergencies. They know it’s better to come prepared, so you can make the most of those first hours on the ship, either relaxing by the pool or enjoying the ship's public spaces. Plus, should the unthinkable happen and your luggage never arrives, you’ll be as prepared as you can be.

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For smooth sailing on embarkation day and the rest of your trip, always pack these 13 items in your cruise carry-on bag.

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Travel documents, passport and ID

(Photo by Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images)

It's crucial to have all your boarding documents organized in a wallet-style case or in a clear or manila folder that's easily accessible when you arrive at the cruise terminal. The check-in process should be mostly seamless, so you don't want to be fidgeting around looking for everything when it's your turn to step up to the counter.

You should also keep your passport or another form of ID, such as a birth certificate and driver’s license, as required by your cruise line, with your cruise documents as you'll need to show those at check-in.

Other documents you’ll want to carry on to avoid misplacing include your travel insurance information (especially the phone number for emergencies) and confirmations of any restaurant reservations and tour bookings you made through the ship or independently. Paper copies are helpful backups, especially when Wi-Fi is spotty or your phone runs out of juice.

COVID-19 documentation

With COVID-19 protocols still in place, you may need to show your vaccination card and even proof of a booster shot, depending on your cruise line. Most cruise lines also require negative COVID-19 test results within a specific time frame (usually 48 to 72 hours) to board the ship.

You will need to show proof of vaccination and negative test results to check in for your cruise, so you’ll need physical copies on hand. Some lines may let you show digital copies on your phone or upload images to their app. Keep the COVID-19-related documents with your other cruise paperwork and passport or ID as you'll need to show them simultaneously.

Medications, vitamins or supplements

If you or your family members take any regular prescription medications, vitamins or supplements, pack them in your carry-on bag. Even if you don’t need them for the first 24 hours of your cruise, you don’t want to risk losing them and going without for the entire trip.

You should also consider putting together an emergency kit that includes pain relievers, antacids, bandages and other over-the-counter drugstore items for unexpected embarkation-day ailments. If you're prone to seasickness, you'll also want access to Dramamine, your motion sickness patches or Sea-Bands in case your luggage is delayed until after you set sail.

The shops on the ship won't open until after sailaway, and they may not have everything you need. (When they do, get ready for sticker-shock prices.) In that case, it's a good idea to pack a few extra meds for that unexpected headache or mild case of heartburn.

Cruise lanyard

If you prefer carrying your room key around the ship in a lanyard, toss one in your carry-on bag to put on and wear as soon as you receive your cruise card. You'll be ready to purchase cocktails, gelato or specialty coffees and other items around the ship without fumbling in your pockets for the card. You'll also be less likely to lose your card while you’re juggling your carry-on luggage, cruise documents, phone and other items in the terminal.

A bottle of wine and a 12-pack of soda

(Photo by Oscar Wong/Getty Images)

Most cruise line alcohol policies permit you to bring Champagne or wine on board the ship. If allowed, pack a special bottle or two in your carry-on bag. Once you're in your stateroom, you can request an ice bucket and ice from your cabin steward, so you can chill a bottle of bubbly just in time for sailaway. (Beware of corkage fees on some lines if you’d rather bring your special bottle to dinner.)

For example, Holland America allows you to bring an unspecified but limited number of wine or Champagne bottles on board for your cruise. There is a corkage fee applied to each bottle. Royal Caribbean has a two-bottle maximum for wine and Champagne – with no corkage fee if you imbibe in your stateroom.

A few lines also let you bring on a reasonable amount of bottled water, soda or other nonalcoholic beverages in sealed packages. Typically, they ask that you carry these items on board with you.

Holland America permits a limited amount of drinking water in cans or cartons, but no soda or energy drinks. Plastic bottles are not permitted on the ship. If you’re sailing with Royal Caribbean, you can bring a 12-pack of nonalcoholic beverages (in cans or bottles) on board in your carry-on luggage. Carnival Cruise Line’s policy is nearly identical to Royal Caribbean’s – except only cans and cartons, not bottles, are allowed.

Poolside essentials

If your vacation goals are to relax, catch some rays and sip tropical drinks poolside for the next week or more, then have those pool items ready to go once you're on board. You might even bring a lightweight beach bag or tote filled with pool essentials such as your swimsuit, sunglasses, a cover-up, a collapsible straw hat, a travel-size bottle of sunscreen, flip-flops and that good book you've wanted to read. Towels are provided on board, so no need to bring your own.

Workout gear and a set of headphones

If you're ready to stretch your legs after a long flight and get in some exercise time at the gym, pack a pair of athletic shoes, socks and workout gear in the bag you bring on the ship. Don't forget to pack a set of headphones to listen to your favorite tunes on your smartphone while running on the treadmill or lifting weights.

Kid stuff

(Photo by Os Tartarouchos/Getty Images)

If you're cruising with children, you'll want to toss entertainment and snack options in your carry-on to keep them happy in the check-in line and on the ship until the rest of the luggage arrives.

These items could include portable video games, books, favorite snacks, coloring books or a cuddly naptime toy. You don't want a meltdown to kick off your cruise, so make sure you're prepared to make the little ones happy once you're on the ship.

Also, if you’re traveling with babies and toddlers, pack extra diapers, wipes, sippy cups and other necessary gear in your carry-on, so you have everything you need for the afternoon and evening in case your luggage arrives late.

A change of clothing

If you're still waiting for your bag to arrive just before sailaway or at the dinner hour, it won't be a problem if you've planned ahead and packed a change of clothing in your carry-on. It can be something as simple as a pair of shorts and a fresh shirt or a sundress and sandals, but it's still nice to change out of your travel clothes before heading up to the pool deck for a celebratory glass of Champagne or going out for dinner on the first evening of your cruise.

An extra set of clothes is also useful to have on hand in the rare event that your luggage gets lost or goes missing for longer than the first night. If you truly get stuck without your bags, you’ll have a spare outfit so you can wear one while washing the other.

Electronic devices and chargers

Whether you need to work while you're on board the ship or you're able to disconnect for part or all of your cruise, it's advisable to keep your electronic devices with you so they don't get lost, stolen or damaged.

Once you arrive, you may need to charge one or all of your devices, so keep the chargers and their cords in an organizer or pouch in your carry-on bag. A portable phone charger is also a great idea to bring on vacation, especially if you'll be using your smartphone as your camera during your cruise.

A camera

(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

If you do have camera equipment, you'll want to keep it secure in either a camera bag or in your carry-on luggage and bring it with you on the ship. It's one more thing to have to carry on board, but you don't want your investment to get damaged or lost before you start your vacation. Plus, you don’t want to miss out on first-day photos.

Toiletries and hair items

If you're going to need personal items like body wash, shampoo, moisturizer, eye drops, hairbrushes and hairspray to freshen up before leaving your stateroom, bring them with you in travel-size containers in your carry-on bag. Some people prefer their own products to those available on the ship.

This is especially important if you arrive at your ship after an overnight or early morning flight, and really need to brush your teeth or put in your contacts once you make it to the ship.

Jewelry and other valuables

While it's not advisable to travel with expensive jewelry, you may still want to glam it up while on your cruise. Even costume jewelry can be pricey, so keep it with you in the luggage that you carry on board.

Once you're settled in your cabin, you can lock up your jewelry, passport, wallet and other valuable items that will fit into the safe. Some staterooms have very modest-size safes and others can accommodate a small laptop. If the size of your in-room safe is a concern, be sure to check with the cruise line before you sail.

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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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    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

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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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  • 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
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  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases