What to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise
Cruise cabins are small so you’ll need to be strategic when deciding what to bring on your Carribean vacation. Follow these six easy steps to pack smart no matter how long you’ll be sailing the high seas.
A Caribbean cruise can be the trip of a lifetime—unless you forget to pack your swimsuit or the airline loses your luggage. The key to avoiding those pitfalls? Pack smart. The typical cruising packing checklist is predictable (shorts, t-shirts, sundresses, some formal wear), but it’s easy to forget some key items that should be on your list. Follow our six steps for packing for a Caribbean cruise so you can instead focus on that umbrella drink.
Step 1: Pack Light (Really Light)
The days of bringing trunks full of clothes onboard are long gone. We live in an age where oversized bag charges on airplanes are a real thing. And if you have to fly to the cruise embarkation point, you’ll need to pack differently than if you’re driving. Or not, because if you pack too heavily you’ll have trouble wrestling an unwieldy wardrobe into the small dressers and closets in your cabin. Worried about squeezing in a ball gown or tux? Cruising is a far less formal experience than it used to be, which means you can get away with bringing fewer clothes than you’d expect.
Step 2: Bring Essential Clothes in Your Carry-On
This tip is especially important if you’re flying to the embarkation point. Normal airline luggage delays are bad enough, but those problems are only compounded when you’re boarding a ship. If your luggage is temporarily lost, it will be passed along to the next port of call. In the meantime, you’ll want (and need!) to pack some clothes and essential supplies in your carry-on—think sandals, shorts, swimsuits, and sunglasses, as well as any medications you need onboard. Anything that’s meant for later in your trip should be stored in your checked-luggage duffel (duffels a great option for cruises since they come in every size from personal to family size and also fold flat for easy under-the-bed storage).
Step 3: Find Your Level of Formal
Some cruisers love to go all out with formal evening gowns and tuxes for dinner. Others prefer to pack the bare minimum to meet the dress code: a collared shirt and nice slacks for men, and a sundress for the ladies. Check your cruise line’s dress code before you pack (many have become pretty casual), then choose clothes that make you feel attractive and comfortable—whether that’s a simple sundress or a daring cocktail dress.
Step 4: Prepare for Sunshine (But Bring a Sweatshirt)
In the Caribbean, swimsuits, sunscreen, and flip flops are mandatory. You are, after all, setting sail for a tropical paradise. Bring at least two swimsuits, so you can swap one out when the other is wet. Add a few pairs of casual shorts, skirts, T-shirts, and swim cover-ups, and your outdoor wear is set. Don’t forget to take into account conditions on the ship; the air conditioning on cruises is notoriously cold. Pack a sweatshirt or sweater for indoor warmth—if you’re worried about space, a compression sac can cinch it down to virtually nothing.
Step 5: Mix and Match
You can get away with bringing fewer clothes if you plan a wardrobe that coordinates well with everything else. This capsule wardrobe concept allows you to create many looks out of just a few key pieces of clothing. Pick tops in complementary colors, and match them with coordinating bottoms. Your fellow cruisers aren’t fashion critics; they aren’t going to judge you for wearing the same items on multiple days.
Expert Packing Tip : Use a multiple packing folders to arrange outfits in a way that will be easy to access once you set sail.
Step 6: Don’t Forget the Basics
There are certain items every cruiser should pack, because forgetting them will be either an expensive mistake or an irreparable error. Cruise ships often lack alarm clocks, for instance, so consider bringing one (or use your phone). A power strip is advisable, so that you have a way to plug in all your electronics (cabins never have enough outlets). Don’t forget essentials like seasickness pills, earplugs, batteries for your camera, and sunscreen. Another super-useful item it’s easy to forget: packing sacs—these will protect your small valuables at the beach. And add a laundry dry bag to stash wet swimsuits and towels.
With a little preparation, packing for your Caribbean cruise can be a breeze! Start early and don’t save packing for the last minute—you’re far less likely to forget the essentials that way.
Once you’ve made your packing checklist , use the Pack-It System to stay organized on your Caribbean cruise.
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By Shannon O’Donnell on June 7, 2019
Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She is an acclaimed travel speaker and works with universities and businesses all over the U.S. to talk about supporting developing countries.