Taking a Family Cruise? Here’s What to Pack

Taking a Family Cruise? Here’s What to Pack

Written by Shannon O’Donnell on

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008 and has lived everywhere from Southeast Asia to Barcelona, where she now calls home. She travels slowly and supports responsible tourism along the way, winning numerous awards for her work advocating for the communities impacted by travel and tourism.

Taking a Family Cruise? Here’s What to Pack

Taking a Family Cruise? Here’s What to Pack

Are you setting sail on a family cruise with lots of adventures planned? Check out our tips for packing effectively.

Packing for any family trip is a challenge. As a long-time solo traveler, I was amazed when I learned how much stuff you need when you have kids in tow. And packing for a cruise presents extra challenges, because there are penalties for excessive baggage per passenger. So when I surprised my young nephews with a Caribbean vacation, I knew I would need a solid packing plan to match our busy schedule and take advantage of the cool, at-port activities offered by our cruise line. We had a memorable trip and I kept my sanity by staying organized throughout our travels. Here’s my guide to packing everything you need, but nothing that you don’t.

Choosing the Right Luggage

To start, make sure your family’s carry-on bags contain any essential medicines and at least one change of clothes, in case your checked luggage gets delayed somewhere along the way. Aside from that, consider what else your kids will want or need for an easy journey. For my nephews, it was their tablets and books. If you have little kids, carry their favorite stuffed animals or blankets to be sure they’ll make it on the ship with you.

You’ll also want a couple bags to use after you arrive. A lightweight daypack that folds away to near-nothingness is perfect for excursions around town, because it won’t take up much room in your luggage but has plenty of room for your daily necessities like snacks, sunscreen, bandages, sunglasses, and a change of clothes. Because I’m a frequent traveler, I’m used to carrying a full daypack (though there’s a lot more stuff with kids!). But if you’re not, take it for a test ride before you go. Practice loading your pack and carrying it around for a few hours, so you know it will be comfortable for long excursions.

The Packable Duffel is another good bag to fold up and stow in your luggage; it’s great for anything you accumulate along your voyage. We found fun and creative souvenirs throughout our trip, and it was a relief to know we had the space to easily carry them home.

Staying Organized During The Cruise

It’s a good idea to invest in several sets of colored packing cubes. I swear by these lightweight cubes for travelers and have used them for many years. When I decided to travel with my nephews, I invested in a range of colors, and it made all the difference in getting us out the door each morning. Assign a color to each member of the family, and use them to organize your clothes by day and to stash your miscellaneous items. You can slip colored cubes into drawers, and leave a set on the counter to stash sunglasses, cameras, and other doo-dads that kids tend to scatter around the room. That way, you’ll be able to easily find your active gear each morning, and never inadvertently leave behind a hat, sun jacket, or sunscreen.

Picking the Right Clothes

If you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, packing layers is key—even in the Caribbean, where you may experience cool nights at sea. Pack items that roll up easily in your bags. Skip jeans in favor of lightweight pants, skirts, and shorts that will dry quickly. For your tops, opt for t-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, and hoodies in breathable, synthetic fabrics that absorb sweat better than cotton. Clothing with built-in SPF protection is a plus, especially for kids—I packed two high-tech shirts for each of my nephews that they wore for swimming, hiking, and long sightseeing-days.

Speaking of hiking, pack several pairs of non-cotton hiking socks to keep feet dry and blister-free. But do remember to bring antibiotic ointment and adhesive bandages so you’re prepared in case those dogs do start barking. Any footwear you bring should be road-tested and well broken-in, especially for the kids, who are more likely to complain about uncomfortable shoes.

Before you zip up your bag, double check the cruise’s dress code. Depending on which cruise you take and for how long, you may be dealing with one or more formal nights that demand nicer attire than your sweaty, muddy activewear. Many kids love dressing up when it’s pitched the right way, so get them involved in picking out a favorite dress or collared shirt in a fun color.

Your turn, family cruisers. What items did you find indispensable for your active getaway? Let me know in the comments below.

Related links (from Eagle Creek's blog):

Skip Seasickness: What To Pack Before Your Cruise

6 Smart Packing Tips for a Caribbean Cruise

Taking Children on a Sailboat: How to Stay Safe