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Cruise Hacks: Packing and Other Cruise Tips  

Published on: May 23, 2022 | Last Updated on May 23, 2022
Cruise Hacks: Before You Go and More

Here are our personal cruise hacks (tricks) and other packing tips to make your next cruise easier and more enjoyable…

Each time you cruise, you’re likely to become a better cruiser.

You figure things out through your own experience. You pick up a few tips from other cruisers. All that experience makes your next voyage easier and more enjoyable. These are some of the tips we’ve collected over the years. Maybe one or more will be helpful to you.

On a Douro River cruise on Viking Star

On a Douro River cruise on Viking Star (credit: Jerome Levine)

This short list of our favorite cruise hacks is broken down into three categories: 

Cruise Hacks: Before You Go

Cruise Hacks: On the Ship

Cruise Hack: On the Shore

Cruise Hacks: Before You Go

Cruise Hacks for Packing

Packing is probably the worst part of any vacation, hopefully

Check the cruise line website

Almost every cruise line has a FAQ section on their website with essential information about dress code, prohibited items, health and safety protocols, and accessibility services. Be sure to read it.

Make a list and check it twice

As soon as you book your cruise, start making a list of the things you want to pack and take with you. Putting items on the list will unclutter your mind and make sure you don’t forget something important. You might even want to create the list on your smartphone.

When you return from your cruise, look it over again, delete the items that you never used or thought about, add what you forgot and save it for your next cruise. Below are some of the items on my cruise packing list.

Prepare for AC and ocean breezes

For women, always pack a shawl or pashmina. Most restaurants and theaters on ships are air-conditioned and those venues can get chilly in the evenings.

Shawls take up minimal space or weight in your suitcase and add a touch of elegance and color to evening outfits.

Bring a whiff of home

Bring a small bottle of your favorite feel-good scent. It’s always nice to have a touch of home when you travel and a spritz of fragrance fits the bill; it also doubles as an air freshener in the bathroom.

Forget the bling 

Pack a few pieces of costume jewelry to wear on the cruise that make you feel glamorous—and free yourself of the worry about losing something precious while traveling.

I’ll never forget the time I was on a shore excursion in Marseilles, and saw a thief walk up to a fellow passenger and rip a gold necklace off her neck.

Pack a “little black dress” for him

Buy your husband a nice black collared, short-sleeved polo shirt.

No matter where he dines on board, a black polo shirt is comfortable and easily makes the transition into evening once he’s run out of dress shirts.

Go softly

Pack a pair of flip-flops. You can wear these when you go to the pool or spa and they double for comfortable slippers in your cabin. (The terry ones, often provided on ships. can have slippery soles.)

After a lengthy shore excursion with lots of walking, particularly in warm weather climates that might cause your feet to swell, it’s great to be able to slip on a pair of non-binding shoes. (It goes without saying that you definitely need comfortable walking shoes for excursions.)

Stay powered

Bring a power strip (or two). It’s unusual to find all the outlets you need for your electronic and electrical gadgets in most staterooms. Bringing an electrical strip allows you to charge all your gear, and use a hair blower and curling iron simultaneously. 

Just be sure the strip matches the voltage and plug format (which may require an adapter) available on the ship as well as your appliance requirements. Most computers, smartphones and camera battery chargers will work on 110-240V but cosmetic appliances vary.

Hang on to the essentials

Bring along a small purse or wristlet to take to meals on the ship. After you get your ship identification card and place your valuables in the safe, you’re likely to only need a keycard, cellphone and a tissue. A small purse can take a great deal of weight off your shoulders. 

Men may prefer to wear a lanyard around their neck with a plastic cardholder for the cabin key.

Don’t weigh yourself down

Invest in a medium-size cross-body bag. You’re likely to have a large tote that you’ve brought on the plane but you don’t want to be weighed down with a large bag when you’re doing lots of walking or transferring to a tender.

A cross-body bag is easy to carry and also can be placed right in front of you, away from pickpockets who prey on tourists.

Prepare for a dip

Remember to take a bathing suit on almost every cruise (even on an expedition cruise to the Antarctic, you may want to use a hot tub).

The one time I didn’t take one, the weather in Monaco unexpectedly turned unseasonably warm and I wasn’t able to take advantage of the ship pool.

There’s a saying that if you bring enough money, you can buy anything you’ve forgotten to pack. But for me (and I suspect most women), a bathing suit is one of the most difficult items to find and purchase in another country.

Think sunny thoughts

Don’t forget a pair of optical quality sunglasses. Sun reflects off the water and you want to protect your eyes. They can also add a touch of glamour.

Cruise with bounce

Bring along some dryer sheets. These are light as a feather, add a fresh fragrance to your suitcase, and are great for removing static.

Needless to say, they can be invaluable if you opt to use the ship’s self-service laundry.

Zip it

Ziplock bags can be handy for a variety of reasons. I always use them for packing my clothes; it keeps them organized and neat. They also great for storing a snack in your cabin that you’ve brought back from an excursion. I previously wrote a post about the nine ways I use  Ziplocks when traveling.

Get your bearings

If you are prone to motion sickness, prepare ahead. While large ships are stable most of the time, the tenders used to get to ports can be rocky, especially in bad weather.

In addition to seasickness, innocent cruisers can get felled by long bus rides during shore excursions over hilly terrains.

Some people swear by the use of ginger or wristbands. Check with your internist and see what they recommend. 

Do your research

It’s a good idea to do some research on the ports you’ll be visiting prior to your cruise.

We use a multimedia approach: We check out YouTube videos and hit the library for books (novels, too) to familiarize ourselves with our destination and help us decide what we want to do, see and taste. That’s what’s led me to make sure I tasted Pasteis de Belem tarts in Lisbon.

If you don’t have time to read up before your cruise, load a novel or two on your Kindle or download an audiobook. I recently finished reading The Good Left Undone, a historical novel set in Viareggio (Tuscany) and can’t wait to retrace my steps. 

Don’t overdo it

Resist the urge to overpack. After you’ve decided what you want to take, carefully prune your suitcase and take out whatever isn’t necessary (except for the bathing suit).

Heavy bags are hard to manage and an overpacked bag may be hard to stow under your bed in the cabin.

Pay it forward

It’s a nice idea to pack a few small gifts and/or notecards to thank the dedicated crew who served you during the course of the cruise.

No. It is not a substitute for tipping. The gesture adds a personal touch that may be very meaningful for people who work hard, usually far from home and family. Even a small souvenir from your hometown can make a hit. 

Keep a copy

Of course. Be sure you have all your important documents (e.g. passport, proof of vaccination, airline tickets and cruise documents, etc.) Make copies of them to keep on your phone in case you lose them.

A few other hints

Whenever possible, reserve your table at the specialty restaurants before you embark. Depending on the ship and line, these reservations may be complimentary or at a reasonable additional cost. They break the boredom of eating in the same places. 

Spaces fill up quickly; if you didn’t book them in advance, do so on your first day onboard. And make sure that your dining reservations don’t inadvertently overlap with long shore excursions.

Speaking of shore excursions, also book them as early as you can. If you delay, popular ones may already be fully booked. 

Cruise Hacks: On the Ship

On Regent Seven Seas at the Port of Miami

On Regent Seven Seas at the Port of Miami (credit: Jerome Levine)

Keep it handy

Hand carry a small suitcase or tote bag with essentials you’ll want to have at hand when you board (e.g. medication, change of clothes, etc.). It’s tempting to let porters deliver all your baggage to your cabin but depending on the size of your ship and when you board, it may take time, even hours, for your suitcase to reach you. 

If you strategically pack a small carryon with your valuables and essentials, you can feel secure and freshen up as soon as you get to your cabin.

Pack, unpack

Unpack fully. One of the joys of cruising is having to only pack and unpack once. Do the job as soon as possible so you aren’t living out of a suitcase. Most cabins are so well designed that they offer a place for everything.

Don’t be left hanging

Don’t be shy about asking for extra hangers. There are never enough hangers in cabins (or hotel rooms for that matter).

Since you’re likely to be staying for at least a week, ask your cabin steward for additional ones at the beginning of the voyage so you don’t have to hang layers of clothes on the same hangers.

Don’t let it weigh on you

Weigh yourself when you board and whenever else you feel the need. If you are worrying about gaining weight from all the good food, don’t bury your head in the sand.

Most onboard gyms have a scale so you can keep tabs of any potential weight gain. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Walk the deck each morning. Weight loss while cruising seems to be a less common problem.

Out damn spot

Make use of the laundry/dry cleaning service onboard. If you find a stain on something you absolutely love, get it dry-cleaned as soon as possible. Most dry cleaning services are only slightly more costly on board than they will be at home. The extra expense will be far less than the cost of a permanently stained garment.

Call room service

If you have an early morning excursion or like to wake up slowly, take advantage of free in-cabin room service (available on most ships). Or order a relaxed breakfast delivered to your cabin every day before you start the day.. 

Hang back

Play hooky from shore excursions once in awhile or create on-your-own excursions. Especially on port-intensive cruises, there may be little time to enjoy all the onboard amenities. Allow yourself some time to relax at the pool, spa or even on your balcony.

Do it yourself

While we have had wonderful experiences on some shore excursions sponsored by cruise lines, both ocean and river, we’ve also loved getting away from the crowds who are following tour guides with lollipops. It’s always fun to explore and discover on our own.

Often ships are docked within close walking distance of a town or city, or else the cruise line has convenient bus service to take you to and from.

Cruise Hacks: On the Shore 

Viking Star shore excursion in Bruges, Belgium

Viking Star shore excursion in Bruges, Belgium (credit: Jerome Levine)

Eat it up

Like many, we travel for food:-) Make it a point to eat a few meals off the ship. Yes, meals are included (and can be very good) but no cruise can replicate the ambiance and authenticity of eating with locals. 

If you are a food lover, do some research on Yelp or Tripadvisor before you go. If a restaurant is very popular, you may need to make reservations in advance, sometimes far in advance.. We especially love to try the specialty foods at each destination.

Avoid the port

Get away from the port, proper. If you have the time and opportunity, try to explore the more off-the-beaten-path places, either independently or on excursions offered by your cruise line.

Ports are notorious for their crowds and ticky-tacky souvenirs–and pickpockets, too. This is another instance when research can help you make good choices.

Grab the right seat on the bus

If you like taking photos (and who doesn’t?), avoid the bus seats with window stickers. Before you choose your seat on the bus, look up and see if seatbelt and no-smoking reminder stickers will interfere with your views (and your photography).

Have you discovered any cruise hacks to add to the list? 

[An earlier version of this article was published in the Huffington Post. It’s been updated to take advantage of new reconnaissance on cruise hacks.

Also on MoreTimeToTravel

Cruise Hacks: 8 Tips To Help You Pack For A River Cruise

Packing For A Viking Ocean Cruise: What NOT To Pack

Travel Essentials For Women Over-50

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