Five Expert-Approved Tips to Pack for Your Cruise Like a Pro

Five Expert-Approved Tips to Pack for Your Cruise Like a Pro

Guest Post by Brian & Samantha of DCL Duo Podcast

Going on your first cruise and wondering what you need? It can be trickier than you think.

Cruise ship on the sea

In a typical vacation on land, you usually have easy access to shops where you can pick up any last minute items you forgot, but on a cruise you can be stuck at sea for days. Yes, onboard shops will carry some essentials, but they will be pricey and may lack what you're looking for.

In this guide, we're sharing some of our top packing tips! We'll focus especially on Disney Cruise Line, of which we're big fans, but there will be plenty of information you can use for any cruise. 

So what do you need to know? 

Embarking on a 3, 4 or 7 night cruise, you’re likely to see it all from a packing point-of-view, from folks with gigantic suitcases (who might make you wonder if they know something you don't) to others with little more than a roll-aboard suitcase and a backpack (making you jealous at the efficiency of their packing).

However you choose to pack, the following tips are sure to make life easier for you onboard.

1) Make Sure You Know What You Can’t Pack

Every cruise line has a list of prohibited items, which you should consult before packing. Some of the stuff is pretty obvious, usual suspects like weapons that you wouldn't be allowed to take on a plane either. However, you can encounter some surprising items too (we've included links to prohibited items on major cruise lines below). 

As Disney Cruise Line fans, we're especially familiar with their list. Were you hoping to get some cool areal shots of the ship with that new drone you got for Christmas? Leave it at home. Did you just start learning the guitar? Sorry, musical instruments are not allowed. Power strip for all those electronic devices? Nope. Fan for white noise? Also, no. Hoping to do some scrapbooking? Leave the scissors behind. In short, you want to check before leaving home.

If you do arrive at port with a prohibited item, chances are your cruise line will find it. If one is found, it will be confiscated for the duration of the cruise, and you will be given a claim check to have the item returned to you at debarkation. That said, picking up a confiscated item adds time to your group’s debarkation, so better to check the list and leave any prohibited items at home.

Official lists of prohibited items by cruise line:

2) Packing for Disney Is, Well, A Little Different

Disney Cruise Line door magnets

Unlike other lines, Disney Cruises are going to attract a lot of fans (adults and kids alike) who love the Disney brand (like us!). Wherever you are on the Disney-fandom spectrum, our recommendation is embrace it, if only for a few days!

First, rock those ears and t-shirts! If you love wearing ears at the parks, you won’t be alone if you sport them on the cruise. Have a Disney t-shirt collection? Now is the time to rock one day and night.

Another fun bit of Disney cruise culture is decorating stateroom doors. Door magnets are an awesome way to show off your Disney and DCL pride. Magnets of your favorite characters, or commemorating your favorite Disney trips, are a fun way to add flair to your stateroom door. Magnets also make it much easier to find your room among the long hallways of identical white stateroom doors. If you head over to Etsy, you'll find lots of fun and affordable options for door magnets that can add a little extra flair to your cruise.

Finally, Disney Cruise Line loves to give guests opportunities to dress up. This may or may not be your cup of tea, but either way, it adds a fun atmosphere to the sailing. Your trip may include anything from Pirate Night on most Caribbean sailings, to themed sea days like Star Wars, Marvel, or, now, Pixar Day at Sea. If you’ve got the space in your luggage, this the time to bust out that Hans Solo costume. Just check your sailing’s itinerary to know what special days at sea might await you, and know you won’t be alone if you choose to rock an awesome costume.

3) Make Sure to Leave Room for Souvenirs!

If you’ve been to the Disney parks, you know: there’s always a cool piece of  merch you want to bring home to commemorate your trip. The same is true for both Disney cruises and cruises in general. T-shirts, pins, ship models, and atrium statuettes are among some of the most treasured souvenirs for a DCL sailing. The kicker, you can only buy most DCL merchandise onboard. You’re also likely to be visiting some fabulous ports with unique items, including Castaway Cay. So if you want something, you’re going to need to have room in your luggage to get it home!

Here’s a pro tip. You have three easy options to leave room for those amazing souvenirs. First, collapsible duffle bags are a great item you can throw in your suitcase and then pack as a carry on for the trip home.

Second, sizing up your suitcase (if you’re already planning to check luggage) and leaving some of it empty on the way to your trip means you’ve already built in extra room for the return trip.

Third, we’ve taken to packing a medium size suitcase with our son’s cruise gear inside a larger suitcase and then checking that suitcase at the airport. It means we have one huge empty suitcase when we arrive, but for the price of one checked bag (which may be free for you if you have loyalty status with your airline).

A quick note, if you are planning to participate in fish extender exchanges onboard (you can learn more about those in the Facebook group for your cruise), make sure you leave plenty of room for all the great gifts you’ll get from your fellow shipmates. It may take more space than the gifts you are bringing to give away.

4) Want to Pack Light? Let’s Talk About Laundry

After many cruises, we’ve learned the biggest tip to packing light is planning to do laundry onboard. Gasp! Laundry on vacation!?! Are you crazy!?!

Coming to terms with either doing laundry when we travel or sending laundry out has made our packing lives so much easier! We typically pack enough for 4-5 days at a time, which means we can pack in a much smaller suitcase. I’ve even traveled to Europe for 10+ days in a carry-on using this strategy.

If you’re spending time at your embarkation port-of-call pre-cruise, look for laundry at your hotel, near by your hotel, or even services that pick up laundry by the bag and return it next day. If you’re staying at Disney pre-cruise, look for resort laundry facilities, especially at Disney Vacation Club properties. DVC one-bedroom resort rooms and above also typically have in-room laundry. These same tips work just as well if you’re staying at your debarkation port city for any period of time following your cruise. We’ve used all of these strategies when we’ve traveled in the U.S. and abroad.

Collapsible laundry basket for cruise

Depending on the cruise line you use, you will have different options available (see a full report here). Each of the Disney ships has laundry facilities onboard that have washer, dryers, and other laundry essentials at a very reasonable price. They also allow you to buy tokens for laundry services using your onboard account, and will alert you when your washer or dryer are done via the onboard Navigator app. Note that some cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian don't have self-service laundry facilities, so you'll need to pay for their laundry service.

We recommend packing some laundry pods and dryer sheets to save some money. We even bring a long a collapsible “pop-up” hamper to help separate our dirty clothes and make it easier to haul laundry back and forth to the laundry room. We also recommend doing laundry on port days, as machines tend to be unused onboard with so many folks leaving the ship for the day.

Sending your laundry out will cost more, but also takes the hassle out of this strategy. A quick note that we’ve heard: onboard dry cleaning (if you’re dressing up for dinner) is, in some cases, less expensive than what you might find on land.

5) Do You Get Seasick? Pack a Nausea Solution

Today’s modern cruise ships are not known for rocking and rolling like the smaller ocean-liners of yore. They come with technology (stabilizers) to limit motion, even at speed.

That said, a lot can impact how much motion the ship experiences. Different bodies of water are known to experience more motion than others, and ocean waves are influenced by time of year, storms and how far out in the “open” ocean you are sailing. There are also times when the ship may need to forego the stabilizers, or take routes through rougher waters to keep to their itineraries. Warm-weather Caribbean cruises are likely to be very pleasant. Transatlantic cruises, or cruises that are headed from the mainland to Hawaii, can have a bit more motion depending on route and time of year.

Your placement onboard can also impact how much motion you experience. Generally, midship staterooms are known for experiencing less motion than forward and aft staterooms. Aft staterooms also generally experience more vibration from the ship’s propellers. Higher decks sometimes fare better than lower decks as well.

Blisslets Sofia Duo Acupressure Nausea Relief Bands

If you are one who gets motion sickness easily, or have experienced motion sickness on a prior cruise, we strongly recommend consulting with your physician about possible remedies. Some people like to bring along seasickness medicine, though others dislike the drowsiness and other side effects that often go with pharmaceutical options.

Anti-nausea bands are another proven and popular option that comes without side effects. If you’ve used nausea relief bands in the past, or are thinking about trying them out, Blisslets is our top choice, which is why we've decided to partner with them and share this guest post on their blog. In our opinion, Blisslets are a much more fashionable and better constructed product than the alternatives, not to mention more discreet.

6) A Potpourri of Final Tips

There are a lot of other great packing tips, like using packing cubes to organize your packing by person or even outfit. But there are five “wild-card” tips we like to recommend.

Hooks for cruise room

First, while Disney Cruise Line is great about providing storage in staterooms (large suitcases will even easily slide under your bed once empty) some find it still isn’t enough. Our tip: neodyne magnetic hooks and clips. All (or most) of the walls and ceilings in your stateroom are metal, and while you can’t adhere anything to the walls, magnets are OK. So, we sometimes use magnetic hooks to hang lanyards or hats, or even to hang a shoe-organizer from the ceiling for extra storage of smaller items like sunscreen. You can find great hooks and clips on Amazon that will last you many cruises to come.

Second, bring a day-bag or backpack for embarkation. Trust us on this one. When you board, your stateroom is unlikely to be ready, so whatever you bring on you’ll need to carry or roll around the ship for lunch or other activities. Fill up that suitcase and have Disney haul it on (they have no weight limits), but bring a backpack for the essentials of your first day: bathing suit, sunscreen, camera, medications, and citizenship documents.

Which brings us to our third tip. Your luggage may not be at your stateroom right away, or even before the ship sets sail. Don’t panic! If you gave it to Disney, it’s very unlikely that it did not make it onboard. We’ve had luggage show up well after our first evening’s dinner. That said, if you have a special outfit you were hoping to wear, then be sure to pack it in your day bag, just in case.

Our fourth tip is really a suggested item that we discovered over many cruises. If this is your first time cruising, Disney Cruise Line will not give you a lanyard for your Key to the World Card (KTTW) (essentially the only card you need onboard to unlock your stateroom, and make onboard charges). If you are a Silver Castaway or above (or DVC member), you’ll get a lanyard corresponding to your status. On that lanyard (or one you might purchase) will be the world’s most frustrating ziplock pouch. Your card will fit snuggly, but anytime you want to get it out, prepare for a fight. Enter the quick card holder! If you work in an office building you may be familiar with these (or have one laying around), but they are essentially a plastic holder that your KTTW card can slide in and out of easily. You can find packs of them on Amazon for really cheap, and they will last a very long time. I bring one on every cruise to make access to my KTTW much easier. Pro tip, add a small key ring to the holder to more easily attach it to your lanyard.

Universal plug adapter for cruise

Fifth, you’re gonna need some power! Disney’s staterooms are noticeably sparse on outlets. Since power strips are forbidden onboard, we recommend picking up a USB charging hub online. Most give you 4-6 USB plugs in one, which enables you to expand one power outlet to meet all of your needs. Our pro tip, if you have a European multi-plug travel adapter, grab it. There are additional European plugs in the room that you can access with these adapters.

We use all of these tips to great success in our travels and hope they'll work great for you too! For more great cruising tips and Disney fun, don't forget to check out the DCL Duo Podcast!

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