Skip to Content

How to pack light for a cruise

How to pack light for a cruise

In this guide we will tell you how to pack light for a cruise whether you cruising to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Europe, Alaska or elsewhere.

No matter when I am traveling I always try to pack light and not overpack but this is especially important for a cruise. But why should you pack light for a cruise?

Why pack light for a cruise?

Woman in hat and yellow blouse with backpack with cruise ship in front of her
how to pack light for a cruise

Although packing light is important for any vacation, it is especially so for cruises due to the type of vacation and accommodation you are doing.

You don’t risk losing your luggage

I’ve told this story a few times on my blog, and it is one of the reason I decided to set up this site to help others avoid this misfortune. But I once lost my luggage when heading to Uganda to go on safari and gorilla trekking. It was really stressful because our itinerary and location meant it wouldn’t be easy to replace the lost items.

Therefore we recommend trying to pack light and in hand luggage only wherever you are going. By doing this you will be keeping your luggage with you at all times which greatly reduces the risk of loss.

Easier for Embarkation

People wheeling their own luggage alongside a cruise
How to pack light for a cruise

When you embark on a cruise you will have your luggage taken from you at the port. The luggage then may not get delivered to your stateroom or cabin as some people call them until after dinner on your first evening.

This is fine if you pack your embarkation bag correctly, however it can be nice to be able to keep your luggage with you . If you pack carry on only you will be able to embark and disembark quickly if you are able to carry your own bags.

Takes up less space in your cabin

Cruise cabins, unless you are in a suite, are notoriously small. If you have large luggage you will find that it takes up a lot of room in your stateroom. Therefore packing light can also help to save space in your room.

So now you know why you should pack light for a cruise here are our best tips and hacks for packing light.

Can Disembark at your own leisure

Disembarkation can be a crowded and and chaotic affair. And you may not get a chance to select your disembarkation time if you need to the cruise line to transfer your luggage to the port.

However if you pack light and can carry your own bags you can have a more leisurely disembarkation and choose your own disembarkation time.

How to pack light for cruises no matter the destination

Know your Cruise dress code

Woman on beach in shorts looking at a Norwegian Cruise SHip
Norwegian Cruise Dress Code / What to wear on a Norwegian Cruise (NCL)

Dress codes change from cruise line to cruise line. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) does not have strict dress codes and does not have formal lights. Whereas Cunard are known for being most formal.

This is important to know for packing light as if you want to partake in formal nights you will need to know how formal they are and how many there are for your specific itinerary.

Pack a Capsule Wardrobe

No matter the destination I find one of the best methods for packing light is to pack a capsule wardrobe. A Capsule wardrobe ensures that every item that you pack works as part of multiple outfits.

I know that a lot of people can find it challenging when putting together a capsule wardrobe for the first time or venturing into minimalist packing which is why we have create cruise specific capsule wardrobes here:

Use A Packing Method

Linen Capsule Wardrobe
Linen Summer Capsule Wardrobe for Travel

But there are also a lot of methods that can help you think about the numbers of things you need to pack in your capsule wardrobe which can be adjusted for weather, season and destination. These include:

Otherwise you can use our 54321 packing list which can be customised by the destination to create a condensed packing list.

Stick to a Color Palette

Another way of ensuring you don’t overpack is to limit the color palette in the items you are packing. This way everything can be used easily together.

Use a packing list

Woman in red dress on cruise ship
4 day cruise packing list

Personally, I never start packing until I have created my packing list. I find a packing list helps me keep on track and prevents me forgetting anything important but also helps me resist the temptation of just throwing things into the suitcase for the sake of it.

We have created packing lists for specific lengths of cruises below:

Limit Your Luggage

I always find that whenever I have a large piece of luggage there is a real temptation to fill it, even if I don’t need it. Therefore I try to limit the size of the luggage I am taking to make sure I’m not tempted to overpack.

This is especially important for cruises to where storing your large luggage can prove tricky especially in interior or Seaview cabins.

Maximise your Luggage Space

But if you are packing a smaller piece of luggage you will need to know how to pack your case efficiently to maximise your space.

For hot weather cruises I find that rolling instead of folding is the best method. However for cold weather cruises the bundle packing method can be most useful.

Also it is important to think about how to pack bulky items such as winter boots and winter coats. Other than packing them correctly you can always use them as part of an airport outfit.

Other ways in which you can try and organise your luggage and maximise your space is by using packing cubes and compression packs.

Utilise your Travel Outfit

No matter whether you are flying or driving to your cruise, thinking about your travel outfit is an efficient way of maximising your packing potential I tend to wear my bulkiest items when I travel so I can pack the smallest case possible.

Does your ship have laundry

Not all cruise ships and cruise lines provide laundries. It is worth knowing what amenities your ship has before you pack as this will affect the amounts of items you need to take.

Also it is worth thinking about whether you would be happy to pay for ships laundry (usually there is an offer midway through you ship) or whether you want to pack enough clothes for the whole vacation.

Limit Your Toiletries

Flat lay of toiletries for travel
Essential Toiletries Packing List for Travel

Cruises do usually provide toiletries but the quality vary line by line. For this reason I like to pack some toiletries with me. You don’t want to have to buy more on the cruise ship as they are at a premium.

Just be sure to limit the amount of toiletries you take by only packing essential toiletries.

Limit your Shoes

The area I find it easiest to overpack on, especially for cruises is in the shoe department. I always try to limit myself to 3 pairs of shoes whenever I travel but sometimes for cruises I will also add some flip flops. Shoes I usually pack for cruises are:

  • Sneakers
  • Sandals (or maybe boots if you are on a cold weather cruise)
  • formal night shoes (optional depending on the line) and
  • flip flops for use on the pool deck.

Think about dress codes at your location

Your Dress Code for Churches in Italy Questions Answered - Duomo Dress Code
Your Dress Code for Churches in Italy Questions Answered – Duomo Dress Code

We have talked about cruise specific dress codes, but it is also worth thinking about your shore excursions too! This tends to be more important for European cruises and Middle East cruises that Caribbean ones as you may be adding religious attractions such as Italian churches or Middle Eastern mosques on your itinerary.