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What to pack in your carry on bag for cruises

What to pack in your carry on bag for cruises

Wondering what to pack in carry on for cruises? It can be easy to get carried away thinking about your cruise capsule wardrobes and what to wear on a cruise ship but overlook your cruise carry on bag. In this guide we provide the ultimate cruise carry on checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything and can fully enjoy your embarkation day.

Important Note: This post may contain affiliate links which means if you click through and make a purchase I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Why is your carry on important for cruises

What Not to Bring on a cruise
What Not to Bring on a cruise

Now you may think about your main case most when you are packing for a cruise however in my opinion your cruise carry on is even more important.

Why? Well there is a chance that you won’t receive your luggage in your stateroom till after dinner or maybe even the morning after embarkation.

When you arrive at a cruise on embarkation day you will leave your large luggage in the terminal building. A porter will then take this on board for you. However this all takes time.

The quickest we have ever got our luggage back is just before dinner on embarkation day but the latest was at bedtime after we had had dinner and watched a show. Therefore it is really important to be prepared to live without your luggage for the whole of embarkation day – which is why packing your carry on correctly is really important for cruise ships.

Looking for full cruise packing lists – check out the below posts:

What is the best type of carry on bag for cruises?

What not to pack for a cruise (prohibited items)
What not to pack for a cruise (prohibited items)

I think the best type of carry on bag for cruises is really a matter of personal taste. There are plenty of options when in comes to carry on bags for cruises but the main ones are:

  • a back pack – this is both mine and my husbands preferred bag as it is great for doubling up on shore excursions
  • beach tote – this is great for a Caribbean cruise where you will want to use a beach bag on excursions but doesn’t have the largest volume
  • Wheelie suitcase –
  • duffel bag

The final two are our least favourite options as they don’t double up for shore excursions but are perfectly adequate if you only plan to use for embarkation and disembarkation.

Also you may want to think about whether you want to use your cruise carry on bag as your hand luggage on a plane. If you do decide that you want to use it for this purpose be sure to check that the bag fits your airline requirements and is suitable for overhead bins on a plane.

You may also want to consider taking a garment bag as your carry on if you are worried about your cruise formal wear getting creased.

What to pack in carry on for cruises checklist

What to pack in your carry on bag for cruises

Passport and identification

Passport and government issue identification are an essential on embarkation day. You will not be allowed to board without your passport for international cruises or government issued identification for a closed loop cruise (check this is allowed before travel).

If you do not have these with you you will not be embarking so this is definitely the number one things to pack in your carry on.

We always put our passport and identification in a passport holder such as this.

Documentation including Covid 19 related paperwork

Since the outbreak of Covid 19 the amount of paperwork you need to board a cruise has increased dramatically. Make sure you check what the documentation requirements are before packing – thinking about things such as vaccination passports and proof, PCR and LF test results if required.

Luggage tags

To get your main luggage from the port to your cabin you will be required to put cruise luggage tags on your bags.

Be sure to have these printed in advance as this will really save you a lot of times at the port and terminal building.

Click here to shop our favorite cruise luggage tags.


Now I must admit, I am personally not a cruise lanyard person however many people are and find them a cruise essential

When you board a cruise you will be a cabin room key. This is not only your key to your room but also is your card that you will pay for things with on board the ship that is connected to your on board account and will be used to check if you have a drinks package when you are ordering any drink on board.

Many people find a lanyard the best way to keep their cabin key safe and on them at all times on a cruise. The best ones are waterproof so can be used on shore excursions where you will be spending a lot of time in the water and can also be sued to keep small amounts of cash and a government issued id.

Click here to shop the best lanyards for cruise travel.


After your passport and cruise document, the most important thing to pack in your cruise carry on bag is any medications you require.

As the bag may not be with you until the morning you will need to have all essential medication with you and have enough with you to keep you going.

Don’t forget to take your birth control with you if required – it is amazing how many times this medication is overlooked when putting together your essential meds.

Other medications that you might need but overlook include but are not limited to:

  • pain medications such as Advil, paracetamol, Tylenol and Ibuprofen
  • Reflux Meds such as Gaviscon, Tums etc.
  • Birth Control
  • Inhalers

Sea sickness medication or bands

I personally have never gotten sea sick on a cruise ship. And I have never met anyone who has either and we have sailed through some really rough seas.

However if you are concerned about sea sickness or have experiences sea sickness before be sure to take either sea sickness medication such as Dramamine or travel sickness bands with you in your carry on bag.

Also if you are worried about sea sickness a traditional remedy for sea sickness is ginger. We recommend packing some ginger candies or ginger sweets with you as a natural remedy against sea sickness.

Change of clothes

Now we have loads of inspiration for the best embarkation day outfits that are perfect to transition from boarding, being around the ship and then for dinner in the evening.

However if you like to change for dinner you will need to take a change of clothes with you in your carry one.

Now the first night of a cruise usually has a casual or smart casual dress code so you should be fine in whatever you are wearing even in the main dining room which has the strictest dress code on a cruise ship. But sometimes it is good to change especially in warm weather cruises. For more Embarkation Day Outfit Inspiration check out this post.


Now I don’t like to bring too much jewelry with me on cruises as I don’t wear it on shore excursions. However if you want to bring some with you for formal nights we recommend wither wearing it on board or packing it in your carry on.

Once onboard and in your stateroom we recommend you putting this directly in your stateroom safe until you actually want to wear it.


Whenever I get on a cruise ship I first like to head to the main dining room for lunch, and then I like to have either a dip in the pool or a soak in the hot tub.

If you want to do this be sure to pack your swimwear in your carry on bag.

Note: Towels are provided and therefore on our what not to pack for a cruise list.


Depending on the line you are on, you will be permitted to Bring on board a small amount of alcohol – usually just champagne or wine.

We recommend packing any alcohol in your carry on bag so you can use it on embarkation day if you want.

Note – wondering if you can bring a corkscrew on a cruise ship – check out this post for more information.


Toiletries are essentials for any cruise. Though I will pack my less essential toiletries in my packed luggage anything I will need that day such as tooth brushes and toothpaste and hair brushes will be packed in my carry on luggage.


Sunscreen in one of my cruise essentials but it can be easy to think of as something to use once you get to a port. However if you want to watch the sailaway from a balcony or the lido deck or plan to spend some time in the pool or jacuzzi on the lido deck you will definitely need to have your sunscreen with you in your carry on.

For more information on essential toiletries for cruises check out this post.

Lip balm

The contrast between the nice weather on a warm weather cruise with the cruise ship air conditioning is the perfect recipe for dry lips. To prevent your lips getting cracked and sore on a cruise ship be sure to pack lip balm with you.

We also recommend packing lip balm that has an SPF so your lips are protected when on beach excursions etc.


Sailaways are some of my favourite parts of cruise ship travel. Dependent on where you are leaving from you may find it one of the most photogenic parts of your cruise.

Don’t leave your camera in your checked luggage as you may miss out on some great snaps.


You will be spending a lot of time outside on deck on embarkation day and the sun on the sea can become dazzling. Be sure to have your eyes protected by having your sunglasses with you at all times on embarkation day

Sun Hat

You may or may not need your sun hat for embarkation day but I always wear mine on as part of my embarkation day outfit simply because it saves your hat getting squished and out of shape being packed in your main luggage.


If you don’t get your luggage back straight away you may find that the battery on some of your electronic devices has dwindled. To be sure you don’t run out of battery

Next Reads: Looking for more cruise related wardrobe and packing advice? Be sure to check out our cruise packing list guides: