21 Essential Things to Pack in Your Cruise Carry-On

21 Essential Things to Pack in Your Cruise Carry-On

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21 Things You Should Pack in Your Cruise Carry On

Cruise packing can seem complicated. I know, there are a lot of things to consider when packing your luggage as well as your carry-on for your cruise. Even though I’ve been on over 20 cruises, I still stress just a little when cruise packing.

So, it really helps me to be organized and keep an overall cruise packing list. This way I can prepare in the 2-3  weeks before the cruise, and make sure I have all the times I need.

This post will focus on packing your cruise carry-on and attempt to answer all your carry-on luggage questions. However, if you’d like more cruise packing tips, check out my easy and simple cruise packing guide here.

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click and buy that I may make a commission, at no cost to you. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

cruise carry-on essentials

Why do I need to pack a carry-on for my cruise?

When you arrive at your cruise ship, you’ll hand your luggage over to porters before you enter the cruise port terminal for boarding your ship. Your luggage will be handled safely, so don’t worry, and will be delivered straight to your ship.

You’ll want to bring a carry on with you for those first few hours on the ship, as your luggage may only be delivered to your cabin several hours after you board.

You’ll want to start enjoying your cruise vacation right away, so having some essentials is going to be important. You’ll also want to keep items that are valuable or fragile with you. Better safe than sorry.

What type of carry-on bag should I use?

There’s no rule for this and it’s really a matter of preference. I like a large tote or beach bag with a big shoulder strap, as this way we can use it on our excursion days. However, my son always uses his backpack as a carry on. Our friends use a small carry on piece of luggage with spinner wheels, which is great as you never have to carry it. You may want to do a combination depending on your needs.

Do I need a garment bag?

Depending on your cruise ship’s dress code, you may be bringing formal or “chic” clothing including cocktail dresses or gowns, suits, dress shirts, and dress pants. In my experience, these clothing items are best brought on board in a garment bag, to avoid wrinkles. I like that we just bring them on and hang the items straight into our closet. It saves on pressing and I like knowing our dressier clothes are wrinkle free.

What should I pack in my carry-on bag for my cruise?

These are the 21 must-have items you’ll want to pack in your carry-on

1. Passport and wallet with government issued ID

While I would actually not suggest you pack this away in your carry on, it is important to have with you as you board. I suggest having it very close, or at hand when you board.

Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of leaving it in your luggage, as this can result in denial of boarding. Sadly, it’s happened to some (you can google it), so better to take every precaution with your passport.

2. Important documents

Your cruise boarding documents should be ready as you get to your cruise port. It’s a good idea print any excursions you’ve booked or other reservations and keep them together in an envelope. This way you’ll be organized once you get on the ship and into your cabin.

My friend Melissa, from Family on Time Out has this awesome organizational tip that she used for her last cruise. She puts a different colored elastic on each family member’s passport, open to the picture (smart!). Then, all passports are placed safely, along with cruise docs and important papers in a good size see through pencil case.

passports and cruise documents

3. Lanyard

You’ll receive a cruise card when you board your cruise ship, and this will be all your need s you are on your cruise. It will be your room key and you’ll use it to buy drinks, make purchases ect. Some people really like having a lanyard, rather than putting their cruise card in a pocket or pouch. If you do, there are some great options.

One of the most popular and functional styles is made specifically for cruise passengers comes in a 2 pack, and includes  waterproof pouch so when you go on excursions you can also keep your government ID, a credit card and some cash inside. You can view the recommended lanyard (Amazon) HERE.

Cruise Carry-On Embarkation Day Must-Haves
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4. Medications

If there are prescription medications that you absolutely need on your cruise, keep them on you. I also like to keep some Advil or Tylenol as well as some Tums handy just in case.

5. Motion sickness prevention

Some seasickness treatments should be started before you feel ill. If you’re prone to motion sickness, consider being prepared with some commonly items. Here are my favorite and the most recommended items by seasoned cruisers.

Motion Sickness Patches (behind the ear) – top recommended Check here for current price on Amazon

Seabands – in sizes for children and adults – these are natural and reusable and most people have really good results with them

Dramamine (non-drowsy) – this is tried and true and something to keep with you just in case! We actually used the children’s dramamine with great success when our oldest son was young and got a little motion sickness the first day of the cruise.

Bonine – this medication is also one that many cruisers stand by. My friend recently used this on her first cruise and reported no ill effects.

Ginger Candies – this natural remedy is my go-to for mild queasiness. I always bring some on my cruises, and have been known to pass a few around to my new cruise friends.

We don’t usually get seasick, but we’ve had times where we’ve felt the effects of rougher seas, so I always keep a few items with me just in case.

How to Pack the perfect carry on bag for your cruise
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6. Toiletries

Keep anything you need for the day like a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, hair gel, deodorant etc. I like to make my own list before my cruise, as we all use different products – and I’m willing to bet we may use more hair products in my house than some (curly hair ladies get me ;-).

7. Jewelry

If you like to bring some of your better jewelry to match certain outfits, or if you have a dress watch that you wear in the evenings, these are items you’ll want to keep on you in your purse or carry on. I like to bring couple of pieces with me that I just don’t have the occasion to wear in my day to day life, so I love wearing them when I dress up  bit on a cruise.

Tip: once in your cabin, place those special pieces in your safe until you need them.

8. Wine/champagne

Many cruise lines will allow you to bring a couple of bottles or wine or champagne on board (check your cruise line policy). Keep it in your carry on as you board, as you wouldn’t want it breaking in your luggage.

9. Pool clothing

Depending on the weather and itinerary, you may want to spend some time relaxing by the pool on your embarkation day. Bring a bathing suit, cover up and flip flops or sandals

10. Sunscreen and lip balm

If the weather is hot and sunny and you plan to be by the pool, don’t forget to put on your sunscreen in your carry on. The sun really reflects off the water and its very easy to burn before you know it. I love lip balm, but I know this is a must that people often forget.

11. Towel clips

While you may not need them the first cruise day, by the time you’re cruising your second day, you’ll notice that the sea breeze makes it hard to keep towels in place. I finally bought towel clips for my last cruise, and I can’t believe I didn’t just buy them for earlier cruises.

They are available in super cute Flamingo or Margarita designs, or for a bit less you can get an 8 pack (4 lounge chairs) of more simple but practical towel clips.

Flamingo and Margarita Towel Clips

12. Sunglasses

Hopefully the weather will be nice and you’ll enjoy a sunny Sailaway day. Remember to throw everyone’s sunglasses in the carry-on just in case.

13. Camera

If you’ve brought a good camera, this is definitely an item to keep in your carry on or backpack, rather than in your luggage.

14. Electronics/tech stuff 

Laptops, ipad, tablets and other “valuable” and possibly fragile electronic items should be kept in your carry-on. Once you get into your cabin, you can put these items away.

15. Portable charger

This is very practical item to have on the first day of the cruise, as well as throughout the cruise vacation. Cruise ship cabins are notorious for not having many plugs, which can make it hard for everyone in the cabin to charge your phones.  We always travel with one (and often 2) of these and they’ve come in so handy.

This is the super fast charger I recommend. The INIU portable charger, check HERE for current pricing on Amazon.

16. Book

Depending on your plans for the first day of your cruise, you may have some time to lounge on the pool deck or promenade, so keep a book for those moments.

17. Reading glasses

I know I don’t need glasses “all the time”, but at the risk of aging myself, it’s been a few years that I’ve started to use reading glasses on occasion. I always keep a couple pairs with me while on a cruise.

18. Kids stuff

If you’re cruising with kids, pack some stuff in your carry on to keep them busy. Books and markers, games, puzzles are all good things to have with you.

cruise carry on must haves

19. Refillable water bottles

Some cruise lines allow you to bring a case of water bottles on board, while others have stopped allowing this. Something more practical is to bring refillable water bottles which you can drink from both on the ship and off, on port days. Water on board your cruise ship is filtered and safe to drink.

While any plastic bottle will do, I personally like this foldable 21 oz water bottle (Amazon link here),

20. Cruise approved Power strip bar

Since your cruise ship stateroom will likely have only 2 electric plugs, a power strip can be very practical. However, it is against cruise line policies to bring a surge-protected power strip (and will confiscate), so you need to be very careful to only buy one this “cruise approved”.

See my recommended Cruise Power Strip with USB Outlets – Non Surge Protection & Ship Approved here.

21. Change of clothes

Since you may only get your luggage at the end of the day, consider bringing clothes to change into later for dinner or even in the late afternoon to refresh if this is your travel day.

21 cruise carry on bag items
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Bonus – What you CAN’T bring on a cruise

There are a couple of things that many new cruisers don’t realize are absolute no-no’s on a cruise. Don’t bring these.

1. Iron or steamer – This is a fire hazard and you can’t bring this on your cruise, not in your carry on and not in your luggage.

2. Household power strip bar – Since there are not a lot of electric outlets in the cruise cabin, many cruisers have heard that it’s a great idea to bring a power bar. It is, but you must only bring one that is cruise-approved.

This is my recommendation for a Cruise-Approved non-surge protected power bar.

Do you want even more cruise carry on advice?

Check out my video below – please like, share or comment if you enjoy this video and find the information helpful. Thanks so much!!

Recap: These are the most important things to pack in your cruise carry-on

I hope this list of cruise carry on essentials has been helpful for you.  Why not to create your own must-have list, based on your travel preferences? In this way, you can personalize what you think you’ll most need in your carry-on, backpack, or large tote for your cruise.

What are the most important items you bring in your carry-on bag for your cruise? Have you ever forgotten something and regretted it? Let me know if the comments below.

Happy Cruising!

Ilana xoxo

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you may enjoy reading these tips on what to expect on embarkation day (first day of your cruise) or about how to make your cruise cabin be more efficient and spacious.

P.S. I’d really appreciate it if you could share this post on social media (Facebook or Pinterest) if you’ve found it helpful, so others can see it too. Share buttons are at the top. Thanks so much!!

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  1. Sylvia
    July 9, 2019 / 11:13 am

    Thank you very much, very helpful

    • July 10, 2019 / 11:42 am

      Thanks Sylvia. I’m glad you found this helpful!

      Wishing you a great cruise!


  2. Phyllis Alves
    November 12, 2019 / 8:29 pm

    Great reminders. Thank you so much. Remember to bring EXTRA charge “cords” along with your charger(s). I find trying to keep up with one cord to be maddening. My Android cord (yes, I’m still an Android user) is totally different from my Apple iPad so remember to bring both kinds or extras of each. Hope this was a helpful reminder.

    • November 13, 2019 / 2:35 pm

      Hi Phyllis,

      That’s a great point and you’re so right. We often keep an extra one or two for our phones. Almost impossible to get extra on the ship ad searching in a port might not be easy either.

      It’s a great reminder – thanks so much for your comment!


  3. Lisa
    December 5, 2019 / 5:32 pm

    Some travelers use their smart phones to take vacation photos. Some of the smart phones have the option where you can add a microsd card to the phone for additional memory. If the smart phone does have the option .Before the cruise put in a brand new memory card. Pack an extra one or two in the carry on ( incase it becomes full of vacation photos).
    Here’s an example: Let’s say you have a smart phone with the micro sd card option amd you put the memory card in and during several months you’ve been taking a lot of pics. Cruise time comes and you decide to use the cellphone to take cruise vacation photos and in the middle of a great cruise, you get a message “Memory Card FULL” on your phone and you didn’t pack an extra micro sd card for it. What do you do? To prevent this scenerial from happening pack an extra one or two.

    Another suggestion is for travelers with digital cameras. When I travel I pack two cameras. One is my SLR and the other one is a water proof camera. The waterproof camera is great to use when the meteorologists says a chance of rain in the forecast and also on the beach and in the water. I also pack extra memory cards, and batteries.

    • December 5, 2019 / 6:30 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      That’s a great point and something for me to actually think about for my upcoming cruise! As you mention, we all take so many photos and videos with our phones these days. Considering back ups is a great idea!

      Thank you for sharing!!


  4. March 22, 2020 / 11:24 pm

    I hope in Canada you are not getting COVID-19. I think our cruise is going to be canceled in May. Rereading many of your old articles. Helps me think future of cruising and going on a cruise. Helps me pass the time as we here in Indiana USA are locked down. Thanks for what you do. And we need to keep the dream alive. Your Friend Russell

    • March 23, 2020 / 2:36 am

      Hi Russell,

      Unfortunately we do have it here too. Thank goodness the government seems to be taking it seriously as do people. It’s a concern for all of us, but we will get through this. I think it will take some time, although of course I’m no expert in this. Thanks so much for reading! I really appreciate it, as well as your kind words.


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