Family Vacation Tips

How To Pack For A Family Cruise Vacation

[fa icon="calendar"] Sep 25, 2018 6:28:00 AM / by Mary Ellen Nunes

Mary Ellen Nunes

How to pack for a family cruiseQuestions we often get from parents is how and what to pack for a family cruise:

  • How formal is formal night?
  • What about the kids?
  • What will I need to pack for shore excursions?
  • Do I need a jacket?...a dinner jacket?...a tux?
  • Can I change clothes as soon as I get on board the ship?
  • and more

Don't worry, as travel agents, we've got you covered! Here are 12 answers to those FAQs some  answers to questions you might yet have thought about yet.

1.  Tag All Your Luggage

In case this is your family's first cruise, you'll need two tags on every suitcase. 

First - You'll need a typical luggage tag in case your bag gets lost. This should include your name, cell phone number and email address.  It's not a good idea to advertise your home address while you're on vacation.

Second - When you complete your pre-embarkation online check in, you'll most likely have to "print out" luggage tags.  These print outs have bar codes that will help get your checked bags from the pier to your cabin.  You can buy fancy cruise tag holders for each bag.  You can also "arts & craft" your own by sticking your print outs between two layers of clear packing tape and then attaching this to the handles of your suitcases. 


2. Carry On Packing Advice

When it comes to luggage - less is always more. Your family saves backaches, hassles and time waiting. If you're flying to port it can also save on airline luggage fees.  There are some families that can set sail with 1 carry on and 1 personal item, like a back pack, for each member of the family.  For other families, this simply isn't possible.

When it comes to a cruise, it's important to pack "must haves" in your carry on....medicine, passports, money, diaper gear, basically the important things you cannot be without.  Remember on cruise embarkation day, your family will be arriving with hundreds, even thousands of other families. Unlike hotels, cruise ship guests all arrive at the same time....with hundreds of thousands of suitcases.  It may take a few hours for your family to be reunited with your luggage.

When it comes to cruising, in addition to typical carry on items, make sure to include swimsuits, pool gear or any other clothing changes that your family may need so that you can start enjoying your cruise vacation immediately.  It's also a good idea to pack the outfits you're planning to wear to dinner that first evening. Families with young ones will often eat dinner early. Your bags may not get from storage to your cabin in time.  You might not want to show up in the dining room having your child wearing their chocolate ice cream all over their shirt.

big cruise liner at open sea

3. Organization is Key

Space on a cruise ship is usually at a premium, especially in the bathroom.  Having hanging organizers are a great way to keep you gear handy.  eBags Pack-it-flat is a great toiletry kit, but for an even more budget friendly organizer, pick up an inexpensive over the door shoe rack. It's a great place to store your hair brush, make up, razors, etc in the cabin bathroom, and it will pack flat in your suitcase when you’re ready to go.

4. Zip it Good

Sliding close gallon sized zip top slider bags are a traveler's best friend.  For those who prefer to recycle and reuse there are travel cubes.  You may already know that they work wonders for wet bathing suits but wait, there's much more. They're great for the entire family but they are especially great for the kids.

Pack 1 entire outfit into each zip top, bottom, underwear, socks, matching hair ties, whatever. Squish out all the air and zip.  If you want to get crazy you can label them.  Stack them in your suitcase then toss them in the drawers of your cabin when you get on board. But wait....the best part - leave the empty bag on your bed and after a day's worth of dirty, sweaty, stinky fun....put clothes back in the bag, squish out the air and zip. No fuss, no muss, no stink. 

5. irons?

Cruise ships take fire hazards very seriously. Cruise cabins do not come equipped with irons and travel irons are not allowed on cruise ships.

The best advice is to pack clothing that does not need to be ironed if you can. Look for blends with a high nylon or polyester content that shake loose, men’s clothing that is wrinkle resistant, and leave the linen at home. The cruise lines do offer ironing and laundry service for an additional charge.

My favorite hack - head to the dollar store and grab a spritz bottle.  Depending on the size of the bottle, Add 1-2 tablespoons of fabric softener.  (**if you're using a carry on, pack a trial size bottle of fabric softener) When you unpack, fill the bottle with 1-2 cups of water.  The formula is 1 tablespoon of fabric softener to 1 cup of water....Shake well and start "spritzing" your clothes.  This homemade recipe will save you from spending lots of extra money on wrinkle release sprays.

6. Know Your Dress Code

Dress codes will help you to fit in, pack appropriately and feel comfortable, and is one of the biggest stresses when it comes to packing.  In the most simple terms, pool and beach wear isn't allowed at dinner time in the main dining room and restaurants. This pretty much goes for men, women and children. That said a bathing suit with a cover up it okay for anybody, anytime if you're eating at the buffet. 

There are no specific dress codes for kids. If your family is planning  on heading to the dining room or one of the ships specialty restaurants for dinner, have the kids wear what they would typically wear if you were all heading out to a nice restaurant back home.  For men,  closed shoes are often a policy, and a collared shirt with slacks (polo style or button down).   Ladies think office summer casual. A cute a sun dress with dressy sandals is a great plan for women.Just be warned, those sun and cocktail dresses are fine indoors but may be a little problematic if you plan on taking a sunset or moonlight stroll out on deck.

7. Be Chill

As per the skirt tip, evenings on board can be breezy, even in the tropics.  The on board air conditioning might be cranked up with Caribbean or tropical itineraries. Be sure to pack a lightweight jacket or sweater. For women, a can’t miss accessory is a solid color pashmina - it's a dressy wrap, a neck scarf, even a pillow on the plane.  Obviously if you're family plans on sailing to Alaska you may want to consider a parka instead of that pashmina.

how to pack for a family cruise

8. Plan Your Ports

Smart cruisers plan their sightseeing and port activities in advance.  Your family could be disappointed if you wait until you're on board to make these reservations.  In addition, some tours may also require a dress code.  For example long pants and shirt sleeves may be required for a jungle hike, along with bug repellent. There may not be a mandatory dress code but you may find clothing recommendations like water shoes.  Being properly packed and prepared in advance will save you last minute scrambling.

Moms - let's talk bags for a moment because you know you'll end up carrying everybody's "stuff".  Pack a folding day bag, so that you can throw your book, sunglasses and sunblock in for your afternoon at the pool, and when you are on an excursion.  Drawstring bags fold up nice and small -- but know that sometimes the strings can be irritating if you like to wear tank tops.

That big old Kate Spade bag looks fabulous on your arm, but is not your friend for vacation travels.  Look for a travel bag that you can carry close to your person (cross body is great) that’s big enough to carry your travel needs (personal items, travel friendly wallet, passport, travel documents, etc. ) but not so big that you’re struggling to carry it as you take in the sights on your excursions.  Multi-sac carries a good variety of hand's free easy to clean, weather resistant, and RFID blocking bags.

9. Freaked Out about Formal Nights?

The most important thing to know here is that formal nights are NOT mandatory.  There are those fashionistas that love the idea of dressing up.  There are others who dread the idea of putting on anything other than yoga pants and flip flops.  If you don't want to dress up for the formal dining room that night then plan for the family to eat at the buffet or one of the specialty restaurants.

When it comes to evening attire i.e. “formal wear”, check with your cruise line before you go to see how many dressy events you’ll need to pack for. Keep in mind you’re not going to the prom so don’t overdo it, You may see a few floor length, glittery gowns and a few dudes who rented a tux on board but these practices are pretty much Gone with the Wind.  Check your specific sailing to see if you need to pack for one or two dressy nights. Remember, you don't have to go overboard (pun intended).Pack outfits your family would wear to a wedding reception but not so formal that you’re not comfortable or stressed out. 

How to pack for a family cruise vacation

10. Say Cheese

Whether formal or informal, chances are your entire family will be all together and looking sharp (even if the kids can only stay clean for a few minutes).  A family cruise is an ideal time for a family portrait. Professional photographers will often set up studio lights in the lobby and the approaches to the main dining room.  You can plan an appointment or stop by for some impromptu paparazzi.  It's a great opportunity to capture memories and these portraits often become the most loved souvenirs of your vacation.  Some families may want to plan for this an pack white shirts and khakis for your clan.  The wardrobe option is entirely up to you. Some families may want to get a jump on next year's Christmas cards and pack those ugly Christmas sweaters for their photo shoot.

11. Charge!

Electrical  outlets are hard to find on cruise ships in general, and a scarce commodity in your cabin.  Most families will need to charge multiple electronic devices.  You'll see lots of (bad) online advice to pack a power strip.  Just like irons, power strips are not allowed on board for the same reasons.

71xXNJWiA6L._SL1500_1. Pack a multiple USB electrical charger --it can help make sure everyone's electronic devices all get charged.  I like the one from Anker which lets you charge 6 devices at once.

2. European Outlet Adapter - Most cruise ship cabins are built with outlets for both North American 110VAC and European 220VAC power.  Plug this adapter into the European outlet and voila, four more devices can be charged.  These will save lots of sibling squabbles and your sanity.

12. Staying Connected

When families get on board a cruise ship they can tend to scatter.  The kids are at the kids club, Mom's relaxing by the pool and Dad is at the casino.  Staying connecting can be difficult.  Relying on your cell phones can mean a huge roaming charge.  Cruise ship WiFi packages can be expensive and not always reliable.  Many families swear by old school Walkie Talkies. Another great old school trick is to use magnetic dry eraser board. Cabin doors and walls are all magnetic.  This is another way for your family to leave messages.  Speaking of "sticking together"....pack some refrigerator magnets and magnetic hooks.  Their great for keeping track of daily newsletters of activity times as well as giving your family an extra spot to hang a damp towel or swimsuit. 

If I shared all the Cruise packing tips we travel agents know here, you'd probably miss the boat! Besides, we save our best tips for our clients who booked with us. Hopefully you booked your cruise with an experienced travel agent.   Another tip you may not know is that here at Vacationkids, we often have deals and perks you'll never get from the cruise line directly.  We also know how to help you save tons of money during your cruise.  So if you've already booked your cruise, Bon Voyage.  If you're planning ahead and haven't booked your family cruise yet, then set up a consultation with us.


We Need Help With a Family Cruise 


Topics: family vacations, family cruise

Mary Ellen Nunes

Written by Mary Ellen Nunes

Mary Ellen is our Vacationkids expert on all things Disney: From the parks to cruises and Disney's Adventure Bound vacations, Mary Ellen will help you plan your Disney vacation. She is also a Certified Family Travel Specialist from the Family Travel Association, having been helping families create amazing memories since 2014.

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