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First-Time Cruise Packing Tips


 The best part about sharing this week's cruise recap posts has been the number of you who have commented saying that you didn't want to go on a cruise before, but are now considering it, or who have said that you now more than ever want to take a cruise. I wasn't expecting to hear that when I posted my vacation photos, but it has been a very nice surprise. I thought today I would share some of my packing tips as well as some general cruising advice (perhaps for anyone still on the fence about jumping on a boat and setting sail). To be completely honest, I think the best way to know how to properly pack for a first-time cruise... is to actually go on the cruise. Not a great way to start a post where I'm giving you packing advice, right? It's the truth. The odds are that you will over pack (I did), and about halfway through your trip, you will fully comprehend what you should have left at home and what you should remember to bring next time. That's just how it goes. You can research to your heart's content (I did), but no matter what, you will make some packing mistakes. Such is life. The good news is that I can try to help you avoid some of the mistakes I made, reduce the number or things you'll be lugging around paradise, and plan a great first cruise. Sounds like a plan, Stan? Let's go! P.S. This is geared more toward cruises going to warmer destinations. I tried to be as comprehensive as possible. This list is long so feel free to skim. ;)

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When I started making my packing list for my cruise, the first place I looked is Pinterest. I found links to some great blogs who offer really solid, super-glad-I-knew-that-before advice about what to take on a cruise. Not bringing some of these items could be a vacation-ruining mistake. Okay, that's a little dramatic, but I promise, you will appreciate having some of these items around.

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General stuff
From top-to-bottom, left-to-right:
A power cord/surge protector/whatever-you-call-it.
This is a must have if you want to charge or plug in more than one thing at a time. Cruise cabins usually only have one or two outlets so if you don't want to choose between charging your phone and blow-drying your hair, bring one of these. This was on every packing list I read, without exception.
A blue-tooth speaker or phone amplifier.
Before you leave, load up your phone with your favorite tunes so you have something to listen to while you're sitting on your balcony watching the sun set. Or while you're in your room getting ready for dinner. Or to play white noise in the background to help lull you to sleep at night. You could get away with just playing music from your phone, but a small speaker will really make a difference and it doesn't take up that much space. I like this one because it has a clip on the top, it's compact, and it puts out a decent amount of volume.
Gear Ties.
You can pick up a pack of these from your local home improvement store or here. They will be a lifesaver. Use them to wrangle cords. To gently tie necklaces together and save your jewelry. They are great for holding rolled up plastic bags (as shown). The possibilities are endless for these. Use them.
Plastic bags.
This was also mentioned on almost every single packing list. Use plastic bags to corral liquids in your bag. Use them to protect your phone and electronics from sand and sunscreen. They're great for keeping your beach bag organized (meds in one, sunscreen in the other, etc). Lots of people suggested to use them to pack snacks from the buffet line to take with you on excursions. We didn't end up using them for that, but we went through quite a few on our cruise. Very nice to have.
Air freshener.
How can I put this delicately? Cruise cabins are small. You'll likely be sharing it with your significant other. The bathroom door is not airtight and there is little to no ventilation. See where I'm going with this? Keep it romantic, folks. Bring some freshna'.
Pop-up hamper.
I saw this recommended a lot and I did not think it was going to be useful. I was wrong. A simple hamper like this is really cheap and super easy to stash in your bag. There is not a lot of walking space in the cabins and the last thing you want to do is pile the only chair (aka the only other place to sit other than the bed) sky high with dirty clothes. Bring one of these, stick it in the corner or the closet and keep your cabin tidy.
The type and quantity of medicine you bring is up to you, but at a minimum, you will need headache meds and seasick meds (drowsy and non-drowsy). We didn't use them as nobody felt seasick, but having Seabands (in the little clear case) was nice as a last resort option. I highly, highly recommend bringing some antacid relief, or some Pepto. You will probably stuff yourself at dinner and feeling bloated and gross on vacation is no fun. Isn't that pleasant? Also be sure to pack extra contacts if you need them and any prescriptions you take.
Apparently cruise lines don't sell gum anywhere on board, so if you like to freshen your breath after eating, be sure to bring a pack or two.
Wine opener.
If you bring the customary two bottles of wine that most ships allow on board, you are going to need a way to get into it. Unless you bring screw tops. Otherwise grab a cheap one and toss in your bag.
Reusable water bottle.
If you're a water-drinking fiend, be sure to bring your own water bottle to fill up. There are signs next to the drink stations that say not to fill up your own bottle, but I highly doubt anyone would say anything. I actually didn't use my water bottle for water. I took the oh-so-classy route of filling mine to the brim with one of the bottles of wine I brought, stuck a straw in the top, and walked around the casino slurping Riesling from what is essentially an adult sippy-cup. What? I was on vacay. ;)
Kindle or other e-reader.
I almost didn't bring my Kindle. It would have been such a huge mistake. You would think that being on a boat that never sleeps and has near round the clock activities to participate in means that you wouldn't have a lot of downtime on the ship. Wrong. You will have downtime. And unless you just really, really enjoy days of people-watching, you're going to want to do a little reading. Joel was a big fan of playing Angry Birds. Next time we'll be bringing two Kindles. Just be sure to download all of the books you might want to read ahead of time. Wifi is expensive on the boat.
A magnetic dry erase board.
We saw lots of people bring door decorations on the boat. Some were banners that said 'celebrate love', others were a simple paper star that was attached to the door via magnet, one couple even decorated the inside of their cabin with paper streamers (so cute!). We didn't do anything fun like that but we did pick up a cheapie white board for our door (all the doors are magnetized), so we could write notes to each other about where we were on the ship. If you're traveling in a group this one is pretty essential if you ask me. If one couple wanted to sleep in and the other wanted to go get coffee or breakfast, all we had to do was write each other a little note on the board for each other to see when we woke up. No disturbing your friends and nobody wasting the day searching the giant ship for their buddies. Plus you can write funny sayings and whatnot for other people to see when they walk by.
A battery operated clock.
There are NO clocks in the cabins. NONE. Unless you want to check your phone all day, bring a clock to keep on the nightstand. You could still use your phone as an alarm clock, but if you're traveling through time zones (you will) a separate alarm clock will be really nice to have.
An extra phone battery.
We didn't end up needing these, but I was glad we had them and would bring them again. Only one is shown (the pink cylinder shaped thing). Take these with you on excursions to juice up your phone (especially if you're taking lots of pictures), or use them to juice up your Kindle while you're reading by the pool.
A water-proof wallet.
Unless you're going to have someone keep an eye on your stuff while you're swimming at the beach, you're going to need to keep your cards, cash and other important papers like excursion tickets close by. This blue wallet is the one shown. It's super inexpensive from Amazon and you can even use it on the ship to tote around your room key (which also acts as your charge card on the ship). If you don't get one you'll need to bring a lanyard or have a spare pocket to keep your key in. There's also a phone size waterproof wallet here.
Zip ties.
These can do all the same things gear ties can do, but they're just more heavy duty. They're easy to stick in a bag and don't take up too much space and you never know what they'll come in handy for. We used them to attach a large cardboard box to the outside of our duffel bag.
Chip clips.
You can use these to keep your towel from blowing away by the pool. You can use these to clip up wet bathing suits to dry in the bathroom or out on the balcony. Very nice to have.

For any other type of traveling, I would say to bring whatever luggage you're most comfortable using. For a cruise, I have a different opinion. Do yourself a favor and buy this tote bag. It will serve as your carry on and your beach/excursion tote, and it can be zipped into a small square about the size of an iPad, when you're not using it. See how small it is?

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Look how much bigger it gets when you unzip it! It's water-resistant, wipe-able, has an outer side compartment, a 'sleeve' on the other side that allows you to place it over the handles of your rolling bag, comfortable straps, and can fit a ton of stuff: two beach towels, a bottle of water, a change of clothes, phones, wallets, etc. As a carry on it can fit your toiletries, change of clothes, boarding documents, and any bottles of wine you're carrying on. I know I'm sounding like an infomercial. I swear no one is paying me to talk about this bag, I really just love it that much.

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As for how you'll get the rest of your crap on the boat, I highly recommend a duffle bag, as opposed to a standard suitcase. Especially this one. Why a duffle bag? It can be shoved under the bed after you unpack so it doesn't take up valuable floor space. It's not the most glamorous piece of luggage you'll ever own, but it will get the job done. This particular bag has two compartments on top (one large and one small), with a flat side compartment. The upper compartments can both fit a TON of clothes in them. I recommend putting smaller stuff like undies and bathing suits in the smaller pocket and the rest of your clothes in the larger compartment. Oh what's that? What are you going to do about shoes??

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BAM! The entire bottom of the duffle unzips and has a glorious separate rectangular compartment so all the shoe lovers don't have to sacrifice footwear options. Also keeps dirty footwear away from your clothes. If you get creative and use a Tetris system for getting those shoes in there, you can use the rest of the space to pack those smaller items shown above and still have plenty of room in your carry on, and perhaps toiletries. This particular duffle has handles, but it also rolls. And as you can see above it collapses down when empty so all you have to do is unpack and roll it under the bed until you need it again.

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Whenever I see clothes packing lists online, I kind of chuckle because to me, packing for a vacation is SO subjective. What I think is essential might be totally optional to another person. Plus we all know the basic categories of things to bring with us: undergarments, pjs/loungewear, tops, bottoms, dresses, shoes, jewelry/accessories/bags. Swimwear and cover-ups for warm climates, outerwear and cold weather accessories for cold climates. Some additional advice would be to pack items that can all coordinate to maximize options and to re-wear as many items as possible to save space. It's not rocket science. You're a grown up. I don't need to tell you how to dress yourself. However, for a cruise there are a few specific things I think you should toss in your bag.

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A sun hat.
This one's pretty self explanatory. Chose one you like and take it to the pool. This one is mine.
A small cross body bag.
Even on the ship you're going to want to bring a few small items with you from the room as you're out and about. Room key (if you don't have a pocket/lanyard), lipstick, gum, sunglasses, etc. Try to bring one that will go with all of your outfits. This one is similar to mine.
Comfortable walking shoes.
You will do a lot more walking than you think and comfy shoes will make all the difference in the world. Sperry's are a good bet.
Good, quality flip flops.
If you're walking around in a $5 pair of thongs you grabbed out of a bin somewhere, your feet are going to hate you. Get a really comfortable pair. I highly, highly recommend these. They're made from recycled yoga mats and they're the most comfortable flip flops I've ever owned. Worth the bit of extra money. Even if you're cruising to a cold climate, still bring some sort of flip flop if you prefer to wear them around the cabin or in the shower. Foot fungus is a thing.
A cheap pair of sunglasses.
If you want to take a $200 pair of sunglasses to the beach where they will be subjected to sand, sunscreen, and salt water, be my guest. I would grab a $10 pair that you like from Target. If they get left on a beach towel somewhere, it's not the end of the world.
A pashmina or large scarf.
If you plan on getting all dressed up for dinner, be sure to bring something to wrap around your shoulders. The dining room (and a lot of places on the ship actually) are on the chilly side so have something cute to keep you warm in your pretty little cocktail dress. Similar to mine.
A travel wallet.
You'll be bringing cash (small bills are a good idea), cards, and your IDs, and passports. It's easier to just get it all into one wallet. This one is mine.
Lightweight jacket that goes with everything.
I forgot to include this in the picture, but be sure to bring a jacket as it will sometimes be chilly outside (especially if you're walking around on windy decks). I'd select one with pockets if you prefer not to carry a small purse.

What NOT to bring
The first thing to leave off the list is anything the cruise line prohibits. Check their website before  you pack as some of these things might surprise you, like clothes irons and steamers (bring some wrinkle release spray). Knowing this will save you a headache at the security line. If you want to try and sneak booze on the boat, that's your call. We didn't want to risk it.
Shoe organizers.
This is so random. I saw tons of people recommend to bring one of those mesh over-the-door-shoe organizers to put over the bathroom door in your cabin for extra storage space. We did this and it didn't work so we took it down. Not only was it a pain to keep on the narrow door, we didn't even need the extra space. Our cabin had plenty of drawers and compartments for all of our junk.
Ear plugs.
We experienced some loud music from one of the bars below us a couple of nights. Earplugs will not help as it's really the thumping bass sound that will cause you problems. Leave them at home.
I saw this on a ton of lists. If you really need a nightlight, just leave the bathroom light on and cracked slightly ajar.
We had more than enough hangers but if you need more, just ask your stateroom attendant. They will have plenty for you.
Coffee mugs.
I'm a coffee fiend and I'm telling you to leave your own coffee mug at home. I brought my own and didn't use it once, and I had about three cups a day. Unless you regularly guzzle coffee outside of mealtimes, skip it.
So maybe you'll get caught in a shower at port and need an umbrella. I say risk it and save the space in your bag.
Hand sanitizer.
Yes. I am telling you to skip bringing hand sanitizer on a cruise. Bring your own if you must, but our ship had a Purell station around every corner and plenty of opportunities to wash your hands. You probably won't need your own. They have you covered. *Can't speak for other cruise lines besides Royal Caribbean.

Other Random Tips
If your ship allows, bring on your own 12-pack of water or soda and any snacks you may want. DO NOT SKIP THIS. It's nice to have things like granola bars, nuts, trail mix, etc. in your room for snacking in between meals without having to go down to the main buffet.

I probably don't need to tell you to bring a lot of sunscreen with you to the beach. Aloe vera gel and bug spray are also nice to have. Travel size bottle should do it.

At some point during  your cruise, you will need a pen. Just stash one somewhere in your bag. It'll come in handy sometime.

As far as water accessories go, consider getting a cheap pair of water shoes. The shallow water in Cococay was rocky and I was so glad I had my water shoes. If you like to snorkel, bring your own mask, and if you want to take underwater pictures consider picking up a disposable water camera (or go big and get a GoPro).

Some cruise lines require you to put your room key in a slot inside the cabin in order to keep the lights and a/c on when you're not in your room. We did not experience this, but I read that any standard size hotel key card will work if you don't want to come back to a boiling hot room. Up to you if you want to bring one or not.

Whew! Okay, I think I covered everything. Are you a cruise pro? What do you think of this list? What would you add/subtract? Obviously I've been on one cruise with Royal Caribbean so I'm not at all an expert. This was just my opinion. If you've been cruising for a while what would you suggest for first-timers?

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