Colleen loves cruising! She has enjoyed several Carnival cruises, and she recently partnered with Carnival to host a series of family travel videos that help users experience the ease and adventure of cruising. Check them out here.

Are you thinking about taking your family members on their first cruise? If so, good for you! As soon as you step on board that magnificent ship, I think you’ll agree with me that hitting the high seas with the ones you love is the perfect way to make memories that will last a lifetime. To get your crew off to a great start, here are some cruise packing tips that have helped me and my family as we have prepared for cruising.

Make sure everyone packs a good attitude

The first thing to bring with you is a positive attitude and a patient, go-with-the-flow outlook. You are about to have a wonderful time on a beautiful ship with people you love, so that’s all you need! If it’s raining, enjoy the shows and indoor activities. If it’s hot, jump in the pool. On this vacation, you can relax and literally enjoy the ride. To help you do this, a little pre-planning will go a long way. Smart cruise packing is the key!

Passport essentials

A passport is not required for U.S. citizens taking cruises that begin and end at a U.S. port. If you don’t have a passport, you will be permitted to travel, as long as you have an original copy of your birth certificate and a photo I.D. (for those 16 years and older). However, passports are recommended, and you’ll want to make sure they’re valid for at least six months beyond completion of travel. Some countries have a six-month validity rule, in case a traveler needs to stay for an extended period. One reason a passport is a good idea is that if there’s an emergency and you have to fly home from one of the foreign ports, you’ll need your passport to travel. And you can’t use a copy. A passport also speeds up the debarkation process.

Suitcase dos and don’ts

Travelers are encouraged to bring no more than two suitcases under 50 pounds each, per person. Don’t forget to attach your Carnival Cruise Lines luggage tags before you leave home and make sure they are on your bags when you check them in at embarkation. Luggage should not be locked in case security needs to check the contents. Locking the suitcases may cause delays in delivery to your stateroom.

Because so many bags look alike, I let the kids get creative with colorful duct tape and make a design on the luggage. This comes in handy particularly at debarkation when you have to claim your luggage from the masses. Before debarkation and while still on board, you will be given tags to place on your luggage. Fill out the information on the back of the tag and take a picture of it to help you remember the zone number. When your zone number is called, you’re allowed to claim your bags. If luggage pieces are left at the pier, it will be your responsibility to forward them at your own expense, so make sure you don’t leave anything behind.

Colleen Kelly and girls on Carnival cruise vacation

Cruise clothing 101

To facilitate the cruise packing process, I like to create categories, which include toiletries, medicines, clothes, shoes and electronics. Pack your toiletries in plastic bags so nothing spills into your suitcase. But no need to pack shampoo, conditioner and soap, because they will be provided in your bathroom. Some ships provide a hairdryer in the stateroom and others do not, so check the information for your ship. For medicines, bring Tylenol, Dramamine, Benadryl, Calamine lotion for sunburn and medicine for the kids in case they come down with a fever or stomach problems.

You will mostly need comfortable shorts, shirts and bathing suits (bring two to three if you plan to spend a lot of time by the pool or on the beach). On a Carnival ship, most dinners have a Cruise Casual dress code, but there are usually a couple Cruise Elegant evenings when you’ll need to dress up a bit more. Have some fun with this. How often do you get the entire family to look so presentable all at once? Be sure to take some pictures, because who knows when it will happen again! Be sure to pack sweaters, sweatshirts, light jackets or shawls for cool evenings at sea. To avoid over packing, lay out all of the clothes you want to bring and put away half of them! I do this, and I always find that I have enough to get by, especially if I bring items that mix and match. Each ship has at least two launderettes that you can use for a small fee. This is convenient if you need it, but I try to make sure the family packs enough so we don’t have to spend our vacation time doing laundry. We all know there will be plenty of it waiting for us when we get home! To make everything fit in your suitcase, roll your clothes. And don’t forget to bring bags of various sizes for dirty laundry, wet bathing suits and sandy shoes.

If you like to work out, bring appropriate clothes and shoes to work up a sweat. Sandals, formal shoes and comfortable flats will round out your footwear needs. For your electronics, you may want to bring a camera, phone and chargers, a flashlight, walkie-talkies to help the family stay in touch, extra batteries and a night light. If you have a lot of things to plug in to charge, you might want to bring a power strip with you. Other items that come in handy include Tide to Go, a small bottle of Woolite to wash bathing suits, a highlighter to mark up the daily roster of activities and a corkscrew for your wine (see below for more on wine).

Be strategic with your carry on!

You’ll need to check your luggage before boarding (it’s delivered to your stateroom later), but you’re allowed to keep one carry-on bag with you. Be strategic about what you pack in the carry on, because it can enable you to start having fun right away. You don’t want to sit in your stateroom waiting for your luggage to show up! When you travel with your family, you can organize your carry-on bags into categories. One person should be assigned a small cooler (no ice at embarkation), which can be filled with water bottles, cans of soda or other unopened nonalcoholic beverages for the family. Each person is allowed 12 unopened drinks, but no hard alcohol or beer. One bottle of wine is permitted per person at least 21 years, and it can only be brought on board in a carry on. The cooler comes in handy if you want to bring it to a port of call, but keep in mind that it must be 12x12x12, hard sided or soft sided, and must fit in the security machine upon your return to the ship.

One carry-on bag should have what you need to hit the pool right away. This is the most important for getting your vacation off to a great start! Pack swimsuits, sunscreen and goggles so you can make a beeline for the pool and waterslides. Towels are available by the pool, but some people like to bring an inexpensive beach towel as well, especially if they plan to hit a beach when in one of the ports. Keep in mind that the pools are filled with salt water so those goggles will definitely come in handy to protect your children’s eyes. You might also want to bring some liquid bandage just in case the kids have a small cut. There’s nothing worse than salt water on an open wound. Ouch!

A third carry-on should contain snacks and activities for the kids. Though cruises are known for having plenty of food, it doesn’t hurt to have some of their favorite snacks in individual bags. A deck of cards, dice games like Left, Right, Center and word searches are fun activities for the whole family to play together. And after all, the whole point of taking a cruise is to spend time together having fun!

Now you are packed and ready to go! Have a great time making memories on your cruise. Bon voyage!

Colleen Kelly and kids on  Carnival Cruise

This post on cruise packing tips was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind. Head on over.
Updated 10/15/23.

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