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How to Pack for a Cruise

I had so much fun sharing a diary of what I wore and what we did on our 8-day Carnival cruise (here: 1, 2, 3, 4).  Today I’m capping off that experience with a full break down of what to pack for a cruise. If you’ve ever had questions on what to pack, you’ve come to the right place!

First up: swim wear. If your cruise is in the Caribbean, I would start here. My first step was to throw 6 swimsuits and 6 cover ups in my bag. I wore 5 swimsuits and 4 cover-ups (pictured) due to inclement weather on the last day, and I opted to wear gym clothes as a cover-up in outfit #2. You can certainly pack less and re-wear items. You can bring a travel size detergent, wash a swimsuit in your sink, and hang it up on the drying rack located conveniently in your bathroom!


Your checklist for swim wear:

  • Swim cover ups
  • Water shoes or non-slip boat shoes with traction
  • Bathing suits
  • Sun hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Beach bag
  • SPF

Note: no need to bring beach towels: cruise ships provides those for you!


Next up is a compilation of everything I wore to dinner. I didn’t pack any extra outfits – this was everything in my suitcase. Since I didn’t travel by plane, I was liberal with how many pairs of heels I packed (5), but if you’re flying, I would narrow down your dinner outfit shoes to 1-3 pairs to save space.

Your checklist for dinner outfits:

  • Two outfits for formal night. //  My outfits for formal night are the two in the far left column. I would sum up formal night dress code (aka “cruise elegant”) as cocktail attire. Some people will wear tuxedos and evening gowns (‘black tie”) but it’s not necessary to go that fancy if you’re not up for it. I would recommend picking something you would feel comfortable wearing to a wedding though. To review the full Carnival dress code, go here. Both of the dresses I wore would feel too fancy to wear out to dinner, but formal enough to consider for a wedding.
  • Outfits for the remaining nights of dinner. //  Our cruise was 8 nights, so there are 8 outfits here. I went pretty casual in linen pants and a jumpsuit two of the nights, while the other nights I went for dressier outfits I would normally wear on a date or a night out. Items that aren’t allowed in the dining room are gym shorts, bathing suit attire, cut-off jeans, sleeveless shirts for men and baseball hats. Otherwise anything is game. (And to be honest, sometimes people break those rules. I don’t recommend being one of those people though!) To review the full Carnival dress code, go here.
  • Clutches. //  I carried a “regular” purse onto the ship and then didn’t touch it again until we left. Little clutches are perfect to take to dinner with you. All you need is your room key and some lip gloss!


Now that your swimwear and dinner outfits are decided on, it’s time to tackle the last major category: the in-between outfits. This is what you will wear to travel to and from the ship (outfits #1 and #5 above), outfits you can wear to brunch in the nice dining room (outfits #2 and #4 above), and in general outfits you can throw on and wear around the ship. You will also want to consider any stops your ship is making that are NOT swim destinations, like San Juan, which is more of a city tour (I wore outfit #3 for that).

As you can see, I went with super comfortable outfits – stretchy pants, comfy shorts. I also repeated the bottom two outfits twice. If not repeating an outfit was my goal, then I needed to pack at least 2 more of these kinds of outfits for this trip.

Your checklist for in-between outfits:

  • An outfit for traveling to the ship
  • An outfit for traveling home from the ship
  • 2-3 outfits you can wear to brunch in the nice dining room, or around the ship
  • Outfits for excursions/stops that are not swim/beach destinations


One last section in my suitcase: work out gear. Totally optional, but every Carnival ship I’ve been on has a nice gym, and they offer yoga and exercise classes. I brought 4 workout outfits, wore one for a swim cover up, and the three others to work out in.

Your checklist for gym outfits:

  • Gym shoes
  • Gym clothes
  • Empty water bottle (fill it up on the Lido Deck and take it with you to the gym)

Plan a getaway

I had barely anything left over in my suitcase:

  • Two swim cover-ups
  • One gym tank
  • One swimsuit
  • Sweatshirt (never got that cold)

What I needed to pack but didn’t:

  • 2-3 more “in-between” outfits.
  • Underwear – I swear you change 3 times a day on a cruise. You can never have enough.
  • Outfit for the ride home.
  • Outfit for San Juan. (I was okay with what I had but didn’t even think about packing for a city stop!)


More cruise packing tips:

  • Bring an empty bottle to fill up with ice water. Take it off the ship, or with you to the gym.
  • The sandwich bar has the yummiest turkey wraps. Bring a plastic baggie to throw one of those in and take it off the ship for a snack.
  • Bring snacks like granola bars for when you are off the ship. The only portable snacks on board for the most part are apples and bananas.
  • You are allowed to bring one bottle of wine per person. Pay a small corking fee to enjoy it at dinner, or enjoy it in your room for free.
  • There should be a hair dryer already in your room, but I packed one just in case.
  • HDMI cable if you want to watch movies off your computer in the comfort of your room.
  • Bug spray, swimmer’s ear medicine or motion sickness medicine.
  • Reading materials like books and magazines for days at sea.
  • Laundry detergent to hand-wash your bathing suit or anything else (they provide the drying rack in your room).
  • Umbrella. Automatic guarantee of nice weather if you bother to carry it.
  • Camera. To capture all those amazing cruise memories!

Cruising is one of the most stress-free ways to travel and I hope having these checklists will make your journey even more laid back! What items are you sure to pack for a cruise? What are your best tips and tricks? Share them in the comment section below!

This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind.