So, you’ve decided to take a family cruise — how exciting! There are few vacations that rival the value, amenities, food and straight-up fun a cruise can offer everyone in the family. And while one of the perks of cruising is that you only have to unpack your suitcase once during your travels, well, you still have to make sure you don’t forget anything when you actually do the packing.
You know how that works with kids, right? The odds of leaving behind something particularly important seem to increase exponentially with every additional family member who is traveling. This is especially true if your troop includes little ones. ‘Cause let’s be real: If you let them pack their own bags, they’d probably bring a bag of marshmallows, a toy or two and a few errant magic markers.
Of course, that puts the brunt of the packing burden on your shoulders. Don’t worry, though — we’ve got you covered. Since one person shouldn’t have to try to recall every single thing needed when their family hits the high seas, we’ve put together a little cruise packing guide for families.
Keep this handy to refer to as you go. Oh, and happy cruising!
1. Before you begin packing any bags
Packing is made infinitely easier with a little prep work. First, check the forecast of the area your cruise ship will be traveling. It’s not always as simple as “our ports are exotic, so it’ll be sunny.” By checking the forecast for the specific days of your travel, you’ll have a better idea of whether or not you should pack your bag with a few items specific to inclement weather. You’ll also want to check your cruise line’s specific dress code. If you weren’t aware cruise lines had a dress code, that’s all the more reason to read through it before you begin planning your family’s wardrobe.
2. Pack your carry-on first
This is one of those things that seems like a little detail but could set the tone for your entire trip. When you board the cruise ship, you’ll have to leave your main luggage at the pier so it can be taken to your stateroom. However, it could a little while after you’ve boarded before you can actually enter your stateroom and have access to the contents of your luggage. Plan accordingly by packing your carry-on — the bag, purse or backpack you bring aboard with you.
You’ll obviously want to include all official documents for your family here: passports, IDs, cruise documents. Don’t forget your wallet with your credit cards and any cash you have. If you brought a laptop or any other valuables along, you’ll probably want to carry them too (think cameras, cellphones and the like). Other things you definitely want to stash in your carry-on include medications — particularly emergency prescriptions such as EpiPens or inhalers — and anything you need to keep your kids entertained and happy while waiting for the cruise to officially kick off.
3. Start with clothes
Obviously, you’re going to want to pack for your destination. If you’re going on an Alaskan cruise, this will likely look a lot different than the wardrobe you’d pack for a Caribbean cruise. But as a general rule of thumb, each member of the family should have the following: several casual outfits for daily wear (read: lounging around the lido deck), at least two dressy outfits for formal nights, workout clothes for exercise or shore excursion days, shoes for every occasion, multiple swimsuits, multiple light layers for cool-weather destinations, socks, PJs and plenty of undergarments. Hats are also helpful to protect your family’s head and eyes from the elements.
4. Add in non-garment essentials
At this point, you’ve packed all of your family’s important documents and valuables, as well as their clothes. Now is the time to grab all of the things you’d otherwise forget and have to pay an arm and a leg for during your travels. This includes items such as sunscreen (a must for both warm and cool locales), a small first-aid kit, traditional toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, soap, contact lens solution, etc.), ear plugs, sunglasses and an umbrella or poncho. And if you still have room, be sure to throw in some extras you’ll be glad you brought, like foldable bags for use on shopping excursions, an underwater camera, extra memory cards and binoculars for sightseeing cruises.
5. Bring everything you need for Baby
If you are traveling with a baby, you’ll definitely want to pack all of the essentials in a diaper bag to carry aboard. Mamas, you know what this means: bottles, diapers, wipes, snacks, teething toys, a blanket, diaper rash ointment and a sippy cup.
6. Don’t overpack
You’re on a cruise! If ever there were a time to kick back, relax and not care if someone sees you wearing the same outfit twice in one week, it’s when you’re on a cruise (hint: You’ll never see most of the people around you again anyway). But more important, lugging around a bag that is stuffed to the brim is cumbersome at best. Lay out everything you think you want to take with you and then edit that down.
If you feel like you really do need all of those things, pack two bags — by putting half of your belongings in one bag and half in another, you’ll lighten your load and have a safety net in case one of your bags gets lost. Have your entire family take this approach and no one risks going without at least some of their own clothes during the vacation.
7. Save a little room in your suitcases
Think back to vacations you’ve taken in the past. You always came home with more than you left with, right? When you’re traveling with your entire family, this proves true… for every member of the family. Everyone will likely pick up a souvenir or two, either from the cruise ship gift shops or one of your onshore excursions. Do yourself a favor and make sure everyone leaves a little extra wiggle room in their bags for the mementos they’ll inevitably bring back from your family cruise.