If you’re booking your first cruise, no doubt you’re trying to narrow down your packing must-haves. Figuring out what to bring and what not to bring can be a challenge, especially if you’re cruising from one climate to a drastically different one. We can relate! Our first cruise was to Alaska, in late-August/early-September. So, while we set sail from Seattle on a summery August day, we also had to be prepared for Alaska’s unpredictable September weather. It was tricky, but we gotta admit – we kinda nailed it!
In this post, we’re going to give you some packing must-haves for just about any cruise, and then some that are specific to an Alaska cruise. And be sure to read on, because we’re also going to tell you what NOT to bring on a cruise. All of our recommended items can be found in the Resources page of this site.
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Packing Must-Haves For All Cruises
Most cruise ship cabins have only one, or at most, two outlets. So if you carry multiple devices like phones, laptops, cameras, battery chargers, etc., you’ll be charging everything 24/7. Since surge protector power strips aren’t allowed on cruise ships, a USB dock is genius and should be at the top of your cruise packing must-haves list. We have one by Anker that we love and there’s a link to it in our Travel Essentials list in case you want to check it out. You just need one outlet to plug the dock into, and the dock has multiple ports to charge multiple devices all at the same time. You can charge everything overnight while you sleep and you’ll be good to go from one day to the next!
Cruise lines ask you to print out paper luggage tags in advance of your trip, so your bags can be delivered to your cabin during embarkation. They often tell you to staple or tape the tags onto the handle of your bag. But that could easily tear off and your bag can get left behind or misdirected. Fortunately, you can easily find luggage tag holders on Amazon that come in exactly the right size for your specific cruise line. There are generally just a few different sizes – some are longer and more narrow, some shorter and wider. Just search for your specific cruise line to find your perfect fit. The ones we have fit Princess Cruises and a couple of other cruise lines. It’s a waterproof, heavy-duty plastic sleeve, and a braided cable with a threaded locking clasp to attach it to your bag. Once it’s on, it’s on!
While the water on ships is completely safe and drinkable, we personally like a little extra filtration, so we’ve got these terrific bottles by Brita that we never leave home without. You can also buy bottled water on board, but it’s going to cost extra, so you’ll need that specialty drinks package if you want to get it. But the fact is, who needs all that extra plastic waste? The water on board is perfectly fine and tastes good, especially with the extra filtration, so you can refill it everywhere you go – including on land at your ports of call!
4. Hand Sanitizer and Sanitizing Wipes
It’s practically standard-issue at this point, but in case you need the reminder – hit your local grocery or drug store and get yourself some hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. Whether you’re on a cruise or a flight, this is a must-have item for every traveler. Even after all of “this stuff” is over, it’s really wise to have this extra protection on hand for yourself. Cruise ships have always had sanitizing stations all over the place, as they’re very aware of people being in close environments and being able to share germs. So while they take a lot of precautions, it’s good to have your own. You never know when you might be caught without it and wish you’d had some.
This is a fun one! Admittedly little geeky, but hear me out. On a cruise, you should have your phone in airplane mode for the duration. And while you can probably connect to a network when you’re in a port of call, we personally choose not to risk getting hit with any roaming charges by doing that. So we got these cool, inexpensive Motorola 2-way radios that have a range of about six miles. Even though we’re not usually very far apart from one other, there have been times where we’ve separated. Let’s say I’ve run into a shop while Andie stays outside taking photos, and suddenly thinks of something she’d like me to grab. A quick “breaker-breaker” over the walkie-talkie totally solves the problem of not being able to shoot off a quick text. We wouldn’t travel without them at this point, and we highly recommend you invest in some.
This is more about security than packing must-haves, but it’s equally as important. Do yourself a favor and get a VPN service before hopping on your next free wifi network. As travelers, we rely on public wifi a lot. It’s widely reported how many unscrupulous characters there are out there just waiting to get ahold of your data, and airports are especially high-risk for identity theft. A VPN will protect you. We recommend not opting for one of the free VPN options out there. Surfshark is the best inexpensive VPN there is, and at just $2.49/month, your security is worth every penny of that.
7. Bring Cash
Most cruise lines are cash-free, but there will be some things you’ll want to have cash on hand for – primarily, tipping your crew. A lot of cruises do add service fees onto your bill at the end of the trip, or in some cases they bill you up front as part of your overall cruise fee. But if someone takes especially great care of you, like your cabin steward or a bartender, etc., you’re going to want to have cash to give them. It’s also handy when you’re at ports of call. Some shops may only accept cash and not any form of electronic payments, and it’s also great for negotiating. Merchants might be more willing to come down in price if you’re offering cash. And finally, when tipping any tour guides or bar and restaurant staff, cash is always greatly appreciated. So add a good amount of cash to your list packing must-haves.
What To Bring On An Alaska Cruise
You’re going to get all kinds of weather in Alaska, especially in the summertime, which is the wet season. Trust us, a good pair of waterproof hiking boots is one of the most essential Alaska cruise packing must-haves. After telling ourselves throughout our cruise-planning that we’d be ok without proper hiking boots, we made a last minute decision to get some the day before our trip. Boy, was that a wise choice! We got soaked during our excursion in Ketchikan. It poured all day while we hiked through the Tongass National Forest – literally, a rainforest at that. Our feet, however, were completely dry the entire time! So when you go on your shore excursions, whether it’s a hike or a whale watch, your feet will stay dry, warm, and comfortable in a pair of waterproof hiking boots.
2. Rain Poncho
Just like with waterproof hiking boots, this one speaks to the ever-changing weather in Alaska. In addition to a waterproof jacket or winter coat of some sort, ponchos are a great addition. Especially if you’re like us and carrying a backpack with gear, you’re going to want an extra layer of protection to go over everything. So, even though our arms and legs got pretty well soaked, this poncho kept our heads, torsos, and that backpack full of gear nice and dry.
We practically live in our sunglasses, so this item is especially important when we’re out doing hikes or more active things. If we’ve got our hands full of gear, we don’t have to worry about our glasses falling off our faces. Especially on a boat during a whale watch or even just looking over the edge of the cruise ship, the last thing we’d need is to be dumping our expensive “prescription plastics” into the ocean! There are countless instances where sunglass straps will come in handy. They come in tons of styles, so you can go “extra,” or keep it basic like we did with these. Either way, they’re generally inexpensive, so you should grab some!
Bringing it back to the weather, one last Alaska-specific thing to add to your list of packing must-haves – layers! Expect weather in Alaska, and wearing layers can keep you covered, and uncovered, as needed. More layers is great for the cold, and then as it gets warmer (if it does), you can shed one at a time to cool off. We unexpectedly ended up with a warm summer day in Juneau for our hike to Mendenhall Glacier and the whale watch excursion that followed. Since we expected it to be cold, we ended up carrying our coats and hoodies around all day – but we were glad we had the options for both situations, because you never know what you’re going to get in Alaska!
What NOT To Bring On A Cruise
1. Surge Protector Power Strip
As mentioned in item #1, cruise lines don’t allow you to bring surge protectors on board, having something to do with the way the power runs through the ship. They will confiscate it if they find it in your luggage – and they do check all of your luggage closely, so just leave it at home. The perfect workaround? Refer back to #1 on his list… a USB dock.
2. Hair Dryer
Like most hotels, cruise ships provide hair dryers for you in your stateroom. In our case, on the Majestic Princess, it was hard-wired into the desk/dressing table in front of a mirror. Some of the higher end suites might have them elsewhere, such as in the bathroom. No matter the location, rest assured that a hair dryer is one less thing that you need to pack for your cruise.
Similarly, something else you do not need to pack is towels. Not only are there plenty of them in your room, but you can easily get more with just a quick call to your cabin steward. There are also beach-sized towels in the pool areas, as well as towels in any of the spa areas. So leave those space hogs out of your suitcase and at home. Anywhere you might typically need a towel on board your cruise, they’ve got you covered (no pun intended, much).
Generally speaking, cruises allow you to bring one bottle of wine or champagne per person, and sometimes a total of up to three, if you’re cruising for more than a week. This may vary slightly between cruise lines, but they consistently do not allow you to bring beer or liquor. Depending where you’re from, you might find the drink prices on board to be reasonable. We’re from Los Angeles, so they seemed cheap-ish to us. If you’re from a small town, you’ll likely find them to be pricey. But hey, you’re on vacation, right? Go for it! And if you plan to drink a lot, you might find the specialty drinks packages are worthwhile. Overall, if you only bring as much as they allow, a potential corking fee is the worst you’ll face. But if you pack beer or liquor, they will confiscate it.
And there you have our list of cruise packing must-haves for all cruises, Alaska included! If there’s anything you think of that we left out, let us and other travelers know in the comments below!
Now that your packing must-haves are sorted, check out our First-Time Cruisers Dos and Don’ts for the inside scoop on all the other stuff you need to know about!
If you want to see our first impressions of our cruise, be sure to watch our vlog: FIRST TIME CRUISERS! | Our First Impressions of Princess Cruises Majestic Princess Alaska Cruise.