5 Essential Items For Your Cruise Carry On Bag

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what to pack in your cruise carry on

Your cruise carry on bag can make or break the first day of your cruise. Be sure to get it right!

Oh man, I’ve seen some of the craziest cruise stories on the internet lately. A common theme is forgetting to pack something.  On our last summer cruise I forgot to pack sunscreen in our cruise carry on bag, and turned myself a bright shade of red for formal night. Not a good look … trust me. 

When you arrive to your cruise port you have to check your bags, with the exception smaller carry on type bags. What you have … or don’t have in those smaller bags can make or break the first day of your cruise. 

So let’s get it right with 5 solid tips for upping your carry on game! I can probably wrap this whole topic into a single phrase: If think you can’t live without something for a day or two, pack it in the bag you carry on to the cruise ship. There.  Thanks for reading… have a great day! Wait, of course I’m kidding.  

Mia Tui bag on GoPenguin carry on
My Mia Tui bag on another favorite, my GoPenguin carry on.

Before we jump into what’s inside the bags, let’s talk about the bag itself. We tend to use two different types of carry on bags when we cruise. If we’re flying, I love the Mia Tui Jennie or Mini Jen.

What’s GREAT about these bags is they slide over the handle of my rolling suitcase. This relieves all of the pressure off by back (oh, my aching back!). You can shop for the Jennie or Mini Jen using my affiliate link.

We highly recommend you check out their bundles, which allow you to add FREE travel accessories to your bag purchase. They explain how to choose a bundle in depth on the website.  

When we’re driving to port or trying to keep our cruise carry on bag super light, we’ll often use a small packable backpack that is both lightweight and water resistant.

#1: The Serious Stuff: Cruise Carry On Bag Essentials.

You’re gonna want your passport of course, as well as your credit cards and cruise documents (including your boarding pass). Put all these things in a very “easy access” spot since you’ll need those first. In fact, you might need them a number of times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve packed something away thinking I didn’t need it anymore, and of course almost immediately had to dig it back out again.

We use this dorky passport neck wallet to keep ourselves “hands free” and to breeze through check in. As soon as we’re done presenting our documents, I just tuck the documents away in my backpack or carry on bag, so I can stop looking dorky.  

#2: The Best Camera is the Camera you’ll USE.

It’s your first day of the cruise, so of course, you’ll want your camera, or cell phone to capture those WOW moments. For me, I rely entirely on my mobile device for photos and video, but hubby’s got his fancy cameras and stuff all crammed into his backpack. It doesn’t matter which camera you pack in your cruise carry on bag, as long as you’ll use it.

If we take a laptop it also goes in the carry on just to keep it safe. Hubby’s a regular “techy pack mule” on embarkation day, but he loves his gear. If you’re looking for a good gear backpack, here’s the backpack we swear by. 

#3: Cash, Baby!

Since once you’re on the ship everything is cashless, this tip is easy to overlook, but yeah, you most definitely want to keep some cash handy for tipping luggage porters, bus drivers and anyone else that helps you out along the way.

You may find it’s easier to tuck some small bills into your pocket at the cruise terminal, instead of in your cruise carry on bag.

We suggest taking a few hundred dollars in cash with you when you cruise, but we understand this is a very personal decision. I usually take about $200-400 in cash, with $100 of that being $1, $5, and $10 bills. Remember to tip the porter on embarkation ($1-2 per bag is customary). 

#4: Listen UP!

This is a BIG one!  For heaven’s sake if you depend on …yikes! I sound like my mom, but yeah, for goodness sake if you (… a little better …) depend on medication, please don’t put your prescription medication in your checked luggage. 

What happens if your luggage gets lost? Pack your medications, must-have toiletries and any essential similar items for you, and your children in your cruise carry-on bag, if they are traveling with you.

We also suggest taking a bit of extra prescription medication with you, in the unlikely event of travel delays. In fact, packing 14 days of medication may be a requirement in the future for cruises, according to this Princess Cruises Health Advisory.

#5: If You Have Space…

Speaking of lost luggage, it’s a good idea to pack an emergency outfit in your cruise carry on bag just in case. We pack a change of clothes, and on warm weather cruises, our swimwear, sunglasses and sunscreen.

An embarkation day swim or hot tub soak is a great way to kick off a cruise. And, that extra outfit can come in handy if you’re feeling a little “not so fresh” after a long day of travel. You catch my drift. 

A few bonus tips before we close:

You may also consider packing some beverages, if allowed by your cruise line. We like to take several large bottles of drinking water, some soft drinks, and the allowable carry on wine maximum, so we can have the a convenient homemade “minibar” in our stateroom.

Remember, every cruise line is different when it comes to their carry on beverage policies, so we’ve linked to a few here for your reading pleasure:

Carnival Cruise Line’s Beverage Policy.

Royal Caribbean’s Beverage Policy.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Beverage Policy.

Princess Cruise’s Beverage Policy.

Again, as a general rule of thumb, If you can’t live without something for a day or two pack it in your carry-on and keep it with you.

Thanks so much for reading along! We hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Please feel free to direct message us on Instagram or Facebook with your thoughts, and until next time, we’ll see you on the high seas!

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Sheri and her family are California based cruise content creators focused on providing practical tips and advice to new and seasoned cruisers. CruiseTipsTV’s audience enjoys following Sheri and her family as they travel the world by ship creating travel films. Sheri has visited destinations like Japan, Mexico, Alaska, Europe and the Caribbean, and has experienced 33 cruises on 6 cruise lines. She was named one of Porthole Cruise Magazine’s 10 Travel Influencers Changing How We Vacation in 2018 and 2019. Sheri has been quoted in the New York Times, CNBC, Forbes, Prevention, and Business Innovator Radio. Her YouTube Channel, CruiseTipsTV has over 87,000 subscribers and 17 million views.