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A vacation on a cruise ship is unlike any other travel experience. There’s the vast open ocean, the chance to easily visit several countries in a short time, and, of course, unlimited food and drink.
There’s also seasickness, high onboard costs if you forgot to pack anything, limited or non-existent Wi-Fi, and strange rules on how you can power your devices.
If you’re taking a cruise, check out our travel tips, gear, and packing recommendations to ensure your trip is smooth sailing.
Motion sickness on cruise ships is no joke, and it’s easy to be caught off guard. Just because you haven’t experienced it in the past doesn’t mean you won’t on a cruise ship, especially if the weather turns bad.
According to Royal Caribbean, “Motion sickness occurs when what you see conflicts with what your inner ear senses. Those mixed signals confuse the brain, and the sensations and symptoms (dizziness, nausea) are the result.”
On a cruise ship, your brain thinks regular items like walls and furniture should be still because, well, they normally are on land. Your body will usually adjust to the movement of the boat after a day or two, but not being prepared can ruin a holiday. There’s nowhere to escape the nausea once the boat leaves port!
A pair of motion sickness wristbands help alleviate nausea by applying pressure to the P6 (Nei Kuan) acupressure point on each wrist. They don’t work for everyone, but many people do get positive results. Inexpensive and easy to use, they’re well worth trying.
Other common treatments include ginger tablets and over-the-counter medications like Dramamine. If you’re worried about motion sickness, consider adding either or both of these to your medical kit (below).
You never know what can happen on board, so take a medical kit with you for both emergencies and general health concerns. Depending on what you need, medication on a cruise ship is either unavailable or expensive to buy.
You don’t need an entire bottle of everything, but packing a small amount of the common medicines and first aid necessities will mean you’re prepared for most injuries and ailments.
CruisePac offers an extensive premade medical kit that’s specifically designed for cruises. There’s medicine for pain relief, cold/cough/flu/allergies, upset stomachs and more, plus a range of bandages and other first aid supplies.
If you’d prefer to make your own kit, consider including medication for common illnesses, pain, allergies, constipation, diarrhea, and motion sickness.
A pack of Post-Its come in handy for all sorts of communication onboard. Due to the lack of internet service and large size of cruise ships, it can be tough to reach your family and friends.
Use Post-It notes in your room or on your cabin door to leave details about where you are and when you want to meet up. You can also use them to leave messages for cleaning staff in your room.
A cabin on a cruise ship is usually only equipped with a couple of power sockets. If you or your traveling companions need to charge multiple devices at once, you’ll need an outlet splitter.
It seems counter-intuitive, but due to the way the ship produces electricity, for safety reasons some cruise lines mandate that power strips don’t have surge protection built-in. Most regular power strips aren’t allowed on cruise ships due to the perceived fire risk, and many also prohibit extension cords.
The easiest option is to only take devices that can be charged via USB, since these aren’t subject to the same limitations. This 4-way USB charger has adapters for most common types of power socket, including the European-style version often used on cruise ships.
If you do need to charge things from a wall socket, look for an outlet splitter that complies with cruise ship policy. The Cruise On Power Strip is ship-approved, and comes with two USB-A and three 3-prong outlets.
Cruise ships generally offer internet plans, but they’re expensive and speeds can be extremely slow. Consider investing in a mobile hotspot or portable Wi-Fi device so that you don’t need to depend on the ship’s connection.
While it won’t work when you’re out in the middle of the ocean, it usually will once you get close to land. At a minimum, you should have internet once you get off the boat to go exploring.
Cruise ships often dock in many different countries on a given trip, which can make using local prepaid SIM cards complicated. A mobile hotspot that works around the world will keep you connected so that you don’t need to buy a new SIM card in every port.
Both the Skyroam Solaris X and Glocal G4 offer service in 130+ countries. If you’ll be spending extra time in one country at the start or end of your cruise, the Glocal has a trick up its sleeve: also being able to use a local SIM card for lower costs.
These types of devices are always adding new countries, and not all of them overlap. Check the most recent coverage list before you make your decision.
This one is nice and simple, and won’t take up much of your luggage space. If you’re not taking a proper rain jacket, make sure you at least pack a poncho.
You never know when you might get unexpected rain while exploring off the boat. They’re useful onboard too—if it’s raining as you pass a beautiful sight, you can still take a peek from the main deck without getting soaked.Disposable ponchos are inexpensive and should survive at least a couple of rain showers. If you think you’ll use a poncho frequently, thicker, more durable versions are also available.
Cruise ships have towels, but they don’t like you to take them off the boat to the beach.
Even if you’re able to take one with you, though, it may not be worth the risk. You’ll be charged large fees for unreturned towels if yours is lost or stolen. Bring your own towel for journeys off the ship instead — it’s cheaper!
If you’re worried about packing space, consider a lightweight beach blanket that folds down to the size of a fist. Look for one that’s waterproof and sand-resistant. They can be staticky the first time they’re used, so rinse and air dry your towel before you leave.
The upper decks of cruise ships can get quite windy. Unfortunately, that’s where the pool chairs are. Towel clips hold your towel firmly in place, so you’re not constantly adjusting it.
They also keep your towel from falling down whenever you get up from your chair. It’s the little things in life…
Don’t want to carry a bunch of pegs around with you? Towel BandIt elastic holders are a good alternative, stretching out wide enough to fit over both towel and deckchair.
If you have space in your luggage for it, a miniature fan can work wonders in a small cabin. Rooms without a balcony won’t have windows that open, so the air can get quite stale.
Use a fan to circulate air in an otherwise stagnant room, and to make up for the lack of a bathroom fan.
Look for one that won’t take up much room while maintaining a strong airflow. A fan that recharges via USB is ideal, since you can charge it easily and place it anywhere in the cabin.
Lanyards are a simple, effective way of looking after your cabin room key. These keys generally take the form of a card that you need for just about everything, from getting into your room to making a casino purchase.
Pulling it in and out of your pocket all the time is risky, especially given that many cruises offer unlimited drinks!
Protect your key using a lanyard with a waterproof card holder. It will keep your card safe and dry, and you’ll always know where it is.
Got an old lanyard with a name tag holder kicking around at home? That will work too.
As the name suggests, wet/dry bags are bags with two compartments that separate wet items from dry ones. The wet section is leakproof, so you don’t have to worry about a wet towel or bathing suit soaking your dry clothes and valuables.
The bags are perfect for beach trips when the ship is docked, and double as a packing tool if you need to leave the beach before your bathing suit is dry.
An external battery comes in handy no matter where you travel. On a cruise, these portable USB chargers give you freedom and mobility while onboard, and peace of mind when exploring off the boat.
Phone or camera needs charging but you don’t want to sit in your room and miss all the sun? Simply plug it into the battery pack to top up while you’re at the pool, dinner, or elsewhere.
A small battery pack is a lifesaver off of the boat as well, since charging outlets will be few or nonexistent. When you disembark the ship to explore a new city, rest easy knowing you have enough juice to capture every memorable moment… and to find your way back to the boat afterward!
Have you been on a cruise before? Have any tips or gear of your own to share? What did you wish you’d taken for your adventure at sea?
Main image via Alonso Reyes