Good Morning everyone! Are you already starting to feel overwhelmed with the school schedules, activities, and everything that you and your family are doing? You know it’ll get even crazier as the holidays get here, so this is the perfect time to look at planning a vacation for the family. And if you enjoy taking a cruise, or are thinking about booking your first cruise, then this post is definitely for you!
My husband and I enjoy taking cruises when we vacation. We don’t book one for every vacation because we also enjoy staying at resorts, but lately we have been in the “cruising” state of mind. We took a cruise with Carnival out of Baltimore this past May that took us to Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay and Freeport in the Bahamas. When we came home, my husband decided we should book another cruise for next year’s bigger vacation so we have a cruise planned to Bermuda in September.
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I have created a list of items to bring and tips to follow for taking a cruise that is based on our previous cruises and I have decided to share that with all of you as well so that you can make the most of your cruising experience. I hope you enjoy this list and find it inspiring as you consider booking a cruise for your family.
What to Bring:
- Small Fan- The air conditioning will only bring the temperature of your cabin down so far because of the load it will carry with the other cabins. I tended to be warm at night while trying to sleep and I wished I had brought a small fan to help cool me down.
- Games or Deck of Cards- You will have times where you and your group are just relaxing in your cabin or don’t feel like taking part in the scheduled activities. It is a great idea to bring cards or games along with you for these times. You don’t have to be cramped in your cabin either – have your group meet at one of the many seating areas around the pool or near the buffet and play there.
- Febreeze and Poo Pourri Spray- One thing that takes getting used to is the smell from the chemical toilet. I always think it’s kind of like using an outhouse that was recently cleaned – it doesn’t smell horrible, but there’s still that weird smell. I always pack a travel sized Febreeze spray to counter any odors in the bathroom or cabin. You should also consider bringing along a travel sized Poo Pourri spray to help prevent further bathroom odors.
- Sweatshirt and Long Pants- For your days at sea, especially if you are travelling from a northern port like Baltimore, New York, or New Jersey any time besides summer, you may be chilly in the evenings or on rainy days. You will want to pack a sweatshirt and some long pants so you can still get out and enjoy some activities on the ship. On our cruise, they had an outdoor movie theater set up near one of the pools and played movies every night. On the first evening of the cruise I went down to watch the movie playing, but it was too chilly to sit and watch since I hadn’t packed a sweatshirt or sweatpants. I wound up spending $50 on a sweatshirt the next day in the gift shop and I got a lot of use out of it on our cruise, but I would’ve been better off packing one to begin with.
- Aloe or After Sun Spray- Even when you use sunscreen correctly, there’s still the potential for getting a sunburn – especially if going to a Caribbean location where the sun is hotter the closer to the equator that you travel! It’s a great idea to pack some aloe or after sun lotion so you can help soothe any sunburn that you may get.
- Reusable Water Bottle- There are different options for drinks provided on your cruise: you can fill up at the buffet with juice, iced tea, lemonade, or water; you can pay for a soda package and get one soda at a time from any bar or restaurant; or you can bring cases of soda on the ship with you (no bottles of soda or water are allowed). One great tip is to bring a reusable water bottle or travel cup with you to help keep hydrated. It’s a pain to only be able to get one soda at a time while using the soda plan, and when you fill up the cups from the buffet they are pretty small. We bought travel cups in the gift shop and used them EVERY DAY! We filled up at the buffet with ice and water and it would last us hours so we didn’t have to keep making trips back to the buffet.
- Small LED Candles or Nightlight- When you are out to sea, it can get dark at night – VERY DARK! You will definitely want some sort of light to help you walking around in your cabin at night so a great idea is to bring a nightlight or small LED candles to help guide you. (Tip: if you are using a charger that lights up, this usually produces enough light to help you see to go back and forth to the bathroom or get a drink)
- Power Strip- I can’t stress how important this item is!! There were only 2 outlets in our cabin: one in the bathroom that was VERY different and said it was only for shaving, and one at the vanity/desk in the main part of the cabin. If you have multiple electronic devices that you will need to charge or will want to plug in things like a curling iron, straightener, or even a CPAP machine for sleeping, you will want to pick up a power strip. It will be even more functional if you get one with USB ports as well as regular outlets. **IMPORTANT: You must make sure the power strip you bring DOES NOT have a surge protector built in or the cruise line will confiscate it! Check out this option that I bought for our cruise**
- Waterproof or Dry Bag- If you’re going on any shore excursions where you plan on being in or near water, it’s a great idea to bring a waterproof or dry bag. You will be able to keep clothes, electronics, and your documentation dry while still having fun!
- Hard Waterproof Case- Sometimes, you don’t need a bag to keep things dry. You may just want to keep your room keys or cash with you while you swim and not worry about anyone walking off with them. This is where it’s worth it to bring a small, hard plastic waterproof case.
- Dress Clothes- Even if you don’t plan on paying extra money to eat at the fancier restaurants on the ship that aren’t included in your cruise costs, you will want to bring at least one set of dressier clothing with you. There will be a couple of nights that the regular restaurant will have a “Dress Elegant” dress code where shorts are not allowed.
- Walkie Talkies- If you’re part of a larger group or don’t plan on having a texting and calling plan during your cruise, you will want to bring some walkie talkies so you can stay in touch with the rest of your group. There will be times when you will want to separate and do your own thing, or maybe one person is sleeping and you don’t want to sit around in the cabin. Having a walkie talkie will help you to be able to get in touch with each other when you want to move onto your next activity.
- Sealable Laundry Bag- You want to remember that your cabin is going to be smaller than a hotel room, so odors will fill the space up quicker than you imagine. Dirty laundry has nowhere to go, so you will want to bring something to put it in that will help hide the smell, especially from wet clothing. I used space saver bags and it worked like a charm, but you can use any sort of bag that will seal to keep odor locked in.
- Tums and OTC Medicines- This is VITAL to staying comfortable on your cruise! The cost of buying over the counter medications in the gift shops is ASTRONOMICAL – I wound up paying $15 for a 25 count bottle of Advil! Pack a supply of over the counter medications to help when those unexpected issues arise: Tylenol, Advil, Zantac, Tums, anti-diarrhea medicine, and allergy medications are all great to pack and be prepared.
- Command Hooks- Your cabin will have a closet area as well as a couple of hooks and a small clothesline for hanging items. But I found that I wished I had brought a few Command Hooks with me to have added hanging space, especially for wet items to dry – you won’t be sorry you brought them!
- Notepad and Pen- I don’t know about you, but I tend to pare down when I am going on vacation and only have the bare essentials in my purse. I didn’t pack a notepad or pen on this cruise and was glad that they gave me a small one in our cabin because there were a few times when I really needed them, but it would’ve been better to be prepared and have them packed with me since the notepad only had 4 pages to it.
- Turbie Twist- If you normally wrap your head in a towel after your shower or use a Turbie Twist at home, you want to remember to pack one for your cruise. It always seems like you never have enough towels even though the housekeeping staff will bring you extra if you ask. I liked having my Turbie Twist with me because it takes up so little room and stays put on my head compared to a regular bath towel.
- Rash guard or Protective Clothing- If you tend to burn easily, forget to put sunscreen on, or even tend to get chilly while swimming, you may want to invest in a rash guard or protective clothing. These will help you enjoy your outdoor and water activities while staying protected.
- Dry Erase Board or Chalkboard- This was one trick that I saw while on our cruise. Another cabin had a chalk board hung on a Command Hook to their cabin door and I thought this was a great way to be able to leave notes for one another or even list out your itinerary or excursions and activities that you want to be sure not to miss. Don’t forget to bring dry erase markers or chalk to go along with the board!
- Snacks- This became the running joke on our cruise recently when we saw that the gift shop had cans of Pringles on “sale” for 2 for $14! Yes, your food is paid for as part of your cruise, but you don’t always want to go down to the restaurants just for a snack. Or maybe you are following a certain diet and you’re worried that there won’t be as many options that you can have. It’s definitely a better idea to pack some snacks to keep in your room for these times. **IMPORTANT: you can only bring food sealed in its original wrappers so check your cruise’s restrictions before packing food**
- Workout Clothes or Loungewear- Sometimes, you just want to lounge around and be comfy while sitting in your cabin or by the pool so make sure you pack some comfy clothing like workout tops and shorts. Even if you don’t plan on using the gym, you’ll still be able to put them to good use.
- Water Shoes or Sandals- This is a great idea if you are planning on taking part in any excursion that is water-based. Having a pair of water shoes or sandals will keep you comfortable and allow you to maneuver rocky waterways safely at port. We’ve done this for our Dunn’s River Falls excursion where we climbed the waterfall in Jamaica as well as our Stingray Adventure where we swam with and fed stingrays and they came in handy.
- Waterproof Case for Phone or Camera- You want to be able to capture great pictures while near the pool or in the ocean, so investing in a reasonable waterproof case or bag for your phone or camera is a definite must! Even if your phone is “water resistant”, it’s only safe for a certain period of time or to a specific depth so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
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What Not to Bring:
- Tissues- When we got into our cabin, there were 8 boxes of tissues already stocked in our bathroom. The housekeeping staff strive to make your cruise special so they won’t hesitate to bring you more tissues if you needed some, so you won’t need to pack any.
- Beach Towels- Not only do you receive 2 beach towels in your cabin, but there are always towel stations near each pool on the ship.
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Tips to Remember:
- Read your ship’s daily newsletter– Each cruise line usually will put out a daily newsletter of some sort so you can find out about the activities offered each day on your cruise. I definitely recommend reading these so you can find those “hidden gems” that aren’t advertised that much and be able to take advantage of them. Whether it’s a fun activity, the dress code policy for the day, or even a fabulous sale that will take place, your daily newsletter is chock full of valuable information.
- Claim lounge chairs early- Especially on days at sea, the chairs poolside or on the sun deck will get taken quickly so if you plan on laying out for the day, I suggest you get there early to stake your claim. Unfortunately, we heard a lot of people talk about how some would “reserve” chairs by placing their items on them and then leave for hours or possibly not even use them. This is definitely frowned upon and the cruise employees will remove items from chairs that have been left there unattended for more than 20 minutes, so make sure you are being respectful and only taking chairs that you are using when you plan to use them.
- Enjoy the Pools while at port- As packed as the sun deck and poolside chairs and pools are during days at sea, you will definitely be able to get a space while the ship is docked at a port and the majority of the passengers leave the ship. These are the perfect days to take advantage of the pool and sunbathing since there is more availability, so if you’ve already been to the port you are docked at, or just don’t want to visit this location, enjoy the comforts of the ship on these days.
- Download eBooks and music before getting on the ship– It can be very expensive to download things while on a cruise, even if you take advantage of a WIFI or talk & text plan. Download any eBooks that you plan on reading during your cruise or any music you may want to listen to (maybe poolside or for your workout in the gym) before you board the ship to avoid any possible fees.
- Check with your provider about talk & text plans- I highly suggest that you check with your cell phone provider to see what plans are offered for talk & text at the destinations you will be visiting. Even if you don’t plan on calling or texting during your cruise, you want to have access to receive or make calls if an emergency arises so take a look at the various options and make the best selection for your cruise.
- Check into the ship’s WIFI options- If you absolutely cannot be away from being online, then the best money saving tip is to check into the ship’s WIFI packages before you start your cruise. They often offer a discount when pre-paying as opposed to the higher rates once you get on the ship. You can even spread out your access and only purchase the WIFI for a few days of your cruise if you don’t need to be connected every day.
- Include gratuity when booking your cruise– This is a time-saving as well as money-saving tip. When you book your cruise, you are usually able to include gratuity for your entire trip. This takes care of tipping staff on the ship for the length of your stay and will save you time and money so I highly suggest you take advantage of this feature.
- Tip your porters- Even if you’ve paid for the gratuity for your cruise, this doesn’t include tipping your porters who take your bags for you when you check in at the port. The suggested amount is $1-2 per bag so bring some singles with you if you plan on checking any luggage.
- Don’t forget about tolls- Check out your drive to and from the port to see if you will need to have any change or singles to pay toll fees. You don’t want to get stick with no cash and not be able to get through a toll booth because they don’t take credit.
- Bring cash for spending at the ports- You won’t be able to use your ship’s room key at the ports so make sure you bring some cash to spend at gift shops and restaurants on land.
- Take advantage of spa discounts during your cruise- We found that the spa offered great discounts on services during your cruise, especially the closer it got to the end of the cruise. If you’re planning on scheduling a facial or massage, I highly recommend taking advantage of these deals!
One final tip for your cruise – Have Fun!!! Take advantage of the relaxing sights, sounds and activities on your cruise and enjoy! I hope you have enjoyed these tips and are excited to book a cruise for your family to enjoy. I’d love to hear your tips that you use for taking a cruise, so please comment below to share your ideas with everyone. And don’t forget to share this post on your social media platforms so your friends and family can take advantage of these ideas as well!
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