The only things you need to pack in your cruise carry on for embarkation day.

Ultimate Cruise Carry On Packing List: Cruise day essentials

Are you planning a cruise vacation and wondering what to pack in your cruise carry-on bag?  In this article, we’ll provide you with a complete cruise carry on packing list, covering all the essentials you will need to start your vacation off right.

A well-prepared carry-on bag will make your embarkation day a breeze, as you’ll have everything you need for the first few hours of your cruise while you wait for your checked luggage to arrive outside your cruise cabin, which can be a couple of hours.

The only things you need in your cruise carry on bag.  A cruise carry on packing list
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Cruise carry on packing list

This cruise packing list covers all the essential items you will need to have in your carry-on for the first day.

1. Travel Documents

ALWAYS keep your important documents with you, NEVER in your checked luggage. These documents include:

  • Passport
  • Driver’s license or photo id
  • Credit cards
  • Cruise documents
  • Airline confirmations
  • Travel insurance
  • Vaccine documents (if still needed)
  • Travel visas – if needed

I prefer to keep these on my body until they can be locked in the safe in the cabin.  A cross body purse or a fanny pack is perfect for this. 

You can read how I organize our travel confirmations and documents in Important Things to do Before a Cruise.

2. Medications

Prescription medications should always be in a carry-on bag whether you are boarding a cruise ship or an airline.  Keep your prescriptions in their original containers and pack more than you will need in-case your trip gets unexpectedly extended.

It’s a good idea to also pack Motion sickness meds or sea bands in your carry-on.  It is possible that the ship sets sail before your luggage is delivered.  Delivering all those suitcases to the cruise ship cabins is a major job for the cruise lines.

3. Cruise Lanyard

If you are using a lanyard to carry your cruise card (which is your room key, cruise identification, and charge card) then add that to your cruise carry on packing list.  Looking for other ways to carry your cruise card then this post is for you.

If you are cruising on Royal Caribbean, they call their cruise card the Sea Pass.

3. Valuable items

This would include personal items like electronic devices, a camera, expensive jewelry and even your cell phone. 

By the way, be sure to switch your mobile phone into airplane mode before sail away to avoid unwanted charges.

4. Lip balm

I don’t go anywhere without lip balm.  Consider one with SPF for your cruise.

5. Sunscreen

Sunscreen is another important item that you should add to your cruise carry on packing list.  There is a good chance you will want to spend some of your first few hours on the ship’s pool deck soaking in the atmosphere and sun. 

6. Sunglasses

Related Post: Important Cruise Accessories People Forget to Pack

7. Sun hat

It is a great idea to carry on your sun hat, for both sun protection and keeps it from getting scrunched in your suitcase

8. Bathing suit

If you aren’t wearing your swimsuit under your clothes on embarkation day, pack it in your cruise carry on bag. 

Having a bathing suit in your carry on, or better yet, wearing one on embarkation day will allow you to enjoy sunbathing or the water activities such as the pool, hot tub or waterslides.

9. Swimsuit cover up

Add a swim suit cover up to your carry-on luggage, it is much more convenient than getting redressed when you need to throw something on to grab some lunch.

10. Flip flops

If you aren’t wearing flip flops or slip-on sandals to board the ship, then add these to your cruise carry on packing list.  You will be glad you did.  Hanging around the pool deck in running shoes isn’t ideal.

More cruise carry on packing list essentials

11. Under garments

If you are planning on wearing your swimsuit under your clothes to board the ship, throw a pair of undies in your carry on. You will want something dry to change into if you choose to eat anywhere other than poolside.

12. Change of clothes

Add a change of clothes to your cruise carry on packing list

It is a smart idea to have a change of clothes with you, especially if you are flying to your cruise departure port.  I use one of the smaller packing cubes to pack a change of clothes.  This packing cube then goes in my airline carry on and stays in for my cruise carry on.  This keeps things more organized.

In the unfortunate event that luggage is lost or delayed, at least you have an outfit change.  For myself, I like to choose a sundress that can be worn day or night.  One that adheres to the dining room dress code. 

13. Towel clips

Often cruise ships will have towels available by the pool that you can sign out, rather than only having them in your cabin. Throw your cute towel clips in your cruise carry on bag, they don’t take up much space. Towel clips secure your pool towel to your lounger and make your chair easier to find when you have stepped away.

There are just so many cute designs, I couldn’t decide which I like best.

14. Bottles of wine

This is one where you definitely need to check with your cruise line first.  Some cruise lines, such as Carnival allow you to bring one 750-ml bottle of unopened wine per person (21 years old +).  This must be in your carry on and not your checked luggage.

One thing to keep in mind however, is that the cruise lines charge a corkage fee for wine brought onboard that you consume in the main dining room or specialty restaurant.  This corkage fee is on the higher side, currently $15USD, per Carnival’s website.

Be sure to check with your cruise line before departure whether they allow you to bring a bottle of wine and what are the restrictions. Policies can change.

Cruise carry on bag

As far as what to use for a cruise carry on bag, there are a few good options.  A beach bag, tote bag, or a lightweight backpack work perfect.  Your cruise carry on bag can then be used as your pool bag and on shore excursions. 

This is the beach bag I use for my cruise carry on and shore excursion bag.

If you are still wondering why, you need a cruise carry on in the first place.  When you first arrive at the departure cruise port, one of the porters will take your checked luggage.  This is why cruise luggage tags are so important.  It is customary to tip the porters.

You will proceed into the cruise terminal with just your carry-on bags.  This is why it is critical that your travel documents are NOT in your checked luggage. 

The cruise staff will later deliver your suitcases to outside of your cruise cabin door later that afternoon or early evening.  The cruise luggage tags have the information the crew members need to deliver them to the right cabins. 

Since most of the time you won’t have immediate access to your cabin right away you don’t want to pack too much in your cruise carry on bag, but do want enough to enjoy your first afternoon on the ship.   

If you are planning your first cruise, I hope this list of cruise essentials to add to your cruise carry on packing list has been helpful. 

What to pack in your cruise carry on bag.  You will need these essentials for the first few hours before your luggage arrives.

Keep reading:

What to Pack in Your Shore Excursion Bag (Caribbean Cruise)

What to Wear on a Carnival Cruise (Caribbean)

16 Best Things to Take on a Cruise

How to Keep Clothes Wrinkle Free on a Cruise