In May 2015, we took our first family cruise together. It was Mother’s Day weekend, and we went with two other couples and our kids (each of us has one.) It was just a short weekend getaway cruise, with 3 nights of fun and partying. The first day of the cruise, we weren’t entirely convinced that it would be for us. But by the time we were back at the port in Miami, none of us wanted to get off the ship.

Cruising is an unforgettable experience and we enjoy it so much that we have been on seven cruises in the last three years. We’ve cruised both with groups of friends as well as Stefan’s parents, and thoroughly enjoyed all of our trips. But there are different types of cruisers and everyone has to find their groove and style on the ship. We personally love the free travel style of Norwegian cruises, and there will be plenty more to say about cruising on this blog in the future.

Whether you’re going on your first cruise, or you’ve been on many cruises, refining your packing list can be a bit of an art form. Everyone packs the usual things like clothing and toiletries (do you also seem to where twice as many clothes on a cruise??) But there are a few things which will make your life so much better if you don’t forget them. Here are our top essentials that make life more comfortable on our cruises.

  1. Shawl or wrap for dining — Ok, this first one is mostly for the ladies. But those dining rooms are sometimes frigid, both in the morning and evening. Outside decks also tend to get windy, especially in the evening, and can be really chilly after a long day of sunshine. So if you have lots of shoulder-free clothing, definitely bring something to warm you up.
  2. Light jacket — Some may end up needing this in the dining rooms, but regardless of the time of year, a lightweight jacket may come in handy if you find yourself caught in a summer storm or are just looking to keep the sun off your arms. This is especially true during the winter or rainy months.
  3. Long sleeve rash guards/fishing shirts — Most of our cruises are to the Caribbean, so we like to bring sun protection to the beach with us if we’re planning to be snorkeling or on the water all day. It’s perfect for those quick rides back on the snorkel boats in Roatan or when walking back to the boat when you’ve been diving off the beaches in Cozumel.
  4. First aid essentials — While you can buy many of these items on the ship, they are much cheaper from your local drugstore and you will get larger quantities. Our first aid kit is kept in a small plastic box and includes band-aids, Pepto, seasickness meds (Bonine), nose spray (hubby gets tree allergies at some ports), advil, cold meds and throat drops (just in case),
  5. Nail kit — It seems that I am constantly breaking a nail when I get on the ship while shuffling around luggage. So a nail file is a bare minimum for us. But we also usually bring nail clippers as well for trims. I also like to bring a small bottle of nail polish remover and various nail polishes when I’m on a 7-day cruise.
  6. Sunscreen — Our cruises typically visit the Caribbean, and whether it’s winter or summer, there is a lot of sunshine. Sunscreen is essential for those days at sea when you’re soaking up the sun as well as when you’re snorkeling, on the beach at a port or wandering around and exploring a new city.
  7. Bug spray — Exotic tropical locations mean you will experience bugs at any given time of the year. So bug spray is a good idea if you plan on heading ashore and want to avoid getting bitten, especially in jungle-rich ports or during the rainy season. Thankfully you can also buy bug spray in small travel-sized cans too.
  8. Chapstick — My lips get really dry when I’m in the sun a lot, so chapstick is a must have for us. I carry various kinds in every purse and bag I own. But if you’re not usually carrying it, make sure to pack some for your trip.
  9. Bluetooth speaker — In-room entertainment can be limited and we enjoy listening to music in our family, so we brought our Bluetooth speaker along for the last few cruises. It’s a fantastic way to set the mood in your room and relax. We each have a few playlists downloaded from Pandora and Spotify that we can play while offline and connect to the speaker as needed via our phones.
  10. Refillable cup or water bottle — I usually find that I don’t drink enough water when I travel, especially considering the amount of walking, snorkeling and partying I do otherwise. Whenever I head upstairs to the buffet, I make sure to take my refillable water cup (32 oz) and drink at least three of those a day along with water at each meal. Just make sure that when you fill your bottle, you use a clean cup to fill it instead of putting your bottle up to the nozzle to prevent germs spreading.
  11. Toilet paper — While the boat provides an unlimited supply of TP, it is one-ply. And my bottom is not always such a huge fan of the sandpaper-like texture. At home, we typically use the softest three-ply we can find. So if it’s a 7-day or longer cruise, we definitely like to bring two rolls of TP for our room to eliminate chafing.
  12. Door decorations — We have not yet done this ourselves but have seen many people who decorate the outside of their cabin door, especially on Christmas cruises. We’ve seen tinsel, trees, pictures, messages and more. Also clever are the dry erase boards that allow people to leave you a message, which is especially helpful when you’re traveling with a group.

These are our essentials for every cruise, and they make a huge impact when you travel. What are you essentials for cruising? Did they make it on this list or do you have more to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.