With the cruise season right around the corner, I have no doubt that the excitement for your first cruise is building.  It is time to begin your research!  When I think back to my very first cruise almost 20 years ago now, I wish that someone had told me what cruise essentials should be packed into my carry-on.

Now that the internet and social media can be accessed from anywhere you may be, you will be able to find the answer to all of your cruising questions much easier than I could all of those years ago.

When arriving at the cruise port, a porter will immediately take your luggage, leaving you with your personal items and a carry-on, if you have one.  The luggage will later be delivered to your cabin.  Many times it could be much later.

As a first time cruiser, I know how excited you will be to get on board that ship to do some exploring, and hit one of the several pools and/or bars.  Trust me when I say that if you haven’t packed the proper essentials into your carry-on, you will be wasting several valuable hours of your precious time on the ship.

In order to ensure that you enjoy your first day onboard the ship to the max, I have assembled a list of carry-on essentials for the first time cruiser.

It is finally your time to board, so let’s get started….


In order to save precious time, all of these documents should be pre-printed before you even leave home.

  • boarding pass
  • pre-paid tour purchase confirmations
  • pre-paid drink package confirmations
  • passage contract
Be sure to pack passport, boarding pass, electronics and other paperwork in your carry-on

It should go without saying that all of these papers should be kept in your purse or carry-on.  Many people don’t like the clutter, so they will pack it in their suitcase.  Please don’t!  Without your boarding pass, you will be unable to board the ship. Having all of these documents readily available will save you a substantial amount of time and huge headaches.

PRO TIP:  I always pre-purchase my tours and water package well in advance of the cruise.  This will eliminate the chance of any disappointment I may have in the event a specific tour sells out (and they sell out fast).  I then print all of the paperwork and assemble it all into an envelope and in my carry-on it goes


This one should be a no-brainer, but I am always surprised at the number of people who pack their medications in their checked baggage.  Always remember when cruising, it may be well into the evening before your bags arrive at your cabin, so it is essential that all medication be kept on your person at all times.


All electronics, including your camera, cell phone, laptop, chargers, etc. should be packed as an essential into your carry-on.  By the time you board the ship, you have likely been on the road (or in the air) for hours, and your phone will need re-charging.  Even though it is difficult to use your cell phone when at sea, most cruise lines have an app which allows you to access your shipboard account, see what events are taking place on the ship at any given day or time, and best of all, it allows you to text your travel mates while on board the ship.

Given that you might be a first time cruiser, I can guarantee that you will want to explore the ship almost as soon as you board.  I am sure that you will be in complete awe of the sheer beauty and size of the ship, so you will want to have your camera close by in order to click away and capture all of those first impressions.


After a long day of travel, you will likely be anxious to immerse yourself into ship life.  It is absolutely essential that you pack the following swimwear in your carry-on:

  • bathing suit
  • beach cover-up
  • flip flops
  • suntan lotion
  • sun glasses
  • hat

You will be extremely disappointed if you didn’t have these essential items with you and were unable to join in the fun.  If it is anything that you can’t forget to pack in your carry-on, it is these items!

ESSENTIAL!  Pack swimwear in your carry-on!


It will be highly unlikely that your luggage will arrive in your cabin by the time dinner rolls around, so it is a smart idea to have an extra set of clothes packed into your carry-on.  If you plan on eating at the buffet your first night on the ship, then shorts and a t-shirt is sufficient.  If you plan on enjoying the finer dining in one of the dining rooms, then you will want to pack a dress or a smart pair of pants and top.

Pro Tip:  There are also other dining options, which will include pizza and hamburgs on the pool deck.  Some, but not all, cruiselines also offer room service.  Keep in mind though that the staff are extremely busy on embarkation day!


After a long never-ending day of travel, you will want to freshen up at some point throughout the day.  It is for this reason, that it is essential that you pack at least a toothbrush and toothpaste and hair brush in your carry-on.  I am not a make-up person, so I pack this in my checked luggage, but if you want to get all dolled up for dinner on your first cruise day, then by all means, pack your makeup in your carry-on.


Last but not least, there are some additional items that you might want to have with you in your carry-on:

  • Book:  if you are a reader, you may want to relax poolside or on your balcony with a good book.
  • Wine:  most cruise lines allow each passenger to bring one bottle of wine onboard.  I am that person who enjoys a cocktail on my balcony before heading for dinner.  It is for this reason that it is essential that I pack my bottle of wine in my carry-on.
  • Lanyard:  Unless you want to carry a purse or bag with you wherever you go on the ship, this item is essential!  When you board the ship, you will be given a key card, which will grant you access to your room, allow you to charge all purchases to your shipboard account, and, on most ships, turn the lights on in your room.  This card will be with you wherever you go, so I highly recommend packing a lanyard in your carry-on so you have somewhere to put this card without having to carry a purse or bag.

I truly hope that this list of essential items to pack into your carry-on help all of you first time cruisers.  You don’t think you will remember all of these items?  Not a problem!  You can PIN this post for later, OR  download CARRY-ON ESSENTIALS FOR 1ST TIME CRUISERS 


If you found this article useful, you might also like Cruising Solo Onboard the Loveboat and 10 Tips for the Solo Cruiser.

Experienced cruisers, I would LOVE to hear what essentials you pack in your carry-on?


Kelly xoxo



  1. Pingback: Cruising Solo Onboard the Loveboat

  2. zrznaceste

    Interesting, I never knew, that you can swin in the cruise, but it kind of makes sense, since those boats can take a smaller village on board, why not have a pool there? Thanks for the tips, there are many things I have heard about for the first time

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stéphanie

    I love all the information here, I never went on a cruise yet, but it is on my bucket list! I would not have packed my swimwear in my carry on luggage that’s for sure…. Thank you for sharing this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ciara NíLionsigh

    I have yet to go on a cruise but I would love to someday – there are some really great tips and some that can be applied no matter what kind of vacation you’re on!

    Liked by 1 person

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