Must Have Carry-On Essentials For The 1st Time Cruiser

With the height of 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 over 20 years ago now, I wish that someone had told me what cruise essentials to pack in my carry-on and things I should know.

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Now that the internet and social media can be accessed from anywhere it is much easier to find all of the answers to your cruising questions and much easier than it was 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.



If you want to make the most of your first day onboard your cruise, it is important to have these 7 essential items packed in your carry-on
Make sure to have these cruise essentials packed in your carry-on

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 cruise 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

Read Next: If you are cruising solo for the first time, you’ll benefit from learning some insider tips for cruising alone.

Pack your passport, boarding pass and important paperwork into your carry-on to have handy when boarding the cruise ship
Be sure to pack passport, boarding pass, electronics and other paperwork in your carry-ont

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 a huge amount of headaches.

JUST ONE 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, cellphone, 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 cellphone 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.

As a first time cruiser, I know 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 be anxious to immerse yourself into ship life.  It is absolutely essential that you pack the following swimwear items 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 there is anything that you won’t want to forget to pack in your carry-on, it is these items!  


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 are 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.

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 this key card will also 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.

Read Next: Is Alaska on your bucket list? Cruising Tracy Arm Fjord is a must read.

If you are a 1st time cruiser, don't forget to pack these essentials into your carry-on

You might also enjoy Cruising Solo Onboard the Loveboat and 10 Tips for the Solo Cruiser to help you prepare for your first cruise.



Get all the tips, tricks, and inspiration you need to travel alone with Just One Passport

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


Kelly xoxo

Are you ready to travel solo like a pro?


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59 thoughts on “Must Have Carry-On Essentials For The 1st Time Cruiser

  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

  5. Gabi | The Tiny Book

    The more I read your blog, the more I convince myself that a cruise ship is what I need for my next holidays! I will bookmark this list and several other articles in your blog. They are packed with useful details that are not so obvious if you are cruising for the first time! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sage Scott

    I’m not a frequent cruiser (have done ONE in my entire life), so this is good info to have. It seems like the cruise ships have a great opportunity to give folks branded lanyards! (I know I would hate to carry a purse, and I’d never think to pack a lanyard.) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. pamelard

    The change of clothes made me LOL because I NEVER thought about that on a cruise – but you’re absolutely RIGHT! I always just assumed it would be. My boarding outfit is usually casual comfy and if I’m waiting in lines to board I may be sweaty, so a change of clothes would be a great idea!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. SherianneKay

    Wow! I didn’t realize it could so much time to get your luggage! I would have thought to pack a suit for the pool but would have thought about clothes for dinner or my toothbrush. I guess going to the buffet the first night would be fine but best to be prepared. Great information!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. AuthenticTravels

    Out o fthe many things that I carry with me, my camera is the most important one. I have a compact Sony but I can take very good photos with it and with a large zoom. So that’s why this one is the most important thing in my luggage.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jackie S.

    I’ve never been on a cruise so I didn’t know how the check-in luggage aspect worked. Good to know that it’s better to have a carry on luggage with essential items to start your cruising experience. I like your tip on having a lanyard for your room card instead of carrying a purse around all day long. Look forward to reading more of your cruise posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. modfamglobal

    Great recommendations! We just went on our first cruise this past September and the luggage was one of the biggest issues. Your idea of taking a carry-on with essentials for the day would have been perfect!! On our next cruise we will following these great suggestions! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Medha Verma

    I have been on a cruise just once and would love to go again. These are some really good tips for a first time cruiser, though on my last trip, I did not book the tours and activities beforehand, and decided to do my own little trip once in the city. I really liked having the flexibility to be able to go wherever I wanted! I think even though there are enough activities to keep you busy onboard, carrying a book and taking some alone time isn’t a bad idea at all!

    Liked by 1 person

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  15. Audrey

    I just don’t trust the luggage valet system, never tried it, and it’s not in my plan to use it. I always travel with a minimum, therefore, I always have EVERYTHING with me! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  23. Kerry

    SWIMSUIT! YES!! Our very first cruise we made that rookie mistake! Didn’t know our luggage would take so long to get to out stateroom and all we wanted to do was get in that pool! Didn’t make that mistake twice LOL! Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

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