Are you an over-packer when it comes to a Disney cruise? Going on your first cruise and not sure what to pack? Here’s some tips to help keep your bags as light as your spirits!
What to Pack for Everyone
There are some items that are must-have for everyone in your party.
Passport/Birth Certificate and ID, travel documents, and insurance cards
For some cruises, a government-issued ID and birth certificate are acceptable, but I highly recommend a passport for all cruises. For specifics about who needs what, click here. You’ll also want to bring travel documentation (phone numbers if you’re using private transportation to/from the port, info about your plane tickets, etc.), car insurance cards (if you’re driving), and health insurance cards. If you’re boarding your pets, also bring the contact information of the place where you’re boarding them. If you’re delayed coming back, giving them a courtesy call or email is a good idea. Same is true if you have someone watching your house while you’re gone. If you’re delayed, you’ll want to be able to contact them and let them know when you’ll be back.
Credit cards and cash (and your DVC membership card)
While you are on the cruise, it is largely a cashless system. You don’t pay for your main dining room meals, and everything that you do pay extra for (specialty coffee from Cove Cafe, merchandise, drinks from the bar, and so on) will be charged to your room. I do recommend bringing cash with you, however. Although room service is free, it’s still nice to tip the people who run to bring you Mickey bars at 3 AM. I also really support tipping extra for the four tipped positions that you encounter (stateroom host, head server, server, assistant server). In almost every occasion, they’ve gone so far above and beyond expectations that I firmly believe they’ve more than earned extra beyond the suggested daily amount. Also make sure that you have some money to tip the porters for helping you with your luggage at the port. Carrying dozens of suitcases in 90 degree weather deserves a good tip in my book! If you’re going on port excursions or plan to do a lot of shopping in foreign ports of call, check to see whether U.S. currency is accepted or whether places add a “tourist fee” if you don’t use local currency. Some places I’ve found charge 30% extra for U.S. prices compared to the price in local currency, and that can add up. If you’re a DVC member, make sure to toss in your DVC membership card, as there’s often discounts on board when you have that with you.
Go ahead and put out all the clothes that you are planning to take with you. Remember to include formal clothes, day clothes, evening clothes, costumes for pirate night, a multitude of swimwear and coverups, multiple clothing changes each day, and enough shoes to make Imelda Marcos blush. All good? Now, take at least 1/3 of it and put it away. Every cruise I’ve been on (11 so far), I’ve cut back on the amount of clothes I bring, and I still end up coming home with never-worn clothes. Bring one outfit that you use for both Palo and formal night. Think about whether your kids will want to dress up for dinner or are they likely to want to stay in shorts and a shirt. If you want to dress up in the evening, bring a skirt or pants that you can wear for a couple days at dinner (as you’ll likely only wear it for a couple hours each day). Ask yourself if you really need to go over the top for Pirate Night clothes, or will you most likely skip that for a jeans and a pirate-themed t-shirt. Does your child need a costume to match every single character you’re going to see on board? Will your kid likely want to put on a swimsuit cover-up, or will a towel from the pool deck work just as well? If you’re wearing flip flops for 90% of your vacation, how many pairs of socks will you *really* need? One place where I do double up on clothing, however, is swimsuits — I always bring two per person, one to be hanging up to dry and a dry one to change into. Changing into a wet swimsuit can be extremely uncomfortable in a cool stateroom. Also, even though it may seem counter-intuitive for days where temperatures will be creeping into the 80s or 90s, make sure you pack a jacket for everyone. The dining rooms and theaters can be cold, and I’ve even had nights in the Caribbean in July where the breeze on deck has been cold enough I’ve wanted a jacket. Of course checking the weather forecast before you go is a must for cruises to non-tropical ports of call as well.
Overnight bag and freezer bags
On the last night of your cruise, unless you are doing express walk-off in the morning by carrying your own luggage, you’ll put your packed suitcases outside the door to be whisked away to see you after you leave the ship. That means that you’ll somehow need to get your sleep clothes, essential toiletries, and anything else you don’t want in your checked bags off the ship. For people who have been on more than one Disney cruise, your Castaway Club returning guest gift is likely a bag of some kind that can help with that–but the newest design of the bags certainly won’t fit the clothing for a family of four! Make sure to have some sort of overnight bag with you, whether you pack it with you for use on the last day or have everyone use a day pack that they carry with them on embarkation day and take their stuff out on debarkation day. As for the freezer bags, toss in a handful of empty ones to pack wet clothing, as you won’t have a lot of time between your beach day at Castaway Cay or your final dip in the pool and the deadline for the suitcase to be packed.
Yes, you are able to buy essential toiletries on board, but you will pay an up-charge, and they won’t have the full selection of items that you’d find at your local store. Bring travel sizes when possible to help save on space (and put them in a freezer bag in case any of them should leak). For women, this may be a good time to reduce your makeup routine. Especially on tropical cruises, makeup can be almost comical to maintain, and no matter how waterproof you think that mascara is, it won’t survive a day in and out of the pool. Think essentials for hair, makeup, and jewelry, and you’ll still be looking your best because you’ll be looking relaxed and sun-kissed. (Seriously, vacations make you look and feel at least 10 years younger!) One place not to skimp, however, is medicines. At a minimum I bring my allergy medicines (including topical in case of mosquito bites), something in case of stomach distress, and some form of cough and cold medicine. Again, you can find items on board (and in ports of call), but you will pay a premium and they may not have your medicine of choice. Plus, if you end up with the onset of illness at 2 AM, the shops won’t be open to sell you something to relieve your discomfort.
Cell phone and power cord
Yes, I get it — cruises are a great time to unplug. That said, I’m a big fan of bringing a cell phone on board, even if you leave it in airplane mode the entire time. Cell phone cameras are likely as good as any point-and-shoot camera you’d be likely to pack, and the Disney Cruise Line app is an extremely helpful tool at your fingertips. Thinking about packing a flashlight or a travel alarm clock? Your phone likely has those built in. Think you’ll need to do a lot of writing on your phone to create the next great novel at sea? I bring a folding Bluetooth keyboard to use with my phone (or, if I’m going all out, my iPad mini) instead of bringing a full laptop. Also, because I know that I use electronics a lot, I do bring a portable battery and its charger. It may be useful to bring a waterproof case for your phone if you plan to use it near water (or near a frozen drink of your choice), and a small cell phone purse can be a wonderful thing to carry that phone for both guys and gals.
Sun protection gear
Although this advice can be less important on Alaska or European cruises, it is absolutely essential for cruises to tropical destinations–don’t skip on sun protection gear. Sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen are a must, and I’d also recommend a rash guard if you plan to spend a lot of time out at the beach. If you know that no matter what you do, you’re likely to be peeling before the end of your cruise, also pack some after-care lotion or aloe.
This may seem like a bit of a waste of space, but I’ve found it is incredibly helpful to pack some sort of decorative magnet to put on your stateroom door. Yes, you will know your stateroom number by the end of your cruise — but for the first few days, having something on the door will save you steps as you won’t keep walking past it. (Speaking from experience here. Who knew the distance between forward and midship was that short?)
What to Pack for Adults
If your cruise includes a meal at Palo or Remy, make sure you read the dress code requirements and pack accordingly. If it doesn’t, give some serious thought to whether you want to dress up at all for dinner. Yes, all cruises have a formal night (and some have a semi-formal night). It isn’t a requirement to dress up, however. Feel uncomfortable being the only person not in tux and tails? Don’t fear — many people opt to skip the ballgowns on formal night. Still not sure you want to feel out of place? Formal night is a great night to do a casual dinner in Cabanas. Are you a hardcore fitness buff? Know that you won’t be able to go the length of your cruise without hitting the gym? Want to do the Castaway Cay 5k? You’ll want to bring workout gear, but ask yourself how much you really need to bring.
Whether your plan includes listening to Enya encouraging you to Sail away, sail away, sail away, or Moana helping you see how far you’ll go, it doesn’t take a lot of room to toss in a pair of earbuds, and it can be a nice thing to have for sitting on a deck chair and watching the sunset.
Although this fits in the “try not to overdo it” category, even though there’s plenty to do on a Disney cruise, sometimes it is nice to take some down time with a good book (or eBook reader), or play some cards on your verandah. Don’t bring the whole library or full-size board games (which are available on board the ship), but tossing a couple small items in your bag can be a fun diversion on a lazy sea day.
What to Pack for Kids
I’ve written my list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to packing for young kids here, but a few items bear special emphasis for kids up through the tween years.
For young children, a lightweight travel blanket can be a wonderful addition to your suitcase. During the day, your stateroom host converts the folding couch bed back to a couch. For afternoon naps, it’s still a great place to sleep, but a travel blanket makes it that much more comfy. And if the kid’s not using it, a parent might also enjoy cuddling up under a blankie for a quick nap.
You also will want to bring a “special friend” for young kids, especially if it is the first cruise and they need a friend to help them get to sleep. But be careful not to overdo it — I’ve seen many stories about a favorite friend who got left behind on the ship. Keeping track of one friend is easy, but the whole menagerie may be hard.
On my first cruise, our daughter was turning two and we brought toys. Lots and lots of toys. We put them in a drawer in the room…..and that’s where they stayed for the duration of the cruise. There was so much to do that she simply didn’t have time to play with those toys. I’ve also seen people try to bring sand toys, snorkels, and all sorts of things to use on Castaway Cay. Save your self some sanity and leave large amounts of toys at home. Maybe bring something for a young child to do during mealtime (as meals can be lengthy affairs), and maybe a small bucket and shovel for Castaway Cay. In the kids’ area on the island, Scuttle’s Cove, they have plenty of toys for the kids to play with in the sand, so whenever our daughter wants to play in the sand, off to the kids’ area she goes!
Baby and toddler essentials
For really young kids, bringing diapers, swim diapers, or training pants, plus wipes and diaper rash cream is good for peace of mind, even though it can take up a lot of suitcase space. And although there’s an abundance of food on board, if your child will have a total meltdown without a morning snack of Cheerios, it doesn’t hurt to toss a sealed box in your suitcase.
Those Pesky Questionable Items
Although not on my list every time, there are a few other items that I consider if I have room. If I don’t, and I find I really want them, most of them are available on board. These include:
- Cups and water bottles. Yes, cups are available at the drink stations. I do prefer my own reusable Tervis cup and water bottle, however, and having a secure lid makes me feel better when carrying three drinks down to my stateroom.
- Popcorn bucket. For a short cruise, I don’t bring one. For a long cruise, where I’m likely to see several movies and a multitude of evening shows, the popcorn bucket provides savings. If I’m really not feeling like packing it, I pick one up on the first day. Easy peasy.
- Spare eyeglasses. I’m now at the point where seeing anything in print without eyeglasses becomes a bit of a challenge. An extra pair doesn’t take up much room, and gives me security that I’ll be able to see everything clearly in the odd event my regular glasses break.
- Cooling cloths. I only bring these if I know that I’m going to be on a port excursion where it is likely to be hot or if I expect to have an outside muster station on a day with an uncomfortably high temperature. Otherwise, no need.
- Lanyard. Yes, you’ll get a free one unless it is your first cruise. I have one that I like with multiple pockets for the couple of cards that I need to carry different cards. It isn’t a must, but since I’m wearing it, I’m not *technically* packing it, right?
- Magnetic whiteboard and marker. If I’m just traveling with my family, we tend to use the chat function in the DCL app on our cell phones to keep in touch. If I’m traveling with less tech-dependent people, a whiteboard on the stateroom allows for notes to be left about who is where and doing what.
- Insect repellent. Yes, Zika (and other mosquito-borne illnesses) are still a thing in parts of the world. Truth told, I’ve only gotten one mosquito bite in all my sailings, and that was on a sea day after leaving Florida. Still, if you are traveling to a place with a high likelihood of mosquitoes or doing excursions that would take you to their favorite habitats, packing insect repellent is a good idea. Depending on the cruise, I have seen industrial size mosquito repellent lotion bottles available for use when going ashore, but it is not a guarantee.
By paring down our packing list over the years, we now carry less luggage for an 11-night cruise than we did for a 7-night cruise when we started cruising. For short cruises, I’m pretty determined to see if we can make it work with just one carry-on backpack per person. Staterooms are small, storage is at a premium, and negotiating luggage can be a source of stress. Remember, there’s very little that you can’t buy on ship or in port if you really need it, so give it a whirl packing light.
Have any other must-bring items that make your list? Let us know in the comments.