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Cruise Carry On Bag – How to Pack Like an Expert

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You are excited and ready to board your cruise. But have you given enough thought as to what you need to pack in your cruise carry-on bag?

This really does need some thought as your checked luggage might take until early evening to reach your stateroom.

So you need to make sure that you have everything with you that you need for your first hours on your cruise.

When You Arrive at Your Cruise Port

Whatever port you are sailing from there will be a place where you will leave the bags that you want to check in.

It’s always pretty obvious where this is – I have checked in at many ports around the world and the place to drop your bags is always well-signposted.

Disney Cruise Line Port Canaveral

Remember that your check-in luggage should have the proper luggage labels, which are always provided by your cruise line. If you forget, the porters usually have spares and can help you with this.

You will probably be checking most of your luggage.

But everyone will have some cruise carry-on bags that they take with them to board the ship.

It might be some considerable time before your checked-in luggage arrives in your stateroom.

So you need to plan for that and have the items that you really want with you from the get-go, to be with you when you board. Cruise lines are very efficient in getting your bags to your stateroom, but always plan on what you would do if you don’t get your bags until late on embarkation day.

Here is a guide to what to pack in a carry-on for a cruise.

Essential Travel Documents

Always. And I mean always double and triple-check that you have the correct documents to board the ship in your cruise carry-on bag.

Even if you forget everything else, you must not forget these items or you won’t even be boarding your cruise.

I have experienced that heart-stopping moment at the cruise check-in desk when I could not find an essential document needed to board. I found it in the end, but it seemed like an age before I found my passport as it was not where I was convinced I put it in my bag.

portcanaveralcruise port

That was more than 10 years ago and I still remember that feeling of panic!

These days I am hyper-focused on where everything is in my carry-on bag, so I can find it the moment I need it.

Always check the documents that you need for everyone in your party to board your cruise. Don’t forget your kids as they still need the correct documents!

Each cruise line will have a page online that will spell out exactly which documents you need to board your cruise.

Here are the requirements to board a Disney Cruise.

Always make sure you are very clear about the documents needed to get on a cruise and make sure you have those easily accessible

Related: Do I Really Need a Passport for My Cruise?

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What Kind of Carry On Cruise Bag Should I Pick?

This is an important consideration and there are various options.

My preference is for a traditional airline carry-on with wheels, combined with a backpack.

Think about what you can use on the cruise as well. So maybe take something that will double up nicely as a beach bag. Or a backpack for an excursion.

Depending upon the cruise you are sailing on, you may also want to bring a garment bag.

I admit I try and avoid doing this, but sometimes if you are sailing on a cruise with a formal night, or if you have specific outfits such as pirate costumes for a Disney Cruise, that really you can’t crush in a suitcase, this is an excellent solution so that your clothes arrive in pristine condition.

Great Carry On Luggage for a Cruise

Many of you are going to be flying to your cruise port so it is obviously a good idea that you choose something that is great for a flight as well as for a cruise.

Even if you drive to a cruise port, the cruise habit is a difficult one to break, so you may find that further into the future you start flying to different ports. so picking luggage that is suitable for both a cruise and flying really makes sense.

My absolute favorite is my very tried and tested Monos luggage and bags.

I travel a lot. And I went through a lot of brands before I found the best.

I have the Carry-on Plus, Metro Duffel, and Check-in Plus.

What I particularly like is the Metro Duffel which often qualifies as a personal item on aircraft – and you can fit so much in this! I also use on it’s own as a weekend bag as you can easily fit enough for a couple of nights away in this bag.

Go to Monos Luggage to get $20 off

Monos is top of the line, and if you don’t want to spend quite that much at the moment then there are some great alternatives.

However, I do feel that the quality of Monos makes it a great investment if you travel quite a bit. Mine has now traveled tens of thousands of miles, many cruises, and flights, and still looks as good as new.

This Luggage Carry On is very similar to the Monos, but definitely at a lower price point.

TydeCkare 20 Inch Luggage Carry On with Front Laptop Compartment, 22x14.6x10in, 45L, Lightweight ABS+PC Hardshell Suitcase with TSA Lock, YKK Zipper & 4 Spinner Silent Wheels, Wine Red

It comes in a variety of colors and you can either opt for the front pocket for your laptop or get the slightly cheaper version without that. This comes in really handy though when you are going through airport security and need to take your laptop out and put it in the bin for TSA.

This carry-on is very highly rated and comes in a variety of colors including a bright yellow! At least your bag won’t be confused with other cruisers if you choose a distinctive design.

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Coolife Suitcase Set 3 Piece Luggage Set Carry On Travel Luggage TSA Lock Spinner Wheels Hardshell Lightweight Luggage Set(Navy, 3 piece set (DB/TB/20))

3 Piece Luggage Set

This is a great luggage set that has everything you need for your cruise carry-on. It has the option of 20″, 24″ or 28″

It has a hard shell so is very durable, but light as well. It is perfect for if you are traveling just on a cruise, or arriving by air to the port. Just check that the size of the carry-on complies with your airline size restrictions.

What I like about this is that it has the weekender bag which you can either carry independently or it fits easily and securely on the top of the case, so that you can easily carry both of them. Instead of just trying to balance the bag on the top, there is a built-in sleeve so it fits over the handle of the carry-on case.

The toiletry bag is a nice additional thing to have.

If you already have a carry-on suitcase but want to add a weekend bag this one is a great option.

BAOSHA HB-28 Ladies Women Canvas Travel Weekender Bag Overnight Carry-on Duffel Tote Bag (Blue) 16 x 12 x 8 inch

I really like how this one has a nautical theme so it makes it perfect for cruising.

The bag easily and securely fits over a suitcase handle and carries a huge amount of your stuff. You can use it for the airplane (often as a personal item) and it usually fits underneath an airline seat so you will have access to your things throughout the flight.

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Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are life-changing.

Well maybe not quite, but they certainly make your travel life much much easier.

They just keep things very organized and also allow you to pack more efficiently.

BAGAIL 8 Set Packing Cubes, Lightweight Travel Luggage Organizers with Shoe Bag, Toiletry Bag & Laundry Bag (Cream)

You can also unpack much easier as you can simply put the packing cube in the drawers or closet in your stateroom, and you know where they are.

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Apple AirTag

This is my new favorite travel essential.

For those of you new to AirTags it is Apple’s Bluetooth tracking device. You simply attach it to things you don’t want to lose, for example, keys, wallet, or luggage. You can then track it with an iPhone or iPad.

I don’t pretend to understand how it works, but apparently, it uses other Apple devices such as phones to locate the item. But no personal data is transmitted when this happens.

Apple AirTag 4 Pack

I have had these since early 2023 and now I never travel without them. I attach them or put them inside all my luggage so that I can locate everything. This is particularly useful for checked luggage so you can see exactly where it is.

If you use AirTags on a cruise for your checked luggage you can see where your luggage is and if it is on the move.

On a recent trip to Universal Studios where I transferred from one hotel to another, it was very useful to see where my luggage was when it was supposed to be transferred to Universal Portofino Hotel. I could see it was still at Sapphire Falls when it should have been transferred hours ago.

It is also potentially incredibly useful if an airline loses your luggage – you should be able to see it’s location.

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Wine Carrier

Some cruise lines, including Disney and Princess Cruises, allow you to take alcohol on board your cruise.

This always needs to be in carry-on luggage.

You need a safe way to transport the wine bottles, and you can just wrap them in your suitcase and hope for the best, but I always like to have something to keep the bottles from breaking. You really don’t want red wine all over your clothes.

I use these bottle protectors and they have always worked well. They don’t take up too much space in the luggage and they protect the bottles.

LIVEBAY 5 Pack Reusable Wine Bag for Travel Wine Bottle Protector Sleeve for Airplane Car Cruise Protection Luggage Leak-proof

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Always have your medications in your cruise carry-on bag. Luggage usually arrives in your stateroom pretty quickly after boarding, but you absolutely do not want to be without your medications.

This includes prescription medicines obviously, but you may also want to carry some other items.


It is nice to have your toiletries and make-up with you so that you have them before your luggage arrives.

Even if you just take a toothbrush and some toothpaste in your cruise carry-on bag, this can make a difference.

Remember that for cruises, whilst your carry-on luggage will go through the X-ray machine at security this is not like boarding an airplane. No need to have your liquids less than a certain size or put them out in a plastic bag. They can remain in your carry-on and you can take full sizes if you want.

I love these cruise-themed makeup bags!

Cunno 6 Pcs Cruise Clear Makeup Bags for Women Cruise Survival Kit with Zipper Fun Travel Transparent PVC Waterproof Toiletry Organizer for Cruise Trip Cruise Gifts

They are the perfect size to keep lots of things organized and then you can just put them on the shelves in your cruise bathroom.

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It is very important to pack your sunscreen in your carry-on luggage as you will need it from the start of your cruise. As you are not restricted to the size of any liquids you take on board a cruise in your carry-on bag, you can choose your favorite full-size sunscreen.

I like this Reef Friendly Suncreen. It is SPF 50, reef-friendly and chemical-free.


Always keep your valuables with you, and when you get to your cruise stateroom, put things in the safe.

I like to keep things organized in a Travel Jewelry Organizer Case, and this one is great for just packing in your carry on for your cruise.

BAGSMART Travel Jewelry Organizer Case Foldable Jewelry Roll for Journey-Rings, Necklaces, Earrings, Bracelets,Mini,Soft Pink

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Water Bottle

This is more of a “nice to have” than an essential, but if you are flying into the cruise port, this also makes a lot of sense.

Bottles of water and at the cruise port, tend to cost a ridiculous amount of money. I take a water bottle. Then you can use water from the water fountain.

Contigo West Loop Stainless Steel Vacuum-Insulated Travel Mug with Spill-Proof Lid, Keeps Drinks Hot up to 5 Hours and Cold up to 12 Hours, 16oz Dark Plum

This bottle keeps drinks hotter for up to 5 hours or colder for up to 12 hours. It is spillproof as well, which is particularly helpful on a plane!

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One thing about having a water bottle is that you never quite know where to put it and it can be a pain to carry if you have luggage. This is a cup holder for your luggage is a great solution.

Luggage Cup Holder Travel Essentials Cup Holder, Hands-Free Drink Holder with 2 Coffee Mugs Tightening Drawstring, Accessory for Flying & Travelers - Travel Luggage Accessories by YSCEN (Grey)

This comes in a huge range of colors so you can match it to your luggage.

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It may be sometime before your checked luggage appears at your cruise stateroom door. Sometimes, it may not arrive before you have to get dressed for dinner.

Therefore I always make sure that I have some clothes in my carry-on that I would be happy to wear to the first dinner on the ship.


If you want to be the first to hit the pools then make sure that you pack everyone’s swimwear in your carry-on luggage.

This can be the perfect time to go to the cruise ship pools when everyone else is still finding their way around the ship and wishing that they hadn’t left all their swimwear in their checked luggage.

Always remember to take your sunglasses too!

Sun Hat

I have had a couple of these hats for years. I love them as they look good, provide a lot of shade, and are practically indestructible, even if you cram it in a suitcase.

FURTALK Womens Beach Sun Straw Hat UV UPF50 Travel Foldable Brim Summer UV Hat

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A sun hat is absolutely essential, but it can be a bit of a pain to carry around on the first day when you are walking around the ship with your carry-on luggage.

One solution of course is to wear it. Even inside. So then you don’t have to carry it or have any chance you will lose it.

Or you can get a clip to attach it to your carry-on case. I find this particularly useful for airplane travel when you don’t want to crush your hat in a suitcase, but you also want to be as hands-free as possible.

YUJUNKEMAN unisex-adult Hat Clip for Travel, Travel on Bag/Luggage, PU Leather Clip, Multifunctional Duckbill Outdoor Companion-Black&Brown

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Portable Charger

If you are anything like me then by the time you have had lunch on a ship you have taken so many photos your phone battery is already looking decidedly drained. You might not yet have access to your cruise stateroom to go and charge your phone.

I have had this portable charger for a couple of years now and I have always been happy with it. I always pack it for any kind of travel, and it has never let me down. It charges quickly and is compact enough to carry around with you if you are out for the day.

INIU Portable Charger, Slimmest 10000mAh 5V/3A Power Bank, USB C in&out High-Speed Charging Battery Pack, External Phone Powerbank Compatible with iPhone 15 14 13 12 11 Samsung S22 S21 Google iPad etc

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Cruise Lanyard

Most cruise lines have a key card that doubles as your room key and a charging card. What this means is that you have to have it with you at all times.

This is changing on some cruise lines such as Princess which has the wearable Medallion and no key cards at all on their ship. Disney Cruise Line is also introducing the Magic Band system to the ships.

However, for most cruise lines you will have a key card that you have to carry around somehow.

You will probably find that a lanyard is the easiest way to keep this safe and accessible. I have also found that a Waterproof phone lanyard case is a good, inexpensive solution. This doubles up as a place to keep your phone as well, and it is fine to have it around, or even in the pool with you.

Niveaya Double Space Waterproof Phone Pouch - 2 Pack, Waterproof Phone Lanyard Case with iPhone 15/14/13/12 Pro Max/Pro/8 Plus, Galaxy S22/S21/S20/S10/Note 20/10/9 up to 7", Dry Bag for Vacation.

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One of the real joys of cruising is being able to relax and take some time to yourself. One of the things I love to do is read. However, I certainly don’t want to take a whole library of books with me,

Some cruise ships do have libraries, however, this isn’t the norm.

So the easiest way to bring thousands of books with you is to bring your Kindle.

Kindle Paperwhite (8 GB) – Now with a 6.8" display and adjustable warm light – Black

I have had a Kindle since the first model was released and now I have the Kindle Paperwhite. Things have moved forward a long way since that first design!

It is now incredibly lightweight, and the battery lasts up to 10 weeks!

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