Packing for a cruise vacation can be tricky. Unlike a typical land-based vacation where you might have easy access to shops or stores to pick-up those last minute items you forgot, on a cruise you are sometimes stuck at sea for days. While onboard shops will carry some essentials, they will be pricey.
Embarking on a 3, 4 or 7 night cruise, you’re likely to see it all from a packing point-of-view. From folks lugging gigantic suitcases who might make you wonder what they know that you don’t. To folks wheeling on role-aboard suitcase and a backpack, making you jealous as the efficiency of their packing.
However you choose to pack, these seven tips are sure to make life easier for you onboard.
Make Sure You Know What You Can’t Bring Onboard
Every cruise line publishes a prohibited items list, including Disney Cruise Line. Disney’s current list can be found on its website. Such lists typically ban all the usual suspects, like weapons. You know, the things you shouldn’t be flying with, much less cruising with.
But Disney prohibits a few items that may surprise you. Were you hoping to get some cool arial shots of the ship with that new drone you got for Christmas? Leave it at home. Did you just start learning the guitar? Sorry, musical instruments are now allowed. Power strip for all those electronic devices? Nope. Fan for white noise? Also, no. Hoping to do some scrapbooking? Leave the scissors behind. In short, Disney’s lengthy list is one you ought to peruse before leaving home.
If you do arrive at port with a prohibited item, chances are Disney will find it. If one is found, it will be confiscated for the duration of the cruise, and you will be given a claim check to have the item returned to you at debarkation. That said, picking-up a confiscated item adds time to your group’s debarkation, so better to check the list and leave any prohibited items at home.
Packing for Disney Is, Well, A Little Different
Disney Cruises are full of Disney nerds (adults and kids alike) just like you. So, a few things not to forget.
First, rock those ears and t-shirts! If you love wearing ears at the park, you won’t be alone if you sport them on the cruise. Have a Disney t-shirt collection? Now is the time to rock one day and night.
Second, Disney cruisers love to decorate their stateroom doors. Door magnets are an awesome way to show-off your Disney and DCL pride. Magnets of your favorite characters, or commemorating your favorite Disney trips are a fun way to add flair to your stateroom door. Magnets also make it much easier to find your room among the long hallways of identical white stateroom doors. So head over to Etsy and grab yourself some door magnets.
Third, Disney Cruise Line loves to give you opportunities to dress-up. From pirate night on most Caribbean sailings to themed sea days like Star Wars, Marvel, or, now, Pixar day at sea. If you’ve got the space in your luggage, nows the time to bust out that Hans Solo costume. Just check your sailing’s itinerary to know what special days at sea might await you, and know you won’t be alone if you choose to rock an awesome costume.
Leave Room for Souvenirs
If you’ve been to the Disney parks, you know, there’s always a cool piece of a merch you want to bring home to commemorate your trip. The same is true for DCL. T-shirts, pins, ship models and atrium statuettes are among some of the most treasured souvenirs for a DCL sailing. The kicker, you can only buy most DCL merchandise onboard. You’re also likely to be visiting some fabulous ports with cool souvenirs, including Castaway Cay. So if you want something, you’re going to need to have room in your luggage to get it home!
Here’s a pro-tip. You have three easy options to leave room for those amazing souvenirs. First, collapsable duffle bags are a great item you can throw in your suitcase and then pack as a carry-on for the trip home.
Second, sizing up your suitcase (if you’re already planning to check luggage) and leaving some of it empty on the way to your trip means you’ve already built in extra room for the return trip. Third, we’ve taken to packing a medium size suitcase with our son’s cruise gear inside a larger suitcase and then checking that suitcase at the airport. It means we have one huge empty suitcase when we arrive, but for the price of one checked back (which may be free for you if you have loyalty status with your airline).
A quick note, if you are planning to participate in fish extender exchanges onboard (you can learn more about those in the Facebook group for you cruise), make sure you leave plenty of room for all the great gifts you’ll get from your fellow shipmates. It may take more space than the gifts you are brining you to give away.
Want to Pack Light, Then Let’s Talk About Laundry
After many trips on Disney Cruise Line we’ve learned the biggest tip to packing light, is planning to do laundry onboard. Gasp! Laundry on vacation!?! Are you crazy!?!
Coming to terms with either doing laundry when we travel or sending laundry out has made our packing lives so much easier! We typically pack enough for 4-5 days at a time, which means we can pack in a much smaller suitcase. I’ve even traveled to Europe for 10+ days in a carry-on using this strategy.
If you’re spending time at your embarkation port-of-call pre-cruise, look for laundry at your hotel, nearby your hotel, or even services that pick-up laundry by the bag and return it next day. If you’re staying at Disney pre-cruise, look for resort laundry facilities, especially at DVC properties. DVC one-bedroom resort rooms and above also typically have in-room laundry. These same tips work just as well if you’re staying at your debarkation port city for any period of time following your cruise. We’ve used all of these strategies when we’ve traveled in the U.S. and abroad.
Each of the Disney ships also has laundry facilities onboard that have washer, dryers, and other laundry essentials at a very reasonable price. They also allow you to buy tokens for laundry services using your onboard account, and will alert you when your washer or dryer are done via the onboard Navigator app. We recommend packing some laundry pods and dryer sheets to save some money. We even bring a long a collapsible “pop-up” hamper to help separate our dirty clothes and make it easier to haul laundry back and forth to the laundry room. We also recommend doing laundry on port days, as machines tend to be unused onboard with so many folks leaving the ship for the day.
Sending your laundry out will cost more, but also takes the hassle out of this strategy. A quick note that we’ve heard onboard dry cleaning (if you’re dressing-up for dinner) is, in some cases, less expensive than what you might find on land.
Do You Get Seasick?
Today’s modern cruise ships are not known for rocking and rolling like the smaller ocean-liners of yore. They come with technology (stabilizers) to limit motion, even at speed.
That said, a lot can impact how much motion the ship experiences. Different bodies of water are known to experience more motion than others, and ocean waves are influenced by time of year, storms and how far out in the “open” ocean you are sailing. There are also times when the ship may need to forego the stabilizers, or take routes through rougher waters to keep to their itineraries. So, warm-weather Caribbean cruises are likely to be very pleasant. Transatlantic cruises, or cruises that are headed from the mainland to Hawaii can have a bit more motion depending on route and time of year.
Your placement onboard can also impact how much motion you experience. Generally, midship staterooms are known for experiencing less motion than forward and aft staterooms. Aft staterooms also generally experience more vibration from the ship’s propellers. Higher decks sometimes fare better than lower decks as well.
If you are one who gets motion sickness easily, or have experienced motion sickness on a prior cruise, we strongly recommend consulting with your physician about possible remedies. Some like Dramamine or other pharmaceutical interventions. Cruise ships also hand out these kind of medications to passengers who complaint of sea sickness. Dramamine patches are a common sight for some onboard.
Some have found relief through “sea bands” – essentially pressure point bands that you wear on both wrists. This is also the remedy most often tried for kids. If you’ve used sea bands or are thinking about trying them out, we actually recommend a product called “Blisslets.” (Note, Blisslets does sponsor our podcast, but we do truly recommend them based on our experience before they agreed to sponsor our show). Blisslets are a much more fashionable and better constructed product than sea bands, in our opinion. You can find out more about them at the Blissets website.
A Potpourri of Final Tips
There are a lot of other great packing tips, like using packing cubes to organize your packing by person or even outfit. But there are five “wild-card” tips we like to recommend.
First, while Disney Cruise Line is great about providing storage in staterooms (large suitcases will even easily slide under your bed once empty) some find it still isn’t enough. Our tip: neodyne magnetic hooks and clips. All (or most) of the walls and ceilings in your stateroom are metal, and while you can’t adhere anything to the walls, magnets are OK. So, we sometimes use magnetic hooks to hang lanyards or hats, or even to hang a shoe-organizer from the ceiling for extra storage of smaller items like sunscreen. You can find great hooks and clips on Amazon that will last you many cruises to come.
Second, bring a day-bag or backpack for embarkation. Trust us on this one. When you board, your stateroom is unlikely to be ready, so whatever you bring on you’ll need to carry or roll around the ship for lunch, or other activities. Fill-up that suitcase and have Disney haul it on (they have no weight limits), but bring a backpack for the essentials of your first day: bathing suit, sunscreen, camera, medications and citizenship documents.
Which brings us to our third tip. Your luggage may not be at your stateroom right away, or even before the ship sets sail. Don’t panic! If you gave it to Disney, it’s very unlikely that it did not make it onboard. We’ve had luggage show-up well after our first evening’s dinner. That said, if you have a special outfit you were hoping to wear then be sure to pack it in our day-bag, just in case.
Our fourth tip is really a suggested item that we discovered over many cruises. If this is your first time cruising Disney Cruise Line will not give you a lanyard for your Key to the World Card (KTTW) (essentially the only card you need onboard to unlock your stateroom, and make onboard charges). If you are a Silver Castaway or above (or DVC member), you’ll get a lanyard corresponding to your status. On that lanyard (or one you might purchase) will be the world’s most frustrating ziplock pouch. Your card will fit snuggly, but anytime you want to get it out, prepare for a fight. Enter the quick card holder! If you work in an office building you may be familiar with these (or have one laying around), but they are essentially a plastic holder that your KTTW card can slide in and out of easily. You can find packs of them on Amazon for really cheap, and they will last a very long time. I bring one on every cruise to make access to my KTTW much easier. Pro-tip, add a small key ring to the holder to more easily attach it to your lanyard.
Fifth, you’re gonna need some power! Disney’s staterooms are noticeably sparse on outlets. Since power-strips are forbidden onboard, we recommend picking up a USB charging hub online. Most give you 4-6 USB plugs in one, which enables you to expand one power outlet to meet all of your needs. Our pro-tip, if you have a European multi-plug travel adapter, grab it. There are additional European plugs in the room that you can access with these adapters.
We use all of these tips to great success in our travels! If you’ve got your own tips, we want to hear them. Comment below, or send us a note over email or social media. Happy cruising!!