"Love -- exciting and new. Come aboard, we're expecting you!" That's right folks, the love boat promises something for everyone.
Or at least the kitsch television show of the late 1970s and early 1980s did. Captain Stubing kept the Pacific Princess on course and steady. Cruise Director Julie McCoy made sure smiles abounded on the shuffleboard court. Doc Bricker was on hand to see to the medical and romantic needs of female passengers. Yeoman-purser "Gopher" Smith satisfied the whims of each and every passenger onboard, and Isaac the bartender served up liquid courage and advice to shy men wearing Speedos.
What you didn't get on "The Love Boat" was a good packing list. It seemed like every passenger aboard the Princess was a cruise veteran. There were never any episodes about seasickness or overpriced toiletries. That wouldn't exactly make for good television. Lucky for the cruise novices of the world, HowStuffWorks is here to fill you in on the most essential things you'll need for your maiden ocean voyage.
Before we get to that, let's take a look at a few things you shouldn't take on a cruise ship:
- Towels -- If there's one thing a cruise ship has plenty of, it's towels. Leave yours at home.
- Alcohol -- Despite warnings, people try to sneak alcohol onboard a cruise ship. Alcohol sales are a big source of revenue and shunning a B.Y.O.B. policy helps a cruise ship to ensure passengers aren't over-served and unsafe.
- Too many clothes -- Cruise cabins are small and there are valet services onboard, so don't overdo it with the luggage.
- Tuxedo -- File this one under unnecessary. For most formal dinners, men can get by with a nice suit, and if not, you can rent a tux onboard.
- Iron -- Leave this at home. Your room will have one, just like a hotel would.
- Cash -- Bring some, but not too much. Cash is risky and theft is common on cruise ships. Most ships have a sign-and-pay policy anyway, so your cash won't be necessary.
These are just a few things you should leave behind. To find out what you should absolutely bring, read on.
Seasickness Prevention Medicine
If you've never been on a cruise ship, there's a good chance you might suffer from seasickness. Most cruise veterans have it worked out. But newbies sometimes don't, and wind up spending a perfectly good vacation in the lavatory. Seasickness happens when your eyes, inner ear, and other motion-detecting areas of the body send mixed messages to your brain. For instance, if you're in an interior room with no windows you might feel the rise and fall of the waves, but not see the horizon moving up and down. The result is a conflict of the senses.
There are many seasickness remedies you can take once you get onboard that work for some folks. But if you're a cruise newbie, it's not worth the risk because it's a difficult sickness to stop once it's started. Look into seasickness bracelets, patches and prescription drugs like Dramamine, Bonine and Scopace. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to get a good recommendation before you go cruising and you should be fine. It's typically those who don't think ahead that spend most of their cruise with their head in the toilet.
Like many things on this list, you might be able to purchase them onboard, but the objective for any cruise is to come prepared. It's no fun tracking down and overpaying for every little item you forget. After all, there are ice sculptures to gaze at. On the list of essentials to bring is your favorite insect repellent. You'll be pretty much bug-free in the open seas, but once you hit port, bugs can be gnarly. Most folks prefer their own brand of insect repellent, whether it's a highly powerful DEET-based product or a subtle-smelling remedy like Skin So Soft. There are creams and mousses, sprays, gels and moisturizing lotions to choose from. If you don't have a favorite, pick one that you don't mind wearing and pack it in a Ziploc bag, just to be sure it doesn't burst and leak all over your clothes.
This one may seem a bit unnecessary, but savvy cruisers will tell you that you'll be glad you thought to pack a power strip in your carry-on bag. Most cruise ship cabins are short on electrical outlets. There may be one in the bedroom and one in the bath and you can't be guaranteed of its placement. A power strip will ensure you can easily power up or recharge your own alarm clock, a reading lamp, an iPod and speaker set or your cell phone. If you really want to go the extra mile, bring along a 10-foot (3-meter) extension cord to use with the power strip. This way you can tuck it under the bed and out of sight. Another thing a power strip and extension cord will allow is the luxury of operating your own small coffee maker. As any java addict will tell you, having a fresh cup of your favorite blend as soon as you wake up is worth the extra space it takes up in your luggage.
Sunscreen and Aloe
Just like with the insect repellent, you can purchase sunscreen onboard, but you're never guaranteed to get your favorite brand. What you are guaranteed is to pay quite a bit more than you would on land. To save some money and ensure your burn-free comfort, bring your own sunscreen. Pack it in a plastic bag to keep your other packed items safe from leakage. Choose a sunscreen that holds up well in water if you plan on spending time in the pool. You probably know what kind of sun protection factor, or SPF, your skin needs to remain burn free. Anything over SPF 15 is considered sunblock, and if you have fair skin you should err on the side of caution.
Just because you have sunscreen doesn't mean you'll be good about using it, so there's always a chance that you may get sunburned. If this happens, you'll be glad you packed some aloe-based lotion or pure aloe gel to provide some relief. Aloe soothes sunburned skin and helps to restore moisture.
Taking your medications along is imperative for any vacation, but especially for cruises because you're stuck out at sea. If you have a serious medical condition like diabetes or epilepsy you should alert the cruise line ahead of time. Be sure to bring along your medical identification bracelet or necklace. Also pack prescriptions, vitamins and any over-the-counter meds you may want or need. Also, make sure that you have enough for the entire journey, plus some extra just in case. Some over-the-counter meds you may want to bring along include:
- Pain relievers
- Sinus and allergy meds
- Sleep aids
- Cough drops
- Anti-diarrhea meds
A good way to make sure you have everything you need is to list all medications you've taken in the last two months, and include that in your cruise kit. While you're at it, throw in some Band-Aids for good measure. Last, but certainly not least, if you're a woman using birth control pills, don't forget to bring them along. Otherwise, you may come home with more than a little sunburn. The most important thing to remember with all your meds is to always pack them in your carry-on bag. Never pack them in your checked bags. If they're lost or delayed, you could find yourself in the midst of a medical emergency.
Having a good money plan ahead of time can save you money in the long run. There isn't a set formula for how much cash to bring onboard. Find out how the ship operates. Some ships are sign and pay later. Some include a master tip fee at the end of the cruise. Other ships prefer you tip in cash as you go. Check in with the cruise line to get the specifics. As far as ports go, whether or not most businesses will take your country's currency really depends on where you're going and what country you're from. If you're from the United States and you're traveling in the Caribbean, you can typically just bring your American dollars. If you're from Japan and you're on a Norwegian cruise, you'll need to exchange your money.
Don't go overboard (excuse the pun) with the cash, though. You don't want to have all your spending money in easily-stolen large bills. If you insist on taking some cash, break it into smaller bills before you board. But cash is risky, so take the time to get traveler's checks before you depart. American Express offers fully insured checks and round-the-clock customer support. Most ports take credit these days too. Avoid bringing all of your cards, in case your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. Choose one with plenty of spending room on it that has good customer support, and use it exclusively if you can.
A good clothing plan is an absolute essential. You don't want to have to buy any emergency clothes once you're on the ship because of your poor planning. Attire aboard a cruise ship is generally pretty casual, but this doesn't mean cut-offs and flip-flops in the dining room. Meal time is generally sporty casual on most cruise ships. There may be some formal dinners, so check ahead of time to find out the dress code for them and for the dining room in general. Tuxedo requirements aren't as common as they used to be for formal dinners; a nice suit will usually do. Many ships have tuxedo rental services onboard anyway, in case you don't already own one. Keep in mind that it's not a requirement to attend the formal functions. Women don't need to wear evening gowns; generally anything dressy will do.
Here are a few more packing tips:
- If you're a couple, split your bags with his and hers clothes. That way if one of your bags is lost, you're both temporarily covered.
- Bring your first evening's dinner clothes in your carry-on bag. If there's a delay in getting your checked bags to your cabin, you're all set for dinner.
- A good set of walking shoes for port is a good thing to have.
- If you're sun sensitive, bring your big, floppy sun hat and become "that" person.
- Don't just pack tank tops and bikinis. The insides of cruise ships are usually extremely air conditioned and you'll want some warmer clothes.
- Limit your jewelry and nice watches. You'll become a target for thieves in port and sometimes even onboard.
It's important to have all your personal and travel documents safe and secure when you cruise. How you choose to organize your plane tickets, passports, identification cards and cruise documents is up to you. What's important is that you have backups for all of these items. Before you leave, make two sets of photocopies of the following:
Once you have your copies, split them up into two separate Ziploc bags to make sure they stay dry. Put one set in your carry-on bag and leave the other at home with a trustworthy friend or relative. This way, you have a backup with you and one that can be sent to you if your documents get lost. Save all of your cruise receipts and keep them in the plastic bag. Compare your final charges against the receipts to make sure all the charges are legit.
This may seem like overkill, but anyone who's ever had his luggage lost will attest to how handy a packing list is. It's pretty simple. Just make a list of every single thing that you pack -- your clothes, valuables, toiletries, medications, everything. If anything happens to your bags, you'll be glad you have a detailed list to file a claim with the airline or cruise line that's responsible. It's the only chance you have at getting the full value of everything they lost. As far as the smaller items like toiletries, this will help you remember to replace them. Otherwise, if your bags get lost you'll spend the rest of the week remembering what small items you're missing as you need them. Put the packing list in your carry-on travel pack.
If you think a packing list is unnecessary or too Type A, just remember this article when you're staring blankly at your luggage claim form, only able to recall bathing suit and underwear.
Empty Souvenir Bag
Some people are into buying souvenirs and some aren't, so this one isn't for everyone. Do you like cheap tchotchkes from foreign countries? Can you not resist that handmade throw rug or silken muumuu? Is it impossible for you to not add to your shot glass collection? If you've answered yes to any of these questions, then do yourself a favor and pack an empty bag in your luggage to carry your purchases. Even if you aren't into this, you may need to buy some souvenirs for family and friends. Chances are your luggage and carry-on bags are already maxed out, so if you have an empty bag you can buy to your heart's content. Pick a bag that you can fold up in your suitcase that won't take up too much room. How large of a bag you need is your call. If you aren't into buying things on vacation, skip it all together. If you have a shopping addiction, bring an appropriately-sized bag.
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More Great Links
- "Cruise Travel Planning & Packing Tips." Cruisediva.com, 2008.http://cruisediva.com/pack3.htm
- "Enjoy the Ride with Scopace!" hopeharm.com, 2008. http://www.hopepharm.com/motion/index.html
- "Fruit of the Earth." fote.com, 2008.http://www.fote.com/product_faq.htm
- "Motion Sickness." Web MD, 2008.http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/motion-sickness-topic-overview
- "Questions About Cruises." cruisereviews.com, 2008. http://www.cruisereviews.com/FACQ.htm#Packing
- "What Should I Bring on Cruise Trips?" wisegeek.com, 2008. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-should-i-bring-on-cruise-trips.htm
- American Express, 2008.http://www10.americanexpress.com/sif/cda/page/0%2C1641%2C23075%2C00.asp
- Internet Movie Database. imdb.com, 2008.http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075529/