Welcome to part 2 of 4 of my Cruise Ship Life mini-series! If you missed part 1, click here to read all about what to expect on your first day onboard, what living in a cabin with a roommate is like, tipping and laundry strategies and more!
Deciding what to pack for six months on a cruise ship was one of the biggest stressors I had after accepting a job with Carnival. (Scroll to the bottom for a packing list for 6 months away from home!) I was allowed two pieces of luggage, and in my head, that simply wouldn’t be enough for six whole months away from home. What did I even pack for? I knew I would be spending my work hours in my uniform, but what about my off time? What about when I wanted to just hang out on the ship? What did I pack for the ports? I had all the stress before my first contract, and even though I was well under the 50 lb. limit for both of my bags, I can tell you now that I definitely overpacked.
If you’re working on a cruise ship, the people who hire you will be pretty dang vague about what to bring along with you onboard. They’ll tell you what shoes to wear and suggest packing something for the holidays. They’ll send you the employee handbook, which has some do’s and don’ts in it, but that’s about it. Hopefully this post will give you some insight into what to and what not to pack for working on a cruise ship. Scroll to the bottom for a printable list!
The first thing you’ll want to do before you start packing is look at your ports. Obviously if you’re going to warmer ports, you’ll pack warm clothes, and if you’re going to colder ports, you’ll pack accordingly. Both of my ships went to islands, so I was lucky in that I essentially skipped winter weather. It’s actually a little more convenient if you only have to pack for warm weather since jackets, pants and other winter wear take up much more room in a suitcase.
Also make sure you look at what you are and aren’t allowed to wear in guest areas. I thought I would be spending more time in crew areas than guest areas, but this wasn’t this case when I was on the Elation, so I ended up repeating outfits to the point of wanting to get rid of my clothes. I ended up going shopping in ports for more clothes to wear in guest areas. If you’re the kind of person that likes to go see live shows and comedians, go out to the night club or anything like that, make sure you pack enough appropriate clothes for guest areas for both casual and formal nights. You can’t wear jeans or shorts in guest areas. You also have to have closed-toe shoes. Take a look at the employee handbook to see what you’re able to wear.
Think about the holidays you’re going to be celebrating on the ship. I was on the Elation from October to May, so I made sure I brought an outfit to wear for each of the holidays, including my birthday, which I’d also be celebrating at sea. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are huge on the ship, so make sure you bring something to dress to impress! You’ll also have the opportunity to go shopping when you’re portside, so if you don’t have anything in your closet, you can always go shopping for something later.
Pack more underwear and socks than you think you’ll need. If you think you have enough, bring more! They legit just disappear. I ended up doing my laundry based on when I ran out of either socks or underwear. If you’re a staff member, you’re able to send your uniform out to get washed. Unfortunately, crew members don’t have the same privilege. Since you’ll be wearing your uniform more than anything else, you may be like me and do your laundry when you’re close to running out of clean underwear, so bring more than you think you’ll need.
Bring magnets. On the Elation, everything was magnetic in the cabin – the walls, the doors, the ceiling, etc. Magnets made it so much easier to hang things up rather than taping everything to the walls. Bring pictures of your loved ones and any artwork you may want to hang up. It’s nice to have these things to make your cabin feel more like home. On the Sunshine, not everything in the cabin was magnetic, but I was still able to use my magnets on the ceiling and on the refrigerator, and they had three cork boards in the room – one above each of the beds and one above the desk.
Bring an external hard drive! If you don’t have an external hard drive, make the investment and get one. On the ship, if you want to watch movies or TV shows, people exchange them using their hard drives. Even if you don’t put anything on your hard drive at home, you’re bound to go home with tons of movies and TV shows to share on your next ship. I used to have a DVD collection with over 500 movies, and I got rid of nearly all of them before I came on the ship. Now I have even more movies and TV shows on my external thanks to the friends I made onboard.
I also highly recommend bringing a laptop instead of just a tablet, unless your tablet has a place to plug in a USB or an external hard drive. You’re going to have downtime, and it’s nice to have a bunch of movies and shows at your disposal to watch during your free time. Some TV’s on the ship will also have a place for you to plug in a USB, but there are some that don’t. It’s hit or miss. Everything differs from cabin to cabin more than you think.
Don’t overpack. If you don’t use it at home, don’t bring it. I brought a robe because I told myself I would be wearing it a lot around my cabin, but that was a lie. I barely used it, and it took up so much room in my luggage. I tried to stay well under the 50 lb. weight limit for both of my suitcases to make sure that if/when I bought or accumulated anything while I was on the ship, I could fit it in my luggage without having to get rid of too many of my things. It’s amazing what you accumulate over a six-month period in such a tiny cabin. I ended up giving a huge trash bag full of things away when I signed off of the Elation.
Also, it’s helpful to just bring travel sized toiletries so those don’t take up too much weight in your luggage. You’ll have ample opportunity to get off the ship and shop for toiletries. Just bring enough to last you about a week or so.
Don’t forget about money. Be sure to bring some cash with you on the ship to last a few cruises or until your first paycheck. I knew some people that had to wait longer than usual to even receive their first paycheck, so having cash on hand will be helpful in cases like these. You’ll be able to use cash to put on your Sail & Sign Card, which is like your onboard debit card. Plus, you’ll want to have cash to spend in ports so you don’t rack up international charges on your debit and credit cards. If you’re from outside of the United States, make sure you get your money converted. Everything on the ship operates with USD.
Use collapsible luggage or a rolling duffel. There’s very limited space in the cabins, and it’s helpful if you have luggage that’s small enough to fit under the bed. On the Elation, I brought two duffels, but I ended up giving one away to my friend who had a vessel transfer. I bought a large piece of luggage, but it couldn’t fit under my bed, so it ended up sitting in the way until I left. On the Sunshine, there was more room under the bed, so that same piece of luggage actually fit under, thank goodness, but just in case, I highly suggest bringing collapsible luggage or a duffel bag.
Packing for six month away is definitely tough, but hopefully this helps break down the essentials for you. When it comes to choosing what clothes to bring, think of what you wear at home. Bring pieces that will work with multiple outfits, and don’t go too crazy picking out tons of pieces to wear for formal night. Remember, you only have so much room in your luggage, so it’s important to prioritize and make sure you leave room for anything you accumulate while you’re gone.
Use the packing list below as a guide for your upcoming journey, and don’t forget to check back next week for part 3 of 4 of my Cruise Ship Life mini-series! Missed part 1? No problem! Click here to read about life onboard.
Have you ever packed for six months away from home?