Packing For Your First Cruise Ship Contract

It may seem an odd time to think about going to work on a cruise ship, but at some point cruises will come back and to make that happen they will need crew. While there will be many crew with years of experience there will also be new crew that don’t quite know what to expect.

If you find yourself in the latter category, here is packing list of the things you might not have thought of to help make your first contract as comfortable (and thus successful) as possible. This list was compiled through discussions amongst 4 cruise ship employees with a combined 40 years of cruise ship working experience. Enjoy.

Note: This post contains a whole bunch of affiliate links. If you click on these links and then make a purchase, I will get a small commission at no cost to you.
Note 2: These links are primarily through Amazon (they make affiliate marketing – and an opportunity to make money – quite easy for bloggers such as myself); however, if you have a local store you are able to find these items through, I would encourage you to buy local, especially during this pandemic.

Things For Your Cabin

Your cabin is a bit like a dorm room – small and you will most likely be sharing with a stranger. Maximizing space efficiently is key.

  • Pictures of family and friends.
    • You are going to get homesick and miss them. Pictures help.
  • Magnets
    • Not all the walls in your cabin will be magnetic, but some of them will be. Or, if you’re like me, buy some souvenir magnets in port!
  • Calendar
    • I like to be able to actually cross off the days, not just an app on my phone.
  • Post-It Notes
    • Handy for reminders, but also handy for leaving a note for your roommate.
  • Over door coat hanger
    • Most likely you will have one closet that is about 2 feet wide to store nearly all your belongings in. An over-door hanger allows you to hang things on the outside of your closet (like formal dresses or jackets) and really helps keep the inside of your cabin organized.
  • Peel & Stick Utility Hooks
    • Some cruise lines might technically frown on this, but I don’t know anyone that has moved into a cabin and been upset that someone left some extra hooks on the wall. One or two hooks on the inside of your closet door, and another one on the wall to hang up a few more jackets & or to keep some uniform pieces separate.
  • Laundry Basket or Laundry Bag
    • If you have your own cabin I would recommend a laundry basket (as I prefer them), if you have a roommate I would recommend a bag. You don’t necessarily have that much space. I’m not one to talk though, my first contract (or two?) I definitely used a pillow case.
  • Laundry Detergent
    • I do not recommend bringing a large container of Tide with you, and if you didn’t bring any the ship does sell small containers.
    • I am intrigued by the Tru Earth Eco-Friendly laundry detergent strips. They don’t contain liquid and thus minimize your chance of in-transit luggage explosion. You could also bring a lot in your suitcase without taking up a lot of space and weight.
    • If you opt for more traditional laundry detergents, I would bring a ziplock baggie (double it up) of laundry powder, or a couple laundry pods. You really just need enough until you can buy some ashore. How soon you can go ashore might also depend on The Jones Act if you are not a US citizen.
  • Eye Mask / Ear plugs
    • You don’t get to choose where your cabin is. I once had a cabin right next to the busiest crew elevator. Even with the hallway door closed you could still hear the little “ping” of the elevator. If you are a light sleeper some light ear plugs (that will help with transient noises but aren’t so bulky that you would miss an alarm going off) can be key.
    • If you have a roommate your bunk will have a curtain you can close to give you some privacy. It does not block out all light though, so if you are a light sleeper I would recommend an eye mask.
  • Twinkle Lights
    • Gone are the days of full-fledged Christmas lights. Small battery operated twinkle/fairy lights can cozy up your room.
  • Blanket/Sheets/Something Cozy
    • There are some crew cabins with nice sheets and duvets, and then there are the rest of them. It’s fine but it lacks the cozy feel. I brought a snuggly blanket with me to each contract. I’ve known others to bring a memory foam mattress pad, their own sheets, or duvet covers. If you are at all particular about your bedding, or if you like to really feel snuggled up, bring something with you.
  • Vacuum/compression packing bags
    • For the aforementioned snuggly bedding, but also for packing sweatshirts and other bulky clothing items.

There are the obvious choices – socks, underwear, t-shirt, jeans. Here are some other suggestions:

  • Formal wear
    • Whether or not you need to bring this is very dependent on what job you have onboard. Some positions include formal uniforms, others you can sometimes still wear your own formal gown on very special occasions. And, if you find yourself with a chance to see the Russian Ballet or an opera at the Sydney Opera House you want to be dressed for the occasion! If I am going to a contract with mostly 7 day cruises I will bring either 2 or 3 formal dresses. There are usually two formal nights in a 7 day cruise (although some cruise lines have switched to just one). Having three dresses lets me have a bit of a rotation. My personal favorite formal gown I own is by Adrianna Papell (not that exact one, but you can’t go wrong with any of them). However, I’ve also bought plenty of formal wear at second hand shops/charity shops – and, no one can tell the difference.
  • Warm Clothes, even on Caribbean contracts. Bathing suits, even on Alaskan contracts.
    • This one might seem confusing. You’re going to the Caribbean, why do you need a jacket? Here’s the thing, you can get transferred to another ship mid-contract and that ship might be in a very different climate. You could also be on a ship when the entire world shuts down to a pandemic and you end up stuck onboard with only what you brought for an extra 3 months. Bathing suits don’t take up much space, and a “one size too big” soft shell jacket that you can layer underneath will go along way in the colder places.
  • Multi-purpose clothing, including shoes
    • Space is at a premium, so the more you can do with less clothes, the better. Something you can dress up and dress down, a t-shirt you don’t mind wearing to bed but you could also wear to the gym. Yoga pants for all occasions. For the majority of positions, one to three pairs of heels will suffice. Try to pick shoes that work well for many occasions and can go from smart casual to formal and back.
  • Costumes… maybe
    • Are you going to be onboard during Halloween? St. Patrick’s Day? Valentine’s Day? New Years’ Eve? Christmas? Think about what holiday’s you will be onboard for and bring clothing that goes with it. There will likely be other parties along the way (assuming we can ever stop social distancing), but to start with bring some things for the major holidays.


  • A watch
    • Not every position needs a watch, but if you are in a passenger facing position where time is an issue, I encourage you to wear one. So many people have gotten used to using their phones as their time piece (myself included), but if you are in a conversation with guests I firmly believe it is rude to check your phone for the time.
  • Amazon Kindle
    • This is my new favorite travel companion. Never until I was stuck onboard for so long was I so grateful to have so many books available to me in such a small format. I love a good physical book in my hand (that you can get from your local bookshop), but for a long contract these e-reader things are great.
  • Universal Adapter
    • Most ships have US style outlets on them. That’s great, why do I need to bring an adapter? Well, take it from the girl that bought a fan in Australia only to get onboard and not be able to use it – when you travel the world, you will end up needing it at some point during your travels.
  • External Hard-drive
    • So, you’re used to watching Netflix or Amazon Prime, once you get onboard you can kiss those days goodbye, thanks to ship internet. However, bring a hard-drive with your favorite TV shows and you can still binge-watch Friends all day long.
  • Portable USB charger – just so handy. So handy.
  • Headphones – Bose
    • Remember, the only privacy you have in your cabin is a curtain. Want to watch some TV on your laptop? Noise cancelling headphones are fantastic for this.
  • Still Have Some Space? Some Other Helpful Gadgets (especially during COVID lockdown):
    • Portable Speaker. These come in all shapes and sizes. We have the Bose Soundlink II and like it. Can be great to bring to crew areas for background music. Is also helpful when you’re stuck on a ship during COVID and all the music around the ship is turned off. Yup.
    • Nintendo Switch – I don’t normally suggest bringing video games, but I quite like playing Mario Kart, and I definitely wished we had this during the aforementioned shut-down.

Other Helpful Things

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  • A bag/small backpack to go ashore with
  • Extra luggage bag, like a duffle bag
    • this can double as your laundry bag while you’re onboard, but it can be helpful if you find yourself with too much stuff and not enough suitcases.
  • Camera
    • most people have a pretty good camera phone at this point. However, if you want to get the extra great pictures, grab yourself a fancier camera. There’s a huge selection for this depending on how much you want to spend, but getting a good picture of St. Peter’s Basilica at night is probably best done with something more than your camera phone.
  • Multi-vitamins
    • I had found a multi-vitamin that I loved. Went ashore in New Zealand figuring that I’d find something similar. It’s a multi-vitamin, how challenging can it be to find something similar? Ended up getting one that tasted horrible. Brands aren’t the same around the world. If you found something you like it can be easier to bring some onboard than try to find it ashore.


A treat from home, or a favorite book, TV show, or movie. Maybe it’s a letter your grandma wrote you. I used to bring maple candy, Pride & Prejudice (the book), and Sabrina. Something that on a day when it feels like the world is falling apart can bring you a sense of peace and happiness, because as much as you know that the world isn’t going to end, there can be days where it feels like it will.

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