So you’ve been hired to work on a cruise ship – congratulations! You have an exciting road of adventure ahead of you. If you’re reading this, it’s probably your first contract and you’re wondering what to pack. In addition to all the regular things that your company will email you a list of (like clothing and a toothbrush) here are the my top recommendations on what to pack when working on a cruise ship.

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Stuff Your Company Tells You To Pack

First off is the stuff that your company will tell you to pack. Your recruiter, or someone directly from your cruise line will contact you a few weeks prior with a packing list, indicating a list of things that you should generally pack. If you’re working with kids, chances are it will involve a lot of costumes (I had to pack maybe 10 or so different costumes). Here’s a quick summary of the list I was sent:

  • Clothing
    • Enough underwear for one week
    • Comfortable black shoes and socks
    • A Black belt
    • A few comfortable shirts
    • Flip Flops
    • Sneakers
    • Comfortable shorts for being off duty
    • Board Shorts / Bathing Suits
    • Long dress pants
    • Jeans (For being off duty)
    • Some hoodies
    • A Jacket (Depending on where you’re going)
  • Toiletries (One Month’s Worth)
    • Toothbrush & Toothpaste
    • Soap, Body Wash, Shampoo and Conditioner
    • A brush, comb, and nail clippers
    • Sunscreen, Moisturizer, Aloe & Sunglasses
    • Glasses / Contact Lenses
  • Electronics
    • An E-Reader
    • Headphones
    • Battery powered alarm clock
    • Pocket flashlight
    • A power bar

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Stuff I Wish I Had Packed

There’s not a lot of space on board, so you really have to pick and choose what you bring. That being said, here are nine things that I wish I had packed while I was on the ship. Having these would have made my life a little more enjoyable.

1. Warm Socks and Extra Underwear

Absolutely nobody likes doing laundry while onboard. The machines are almost occupied, broken, or more difficult to operate than the ship itself – so you’ll seldom want to wash your clothes. Make an investment in the warm wool socks you can pull up to your knees – they can make your day. They probably won’t be allowed as part of your uniform, but if you’re wearing pants, none will be the wiser. When packing, once you think you have enough socks and underwear – pack more. If you can fit them in your luggage, you definitely won’t regret it.

2. Extra skin products, and lotion

The ship makes its drinking water from the ocean. While the water is desalinated, and safe for consumption, it’s not too kind to your skin or hair. Before you come onboard, stock up on a good moisturizing lotion and conditioner to keep your skin smooth, and acne under control all contract long.

3. Lots of cold, hard, cash

There’s a massive tipping culture on board, and when you live in a community this small, you have no choice but to participate. Whether it’s having your bed made every three days by your cabin steward, or dining in your favourite passenger restaurant, bring some US currency in small denominations and show your appreciation by making it rain.

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4. Fancy Clothes

I was advised to bring one dress shirt, and one pair of nice pants for my entire contract – what a slip up that was. If you want to be out in passenger areas, you’re going to need to dress business or “smart” casual. Bring some outfits you can mix and match – the crew will know you’re wearing the same thing, but the passengers won’t.

5. A Good Book… or several

Now would be a great time to invest in an e-reader (I’m a big fan of my Kindle). It’s an easy and lightweight way to bring your personal library aboard. Not having regular access to the internet gives you ample time to read – not to mention the benefits of getting lost in a story. If you’re not about fiction, there are plenty of textbooks available for download; learn Spanish or brush up on Endocrinology… it’s up to you.

6. Electronics and their chargers

Don’t bring anything you can’t stand to loose. I do however, recommend bring a few electronic devices if you can. Having a tablet or laptop in your cabin is nice for watching movies, or taking care of business while in port. If you have an unlocked phone with a flexible plan – bring it. You’ll be often visiting the same ports of call in the same country, so a SIM card with a data plan can make your shore-side adventures much more worthwhile. Just remember to bring all your chargers, and a travel adapter – as some of the ship’s outlets won’t be what you expect.

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7. A Padlock

Even if you’re staying in a single – which, if you are, I’m jealous – many people are still going to have access to your room. You’ll likely get a locker in your cabin that you can keep valuables in with a small lock and key. Be safe, rather than sorry, and lock up valuable items with a padlock when they’re not in use.

working on a cruise ship

8. Board Games

Be it snakes and ladders, a deck of cards, or a full on specialty board of monopoly, you’re going to want to bring some sort of board game with you. The crowd favourite on board is Cards Against Humanity, so I’d definitely recommend bringing it. Be aware though, having these in your cabin can quickly make you the life of the party.

9. Your sense of adventure

If you’re not bringing it – you’re going to have a miserable time. Leave the troubles of home in your own country and come off and join the nomadic experience with your new friends from around the world.

More Info On Ships

I worked on a few different cruise ships for a long time, and blogged about it almost every step of the way. Check out my previous posts for some insight into the culture from a North American perspective. I worked as a Youth, and Teen Counsellor for a cruise line that will remain unnamed.


  1. Great post! I would also recommend bringing pictures of friends from back home. It was always nice to look across my cabin and see smiling faces.

  2. What a wonderful write up. Been stressing about what to back joining my first trip. The information given by the employers isn’t very helpful. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. Hey Shani,

      Thanks for the kind words! Yes, the packing list they gave me sucked. I packed the weirdest things, so I wanted to set the record straight! Wishing you all the best with your first cruise!

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