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What to Pack for Your First Contract on a Cruise Ship

Are you ready to join life at sea working on a cruise ship? Cruise ship life is very exciting and visiting awesome locations around the world is just one of the many benefits of working on a cruise ship. If this is your first time going to work on a cruise ship, you might be wondering what you need to pack for a cruise ship contract.

I have created this post to help you get ready to join your first contract at sea, to minimize headaches and possible issues you might encounter during your first contract. These tips would have helped me tremendously if only I knew beforehand.

Requirements to work on a cruise ship

For additional tips, make sure you read What are the Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship? (Step by Step) to learn more about the requirements/documents you need to have before you embark on your journey at sea!

For tips on how to have a more pleasant travel experience visit this post, Essential Travel Items Every Crew Member Should Have! to learn all the cool tips, tricks and gadgets you must have for your travel day.

Essential Travel Items Crew Members

Getting Ready

Now that you have all the paperwork ready to go, there are a few more things that I highly recommend that you have ready before joining a cruise ship for your first contract, or for subsequent contracts if you are a returning crew member. These things will make your transition to life at sea easier.

 Once onboard, you won’t have a lot of time to go out and buy things you might need. Although you can buy items online and have it delivered to the ship, depending on your location, it might take weeks and sometimes, months before you get your package. To avoid all these hassles, I recommend having these items with you before embarking on your exciting journey at sea:

Collapsible Luggage

First things first, cruise ship cabins are very tiny. Space will be at a premium onboard and you want to make sure you have enough space for your items by not having big, bulky luggage is just the start. I recommend buying a piece of collapsible luggage that can be easily stored under the bed or in a small corner.

With its magical ability to shrink down to a fraction of its size, this wondrous invention effortlessly fits into your tiny cabin. Plus, it’s a travel ninja, discreetly blending in when you’re not using it.

Here are some suggestions for collapsible luggage you can find on Amazon:

Bring a Backpack

Sign-off day. Ready to Travel with our backpacks

Not only you can use your backup as your carry-on luggage but you also will be able to use your backpack to carry all of your stuff when you get ashore to go to the beach or visit a port of call. You can carry your electronics in your backpack, cameras, towel, food and water, souvenirs, and much more. All serious travelers have a backpack and trust me, you will become a traveler.

I used this backpack Osprey Packs Daylite Plus Daypack (link to Amazon) because it’s small enough yet it fits everything I needed. I also used the Osprey Packs Packs Porter 65 Travel Backpack (link to Amazon) as my carry-on. The Osprey Daylite easily attaches to the Osprey 65 on a travel day, making it easy to carry it.

I always had my trusty backpack with me whenever I left the ship and I recommend that you have one too.

Bring Enough Socks and Underwear

Working on a cruise ship means you will not have a lot of time off and when you do, the last thing you want is to spend those precious few hours doing laundry. Although you can’t escape doing laundry, having a game plan to do less will make your life easier.

Uniforms will be provided to you and most companies will offer laundry service for your uniform- you just have to drop it off and pick it up. Now for your personal clothes, there’s no way out, you will have to do it yourself or pay someone to do it, which there are people onboard that do.

I was always running out of socks and clean underwear during my first contracts onboard and had to do laundry often. I usually recommend bringing as minimal as possible but underwear and socks are the exception. They are very small and won’t take up much space in your luggage. By having enough socks and underwear, you might be able to do less laundry than you would otherwise do. I recommend bringing enough underwear and socks for at least two weeks or 14 days since you will be working every day and might change clothes twice a day.

Don’t Bring Too Many Clothes!

Source: Flickr

As mentioned above, space is at a premium in a cruise ship crew cabin. For the majority of the time, you will be wearing your uniform. You will be wearing your personal clothes when you go off the ship or around the ship, like at the crew bar, mess, or around the public ship areas. The fewer clothes you bring, the more space you will have in your cabin closet, which is very tiny. 

I recommend the following, in no particular order:

Packing cubes
  • One or two nice outfits for going out at night onboard public areas.
  • Plenty of socks/underwear to last two weeks, at minimum.
  • Beach attire(don’t bother to bring a beach towel. You can buy one in the ports of call)
  • Flip flops(for going off the ship) on your beach days.
  • Closed-toed shoes for walking around the crew areas(Flip-flops are not allowed in crew areas).
  • Comfortable non-slip safety shoes for work. Safety first!
  • Travel-size toiletries for 1 week to get by until you can buy more.
  • One light jacket for cooler weather.
  • Comfortable clothes for walking around the ship (Typically tank tops are not allowed at the crew mess, so sleeves or a jacket).

Bring Comfortable Non-Slip Safety Shoes

Cruise Lines will require that you wear non-slip shoes (typically black, white, or both depending on the position) for the majority of the positions onboard, especially if you will be working in the kitchen or galley, where the floors can get very slippery. Although they can provide you with the shoes onboard (at a cost), you should take the time to look for ones that are comfortable. You will be spending the majority of your time on your feet and not having proper, comfortable shoes can make it worse.

Examples of safety shoes you can find on Amazon:

You can always get a second pair later but make sure you bring a good, comfortable pair with you.

Don’t Forget Your Medication

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

If you are currently taking prescription medication, make sure that you bring enough to last for the duration of your contract. You might not find the same prescription onboard so it’s important that you have it with you before joining the ship. 

Once onboard, the medical department will have an orientation with the new hires to explain how to use the facilities, and what’s covered, and they want to know if you are taking prescription medications as part of your onboard medical questionnaire. They do provide medication for free for certain cases (flu, sore throat, headaches, nausea) but they might not have, or be able to, get your exact prescription onboard. 

Also, keep in mind that you might not get used to the food on the ship at first, so having a good digestive/ stomach issues medication is also essential.

Bring Some Spending Money For Your First Month Onboard

Cruise Ship - What to pack - Bring Money
Image by 1820796 from Pixabay

On your first contract on a cruise ship, you will not get paid until the end of the month in most companies. If your contract starts at the end of the month, you won’t get paid until the end of the following month. Your crew ID will be your debit card onboard and you will be able to purchase some items onboard like internet cards, toiletries, drinks at the crew bar, and bottled water, but if you want to buy anything outside the ship, you will be out of luck.

I recommend that you bring some spending money so that you don’t spend your first month onboard broke without being able to do anything fun.

Only Bring the Essentials

What to Pack Cruise Ship
Image by Tony Prats from Pixabay

Source: Royal Caribbean Blog Youtube channel

Besides making sure you have all your paperwork ready (visit Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship) there are many things you can buy onboard. Most cruise ships have a crew store where they sell toiletries, snacks, and some electronics like sd cards, batteries speakers, etc.  I recommend that you bring small toiletries to get by on your first week onboard. You might not know on your first day where the crew store is located and your crew card might not be activated yet to make purchases on the ship (sorry, no cash onboard). Bring travel-size toiletries like toothpaste, shampoo, etc that can get you by the first week until you have your account ready to buy some more later.

Bring a Laptop

All the places you will visit, all the photos you will take. You will need to have a place to store all of that. I highly recommend that you bring a laptop to have with you to access the internet when you get a chance, to download and edit your photos, play video games, or watch movies. 

Check out the link at Amazon for more info.

Offline Entertainment

In my cabin watching a movie.

We live in a world where we are used to being connected 24/7 to the internet and on a cruise ship, it can be a challenge. You will not have free internet available and the internet onboard is via satellite, so watching movies, and streaming videos is going to be hard or even impossible. Be prepared to expect not having internet access all the time. 

With that said, make sure that you have enough entertainment available offline (music, movies, games, e-books). When you visit a port of call, there will be many places that will offer free wifi, so bring your laptop, tablet, or phone and spend some time catching up with family and friends, updating your Instagram profile to make your friends jealous, getting new songs and movies downloaded for offline use, etc, but please don’t spend all your time surfing the internet. The world is waiting to be explored, so go ahead and enjoy the ports of call. 

Portable Harddrive

I always brought with me a small, portable hard drive to store all the photos and videos I made with my camera, phone, and GoPro. I also used the hard drive to store movies and documents that I might need later.

Check it out on Amazon

I currently have the Western Digital(above) and it’s small, fast, and reliable.

Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Image by Scott Webb from Pixabay

If you love music, you need to have a portable Bluetooth speaker. You can buy one online and have it delivered to the ship, however, it might take some time for you to get your device. To avoid being without music, bring one along that is small enough to fit in your suitcase. You will probably be visiting many nice beaches in the Caribbean and nothing better than having a speaker with you to crank up some good music and drink a beer while people-watching on the beach.

You can find a great selection of Bluetooth speakers on Amazon, for every size and budget:

Bring a GoPro

If you want to make great videos, having a GoPro is a Must. you can make high-quality videos of all the cool places you will visit, like this one from Virgin Gorda and The Baths.

Video Created using my GoPro

Find a GoPro and cool accessories on Amazon:

Power Adaptors

Cruise Ships are mostly built in Europe, therefore have European outlets. If you bring your electronics with you on the ship, chances are that you might not be able to use them if you don’t have adapters for all your devices. Make sure to have at least one with you to plug in your devices.

Having a universal adapter, (like the one pictured below in black), is the best because it works in different countries. The plug on the right (white) is what the cruise ship plug will look like.

You can buy these online on Amazon or locally when you get to a port but to be on the safe side, get one before you leave for the ship.

Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Image by Vitabello from Pixabay

I highly recommend having noise-canceling headphones that you can wear whenever you need some quiet time onboard. Perhaps your roommate wants to watch some TV and you want to read a book, put these babies on, turn on the noise-canceling feature and you are in your own little world. Also, they are great to have when flying because it blocks the loud sounds emitted by airplane engines.

Get these on Amazon


Chances are that during your time at sea, you might encounter a roommate who snores. There’s nothing they can do and neither can you to make him or her stop snoring, however, you can try to minimize the noise by having earplugs if you need them. These might come in handy when you need it the most.

Signup for Frequent Flyer Miles

Cruise Ship Life FAQ

If you haven’t already make sure you signed up for one. With all the traveling you will be doing to and from the ship and during your vacation, if you choose to do so, if you are not collecting the frequent flyer miles, you are leaving money on the table. 

I had the opportunity to accumulate a decent amount of frequent flyer miles during my time working on cruise ships and I still do as of this day. I used to travel extensively during my vacations and even flew in business class a few times, all using frequent flyer miles.

All you have to do is to sign up for one airline from the airline’s alliance. Ex: If you are flying United Airlines to Miami, United Airlines is part of the Star Alliance network. Next time you fly on one of the airlines on the Star Alliance network, you don’t need to create another account with that airline; You can just choose to credit the miles to your United Airlines account because United Airlines is part of the Star Alliance. 

You can learn more by visiting my favorite travel blogs that teach you how to maximize your airline miles:

Million Mile SecretsThe Points Guy
One Mile at a TimeMillion Mile Secrets

Final Words

Working on a cruise ship can be very challenging during your first month onboard. Everything is new, you are adjusting to life at sea, your small cabin, and the ship’s food. Take some time to make sure you are prepared, read our previous articles about working on ships, and know what to expect. 

If you follow our tips above and know what to expect, I have no doubt that you will have a great time working on a cruise ship.