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What To Pack For a Cruise (Or: Leave Your Beach Towels at Home)

As far as a family goes, we’re pretty experienced travelers. We’ve been to quite a few countries, we try to take a road trip every summer, and we make weekend trips every few months. You might say we like to move about the cabin.

But I still learned something new about travel on our recent Norwegian Cruise Line vacation, and I think that’s because cruises are just a bit different than other types of travel. Specifically, I learned a bit about what to pack, what to leave home, and how to spend your money.

1. Pack light.

You really don’t need that many clothes. Sure, I saw quite a few sequined dresses and leopard-print stilettos, but if you’ve got kids, you’re mostly lounging around and enjoying a few nice dinners.

Okay, so maybe that’s mostly us—if we’re given free childcare on a cruise ship, we’d rather chat over a few drinks out on the open sea over getting our groove on at the nightclub. You could do that, too, if that’s your thing.

But really… two summer dresses are plenty for the sort of cruise to the Bahamas we enjoyed. You can re-wear them, change them up with lightweight cardigans or different jewelry, or heck, simply go to a different restaurant the next night. Really—nobody cares what you’re wearing.

I packed a few pairs of shorts, one pair of jeans (which I only wore on the flight to and from the cruise!), a couple tanks and t-shirts, a few cardigans, two lightweight dresses, and a skirt. And that was plenty.

2. …But it is nice to have more than one swimsuit.

I “accidentally” bought two new swimsuits for this cruise. Well okay, it wasn’t an accident—I ordered one online at Land’s End and it didn’t come in time, so the day before our flight, I bought another one at Target. Then our flight was delayed until the evening, so we returned home to check the mail—and lo and behold, my new suit was waiting in a box by our front door.

So I tucked it into my suitcase. Turns out having two swimsuits was mighty handy, because we swam a lot. As in, several times a day. It was nice to let one dry while wearing the other one, especially on the days we were at the beach during the day and back on the cruise ship at night. Hello, sand and salt.

Honestly, this isn’t that big of a deal—I wouldn’t spend tons of money on a second suit just for the heck of it. But it was sort of a happy accident for me.

3. The kids mostly need shorts and t-shirts, too.

I’m sure it’d be a little different if we were on a cruise to Alaska, but really, all the kids needed were shorts and t-shirts. We tossed in a few nicer tops for each of them, just in case, but we really didn’t need them. Norwegian is very gracious with kids.

4. Books! They’ve got books!

The library on the Norwegian Gem, our cruise ship.

We brought way too many books, because we ended up checking out books at the cruise ship’s library. Yes—a library! They didn’t have a ton of children’s books, but they had enough—plenty for bedtime stories. Next time, we’ll only bring two or three for the flight, then check out more books on the boat.

We brought a water bottle for each kid, and we were able to refill them with water anywhere on the boat. That, plus inflatable water gear and swimsuits, was all they needed. Norwegian and nature provided the rest of their entertainment.

5. You don’t need beach towels.

Our kids loved coming back to our room each evening to see what animal waited for them!

Cruise ships provide you with your beach towels. This might seem like an incredible “duh” to you, but it was news to me, and I was happy to have learned it the night before we left. Towels take up a lot of luggage space (especially five of them), so I loved snagging towels at the boat before leaving for the beach, then returning them to their laundry pile before dragging it back to our room. A little treat that went a long way.

I love packing light, and would much rather travel with too little than too much. With cruising, it turns out that old saying is right: after you pack, take out half your clothes and replace it with twice as much money. Soon, I’ll share how much extra money to expect to bring, and how to save some of it.

Do you tend to overpack or underpack when you travel?

A big thanks to Norwegian Cruise Line for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.

Read more from Tsh at Simple Mom, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.

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