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Family Cruise Vacation

Recently we went on our first cruise as a family of five. The last time my husband and I cruised I was actually pregnant with our oldest. In fact, we were somewhere out at sea the very first time I felt him kick!

As a mom I end up packing for the kids, acting as adviser for my husband's suitcase, and then I need to get my stuff together. If that process sounds familiar, then like me, you may also be OVER IT and tempted to throw everything in a bag and call it a day. But do not - DO NOT - overpack for a cruise vacation! I'm going to share my packing list (including my mistakes) and why it's so critical to pack smartly for a week on a floating resort.

Our trip was a 7-day cruise from Baltimore, MD to Grand Turk and the Bahamas in late May. Really warm weather had already arrived in the mid-Atlantic so the whole itinerary was covered by summer attire. (This would be your first big consideration if you were going from say, Atlanta to an Alaskan cruise.)

Here is what went into my suitcase:

3 nice dresses

1 casual dress

2 skirts

4 pairs of shorts

2 tees

4 tanks

1 long sleeve top

1 pashmina

1 lightweight cardigan

3 bathing suits + rash guard

1 bathing suit cover up

2 workout tops/shorts

1 pair of pool flip flops

2 pairs of sandals

1 pair of block heel sandals

1 convertible clutch

1 straw fedora

1 baseball cap

+ underthings & pajamas

Plus, on the day of our departure I wore a workout tee and shorts with my running sneakers. I also carried my handy backpack.

Here is how the clothes came together:

Sunday Day - Departure

I chose to wear workout gear including my sneakers because I felt like boarding would be a workout and they were the shoes that would take up the most space in my suitcase. I changed into a bathing suit for our afternoon exploring the pools and waterslide.

Sunday Night - Casual Dinner

Monday Day - Day at Sea

Started this day - okay after room service breakfast and a buffet breakfast - at the gym so this was one of my workout gear outfits. Then it was a day at the waterslide/splash pad so another afternoon in a swim suit (different from the day before) and cover up.

Monday Night - Formal Dining #1 - On some cruise lines, you'll want full-on formal wear for these elegant evenings but Carnival is a bit more "fun" so I opted for cocktail attire.

Tuesday Day - Day at Sea

More pool, waterslide, and splash pad time with the kids. Switched back into the one piece suit from the first day. Late in the afternoon I did a Build-A-Bear Workshop event with our 2-year-old and wore the same outfit to dinner that evening.

Tuesday Night - Casual Dining

Wednesday Day - Grand Turk - Such a gorgeous day on the beach with my family - swimming in the turquoise water, searching for shells, and building castles. My favorite memory of the trip captured right here.

Wednesday Night - Casual Dining

Thursday Day - Princess Cay, Bahamas - Another day of nothing but the beach. I wore a tee and cutoffs over my bathing suit and flip flops. I did NOT bring my hat this day and DID get sunburn on a part of my scalp.

Thursday Night - 11th Anniversary Dinner - David's Steakhouse - This is the fancy, extra $ restaurant on the ship and it was worth every penny to drop the kids' as their club for dinner and have a quiet 2-hour meal.

Friday Day - Freeport, Bahamas - This was our Glass Bottom Boat excursion day which I knew (read those reviews!) would include a cramped, 20-minute bus ride to the marina so I dressed for a workout! Yes, this is a picture of a picture we bought. Big eye roll.

Friday Night - Formal Dining #2

Saturday Day - Cat in the Hat Breakfast and packing up!

Saturday Night - Casual Dining

Sunday Day - Back in Baltimore - Read: sit for 4 hours in a hallway with at least some of your bags and occupy your kids before you can leave the boat. I wore my sneakers with this popover and cutoffs for suitcase space's sake.

The things I never wore:

These 2 shorts and tee plus the pashmina, lightweight cardigan, and 3rd swim suit/rash guard set I brought. I also brought one too many sets of workout clothes and never wore my baseball cap. This creates a fairly small pile of clothes, but space is at an absolute premium in a cruise cabin.

My Big Mistake and Best Tips:

My big mistake for this trip was over-packing. I'm not sure I would have even noticed if this was a "regular" vacation where you stay in a rented house or hotel room that has a full closet and dresser. In a cruise cabin (at least any of the balcony rooms I've stayed in) you get a bit of hanging space, a few shelves in a closet, and a tiny amount of drawer space. Be SUPER conservative with your packing and plan on repeating items, especially shorts or casual dresses. Laundry service is available so even if you spill dinner on yourself, those items can be cleaned and put back into rotation.

My first tip is being realistic about and planning activities ahead. I didn't need as many workout sets as I took and I should have rationalized that if I really wanted to work out more times than I had clothes, I could re-wear the same top and shorts for a quick run on the treadmill. Knowing ahead that you'll attend the late night all-white deck party or go horseback riding in the ocean will guide your packing in a purposeful way. I should have known that I'd spend most of my time at the waterslide and splash pad with my kids and real clothes weren't needed for most of each day. Finally, we were in the Caribbean and I didn't need a pashmina and cardigan. It was hot and I was herding cat, er, my kids around a giant ship constantly so I was never cold.

My second big tip is to know the vibe of your cruise line and ship. As I mentioned previously, Carnival is a more casual cruise line and our ship was an older model meaning that even the formal dining nights ("Cruise Elegant") are not over the top. That being said, I still think it's a great chance to dress up a bit (and have your family follow suit) for some fancy family photos. I wore dresses, skirts or nicer outfits for dinner every night but even that would not have been necessary on our ship. Again, remix and match as much as you can.

Finally, don't pack a bathing suit and separate matching cover up for every day of your trip. Unless this is really your thing, I recommend limiting the number to two. Wear one and hang it to dry. Wear the second and repeat. Swap every other day and avoid having a half dozen bathing suits and coordinating covers hanging all over your cabin as they dry. Pick a cover that can tastefully be worn in the buffet dining room for breakfast or lunch and you're really set!

Have you cruised with your family? What packing mistakes have you learned from? What's your best tip to share?

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