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What to Pack in Your Cruise Embarkation Day Carry-On Bag Especially For Families

12 things you shouldn’t forget to put in your cruise carry-on bag. Here’s a complete list from a cruising veteran of what to include in your boat bag for Embarkation Day that will make sure you can start the fun and festivities onboard before your main luggage arrives in your cabin.

Open suitcase packed for a trip


Hey Party People!!! It’s been a while since I’ve blogged because the Weber Family (or as my daughter calls us “The Fam Bam”) just got back from a family cruise


( #15 for the hubs and me…yep, you read that right…we are total cruise junkies, and no, we aren’t senior citizens quite yet although it’s approaching fast!).


family in St Maarten
The “Fam Bam” at the St. Maarten Port


I’ve got quite a few things I’m excited to share with you because we learn something every time we go!


Whether you are a cruising veteran or a novice, I’m going to pass along some hot tips to help your next cruise be the best it can be!


For those of you who are newbies to cruising, the day that you board the ship is called “Embarkation Day”, and it is IMPERATIVE that you pack a Cruise Carry-On Bag that is separate from your other luggage, I’m going to walk you through exactly what you need in that “Embarkation Day Cruise Carry-On Bag.”


Before we dive in, if you’ve never been on a cruise, let me back up a bit to give you a quick overview of what the day looks like when you arrive at the port/cruise terminal.


Each cruise line has a “suggested time” for you to arrive.


My family always goes a little earlier than that assigned time because honestly, we are just so darn excited to get on the boat we can’t help ourselves.


We are an “early bird gets the worm” kind of family and arriving early has always worked out well for us.


Even better, normally we get on before our allotted time (can’t guarantee this for you), and it’s totally worth it because you get a little time before the mass of people board which gives you time to grab some food and get acquainted with the layout of the ship so you aren’t still figuring it out on the last day like we have before!


When you arrive at the cruise terminal, you will meet the porters who will take your luggage that you should already have tagged. 


Aside from that main luggage that you’ve already tagged and then sent with the porters, you will want to keep a separate bag (or two) of important things you will need that first day on the ship because you will not be reunited with the bulk of your belongings until later in the day when all of the bags are delivered to the rooms.


Once you hand off your main bags, you will go through security and check in with cruise line employees who will make sure you have all of your necessary paperwork.


Lastly, you will wait for a bit until you are called to board the cruise ship.


And then WOOHOO, it’s party time!! 


(HOT TIP: We frequently see people who do not check any of their luggage and they look absolutely miserable because they are trying to lug around all of their belongings all over the ship – do yourself a big favor and give the majority of your baggage to the porters to deliver directly to your room)


Moving on from the check-in basics…let’s chat about the things you’ve gotta have on Embarkation Day that you will want to pack in a separate bag, especially for families.


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The Essentials for Your Cruise Carry-On Bag


Cruise carry on embarkation day bag essentials



1. Identifications & Travel Documents







You definitely want to be sure you have photo IDs and passports for everyone in your group in an easy-to-reach spot


(HOT TIP: Some cruise lines only require birth certificates – check with your specific cruise line for necessary citizenship documentation).


I keep all of the necessary cruise documents and paperwork organized in one place in a folder similar to this handy organizer.


Prior to boarding, you should print all of the necessary cruise forms once you’ve checked in online before you leave home for the cruise.


Other things I keep in this folder are copies of confirmation codes and receipts for any excursions, dinners, shows, and packages that I’ve booked already.


2. Cell Phone with Waterproof Pouch

Waterproof cell phone case
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If you are planning to hit the pool first thing, you will want to be certain that your cell phone is pool-ready too, so be sure to have your waterproof cell phone pouch to capture all of those first-day memories!


3. Medications


Travel medications kit



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Don’t forget to keep important prescriptions and medications with you in your carry-on bag. 


If you are worried about sea sickness, keep the Dramamine, motion sickness bands, and patches with you and have all of the other over-the-counter drugs you’ll possibly need the first day with you too!!


If for some reason you’ve forgotten basic non-prescription meds like Tums or Ibuprofen, they normally sell them in one of the shops on the cruise, but they will not be open until the ship is at sea which is normally later in the day on Embarkation Day.


Having a travel medication/vitamin holder like this one can help you keep everything organized!


4. Sunglasses


Black sunglasses

Whether you are heading someplace tropical or even a cooler climate like Alaska, you will definitely want to have your sunglasses handy and out of your checked luggage…bonus – you’ll look super stylish as you board and explore the ship!


Everyone will be wondering what celebrity is on the cruise! 


5. Beach Bag or Tote


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Since we are a family of five, we use both a beach bag and a backpack as carry-ons to hold all of our must-haves.

Choose whatever style works best for your family or travel partners.

6. Pool Attire


If you are planning to hit the pool the first day, don’t forget your swimsuit, flip flops, and a cover-up

(HOT TIP: Most dining areas require some type of coverup so don’t skip packing them – “no shoes, no shirt, no service”).

I always pack our poolwear in Ziploc bags so if we want to change back into our day clothes, we can put all of our wet pool stuff in the Ziploc without drenching everything else in the carry-on bag.


7. Hair Brush and Necessary Toiletries

Pink Wet Brush Hairbrush


It might be a few hours before you are reunited with the majority of your luggage, so be sure to keep any toiletries you need to freshen up!

If you can’t live without your hairbrush or lipstick, keep those out of your checked baggage.


8. Portable Phone Charger

Portable cell phone charger

Since most of us now use our phones as our primary camera, you’ll want to be sure you have a backup phone charger so you can capture all of those first-day memories.

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Many cruise lines also have wifi apps that you can use to communicate with the people in your vacation party, so that’s another good reason to keep that cell phone juiced up!


9. Jewelry and Other Valuable Items


Jewelry travel bag

I personally don’t take valuable jewelry on cruises, but if you can’t leave home without it, you’ll want to be sure to keep it with you on Embarkation Day.

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I love this quilted travel jewelry storage pouch for keeping earrings, rings, necklaces & bracelets untangled and totally organized!

(HOT TIP: Once you are in your cabin, you can put those special jewelry pieces in your safe for added security.)

Also, valuable electronics or fragile possessions (like tablets, e-readers, or cameras) are other categories of items to keep with you. You are probably wondering what you should do with these high-valued items if you want to go swimming.

For our family trips, my husband and I take turns staying at the pool lounge chairs keeping an eye on our belongings, but you can also get a portable lockbox like this one to keep them all safe!

Travel Valuables Safe

10. Carry On Beverages

Beverage carrying bag

There are some cruise lines that allow you to bring bottles of alcohol on board with you (check with your specific cruise line for more info).

Having a cushioned bag to prevent bottle breakage is a great idea! I particularly like this one because once the bottles are gone, it folds flat and takes up almost no space in your luggage when you head home.


11. Cruise Key Lanyards

Clear lanyard necklace

How do you tell a veteran cruiser from a newbie cruiser?

Just look around their neck…there will be the telltale sign.

Having a lanyard of some type for your key card is one of the best tips for new cruises.

Constantly searching for your key is a total pain, but if you have it on a lanyard and wear it, I promise it will save you a lot of hassle and lost time searching (or wasted time at Guest Services getting a replacement one, which has happened to me!)

You can buy lanyards online here, and I’ve found them even at my local dollar store, either place will be cheaper than buying them on board.


12. Sun Protection

beach bag with sunglasses, sunscreen & sandals

Almost anywhere you travel by cruise ship, you will be outside for a good bit of time just walking around the boat, so be sure to throw your favorite sunscreen, hat, and lip balm in your carry-on bag too!


Possible Extras


1. Dining Attire

Many people pack an outfit for dinner just in case their luggage doesn’t arrive in time, especially if it’s an earlier dining time reservation, but I personally haven’t ever done that because it just felt like too much stuff to keep up with, and luckily, it’s never been a problem in the dozen-plus cruises we’ve sailed.

So maybe pack it if you are concerned about your dinner timing!

2. Pool Necessities

If you have younger kids and they plan on swimming, be sure to bring their pool essentials. Goggles and small pool toys make water play so much more fun! 

3. Reading Materials

One of my favorite things to do by the pool is to read a trashy magazine (shh – it’s my guilty pleasure!), so toss any reading materials you enjoy into your carry-on bag if you planning to relax a bit on that first day.


4. Towel Clips 

beach towel clips

Since I already have my “beach bag” with me as a carry-on that has all my pool needs (sunscreen, lip balm, swimsuit, coverup), I keep my towel clips in that bag too. It’s an easy way to secure your spot and keep your towel from flying away!

(*HOT TIP*: Buy some towel clips…seriously do it! I went on 14 cruises before I bought some cause they didn’t seem “necessary”, and now I don’t know how I lived without them…they are so practical and take very little room to pack.)

Wondering what are the other must-have necessities that we take on every cruise? Check that out here!!

Cruise Must Haves

Looking for a comprehensive list of what to pack in your main luggage? We’ve got you covered – HERE!

Cruise Packing List

There are quite a few things you SHOULD NOT bring onboard the boat at all, so you’ll want to be sure to read this blog all about the Big Cruise No-No’s!

Things to not pack on a cruise

Goodness knows you don’t want to be on the naughty list with the cruise line for bringing any forbidden items!

So tell me…what’s on your must-pack list for your Carry On Embarkation Day Bag?

Have you ever forgotten something in your carry-on and regretted it?

Tell me all about it in the comments below!

Until next time,

Happy Cruising! 




Magan Weber

Your Go-To Mama For 

Organizing Your Health

Home, & Happiness

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