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Cruise Packing 101

What to put in your carry-on bag: Unlike a hotel where people check in on varying days and at varying times, folks check in to a cruise ship en masse. As such, a ship receives thousands of pieces of luggage in a matter of a few hours, which means your bags may not arrive in your stateroom until a few hours after you've boarded. Carry-ons are key. Pack everything needed to get you and your family through dinner time -- bathing suits, cameras, medications, sandals, sunscreen, a change of clothes and toiletries, and if you're traveling with small children, enough diapers and wipes to get you through a day. This packing strategy will save you should the airline or cruise line lose your bag, as you'll have many necessities on hand.


Dress codes: Every cruise line has a specified dress code for evenings (daywear is also casual), which can change daily (check your travel documents before you pack; each day's code is listed). Typically, there's formal, which means a tuxedo or dark suit for men, and an evening gown or cocktail dress for women. Informal means jacket and slacks for men, and a dress or pant suit for women. There's resort casual (khakis for men and flowing pants outfits or skirts for women) as well as casual. The latter means open necked sport shirts for men and capri pants and summer tops for women.


Some lines have just one blanket dress code. Representing two sides of the spectrum, Norwegian Cruise Line's is so casual (though you can certainly opt to dress up) that you can wear jeans to dinner. On the other hand, SeaDream's resort casual requires a bit more fashionable approach.


Sports and baby equipment: If you are planning to snorkel or play golf or tennis, check out the ship's rental availability and rates to determine if it's worth bringing your own equipment along. In addition, some family-friendly ships now offer stroller and bouncer seat rentals; however, it's best to bring anything you absolutely need such as diapers, baby food (especially if your child has allergies), children's medications, etc.

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