What to Pack for a Family Cruise in Europe

What to Pack for a Family Cruise in Europe 1

Researching what to pack for an upcoming cruise to Europe? Our family recently returned from a 12-night European Capitals cruise aboard the Caribbean Princess (Princess Cruises) - and we have plenty of tips to share! Our cruise itinerary began in England and took us through Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France, and Germany at the end of May.

The biggest tip I can offer regarding packing for a cruise is to pack light and do laundry, if needed. For a future 12-night cruise, I would pack 6-7 outfits for each family member and then plan to do laundry a few times during the sailing.

Below are recommendations for other items to pack.

Good Walking Shoes

Our primary motivation for choosing a cruise was the ability to see so many countries (8!) in a short amount of time (12 nights!) without the hassle of packing up suitcases, checking in at hotels, and worrying about food. On the port days, we utilized public transportation and typically clocked between 10-15 miles of walking. As such, we found that good walking shoes were essential to a positive experience.

PICTURED (SHOES): Women's Alpine 83 Sneaker Sport Botanist (Merrell), Women's Alpine 83 Sneaker Sport (Merrell), Breeze Roam Navy (Clarks), Big Kid's Nova 3 Sneaker (Merrell), Hollyhock Walk Rose Leather Sneakers (Clarks), Free Spirit for Her (Samuel Hubbard), Men's Konos™ TRS OutDry™ Shoe (Columbia), Big Kid's Nova 3 Sneaker Botanist (Merrell), Women's Sunset Premium Leather Sneakers (Samuel Hubbard).

PICTURED (CLOTHES/ACCESSORIES): Fresh Cut High Rise Straight Jeans in Light Vintage Wash (Ann Taylor), Men's Cool Long Sleeve Hooded T-Shirt (32 Degrees), Fir Ridge Sunglasses (Columbia).


  • Don't bring brand new shoes. Instead, break in any shoes prior to the trip to ensure that they are comfortable and supportive. You don't want to run the risk of rubbing/chafing or blisters, which can easily turn your port days into a difficult and dreaded experience.
  • Spend more on quality shoes to enhance comfort and durability. As you will note above, some of our favorite walking shoe brands are Clarks, Columbia, Merrell, and Samuel Hubbard. Although the shoes can be pricey, they also offer high comfort - even after many miles on your feet.
  • Consider other shoes besides just running shoes/sneakers. Ballet flats and casual sneakers can also be quite comfortable if you select your pairs carefully and are willing to pay for quality.
  • Bring at least two pairs of shoes that are suitable for walking days. That way, you can alternate if one happens to rub or offer less support than you hoped.

Light Layers

Temperatures in Europe in late May can be unpredictable, but typically are in the idyllic 60s and 70s with occasional days of rainfall. Because mornings sometimes were chilly and overcast, followed by afternoons of gorgeous sunshine, we found that light layers were the best way to go. Not heavy sweaters or coats. A short or long sleeve shirt and pants or a flowy skirt paired with a cardigan or light sweater turned out to be the right combination for most days. For warmth, we wore beanies or stowed them in a backpack since they were small and worked well for any unexpected weather.

PICTURED: LOFT Beach Triple Cloth Wide Leg Pants (LOFT), Plaid A-Line Skirt (Ann Taylor), Modern Crew Neck Cardigan (LOFT), Organic Cotton Fit and Flare Pocket Dress (Quince), Women's Alpine 83 Sneaker Sport (Merrell), Big Kid's Nova 3 Sneaker (Merrell).

Knee-Length or Longer Flowy Skirts/Dresses (with sneakers!)

My daughters and I all wore flowy skirts on more than one occasion and found this to be a perfect choice for European travel. We packed knee-length or longer skirts, often pairing them with a blouse, tee, and/or cardigan. Skirts are incredibly comfortable, but also look great in photographs! Plus, this seemed to be the outfit of choice for women in most countries that we visited. I was especially inspired that women of all ages (from college students to young mothers to older adults) tended to pair their skirts and dresses with sensible athletic shoes. This combination looked surprisingly adorable and the U.S. should really snatch up this trend ASAP.

PICTURED: Organic Cotton Fit and Flare Pocket Dress (Quince), Women's Alpine 83 Sneaker Sport (Merrell).

Flip Flops

If you and/or your kids plan to utilize the swimming pools and/or jacuzzi at sea, a pair of flip flops is advised. Archies' Arch Support Flip Flops were compact to pack, but also very handy for ship days.

PICTURED: Arch Support Flip Flops in Tan, White, and Mint.

Formal Attire

Most cruise ships have at least one formal night per sailing. If a cruise is sailing over a week, there may be two or three. Formal Nights are typically held on sea days (not port days) and are completely optional. On these nights, people tend to change into formal attire during the late afternoon and early evening so you'll see people decked to the nines as they head to the main dining room or to watch a post-dinner theatrical performance. "Formal" can have many different meanings so don't stress too much about what you pack. On our cruise, men typically wore a suit coat (sometimes even a tuxedo!), but a polished button-up was also perfectly acceptable. Women tended to wear formal gowns - either full-length or cocktail-length - but others wore a skirt and sweater combination with a necklace or sparkling earrings. Rest assured, however, there are no "dress code" police and the best advice is to pack a lightweight, dressier outfit that you feel great in. You can even bring the same dress/suit for multiple formal nights (we did!).

PICTURED: Colorblock Mermaid Gown (Adrianna Papell), Floral Embroidered Maxi Dress (Adrianna Papell), Kassanda Lily Off White Leather (Clarks), 100% European Linen Long Sleeve Shirt (Quince), Taupe Striped Suit (H&M), Un Shire Vibe Tan Combination (Clarks).

Rain Jackets

If rain is in the forecast or you are cruising to wetter climates, a rain jacket would be well-advised. We brought one for each member of our family and we all used ours - although not as frequently as we would have guessed for our itinerary. When packing a rain jacket, choose a lightweight option that can easily be folded down to a small and carryable size.

PICTURED: Boys' Watertight Jacket (Columbia), Women's Lillian Ridge Short Rain Jacket (Columbia), Big Kid's Nova 3 Sneaker (Merrell), Women's Time Is Right Windbreaker (Columbia).

Photo-Worthy Outfits for Picture-Perfect Photo Spots

Because you'll probably be taking tons of photos to share with family and friends (and to pass down to future generations - no pressure!), It's great to put a little thought into your outfits. Don't be afraid to pack vibrant colors and interesting accessories. - paired with good walking shoes and light layers, of course!

PICTURED: Organic Cotton Fit and Flare Pocket Dress (Quince), Women's Alpine 83 Sneaker Sport (Merrell), Big Kid's Nova 3 Sneaker (Merrell), Three Quarter Sleeve Sweater (Adrianna Papell), Plaid A-Line Skirt (Ann Taylor), Modern Crew Neck Cardigan (LOFT), Kid Baja Stripe Button Front Shirt (Carter's), Button Trim Pocket Sutton Skinny Pants (LOFT), Norda 1/4 Zip Sweater (Kuhl), Seaboard Wide Leg Crop (Kuhl), Tweed Puff Sleeve Jacket (Ann Taylor), Shirred Short Sleeve Top (Ann Taylor).


Since we spent many hours out of doors at the ports - often departing at 7:00am and returning after 7:00pm (sometimes not until 9:30pm!) - we were grateful to have sunglasses at the ready. Even when mornings started as overcast, the sun often peeked its head out within a few hours.

PICTURED: The Daydreamer (Babiator), WX Ultra (Wiley X).

Hanging Toiletry Bag

A well-designed toiletry bag is worth its weight in gold. We each packed our own toiletry bag in our carry-on and then hung it in our stateroom upon arrival for easy access to sunscreen, hair care, and beauty products.

PICTURED: Grand Hanging Organizer (Vera Bradley), Pack-It Reveal Hanging Toiletry Kit (Eagle Creek).

Hanging Shoe Rack

Before leaving for our cruise, I scoured cruise packing lists for ideas and inspiration. Many writers recommended bringing a hanging shoe rack (aka over the door organizer) to hang over a door in your stateroom for shoes, sunglasses, and other small items. I was somewhat skeptical, but ordered one on Amazon. It turned out to be a genius hack! It packed down very nicely in our suitcases, not taking up very much room at all, and was so helpful to organize items in our room and make the most of the space that we had.

Wall Magnets

Another hack we tried was to bring 80lb magnetic hooks. Because the walls of most guest rooms in most cruises are magnetic, these hooks easily stuck to the walls. We mostly used them for hanging our lanyards each night along with any small crossbody wallets or purses. For our next cruise, I think I might purchase hooks with a slightly heavier weight bearing rating to handle sweaters and larger bags.

Pop-Up Laundry Hamper

Since our cruise extended 12 nights, we knew that we would be doing laundry onboard the cruise ship. On the Caribbean Princess, laundry is $3 to wash and $3 to dry - plus additional money if you don't bring your own detergent. We brought detergent sheets with us, which packed flat and worked wonderfully. To carry our laundry to and from the laundry rooms, we brought simple pop-up hampers with handles. We bought a 2-pack, one for each of our rooms, and this kept our laundry confined to one space in the room. Again, these hampers packed flat and were 100% worthwhile to bring.

Hardcase Luggage (Lockable, if possible)

For our international flight to London Heathrow airport, we checked five bags for the six of us. Our ordinary way of traveling is to do so without checking bags. Since this trip involved 12 nights and 8 countries in unpredictable weather, we opted to check bags. We were very pleased with the lockable luggage options by Gregory as well as the easy-to-spot, gorgeous rolling suitcases by Vera Bradley.

PICTURED: Quadro Hardcase 28" (Gregory), Hardside Spinner Luggage (Vera Bradley), Women's Soft Comfy Wrap (32 Degrees), Women's Soft Rib High Neck Tank (32 Degrees), LOFT Beach Triple Cloth Wide Leg Pants (LOFT).

Comfy Clothes for Sea Days and Airline Travel

In bygone days, people dressed up a bit to travel by air. It was not uncommon to see crisp suits (even ties!), genteel hats, and stockings with high-heeled pumps. Culture has shifted dramatically now and comfort is the name of the game for air travel. Even so, I prefer to strike a balance - striving for stretchy layers, but trying very hard not to slink into over-casual carelessness.

PICTURED: Women's Soft Comfy Wrap (32 Degrees), Women's Soft Rib High Neck Tank (32 Degrees), LOFT Beach Triple Cloth Wide Leg Pants (LOFT), Quadro Hardcase 28" (Gregory), Men's Soft Wash Knit Long Sleeve Button-Up (32 Degrees).

* The 32 Degrees brand is ideal for long travel days as well as for comfy pajama sets and underthings. Check out the full collection.

Toiletry Considerations

Here are some general thoughts and recommendations regarding toiletries to pack for cruising:

  • Cruise lines may differ in this arena, but the Caribbean Princess provided body gel and shampoo in the staterooms. No bar soap. No conditioner. Since my hair is curly, it NEEDS conditioner and not just any conditioner - some kind of thick, rich, moisturizing conditioner. So I brought my own. Do likewise if you are picky about body or hair care products.
  • Pack a "mini drug store" in your toiletry bag with ibuprofen, Tylenol, Benadryl, hydrocortisone cream, Neosporin, a few bandaids, and any essential oils. Although inexpensive at home, these items may be difficult or pricey to get at sea if the need arises.

Other Items to Pack

  • Bonine (meclizine) is a game changer if you are prone to motion sickness. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it magical and miraculous. I wish I had known about Bonine decades ago. As someone who has always been prone to motion sickness and endured many rocky flights/car rides, I was floored when I discovered that I could do almost any kind of motion without feeling sick. Bumpy flight? Stop-and-go taxi? Dinner cruise? Rickety roller coaster? I'm good with anything now.
  • Swimsuit (if you plan to swim or get in the jacuzzi on the cruise).
  • Snacks for airline travel. We packed beef jerky, kind bars, dried mango bites, cinnamon bears, a tin of altoids, and a pack of sugar-free gum in each person's carry-on for use on the plane or at airports.
  • Phone and electronic chargers.
  • Headphones. Cheap, disposable ear buds are typically provided on international flights, but a pair of your own can go a long way in terms of comfort.
  • Supportive, high-quality compression socks. Check the Dr. Motion collection.

Have the best time on your cruise to Europe! Cruising is a laidback, wonderful way to see the world and we hope you love it as much as we did.

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