One of the hardest things about going on a cruise – especially a long one – is figuring out how to cram your family and everyone’s stuff into a teeny tiny little stateroom. Many of the rooms are really designed for two people, so it’s even harder if you’re a group of three or four!
I was definitely worried that clutter and disorganization would make us stressed out every time we walked into our room on our recent 8 night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas. Thankfully with some careful planning and bringing along the right equipment, these cruise cabin hacks made our room extremely livable! The best part is that everything we used was compact and inexpensive, and some of these tips are totally free.
1. Use every nook and cranny, even in non-traditional ways
While cruise ship cabins are teeny tiny, these days designers are being more thoughtful about the types and amount of storage they provide. Use it all!
My kids each stored their clothing in the drawers of the vanity, while we stashed our sneakers in some deeper drawers that were part of the “closet” and on the night table shelf (you can see my slippers on the left in the photo above, though I didn’t need to bring them because there was really nowhere to walk). If we’d been short on space, I would have had our stateroom attendant remove the hairdryer since I don’t use one.
On some ships there are even cabinets above the bed. Those are a great place for sneakers (or dress shoes) and jackets if you won’t need them often during your cruise. With cabins as small as 99 square feet, sometimes you’ll need to be extra creative!
If you’re cruising with kids, putting away any extra beds during the day will make your room feel more spacious and often give you more complete access to your storage options. On cruise lines that provide cabin service several times per day (Disney, Holland America, Princess, Celebrity and MSC) your stateroom attendant will take care of this for you in the morning and then set the kids’ beds up again in the evening. Most cruisers on Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian will only get service once per day so you’ll have to move the beds if you want to free up space. We didn’t usually bother putting away our daughter’s trundle bed on port days, but on sea days it was nice.
2. Store your suitcase under the bed open
Everyone going on a cruise will have to bring luggage of some sort! While we like backpacks for certain types of trips, a traditional suitcase is the best choice for a cruise. Not only is it easier for you and the staff to move it around the port and the ship but it’ll also slide perfectly under the bed.
But to really level up your luggage storage and keep your tiny stateroom from feeling cluttered, leave your suitcase open when you store it under the bed. As you wear your clothes and deem them dirty enough to retire, pull the suitcase out a few inches and chuck your items in there! We even lined ours with a large mesh laundry bag to keep everything consolidated.
When it’s time to re-pack at the end of the cruise, you’ll have a lot less to maneuver into suitcases and the dirty and clean (or “cleanish”) items will be separate.
3. Magnets, magnets everywhere
Nearly every single wall, door and ceiling on a cruise ship is made of metal, so you can put magnets everywhere. Even surfaces that look like plastic are generally magnetic. Magnets can help you on cruise ships in so many different ways that I brought three different types and used them all daily! You can reconfigure any time, so these are a really flexible solution.
- Magnetic clips – These were the least useful magnets I brought. There was nothing wrong with them, but I mostly needed them to hang signs on our doors since our family had three rooms along the same hallway. These are rated for 150g (about 5 oz) and because of their design primarily work on walls.
- Pushpin magnets – This set is tiny but awesome! They come in a little tin storage container and each one is rated for 5lbs if hung from the ceiling (less if you use it on a wall). We used several of these at a time to “pin” wet swim suits to the wall for faster drying.
- Heavy-duty magnetic hooks – These workhorses are expensive but amazing. Each one is rated for 100+lbs and they really mean it. We used these on the walls to hang a variety of things like hats, lanyards, full toiletry kits and more. The real star was throwing one up on the ceiling and using it for our packable duffle bag loaded with books and beach gear and another with four sets of snorkel gear. I was sure one of these would fall but they absolutely didn’t move. If you prefer to hang a dirty laundry bag, you could use a magnet for that too.
I’ll share two words of warning before you go on a magnet-buying spree (which you should, don’t get me wrong). First, your magnets (particularly those hooks) will trip the airport security scanners. Just put them in a place where they’re easily visible as soon as the bag is open, and you can even tell the TSA agent they’re in there to save everyone the trouble. Even better, take them out yourself and put them in their own tray. Second, pack your magnets with clothing rather than electronics. You don’t want them to demagnetize your credit cards, hard drives or other sensitive items.
The whole magnetic wall cruise ship hack is so amazing that I keep looking at the walls in my home and lamenting that I can’t just hang everything with a magnet.
4. Bring a hanging organizer (or two)
We brought two types of hanging organizers and used them both. With four people in a single cabin and limited storage space, we needed every cruise cabin hack we could find!
Over the door shoe organizers are really popular for cruises and we found ours very helpful. It uses hooks to stay up on the outside of the bathroom door, and you can add a magnet on each corner to make it even more secure. We used this for absolutely everything: shoes, sunscreen, sunglasses, allergy pills, card games and any other item that needed a home but couldn’t be held up by a magnet. Honestly this was such a useful way to keep the room tidy that I might bring it for longer hotel stays in the future!
❗Disney Cruise Lines ask that you not hang hooks from the doors, lest the paint get scratched. The magnets I linked above are strong enough to hold up an organizer if you use one on each corner. Thanks to reader Lorree Jean for pointing that out!
We also brought these mesh shower organizers in case the storage provided in the shower and bathroom wasn’t enough. It turns out that we’re low maintenance enough that we didn’t really need it even with four people. If you plan to bring a wide range of shower products it could be very useful. However, we gave our second one to family members who hadn’t brought a shoe organizer and they used it to store their own small items on the bathroom door in much the same way. Instead of hanging it from the built in hook, we used a few of the push pin magnets to hold it in place.
If you’re cruising solo or as a couple, the mesh organizers may be enough to meet your needs. The advantage is that they pack down much smaller than the shoe organizer, though even the shoe organizer was compact enough to earn its place in our carry-on only strategy.
One of my other favorite “hanging” strategies is for our toothbrushes! We use these super compact electric toothbrushes that come with suction-backed holsters (which double as travel covers). They stuck perfectly on the mirror, avoiding clutter on the bathroom counter. Opt for the metal handle version, which slides in and out more easily.
Speaking of hanging organizers, one of my travel blogger friends uses this amazing hanging toiletry kit and it would be perfect for a cruise! It has tons of different pockets and its hook will work perfectly with one of your super strong magnets.
5. Plan for your charging needs
In the modern era, everyone has at least one or two devices that need to be charged daily. For us as a family of four, that can be a real challenge in spaces with limited outlets! While newer cruise ships have an outlet (sometimes even USB) on each night table and one on the vanity the last thing you want is a stateroom cluttered with little USB wall adapters and a million cables.
My favorite travel product of all time is this universal power adapter. It offers two “traditional” USB plugs, three newer USB-C plugs and a standard outlet that accepts plugs for any country. On the back side, you can pop out adapters that work for any type of outlet – meaning you can use that extra European plug that comes in many cruise ship cabins. Talk about a hack!
That adapter is rated for 15W on each of the USB-C plugs, which is “slow charging” these days. If you want fast charging for your smart phone or want to charge a laptop with any reasonable speed, step up to this higher power version. The port configuration is the same but it gives you up to 65W from the orange USB-C port.
It’s important to know that many cruise lines have banned power strips with extension cords. We use one at home and have traveled with it, but it could pose a safety hazard due to the ship’s different wiring.
We brought one of these for maximum charging flexibility with a minimum number of cables floating around. I also needed this handy gadget almost every day since so much of modern cruising relies on checking schedules, reserving activities and communicating through the cruise ship app.
6. Pack your clothing strategically
There are two things to consider when it comes to packing your cruise clothing: what you pack and how you pack it.
In terms of what to pack for a cruise, it’s obviously easiest to minimize if you’re on a warm weather sailing. For 8 days in the Caribbean, we each just needed a few pairs of shorts/tops, a few swimsuits, a few nicer outfits for dinner and a light jacket. The capsule wardrobe concept can be really helpful here, and for ladies a dress is the way to go. Golf shirts for men can do double-duty for day wear and more casual dinners. It’s okay to rewear anything except your undergarments, I promise!
Shoes can be a real killer so we each brought one pair of flip flops for pool/beach, one nicer shoe for dinner (these sandals for me and these suede sneakers for my husband) and then we wore sneakers so we’d have them for exercise or other active pursuits.
Obviously if you’re cruising to Alaska or another place with cold or variable weather, it’s a much harder task! Check out my Alaska packing list to help you get started, and plan on doing lots and lots of layering. You can also go a little less formal for dining.
Beyond keeping your clothing and shoe quantities in check, I recommend using packing cubes to make the most of your suitcase space and to keep your cruise storage space organized. I love this set because it opens 3/4 of the way around, has a compression zipper, offers an extra pocket for dirty laundry (or jewelry!) and allows you to see the contents through the mech panel. Every ship has a different configuration, but one thing’s for sure: using packing cubes will make unpacking and repacking faster. That means more time to enjoy the ship, plus you’re less likely to have random clothes floating around!
On our recent cruise my husband generously took the closet that didn’t have any shelves – just two rods for hanging. Since I brought a few long dresses, we removed the lower rod. Because he had used packing cubes for all of his clothing, it wasn’t a big deal to stack them on the bottom of the closet and just pull items as he needed them. He kept the cubes closed when he wasn’t accessing them so that everything stayed neat and tidy! Some cruise ship cabins don’t have many (or any) shelves or drawers for clothing storage so packing cubes can really save the day.
The minuscule size of most cruise ship cabins can be intimidating even for seasoned travelers. With a little advance planning, you can make the most of your space and have an incredible, stress-free experience!
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