When I first boarded a cruise ship a few years ago, I would have liked to have read articles to find out what to pack for my first contract offshore. I didn’t know what to expect, what to bring, what was available on board, and I didn’t know anyone who worked on the ships to help me, so everything was pretty much an adventure.
For this reason, I hope that this article will be helpful to you and GOOD LUCK!
Here are some tips based on my experience:
You can board naked, forget your phone or lucky amulet, but never forget, I repeat … NEVER forget your papers and certificates. Without your STWC95 certificates, contract or medical two-year certificate, you’ll go nowhere and risk being sent back home.
I hope it’s already obvious that you have to bring your passport and, when required, a national navigation booklet and vaccination booklet (e.g. you’ll need proof of a yellow fever vaccination if you go to Brazil). Make sure you have them in a safe place (you can buy a handy document holder here).
Keep any travel expense receipts with you to present to the crew purser once you get on board: you’ll get the refund added to next month’s salary. [Tip: Scan your documents and save them somewhere like DropBox to have them available everywhere. You never know when you might need them.]
Uniforms will be provided on board. Depending on your department, you may have 2-3 different types to wear on different occasions and times of day, and you will need at least one for each type. A tailor will adjust them if needed. I advise you to leave plenty of space in the suitcase when you pack because once you go home, you will have to carry all the uniforms and re-use them for the next contract.
If you work as a hostess you may need a pair of black court shoes. Initially, I used ballerinas, but when I had to stand up for hours it was hell! Buy shoes that are super comfortable with a minimum raise or heel and a good insole (have a look here and find the best shoes for you). Choose comfort over beauty, trust me. I found a pair of decolté by Geox (an Italian brand) that saved my life. Shoes should be simple and without any particular decoration. Something like this would be perfect:
Other departments usually require white trainers with short white socks (e.g. bar or excursion office). Ask your supervisor, or try to find photos online where you can see the uniform. Safety shoes (PPE, Personal Protective Equipment) are provided on board.
For formal evenings, women can wear a pair of classy heels while men can wear elegant black shoes. I think something like this would be perfect for the elegant nights.
Some departments allow you to use personal clothing in the passenger area, so if you are part of this privileged few, don’t forget to bring some formal dresses (show off! You can choose long and stylish ones, why not?) and party-themed clothing. Your supervisor is supposed to tell you exactly what you need.
Regardless of the department, you will be standing for many, many hours. Buy compression pantyhose to help blood circulation. During my first contract, I didn’t have any because I couldn’t imagine that I would be working and standing for up to ten hours each day. The Result? Broken capillaries everywhere, constant swollen and sore legs, and water retention: a disaster for my health.
If you are a hostess, also bring different pairs of black pantyhose for formal nights (you’ll probably have to wear a skirt). Good quality ones are hard to find on board, so bring enough. Trust me, this is something you wanna have it with you, although you feel you look like your granma.
Good advice: bring just a few clothes, as you’ll realise that they’ll be enough for the whole contract. You’ll spend all your days in uniform, often even during breaks and evenings at the bar. You’ll just need something for your free time when you dock and some dresses for crew parties (if you happen to be in carnival period or Halloween add some accessories for costumes).
Remember to leave enough space in the suitcase for the uniforms that you’ll get. If you like going to the gym, include a pair of shorts and t-shirt. When I was on board, I was so tired and lazy that I preferred to keep my uniform on even for a beer at the bar after my shifts. Sometimes I just wore sweatpants and comfy clothes: the ship was my home, and I couldn’t be bothered to impress people: The crew parties were for showing off a little bit more.
Bring all the necessary medicines for flu, headache, cold, and so on. In case of more severe conditions, there’s an onboard physician who can check and release drugs for free. However, I think it’s always best to have the medicines you are used to taking, especially because on board everything is cured with antibiotics so that you can go back to work as soon as possibile– and this is not ok.
Bring different supplements. I recommend magnesium and potassium especially on the most tiring days, and vitamins to compensate for the bad food of the crew messes.
Bring a bunch of condoms or packs of birth-control pills to use throughout the entire contract, as you might not find the same pill abroad.
Do you have documents that report some food intolerance? You might have to request a special menu.
It’s better to avoid filling your cosmetics case but pack basic makeup and a couple of nail polishes (only neutral colours are allowed). Take a bottle of shampoo, conditioner, two tubes of toothpaste and a moisturiser lotion to survive the first month when you still don’t know your routine and ports.
Soon you’ll be able to understand how to organise your time and where’s the best place to buy what you need (if you really can’t go out, you might still find some products on board). If you have long hair it’s also worth bringing a hair mask as water aboard makes your hair super dry and dull. If you go to a tropical destination, don’t forget sunscreen.
A basin for hand washing underwear in the cabin, a laundry soap bar, an “octopus” hanger (you’ll end up washing your underwear in your cabin) and hangers for skirts and sleeveless clothes.
International adapters: check which adapters are used on board. You can find the information in the catalogue for passengers. Different companies might use different adapters.
Earplugs: you will definitely want to sleep at any hour; the noise of the ship that sails can be very annoying, and you might also have to share your cabin with a roommate that snores like a dragon. They helped me a thousand times with my second special ally: an eye mask.
Bring a laptop, hard disk with lots of movies, chargers, a Kindle or books and everything you like to take on a trip. Leave room for any souvenirs as you will want to buy something in every port you visit and bring gifts for friends and family.
Tip: Don’t bring embarrassing objects, fresh food, alcoholic beverages, or anything that can be used as a weapon: security will rummage through your suitcase as soon as you put your feet on the ship.
ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT THE CABIN HAS EXTREMELY LIMITED SPACE, AND YOU HAVE TO SHARE IT WITH ANOTHER PERSON.
How do I pack my suitcases?
We’re now considered seafarers, so every time we embark and go back home, we’re entitled to a special rate that allows us to travel with two pieces of luggage weighing 23kg + hand luggage. At your first departure, you may not have any documents (e.g. a navigation book) to prove to the airline staff that you are entitled to this fare. In that case, ask your company for a boarding letter to avoid useless problems at the airport.
If some airlines do not recognise this privilege and charge for the second luggage, do not worry: Prepay, keep the receipt, and ask for the refund to the crew purser on board, or if you are returning home, on your next embarkation.
I always carry a large suitcase for all my clothes and uniforms that I have to wear for 5-6 months and a medium one for shoes, a basin for washing clothes, all the body products, hairdryer, tights, medicines and various objects I need.
In my hand luggage (just a small backpack) I carry my laptop and a folder for important papers and certificates that never have to go away from me.
Well, you made it!
You are about to have a great experience on board a cruise ship.
I guess you’re feeling a little lost, but don’t worry because you’re gonna rock!!!
If you have any questions, get in touch with me by email or here in the comments, and I will be more than happy to help you out.