Kathryn Finkelstein is a Disney travel agent who helps vacationers book Disney cruises.
Her family has been on three Disney cruises, and through trial-and-error, she’s learned what to pack.
Finkelstein told Insider she packs an extra duffel and pirate-themed attire.
Kathryn Finkelstein isn’t only a Disney fan — her entire career revolves around Disney cruises and parks.
Kathryn Finkelstein is a travel agent and team leader at MickeyTravels, a Disney travel agency.
In her five years at the company, Finkelstein estimates that she’s booked nearly a thousand Disney trips to parks and on cruises for clients. When she’s not helping plan someone else’s vacations, she’s at the parks or on a cruise with her family of four.
From personal experience on three Disney cruises to chatting with clients post-cruise, Finkelstein said she’s solidified the ideal cruise packing list. Here’s what she never forgets to bring.
The No. 1 thing you need to remember is your travel documents, Finkelstein said.
To step foot on the ship, you’ll likely need a few documents, like your passport, birth certificate, ID, and/or vaccine card, Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein suggests researching what documents you and your family need before the cruise and keeping them in a safe space you won’t forget about.
“If you’re going to bring one thing and one thing only, make sure it’s your documentation,” she said.
The last thing any traveler wants is their vacation to end before it started because they were denied boarding due to a lack of documentation.
Finkelstein always packs a closet organizer to help keep the cramped cruise cabins tidy.
Cruises are notoriously known for small cabins. Some of the most affordable rooms hover around 150 square feet, and for four people, a cruise cabin can get cluttered and messy fast.
One way Finkelstein keeps the tight quarters organized is by packing a closet organizer, she said. This is especially helpful since not all Disney cruise cabins have dressers, according to Wishes FamilyTravel.
Upon arrival, she hangs the organizer in her cabin’s closet and unpacks a day’s worth of clothing for her children in each compartment. That way, her children don’t have to tear through their suitcases to find clothes.
A pop-up hamper also fits in her suitcase and keeps dirty clothes out of the way.
At the end of each cruise day, her family places their dirty clothes in the hamper.
“You’re getting back to the room late and everyone’s going to be tired,” she said. “So if you have a spot for everything, I feel like it goes quicker, everybody can take showers, go to bed, and your room stays organized.”
While Finkelstein might not do laundry on the ship, she said it’s nice to keep the dirty clothes separate. This makes the laundry process easier once she gets home, too.
A tote bag or backpack is also helpful on the ship and at ports to keep belongings together.
Both on the cruise and at ports, Finkelstein said a backpack, tote, or some other type of day bag is handy to keep all your belongings together. This will help cut down on making trips back and forth from your cruise cabin.
If you’re leaving for an excursion, for example, you might want to pack towels from the ship, sunscreen, cash, and an extra pair of clothes.
If you’re on the boat, you might want to keep a book, sunscreen, or sunglasses with you when you head for the pool or sundeck.
Finkelstein never forgets a portable phone charger.
Just like a visit to a Disney theme park, guests can expect to use their phones frequently throughout a Disney cruise, Finkelstein said.
On the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, passengers can access things like the cruise ship schedule, book activities, and use its chat feature to message family and friends.
Finkelstein said you’ll also want your phone for taking photos throughout the day.
She said she packs a portable phone charger, so she doesn’t have to waste time charging her phone in her cruise cabin during the day.
Don’t forget your pirate garb for the cruise’s buccaneer bash.
Finkelstein said most Disney cruise itineraries host a pirate party one evening of the trip.
Here, passengers can expect a pirate-themed dinner, a “Pirates in the Caribbean” show, and a deck party. Plus, there are often other events like pirate trivia and meet-and-greets that day.
Finkelstein said it’s fun to embrace the theme and always makes sure her entire family has pirate gear to wear.
Finkelstein packs decorations for the cabin door, not just because they’re fun, but because they’re an easy way to identify your room.
“This is not a must-do, but a lot of people love to decorate their stateroom doors,” Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein’s family brings large, Disney-themed magnets for their door.
Not only is it a fun way to kick off the cruise, but Finkelstein said the magnets make it easy to find their room amongst an endless hallway of white doors.
Finkelstein said she never forgets to pack the allotted amount of wine and beer each adult can bring.
Like other cruise lines, Disney Cruises allows adults 21 and over to bring two bottles of wine or champagne or six beers on board at the beginning of the cruise and at each port, according to Disney’s website.
Finkelstein said some first-time cruisers don’t know about the alcohol allotment, so she always makes sure to note this on any cruise packing list.
Finkelstein said this is a great way to save money and avoid buying a drink package on the ship.
Lanyards are a must for both kids and adults, Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein said she sends all of her clients lanyards before their first Disney cruise.
On a cruise, your key card is everything, she said. It functions as your room key, it’s attached to your credit card, and it’s how get on and off the ship.
Since it’s so important, Finkelstein said the easiest way to keep track of it is by wearing it around your neck attached to a lanyard.
Magnetic hooks for towels and wet bathing suits also come in handy in cabins.
With a family of four, wet bathing suits and damp towels quickly pile up, so Finkelstein said she always packs a few magnetic hooks to create some extra space to dry those items.
Since the doors on Disney cruises tend to be metal, Finkelstein will place a few of the metal hooks on the back of her stateroom’s front door.
Finkelstein added that the hooks don’t take up much room, so they’re worth the space in her suitcase.
Finkelstein said she never forgets to bring an extra compact duffel specifically for souvenirs.
Finkelstein said she almost always buys more souvenirs and gifts than planned on any cruise.
Since cruises typically stop at ports with duty-free items, it’s easy to fill an entire suitcase with goods.
Instead of trying to squeeze those purchases into her luggage, Finkelstein said she comes prepared with an empty extra duffel bag solely for souvenirs. She typically finds a compact one that doesn’t take much room in her main suitcase.
Motion-sickness medicine is always smart to pack — even if you don’t think you’ll get seasick.
Finkelstein said it’s always better to be on the safe side, so if you’re worried there’s a chance you’ll get seasick on a rocking ship, speak to your doctor about the best motion-sickness medicine for you.
Finally, don’t forget to pack cash for tipping, Finkelstein said.
Arguably one of the biggest mistakes first-time cruisers make is thinking you won’t spend any money once you’ve booked the trip. That’s because in theory, when you board the ship, your lodging, food, and gratuities are already paid for.
But Finkelstein said you’ll likely come across a few instances where you’ll need cash. First, it’s common courtesy to tip for room service, and if your stateroom steward does a great job, it can be nice to give them an additional tip beyond the prepaid gratuities.
Plus, if you go on excursions, you should have cash ready to tip the tour operator, driver, and any other guide you encounter during your vacation.
While most cruise ships have ATMs, they typically come with a hefty charge. Finkelstein suggests saving a few dollars by taking out cash ahead of time.
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