What to Pack for a South African Cruise

After six years as a crew member, I have my first cruise as a guest coming up in January. While I’m quite new to the guest thing, I have lived in South Africa for most of my life and I am pretty sure I already know how to pack.

Norwegian Jade cruising out of Cape Town
Photo credit: Norwegian Cruise Line

The basics that you will need for a South African cruise:

Sunscreen & Hat

The South African sun can be harsh and you only get one skin. If you don’t properly apply and reapply sunscreen, Baz Luhrman and my mom will both be angry at you. 

Sea sickness meds

The waters around South Africa are renowned for being rough. Come prepared. Remember ginger ale is your friend on board, as are green apples. 

Something warm 

Cape Town's weather can be very unpredictable and is known for its wind, along with other parts of the coastline such as Gqeberha. It’s a good idea to bring something of a windbreaker for destinations like these. Onboard, the air-conditioning may be a little chilly too.

Bathing suits / swimming cozzies 

If you intend to take a dip in the pool or hot tubs or make use of certain spa facilities, you are going to want to bring a bathing suit or three. You may also have the opportunity to swim in port depending on which excursions you choose or what you choose to do with your time off in port.

(I’m curious to see how warm the pool will be on the Atlantic leg of the cruise as they often fill cruise ship pools with ocean water.)

Crew members in cruise ship hot tub

A camera 

(Or at least make some room on your phone for pictures) 

A beach bag 

When you're packing a large piece of luggage, don't forget to pack a smaller bag in your bag. You are going to want to have a beach bag or something that you can use when you go ashore on whatever excursions or adventures you choose to do on your port days.


If you don’t like what the DJ or pool deck band is likely to play, bring your own earphones. Don’t be that guy who DJs their vicinity with one of those portable speakers. No one likes that guy! 

Flip-flops for walking around on deck

(Fun fact: crew members are not allowed to wear flip-flops even in crew areas so I will be taking a lot of joy in this.)

Walking shoes 

Make sure you're prepared for your port day adventures with comfortable walking shoes.

Formal wear 

As a general rule, there is at least one formal night per seven-day cruise, sometimes two. Longer cruises are very likely to have at least two. Some cruise lines are stricter than others and won’t let you dine in the dining rooms on formal nights if not dressed appropriately. I am going on an NCL cruise where they are more relaxed and “freestyle”, opting for a “dress up or not night” instead of forcing people to be formal. 

Whatever! We’ve had more than two years of the pandemic and I am dressing the eff up!!

People dressed for formal night on a cruise ship


It’s so obvious and yet also so easy to forget.

A moon bag

This is not mandatory at all but moon bags or 'fanny packs' are kind of in fashion at the moment and are also super practical. If it can fit your phone and your key card, what more do you need when milling about he ship?

Painkillers and basic meds

There is a very well-stocked medical centre on board but it can be quite pricey. I advise taking enough to cover the minor things. 

Enough underpants for the duration of the cruise 

Laundry services are available on board for a fee. If you are looking to cut costs, bring plenty of clean underwear and a number of lightweight practical outfits.

Your passport and a visa if you need one

For NCL’s cruises up the coast to Richard's Bay and then around the other side of South Africa to Namibia, visas are not required for South Africans. If you are from elsewhere or cruising to elsewhere, be sure to make sure whether or not you require a visa for all the destinations on your itinerary. 

Also, double-check your passport expiration date. That is not a fun mistake to make.

US Dollars

If you want to tip any crew members in cash, US dollars make more sense than other currencies. Cash tips in any currency are welcome, but considering you don't know where your cabin stewards or wait staff are from and you don't know when next they will be able to get off the ship to spend it, US dollars are very easily exchangeable anywhere. 

Important tip:

Don’t forget to tell your bank (or its app) that you’re leaving the country so that if you swipe your credit card in a different country, they don’t flag this as a fraudulent transaction and block your card.

Cruise ship pool deck

What the pro-cruisers pack:


You will get a “Freestyle Daily” (if you cruise NCL) or a daily schedule delivered to your stateroom each day. It includes everything you need to know about what’s happening onboard including which dining options are open when and the full entertainment schedule, as well as other information about going off in port. Highlighters are a great way to ensure you don’t miss any of the good stuff.


You will be given a keycard which is not just your stateroom door key, it is also what you use to pay for anything on board and you need it to exit and enter the ship in port. Pro-cruisers usually bring a lanyard so they can wear their keycards without the fear of losing them. 

Theme night attire

I am cruising on one of the smaller NCL ships so I will be packing a white outfit for the night of the White Hot Party.

White hot party on a cruise ship

 If you want to know what theme parties to be prepared for on your cruise, read this:


Related Post: 

Door decor 

Some people will take things to decorate their stateroom doors so they can find their rooms in long corridors where everything looks the same.  I’m not sure that this will work in SA culture where we only leave stuff outside (beyond the barbed wire or electric fencing) if we want somebody to take it. 


If you want to decorate your cabin, the walls are metal and so you can use magnets to hold pictures up - Just as the crew do. 

"Jerusalema" know-how 

As someone who worked as an entertainment host for five years, I am a walking line dance encyclopedia. Do you know how hard it is to refrain from doing the dance you learned to Earth, Wind and Fire's "September" when you hear it in Clicks even though you’ve been off ships for four years and you’re just trying to buy tampons? The struggle is real! 

Even though I worked on cruise ships before the advent of the international sensation that was "Jerusalema", I will be very surprised if the cruise staff don’t break it out for this itinerary.  



And if you’re a weirdo like me:

Your favourite travel toy

From Muppets to dragon plushies, to Flat Stanleys and weird effigies of people who couldn’t make the trip, Rodrigo will not be the first travel toy to go on a cruise (not that he hasn’t already been on several hundred) and he definitely won't be the last.

Travel toy in front of Table Mountain, Cape Town

What not to pack on a South African cruise (or any cruise)

A towel

Cruise lines generally provide their guests with both bath towels and pool towels. If you are worried that you may lose the cruise line's towel in port and be charged for it, you may want to bring one in case, otherwise it's just a waste of space in your luggage.

Weapons or anything that looks like a weapon

Your luggage will be scanned by security before it finds its way to your stateroom. Don't bring weapons or anything that can be dangerous to other passengers. Even diving knives can be problematic. 

Alcoholic beverages

Check the fine print of what you are allowed to bring on board in terms of beverages, whether they have alcohol in them or not. 


If you are caught with drugs or illegal substances, you can get into a lot of trouble on a cruise because this counts not just as possession but also trafficking. Also, though a substance may not be illegal in South Africa, it may be illegal in Namibia or one of the other countries your cruise may visit. To add to that, cruise ships also often uphold the laws of the country they are registered in (often Panama or the Bahamas) or operated by (often the US) so you may want to read the fine print carefully before you decide to 420 it up in a designated smoking area.

Fire hazards

Cruise ships don’t even normally allow birthday candles so don’t bring candles of any kind or incense on board. Coffee makers and clothes irons are also forbidden and often confiscated. (If you need help pressing a garment, speak to your stateroom steward.) 

And the best news is you don't really need candles because load shedding doesn't happen on cruise ships!

NCL ship funnel

If you think I have left anything off the list, let me know in the comment section below?

Read about my experience cruising South Africa with NCL, here:

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