Not sure what to pack for your cruise to Hawaii? I just got back from Hawaii and I can tell you it’s like no other place I’ve been. Hawaii has its own culture, climate and crazy adventures. Here is the list of things that I found most important to pack.
1. Underwater camera or GoPro.
You’ll want to invest in either a good underwater camera or a GoPro (and buy the red lens cover to help with the underwater color correction). Hawaii has the best snorkeling I’ve experienced in my life. The water is crystal clear (especially in the morning), there are tons of sea turtles, tropical fish, eels and the occasional monk seal, plus, you’re extra buoyant so it’s easier to float.
I recommend the Olympus Tough Series TG-4, which is both waterproof and shockproof. And for the GoPro, I have the GoPro Hero+ 3, which is actually one of the older models and doesn’t have the preview screen; however, I’ve had nothing but success with it.
2. Floating wrist strap for camera and sunglasses.
If you are going to head out on a boat or swim in the ocean, buy a floating wrist strap for your camera and a flotation strap for your sunglasses. While you might float in the water, your camera and (most) sunglasses will not. GoPro has a floating handgrip with a wrist strap attached that acts almost as a short selfie stick. I bought a Chums brand wrist strap and sunglasses strap off of Amazon, for $10 and $5 respectively.
3. Warm clothes.
This is not a typo, and here’s why. Some of the coolest (pun intended) excursions Hawaii has to offer revolve around the many volcanoes found throughout its islands. Volcanoes, like mountains, get cooler and windier the higher up you go. And if you know you are going on an excursion to the Haleakalā volcano summit on Maui, the temperatures can be up to 50 degrees cooler (depending on the time of day and year) on the summit than at sea level. Definitely pack a pair of long pants and a sweatshirt or jacket. If you’re trying to save space, consider buying a Patagonia Nano Puff jacket; they are incredibly lightweight and can be compressed into a small area.
4. An Aloha shirt.
If you open the book The Aloha Shirt and turn to the forward written by historian Tommy Holmes, you’ll read, “For half a century, the Aloha shirt has been Hawaii’s most enduring and visible greeter and ambassador — like the lei, the Aloha shirt is worn as a statement of one’s love for, and connection to, a most special place.” Buy your shirt before your cruise or while you’re in Hawaii, but I guarantee that once you’re there and you see everyone of all ages wearing them, you will want one of your own.
5. Motion-sickness medicine.
From helicopter tours and trolling for fish to hopping in a van and taking 617 turns on the road to Hana, motion sickness can become a major concern. I brought both meclizine (Dramamine) and Transderm-Scop (Scopolamine patch) to combat motion sickness. I had a few all day excursions and didn’t want to chance it so I ended up using transderm-scop and didn’t have any issues. When I was in Hawaii, a few of the locals told me to buy ginger chews (I found them in the candy aisle of Safeway), and they actually helped. Here are 12 ways to avoid getting seasick on a cruise.
6. Snorkel gear.
I always suggest packing your own snorkel gear for sanitary reasons, but Hawaii might be the one place I would encourage snorkeling even if you don’t have your own gear. There are a few pointers to keep in mind when snorkeling, though. Make sure the band rests between the bottom and the top of your head. Use anti-fogging spray in your mask before snorkeling; and ladies, put your hair in a low braid to keep it from getting tangled in the mask. And before lathering up on the sunblock, which can harmful to the coral, check out number seven…
7. Rash-guard shirt.
These shirts are always a great idea for extra protection from the sun for kids, but they’re also smart for adults. You’ll want to wear one when you go snorkeling instead of loading on the sunblock because the sunblock can harm the coral. You’ll find a range of these at your local sporting goods store (I love the way the Roxy brand fits), or you can buy one at a local surf shop in Hawaii.
8. Portable phone charger.
Most other cruise destinations are outside of the U.S. and you really wouldn’t be using your phone other than taking photos. But for Hawaii, pack a portable phone charger so you can use your apps, camera, Google Maps, texts and other features without worrying about your phone dying. And as a bonus, most of the chargers will have an outlet fit for camera charges.
9. Insulated water bottle.
There’s no need to buy plastic water bottles in port that will get warm in less than 30 minutes because the temperatures are so hot. Invest in a good water bottle that you can carry off the ship and fill up in port. I recommend insulated water bottles by Yeti, or the less expensive brand Arctic.
It’s always a great idea to bring a backpack along with you, whether for off the ship or even to use while you’re on the ship. When you’re heading off the ship for the day, fill it up with sunblock, your insulated water bottle, a change of clothes, a bathing suit if you’re not wearing one, your cruise card and wallet, a hat and anything else you may need for the day. It’s much better than lugging around a giant shoulder bag.
11. Empty duffle bag.
It might seem odd to pack an empty duffel bag, but you’ll use it for any souvenirs you buy in Hawaii. If the souvenirs are fragile, you can move your dirty clothes to the duffel bag and your souvenirs to your sturdy suitcase.
12. Sport sunblock.
I say sport sunblock because you are going to sweat quite a bit. Also, you’re going to be in and out of the ocean a lot, so sport is always the way to go. Don’t forget to put it on the top of your feet (I made that rookie mistake).
13. Waterproof watch.
Some of you might think I’m crazy to suggest a watch, but hear me out. I went off on my own and found an amazing snorkeling spot off of Wailea Beach in Maui. Between the sea turtles, the eels and the tropical fish, I just kept swimming farther and farther from where I started and found myself in the water for over three hours. That’s extremely dangerous because you can exhaust yourself and not have enough energy to swim back to land.
Another example is if you go on a hike. You might leave your phone behind because you’ll be in and out of waterfalls, but you always want to make sure you’re on ship time, especially if you go exploring on your own. Casio makes cheap but nice watches that you can order off of Amazon.
I typically pack two hats for every cruise. I pack a Panama hat for the days I refuse to do my hair (including the travel days) but want to look somewhat presentable. Then I pack an adjustable baseball hat that I can fasten on to my backpack when I’m not wearing it. But you will need a hat to protect you from the sun in Hawaii.
15. Sturdy walking sandals or sneakers.
This is really for any vacation, but in Hawaii, you’ll find that a simple “tour” might include a walk through a bamboo jungle or a stop at a black sand beach that’s not as smooth as you’d like. I packed a pair of Keen sandals and had great success with them because they allowed me to hike and kept my feet cool but also had rubber soles and great support.
16. Lightweight clothes.
Ladies, think flowy, lightweight and light in color when you’re packing your clothes. Men, you’ll be most comfortable in shorts, short-sleeved shirts and linen pants. Truthfully, on most days in port I wore a bathing suit with a cover-up and my husband wore his swimming trunks or a pair of quick-drying shorts with a lightweight T-shirt. The only time we didn’t wear our swimsuits was when we were on Oahu visiting Pearl Harbor.
17. Two bathing suits.
You’re not allowed to hang your bathing suit (or really anything) out on your balcony because it will blow away. So you will need to hang wet clothes in the shower and without that warm Hawaiian breeze things won’t dry quite as quickly as you had hoped. And there’s nothing worse than putting on a damp bathing suit in the morning. I actually packed three that I could mix and match with each other and found that to be the best option for me. But just make sure at least one of your suits can withstand the Hawaiian waves, because there are not many topless beaches.
18. Turkish towel.
Sometimes called peshtemal, hammam or fouta towels, these will change your life … and here’s why. Unlike regular cotton beach towels that are heavy, mostly boring and take forever to dry, these are lightweight, super absorbent, take up less room, dry quickly and you can find them in fun colors. And BONUS, they can also double as a scarf, sarong or a light cover-up. I really like the products from Turkish-T, but you can find them on Etsy or other sites. Turkey is known for producing some of the highest-quality cotton products in the world, so they cost a bit more than regular towels, but they are well worth it.
19. Download Uber or Lyft app.
If you plan on doing your own exploring and won’t be renting a car, download Uber or Lyft before your cruise. I found it difficult to find cabs in some of the ports in Hawaii, possibly because I went exploring where the locals live instead of the traditional touristy areas. You can also find promo codes online for free rides and credits.
20. Travel alarm clock.
Your phone can certainly act as your alarm clock, but I had a bad experience once where my phone was going in-between time zones the entire cruise. Long story short, the morning we got to port my phone was five hours behind local time and I ended up waking up late and missed my excursion. You can find a cheap travel alarm clock on Amazon and put it in one of your packed shoes and it won’t take up any room in your luggage.
21. Polarized sunglasses.
Any time you’re going on vacation near the water, always pack polarized sunglasses. This blog breaks down how they keep the glare from the sun out of your eyes better than standard sunglasses. And with sunsets like the ones you’ll see in Hawaii, you’ll want to make sure you can really see them.
22. Formal wear.
What you wear on the ship will certainly depend on which ship you are sailing. Check out our cruise line dress code policy article to see exactly what you’ll need to pack. One word to the wise for the ladies is to consider swapping out the stilettos for wedge heels. It’s much easier to walk in wedge heels on a moving ship.
23. Fabric bag.
Using a fabric bag for laundry is one of my favorite cruise-ship hacks because it’s simple and allows you to immediately know what’s clean and dirty by tossing the dirty clothes into the bag.
24. Athleisure wear.
This kind of clothing is always a good idea on extra-hot days in port when you plan to do a lot of walking or activities.
25. Selfie stick.
Timing is everything. The golden sunset, the waves crashing behind you as you stand on a volcanic rock and the sea turtle that’s swimming next to you. While I don’t promote selfie sticks on all cruises, I did find that having a selfie stick in Hawaii helped me capture the shots I wanted at the perfect time.
This is for the people and the environment of any place you’re visiting, and here’s why I included it. While in Hawaii, I saw a few people touch the sea turtles and one guy even grabbed one turtle’s shell to take a picture with it. I don’t want to dampen the mood, but you should never touch marine life, no matter where you are. And the love and respect of the land and culture is paramount for Native Hawaiians. They believe that nature is where it all began for the Hawaiian people and if you take care of the land the land will take care of you. Their connection to nature is deeply spiritual and they even call themselves keiki o ka 'aina– “children of the land.” So disturbing it is not something Hawaiians take lightly. And if you should feel so inclined to pick up a lava rock and take it back home with you, you might want to consider if the curse of Pele is worth the trouble.
When you’re traveling, you have a front-row seat to a different way of life. And while it might be tempting to take your camera out and frantically capture images of the locals, do what Brandon Stanton from Humans of New York does and ask before you take a photo of someone or their property.
Did I miss anything that you found helpful to have in Hawaii? Share it with me in the comments below.