The cruisin' is easy in the Caribbean, and so, one might think, is the packing. In such a paradisiacal setting, the checklist must be short, right? Toss in a teeny-weeny bikini or your loudest pair of board shorts, flip-flops or sandals, a cover-up or T-shirt, and a short stack of mushy-brain novels for those interludes between swims. Done.
But don't zip the luggage yet. The sunny, laid-back setting can be deceiving. If they're not careful, ill-prepared cruisers could end up stuck in their cabins or under shady palm trees watching the good times roll right by them. Some of the hazards include the blistering tropical sun, leaky rental snorkel masks, runaway bikini tops and unexpected rain showers that dampen both the experience and the spirit.
To be sure, cruise ships and Caribbean islands stock the basic necessities - remember, you're not going to Gilligan's Isle but to one of the world's biggest tourist destinations. However, for a smooth vacation, you must anticipate your needs before boarding the vessel, preferably during the crucial packing phase. To assist with this step, we have selected the 10 most important items to throw into your luggage. Follow these suggestions, and the Caribbean cruisin' really will be easy - and fully enjoyable.
-By Andrea Sachs, Cruise Critic Contributor
Photo: Di Studio/Shutterstock
Stock up on bottles, tubes, sprays or sticks of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and protection against UVA and UVB rays. You'll save money by bringing your own supply, as ships charge a premium on this essential toiletry. You'll also find high prices and smaller selection at island convenience stores. When choosing your lotions, take a variety of sizes so you don't have to lug a giant bottle to the beach or pool. Travel-size is ideal, or carry a large bottle (remember to pack it in your checked luggage) and some empty minis that you can fill as needed. And don't forget your pucker: Toss in a lip balm or stick of SPF 30 or more.
Photo: Mila Supinskaya/Shutterstock
Bathing Suits for All Occasions
Bikinis are fine for lying around like a seal on rock, but if you plan to participate in a sporty activity, such as kayaking or scuba-diving, you'll need a bathing suit that won't fly off. For women, pick an athletic one-piece or tankini; men, choose trunks with a secure waist tie and legs that don't balloon like a blowfish. Since you will probably spend 85 percent of your time in swimwear, pack at least two suits, if not three, so that you can rotate the wet and the dry.
Snorkel and Mask
If you're serious about snorkeling or scuba-diving, bring your own equipment. Rental masks often fit poorly, letting in water or fogging up. Your own mask from home, however, fits your face perfectly, allowing you to concentrate on the sea life and not the pool of water forming under your nose. Snorkels are one-size-fits-all, yet if you are discomfited by the idea of using a plastic tube previously kissed by strangers, pack your own. Fins, however, you can leave home without - unless you have whale-size feet.
Island waters teem with sculptural coral, noodly seaweed and colorful fish. You'll likely want to document your experience with an underwater or waterproof camera. To consolidate equipment, pick a digital camera that shoots well above and below the waterline. Most major brands sell hybrid land-and-sea models. Depth ranges vary from snorkel-surface to scuba-deep. If you prefer to use your own camera, secure it in a durable waterproof case, and take the plunge. For a quick grab-and-go, consider a cheap disposable camera that you can knock around. Whichever type you choose, purchase the camera and extra memory cards before the ship departs, or you'll pay painfully inflated prices.
Photo: Khoroshunova Olga/Shutterstock
Wildlife and Night Sky ID Charts
The Caribbean is home to land and marine life that's unfamiliar to novice naturalists. With laminated identification cards, available at adventure stores and scuba shops, you can instantaneously match the faces of fish, birds, shells and plants with their names and traits. The destination-specific sheets are waterproof, so you can expertly point out the queen angelfish or barracuda as it floats by. In addition, track the night sky with a star and planet locator (chart, wheel or map) that connects the universe's dots.