Linda Coffman: Cruise Expert
Linda Coffman is a freelance travel writer and creator of CruiseDiva.com, an Internet guide to cruising. Her articles have appeared in Porthole, Generations Hawaii, Cruise Travel, and Consumers Digest magazines, as well as the Chicago Sun-Times and Denver Post, and numerous Internet sites. Coffman is the author of Fodor's Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises and a contributor to Fodor's Complete Guide to European Cruises, Caribbean Ports of Call, Alaska Ports of Call, Bermuda, and Greece guidebooks. She has made guest appearances on Good Morning America and the Travel Channel. When not at sea, Coffman makes her home in Augusta, Georgia.
You know the days of massive steamer trunks are history, but is there a maximum amount of luggage that you can bring on a cruise?Read More »
Yes, there really is a limit of sorts. While some cruise lines state that each passenger is allowed 200 pounds of personal luggage, I’ve never seen anyone’s bags actually being weighed. However, it's not the cruise line policy that you have to worry about. Cruisers arriving at their embarkation port by air should be aware of airline restrictions. Most major airlines have recently been enforcing suitcase size and weight policies, which have been on the books for years but seldom applied. The result has been a rude (and expensive) surprise to some travelers with large, heavy suitcases.
What's the best luggage for a cruise?
It just so happens that the “best” luggage for your cruise is also suitable for most types of travel. Airport and pier baggage handlers are notoriously rough with suitcases, so a top consideration is sturdy luggage. It doesn't have to be top-of-the-line, but it should be well-built to withstand the rigors of conveyors and sorting machines; not to mention being stacked, dropped and thrown through the air.
Hard-side vs. Soft-side Suitcases
Over the years I’ve worn out more suitcases than I care to think about. They can be a significant investment, so the right choice in terms of design and durability is important. Brand name luggage that comes with a good warranty is always desirable, but no-name or private label brands can also stand the test of time.
Hard-side luggage has ultimately been the longest wearing of all my purchases. In addition to being the most rugged, built-in locks also make them the most secure and water-tight. Improved composition materials have made their shells lighter; however, even when empty they can still be heavy.
If my casual observations at airport conveyors and in cruise ship terminals are any indication, soft-side suitcases are by far the most popular choice. They are lighter in weight, zippers can be secured, almost all have wheels, and many are expandable for additional packing volume.
What to look for in a suitcase:
Hard-side suitcases should have metal "piano" hinges and solid hardware. Combination locks are great, but look for those that also have key locks. Unless a clasp is locked, it could snap open. Wheels (preferably in-line skate type) should turn smoothly and be wide set for stability. Retractable handle assemblies should be strong and adjustable for maximum comfort and ease of maneuverability. Padded interiors with pockets and garment tie-downs are fairly standard. For frequent travelers who want the greatest luggage mileage, it makes sense to look at hard-sides.
The soft-side suitcases you are considering should be covered in a tightly woven ballistic nylon for the greatest durability—other fabrics can snag, pill, and tear more easily. None are indestructible, but ballistic nylon (especially Teflon® coated) is judged the best. Frame construction is a premier consideration; it should be strong enough not flex out of shape when the suitcase is fully packed. Corners must be reinforced with rubber bumpers hefty enough to prevent abrasion, which all too often occurs in these vulnerable areas. Wheels and handle assemblies should have the same properties as hard-side cases and a solid "skid plate" between the wheels is beneficial to protect the suitcase fabric from damage when encounters with curbs and escalators are inevitable. Look for self-healing, industrial-grade zippers that move smoothly and have large enough zipper pulls for ease of use. Interiors can include a variety of "wet" bags, pockets, and other organizers, particularly in the lid/door.
Business travelers have long favored garment bags for carry on ease and quick wrinkle-free packing. Their bulky favorites are being replaced these days by garment bags on wheels that are virtually rolling closets with multiple pockets and organizers for folded items, shoes, and even toiletries. Look for the same construction qualities as any soft-side suitcase. These bags hold a LOT and are not sized for carrying on aircraft; however, they are a wonderful choice for a cruise—think of the formal wear you need that won’t be crushed inside one of these super-sized garment bags.
All suitcases should be well balanced with adequate feet so they don't fall over when you are waiting in a check-in line. In addition, many of the newest models include removable garment bags or “suiters” for wrinkle-free packing.