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Tips for Selecting Luggage for Your Cruise

by Linda Coffman

Luggage collection from TravelPro®

What's the best luggage for a cruise?

It just so happens that the "best" luggage for your cruise is also suitable for many other purposes. Airport and pier baggage handlers are notoriously rough with suitcases, so a top consideration is sturdy discount 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. Really! I've seen that happen!

Hard-side vs. Soft-side Suitcases

Over the years we'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 our 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 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 some 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 flyers who want the greatest luggage mileage, it makes sense to look at hard-sides.

Luggage set for kids

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.

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.

Garment bags and rolling "suiters"

Even some of the smallest 22" suitcases are outfitted with "suiters"—those fold-up panels that accommodate hanging garments. These are great wrinkle proof organizers and tuck formal clothing neatly into the suitcase. The handiest are the ones that are removable for times that you don't need them.

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.


Luggage Limitations For Cruisers — If you are an infrequent flyer, you may be in for a rude surprise at the airport. These are airline regulations and the answer to how much luggage can you take on the ship.

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