Cruise Vacation Photography
Camera Bags - Packing for the cruise.

This is a difficult topic for me. I have struggled with the camera bag issue - as it pertains to boarding cruise ships - for quite some time. I'll present the two current solutions I have come up with, as well as what I used to do. Choosing the right bag has been pretty complicated, and reflects the multi-purpose needs I have.

To provide background, I'll present the scenario. Even though we live some distance from Forida, we have a son that lives there. And since we are retired, we have the time to drive to Florida, visit our son for a few days, then take a cruise. Before our retirement and our son's migration to Florida, we used to fly to get there. On boarding and departure day, whether you are flying or driving, you must have a "system" to get all of your luggage to the ship.

Flying is a bit easier in this regard as you are usually dropped off and picked up at the terminal. You can also park your car at a hotel for the week using one of the many "Park-and-Cruise" packages available from hotels. A shuttle will drop you off and get you. But if you are parking on-site, you typically have to carry your luggage further. Yes, you can drop your luggage off at curb-side before parking as well, but its often more convenient to just park at the lot so you don't have to contend with the taxis, buses, and other vehicles doing the same.

The Problem

When you cruise, you typically drop off your heavy luggage at the terminal, but then take a carry-on bag or backpack with you. In your carry-on, you typically pack a change of clothes and swimming suit, as it may be a few hours - or even the next morning - before your luggage arrives at your stateroom. It would be more relaxing if you could be at the pool waiting for your luggage rather than sitting in your stateroom. In addition to clothing, medication, toiletries, and anything of value should also go into your carry-on. We typically bring what these days seems essential items; a couple of iPods, Kindle, netbook and jewelry with us on our cruises.

I bring a netbook as it provides a larger screen to view our photographs, as well as keep in contact with my family at home. Internet access on-board is expensive, $50 or more an hour, so we typically limit our use as quick logins, check and send email, then logoff. An alternative is that many of the ports in the Caribbean have free WiFi just off the ship, and its where all of the ship crew go. Ask your stateroom attendent where the WiFi hotspots are at the various ports.

A netbook is a whole lot easier to carry on-shore than a big laptop. And if it gets broken or stolen, its not a lot of money. True, netbooks have traditionally been extremely slow, but if you are viewing photographs and using email, its adequate. However, I am using Ubuntu (netbook version) as the operatng system on my netbook. Ubuntu is a version of Linux, and its quite fast; a huge improvement over Windows. If you have a netbook, seriously consider installing Ubuntu.

I also use Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program) as a photo-processing software if I have the need to do so onboard. Gimp and Ubuntu on the netbook are actually faster than my laptop with Windows! Ubuntu and Gimp are free, so its just a matter of taking some time to download and install them. Gimp even has a Photoshop-like version (GimpShop) that has the look and feel of Photoshop, whereby anyone familiar with Photoshop can start using Gimp without a lot of learning.

The Solutions

On a typical cruise, my wife and I each bring a 24" rolling suitcase, a 30" rolling garment bag for our formal wear (evening dress and tuxedo), a backpack that she carries containing our carry-on needs, and I use a photo backpack for the photo gear, netbook, and other items. Our first solution was to use a Tamrac 5375 Adventure 75 photo backpack. This held all of my photo gear, but not a netbook. I typically slashed a netbook in it's case to the backpack with webbing.

The Tamrac backpack with a netbook case slashed to it started looking like a Rube Goldberg solution, so after a few cruises, I changed to a Tamrac 5788 Expedition 8 backpack. This backpack has room for a small laptop or netbook, and it can be converted to a sling bag. It is almost a perfect solution and we have used it successfully on a cruise.

With either of the above solutions, I have to lug two wheeled suitcases behind me from the parking lot to the cruise terminal, with my wife trailing behind me rolling one. We are also finding that its difficult to stuff everything in the trunk of our car - especially the garment bag - so it has to go.

We are doing an experiment of late and we think we have found a solution. We found an item from Eagle Creek called a Pack-it Garment Sleeve that hopefully will allow me to pack my tuxedo in my bag, and my wife to pack her evening dress in her bag, wrinkle free, without the need to lug the wheeled garment bag along.

However, this presents a problem in that there is not enough room for our other articles as we sometimes take extended cruises (10, 12, or 14 days). The solution to that has been to augment the 24" rolling suitcases we check with two backpacks, each of us carrying one on board.

Another consideration is if everything will fit into the trunk of the car, as we typically have to carry extra clothing for the trip to Florida and the few days we spend visiting our son. We pack that stuff separate from our cruise luggage.

The Junk in the Trunk - Packed for our 10 day cruise.

Packing Tip

Don't overpack!

Learn to pack lightly, and perhaps pack fewer articles of clothing than you think you need. You will likely buy a couple of souvenir shirts when you are on board, so why not make those part of your week's needs?

This also holds true for your camara gear. You don't need to take everything!

So now what to do with my photo gear?

The carry-on backpack we chose was a High Sierra Powerglide backpack with wheeled trolley. High Sierra makes several different backpack/wheeled bags, and the PowerGlide is the largest one, which will provide plenty of room for our needs. The PowerGlide has a front pocket for my netbook so that solves where to carry that.

To solve the photo equipment problem, I am now using a Tenba Messenger Camera Bag. Its a shoulder bag, and just big enough to carry my photo gear. If I need to take excess gear, then I can pack it in my carry-on backpack if needed.

So here is the scenario. We leave from the parking lot with the High Sierra backpack deployed as a backpack, towing our 24" rolling suitcases, and the photo bag attached to the suitcase with it's trolley strap. Optionally, if I feel the need to be a pack-mule, I can carry the photo bag with it's shoulder strap. But our goal is to easily transport our items, not be a pack-mule.

When we get to the cruise terminal, we check our 24" suitcases, then convert our High Sierra backpacks into rolling mode, and either place the camera bag on the handle using the trolley strap, or carry it as a shoulder bag. I then do not need to bring our 30" garment bag. In Solution 3 (shown below), I use the PowerGlide to carry my photo equipment.


Bag Reviews.

I am providing details of the three different solutions I use. Hopefully, you can use one of them:

Solution 1. My Tenba Messenger Shoulder bag packing system
Solution 2. My Tamrac Evolution 8 packing system
Solution 3. My incognito (non-photo bag) packinging system
Solution 4. My Tamrac Adventure 75 packing system
High Sierra PowerGlide backpack/rolling bag.

Other Considerations.

One dichotomy of a camera bag is they are either too small to bring what you want, or if they are large enough for all of your gear, they are too heavy to use. At the risk of carrying too much stuff, I like to carry a smaller bag on board, which is used when we go off-ship into ports. The Tamrac 5766 Velocity 6x and Tamrac 5684 Zoom 4 are two bags I have used. I prefer the 5684 as it "crushes" flat easier for packing into my 24" suitcase. In a sense, the camera bag, whether backpack or shoulder bag is used for transporting equipment, and the smaller bag is used for carrying just what I need for the day.

If we have a day at the beach, I may not even take my DSLR as it can get sand in it. For those days, I'll likely take my Point & Shoot, perhaps with the underwater housing if I am going to snorkel. If it's a day of sightseeing, I'll take my DSLR and a lens or two. This I feel gives me the maximum flexibility in what photo equipment to take.

Excursion Bag What I take on-shore.