By Fran Golden
One of cruising’s biggest advantages is that you only have to unpack once, even if you are visiting several countries. No need to live out of your suitcase. But storage space is somewhat limited in ship cabins and most airlines now charge for checked baggage — and hit you with overcharges if your bags are heavy.
The golden rule: pack light
That’s not as difficult as you might think. People often freak out about what to pack for a cruise, but the reality is you probably already have everything you need. If for some reason you forget something it’s likely to be easily at hand in the ship’s store — or at shops in the ports.
The two biggest considerations when packing for your cruise? Where you’re cruising (tropical, arctic, or something in between) and on what ship you’re sailing.
Shipboard Dress Codes:
The good news is that most cruise line dress codes have gotten decisively more casual in recent years. During the day anything goes — T-shirts, shorts, jeans, bathing suits (with cover-ups) — pretty much anywhere on the ship (except if you decide to do a sit-down lunch in the main dining room, where there may be restrictions). On the luxury lines this relaxed ambience may translate to polos and khakis, sundresses and designer-wear, but the casual concept is the same.
What you wear at night varies by ship and where you want to dine — the rules apply to the main dining room and dress-up alternative restaurants, but not more casual eateries. Formal nights, held twice on many but not all weeklong itineraries, are not strictly formal — more like semiformal. Men can get away with a dark suit and women a cocktail dress, but check your cruise brochure for advice. Some of the ultraluxury lines still stick to the formal tradition, men in tuxes and women in either long or short finery. For those who want to dress to the hilt (you won’t be alone), say to pose for a family photo, many of the bigger cruise lines still offer tuxedo rental (and there’s nothing wrong with being overdressed), which you can arrange through your travel agent or once you get onboard. Conversely, even on formal nights you can choose the option of dining more casually at the ship’s buffet, where a Hawaiian shirt is suitable day and night.
Some lines have nixed formal nights in favor of an informal dress code, which is akin to semiformal, as described above. Or you may see the term country club casual, which means you dress up a little more at night than you did during the day. Men may want to wear a blazer, with or without a tie, or just a collared shirt and nice pants; women a blouse and skirt, dress, or nice pantsuit. For a no-jackets-required dress code, nix the blazer, or not.
Casual nights (sometimes called smart casual) will include your first night on the ship — cruise lines take this precaution just in case luggage is slow to be delivered. Here’s where a dress code may apply, such as no shorts in the main dining room. The reality is you’ll likely see people breaking these rules, much to the chagrin of those who follow them. The basic rule of thumb is pants and a shirt for men (some wear a sports jacket) and a sundress or casual pantsuit for women.
Suggested attire for every evening is printed in the ship’s daily schedule, delivered to your cabin the night before so you have plenty of time to decide what to wear.
Most ships offer laundry service and some also have dry cleaning, with about a 24-hour turnaround. There will be a price list in your cabin. Expect to pay about $1.50 per pair of socks, $3 per T-shirt (it’s not cheap), and $7 to dry clean a shirt. Many big ship lines (Carnival, Princess, Holland America and Crystal, among others) also offer self-service washing machines and dryers.
Your cabin will have soap, shampoo, and often conditioner and lotion but quality varies (you may, for instance, only have liquid soap). If you’re fussy about products, bring your own. Most ships will sell you anything you forget — toothbrushes, razors, sunscreen, etcand so on. If you like a powerful hairdryer you may want to pack your own, as those in cabins tend to be weak.
All American-operated ships are equipped with 110 AC current (both 110 and 220 on many). But if you are traveling internationally, on a non-American cruise line, you may want to check if you need an adapter for your electronic devices (cell phone, laptop, et al). Note that most cruise cabins have only a couple of outlets, so if you’re bringing numerous electronic devices, you might want to bring along a small power strip.
On all cruises you’ll want to remember to bring a small day bag. On the day you board your ship, it can take up to 8 hours for your luggage to be delivered to your cabin, so fill the bag with all the essentials (medicines, documentation, and so on) that you’ll need for the day. The bag will also come in handy when you’re out exploring the ports of call.
No matter where you’re sailing, don’t forget to pack your camera. Bring binoculars if you’re on a cruise where you are likely to see wildlife. Consider the shore excursions you plan on taking and make sure to bring appropriate attire. If you’re going to hit the gym, pack your sneakers and gym clothes. If you take any medications, make sure you to bring them along with you.
A special tip for ladies: accessories such as scarves and jewelry allow you to wear a simple black dress more than once. Classic mix-and-match separates in neutral colors will also work well and cut down on the attire you need to bring.
Pack Based On Climate:
- T-shirts or polos
- Shorts, sundresses, and/or casual skirts
- Bathing suits with cover-ups
- Walking shoes or comfortable sandals
- Light rain jacket, poncho, and/or folding umbrella
- Sweater or shawl (for shipboard air-conditioning)
- Aqua-socks (for snorkeling, kayaking)
- Mosquito repellent
- Sun hat
- There’s no need to pack a beach towel as these are provided shipboard.
- Waterproof jacket
- Sweaters, fleece pullovers, or a warm vest
- Pants or jeans
- Walking shoes (preferably waterproof)
- Warm hat and gloves
- Folding umbrella
- Mosquito repellent (in Alaska)
- Swimsuit (for hot tub)
- Light jacket
- Shorts and pants
- Good walking shoes
- T-shirts and polos
- Long-sleeved shirt
- Folding umbrella
- Swimsuit (for hot tub)