What to pack

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 (Car­ni­valPrincessHol­land 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.

Pack­ing Check­list:

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:

Warm Weath­er

  • T-shirts or po­los
  • Shorts, sun­dress­es, and/or ca­su­al skirts
  • Evening­wear
  • 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)
  • Sun­glass­es
  • Sun­screen
  • Mosquito re­pel­lent
  • Sun hat
  • There’s no need to pack a beach tow­el as these are pro­vid­ed ship­board.

Cold Weath­er

  • Wa­ter­proof jack­et
  • Sweaters, fleece pullovers, or a warm vest
  • Pants or jeans
  • Walk­ing shoes (prefer­ably wa­ter­proof)
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Fold­ing um­brel­la
  • Sun­screen
  • Mosquito re­pel­lent (in Alas­ka)
  • Evening­wear
  • Sun­glass­es
  • Swim­suit (for hot tub)

Mod­er­ate Temps

  • Light jack­et
  • Sweater
  • Shorts and pants
  • Good walk­ing shoes
  • T-shirts and po­los
  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Evening­wear
  • Sun­glass­es
  • Hat
  • Fold­ing um­brel­la
  • Swim­suit (for hot tub)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s