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Packing for a Cruise Vacation: The Beginner's Guide to Getting It Right

As an experienced cruiser, I've got tons of tips to make your next cruise vacation a breeze.

Packing for a cruise vacation doesn't have to be stressful. Here are a few tips to help you figure out what you really need in your suitcase.

Packing for a cruise vacation doesn't have to be stressful. Here are a few tips to help you figure out what you really need in your suitcase.

Oh, how I hate packing my bags for a holiday! Are 15 pairs of socks enough for a 6-night cruise? I don't know, maybe just one more pair . . . What am I going to do if I run out? Next thing you know, you are surrounded by piles of clothing and have no idea what to shove into an already overstuffed suitcase and an almost too heavy carry-on.

We have all been there. Packing can be stressful and detract from the fact that you are about to embark on an awesome cruise vacation. But cruising these days is a lot more relaxed than it has ever been. There's no need to stuff a suitcase the size of a small human with everything you own. Even if you only pack the basics, you are going to be comfortable on pretty much any ship, from the cheapest to the most lavish and expensive.

Resist the Urge to Overpack!

Sure, no luggage-size limits mean that you don't have to pay extra like you would at the airport, but I still recommend avoiding the urge to overpack. (If nothing else, think of the poor cabin stewards who are responsible for hauling everyone's luggage around the ship!)

It is a good idea to take a moment and actually plan out what you need/want to take before you bring your luggage out of storage and pull all of those clothes out of their drawers. Doing it this way will take some of the stress out of the experience and also mean that every square inch of your room isn't covered in potential clothing options.

Below I have supplied my simple tips for what you will need to have in your luggage before you embark on your cruise vacation (emphasis on the need). This will make sure that you don't accidentally take the kitchen sink. So if you are still unsure of what to pack for your next cruise holiday, keep reading below for my opinion on how to make the process a lot easier.

Ahh, nothing like the sight of a well-organized suitcase!

Ahh, nothing like the sight of a well-organized suitcase!

For the Woman Who Wants Everything

Everything packed in her luggage, that is. Sorry girls—unless you are willing to pay top dollar in oversize luggage fees with the airlines on your way to port and are happy having your arms ripped out of their sockets by the sheer weight of your suitcase (probably breaking the spirit of a few ships porters as well), that simply isn't an option.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Clothing

If you are packing for the sea days, you will have to consider clothing suitable for both the inside and outside of the ship; for example, when inside, your best bet will be to wear trousers, shorts, jeans, skirts, and dresses.

Sundresses and thin materials are versatile and favored by many, but you will notice the air conditioning on the ships can be a little inconsistent throughout, so there might be locations where dresses (especially the lighter materials) will be too thin and you will be too cold. When you are on the outer parts of the ship, you are all good to wear bathers and shorts, as well as T-shirts. Just be mindful of the expectation and courtesy that people cover up at least a little in food areas like the lido deck buffets.

Port Days

If you are heading off to spend a beautiful day in today's port, make sure you dress appropriately for the occasion, especially if you have an activity or physically active tour booked. In those cases, it is always better to stick with something more casual. Just make sure that it is culturally appropriate for the location that you are visiting.

Evening Wear and Formal Nights

Cruise ships have a dress code that is designated to certain days. Check your daily planner to ensure that you know which day is casual, informal, resort casual, formal, etc. These dress codes are specially assigned to restaurants and dining rooms from 6 o'clock of an evening onward. When the sun is out, the guns can be out, as the daytime hours are designated casual.

On trips that are seven days or more, you may have two formal evenings. Others have themed party nights with fancy dresses and costumes being part of the fun of it. Be sure to research the dress code and theme night for your next cruise.

Formal night doesn't have to be too scary, as most of them only expect at least a smart casual level of attire. This means that you can dress in what makes you comfortable and you don't have to figure out how to pack a ball gown into your luggage somehow. Though if something along those lines is what you want to wear, that is your choice.

Okay, two suitcases probably aren't necessary, but two outfits (at the very least!) definitely are.

Okay, two suitcases probably aren't necessary, but two outfits (at the very least!) definitely are.

For the Man Who Can't Be Bothered . . .

. . . and will likely pack one set of clothing for the whole trip. I start with the one thing that all blokes want to hear. Yeah, fellas, casual is okay on your average cruise. Just try to put a little effort in when heading for the main dining room and maybe pack something with a collar, or at least a decent t-shirt.

Casual Is Almost Always Okay

Most cruises in your vicinity are going to be pretty chill with the casual clothing vibes. When it comes to dinnertime, I try to stick with chinos or cargos depending on temperatures and something with a collar like a polo shirt or casual shirt. The kind of clothes that you will be comfortable in and not too restricted or hot.

When you dress like this, you can get away with it almost every night except for formal nights (when wearing a dress shirt and slacks is a better call and lets you blend in without trudging through a bunch of fancy people in your sandshoes). On non-formal nights, smart casual is the way to go; basically whatever look you want and whatever you are comfortable in.

Daytime Rule of Thumb

I stick with shorts for the most part, or some light trousers if the weather or the ship's aircon warrants it. Shorts and a t-shirt are pretty chill, so you can feel comfortable. Jeans and casual khakis are a worthwhile inclusion and will mix and match pretty well too. T-shirts and sports shirts are a go-to as well.

Singlets and tank tops are another thing that I make sure to pack—especially on Aussie cruise trips—but these are definitely not a thing for the dining room, so choose your occasions.

Port Days

Casual is fine in port, but too casual can be seen as disrespectful at some ports, especially those considered more traditional and with a strong religious belief system.

Going super casual on the beach is fine, but if you are dining at a restaurant or visiting a resort or cultural center, it is common decency to dress neatly and not have your butt hanging out of your shorts. Make sure that your t-shirts and tank tops don't have anything offensive or explicit on them, as this can cause offense with those at the ports as well as those on the ship.

Evenings Are an Art Form

For formal nights, you can pack a suit or tux, but I prefer to go with a business shirt with a nice pair of pants and a great tie (occasionally something a little funny in the tie choice if I can find the right one).

I find a tuxedo to be too restrictive and I end up overheating, and most of the time I look sharper in business attire anyway. It is also way easier to get a shirt and pants to fit into your suitcase rather than a fully decked out set of formal wear. Some ships may have tuxes available to rent, so if this is something that you really want, it pays to do some research before you leave for your trip.

Don't Want to Fuss About Formal Night?

A suit isn't a must-have item for formal night, but if you do wander into the dining room, they may remind you it is formal night. That said, a lot of cruise lines aren't so militant about the dress code these days from my experience.

If they are a bit touchy about it and you can't be bothered changing, then plan to have dinner in the buffet or order room service on formal night.

From sunnies to a good pair of sneakers, there are a few must-have items for all cruisers.

From sunnies to a good pair of sneakers, there are a few must-have items for all cruisers.

For Everyone (Because Some Things Are Universal)

There are a few items that no cruiser should leave home without. From comfy shoes to your Kindle, here are a few musts.

Poolside Cover-Ups

The first rule of cruise club is to make sure that you cover up when you are on the lido deck buffet (for the love of all that is holy, and for the sanity of the diners). Ladies—make sure you pack a cover-up or wrap. Fellas—make sure you take a t-shirt and a pair of shorts.

Jumpers, Jackets, and the Like

When it comes to the weather whilst on a cruise, it pays to be prepared for just about anything. If you are traveling to amazing places like New Zealand, Tasmania, Melbourne, Hawaii, the Caribbean or the South Pacific, a rain jacket and jumper is a good idea for those port days where the skies decide to open and those starry evenings when there is a cutting breeze across the open decks of the ship.

Cruisers who happen to visit the chillier locations around the world are likely to find that they will need anything from a good pair of swimmers to a polar fleece jacket and a beanie depending on the location and time of year.

Sunglasses

A good pair of sunglasses are worthwhile too, as to whether it is sunny or snowing, the glare off the water can have you squinting a lot.

Hats and Headwear

Throw in a hat to protect against the sun or keep your ears warm during scenic glacier cruising. Consider headbands, bandanas, and scarves for practical concerns.

Versatile Shoes

Whatever you do, try not to pack a suitcase full of shoes. Instead, bring styles that can serve multiple purposes (such as sneakers that go from gym to sightseeing or comfy sandals that work as well by the pool as they do at a casual dinner). Color-coordinate your formalwear so you only have to pack one pair of dress shoes.

Note: High heels are not recommended on a moving ship; most women wear flats, even at dinner.

A good daypack is a smart thing to pack for your cruise. You'll want it for port days and excursions!

A good daypack is a smart thing to pack for your cruise. You'll want it for port days and excursions!

Day Packs

Small backpacks or totes can be quite useful for carrying cameras, books, sunscreen, water bottles, and other items around the ship or in port. Bonus points if they're waterproof!

Tech

You'll likely bring your smartphone, but you might also want to take a tablet, DSLR camera, GoPro, portable game player, or book reader. Just don't forget to check about any onboard roaming charges before you turn your phone on mid-cruise! And if you bring a laptop or plan on accessing Wi-Fi, inquire about potentially hefty internet usage rates onboard before logging on.

Since many cabins have limited electrical outlets, some folks bring extension cords and power strips, but always check limitations on these with your cruise line prior to packing.

Entertainment

On the lower-tech side of things, you may want to bring books, magazines, and puzzle books for sea or beach days; you can't always count on the ship's library to have a comprehensive selection. Binoculars are a must for Alaska and other wildlife-heavy itineraries.

If traveling with kids, consider inflatable water toys for the beach that can be deflated and packed easily. If you plan on going snorkeling in every port, you might consider bringing your own gear.

Beverages

If your cruise line allows it and you feel so inclined, consider bringing a bottle of alcohol on your voyage. This is an especially good option if you don't plan on purchasing a drinks package.

That said, some cruise lines do not let you bring alcohol or even soft drinks and water on board. Do check cruise line requirements. Cruise lines have increasingly cracked down on the practice (they'd rather you buy drinks at their bars), so consider yourself warned. Your bottle(s) might be confiscated on arrival depending on the cruise line's individual policy.

Toiletries and Necessities

The cruise ship should provide soap and shampoo at the very least (and often body lotion, conditioner, and body wash), but if you're picky, pack your own. The same goes for hair dryers. If you can't deal with the low wattage of in-cabin dryers, bring your own with you.

Additional personal items to consider include any medications you will need and lots and lots of sunscreen if sailing in sunny climates.

Storage

Many experienced cruisers swear by over-the-door shoe bags for storing toiletries or keeping small items from getting lost in cramped cabin quarters. Many bring extra hangers on longer cruises to make sure every item that needs to be hung up can be.

If you plan on doing a lot of shopping in port, consider taking a foldable duffel bag that can be packed into your luggage at first and then filled up with souvenirs (or dirty laundry) and checked on the way home.

Happy cruising!

Happy cruising!

Want More Cruising Tips?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Paddy Michelson

Comments

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on January 06, 2021:

Well presented. Good points.