How to Pack for a Cruise: a Frequent Cruiser’s Guide

You are eagerly anticipating that upcoming cruise, and perhaps been reading the cruise brochures or pre-cruise documents about the type of activities on board. If you will be cruising on a more traditional type of cruise ship, you will need to have casual, “elegant” casual or informal wear, and most likely some type of formal wear for dressy evenings. Thinking about the many different types of clothing you’ll need can make your head spin. You don’t want to take your whole closet, but you want to dress appropriately and feel that you fit in.

Here’s a guide to helping you pack as lightly as possible.

1) Be familiar with the weather in your destination ports. If you are going to warm weather ports, you know you can pack light for the daytime with shorts, capris, bathing suits and lightweight tops and dresses. If you are leaving from and coming home to a port where the weather is still cold, you can wear something heavier (coat, jacket, warm pants and shirts / tops), and wear the same thing on the day you return home. Therefore, this heavier clothing does not have to be packed.

2) Read the cruise brochures, cruise tickets or contact your travel agent or the ship’s cruise travel representative to get an idea of the expected dress during the evening. Many times, your cruise tickets will list the number of formal, informal and casual evenings, so that you can plan your wardrobe accordingly. Otherwise, a quick call to your travel agent or cruise representative will help you obtain such information. As a rule of thumb, most cruise ships have one or two formal nights for a seven-day cruise, and three formal nights for cruises 10-12 days.

3) Generally, a “formal” night on a ship means that women wear cocktail dresses or gowns, and men wear a dark suit or tuxedo. “Informal” nights require men to wear a sports jacket and tie, and ladies are asked to wear a nice dress or pants suit. On some ships, casual means that men do not need to wear a jacket, and they can wear very casual clothes except shorts or jeans at night. Women can wear a casual skirt or pants and top. On some more formal ships such as the Queen Mary, there is an “elegant casual” night, where even though men do not have to wear a jacket, and women do not have to wear a dress, you need to “dress up” your clothing a little with nice pants and tops and well-pressed pants and a nice shirt for men.

3) In order to cover as much ground as possible in your packing for all types of occasions on the ship, try to “mix and match” outfits. Even for formal wear, women can bring a pair of black silk pants or other neutral color dressy skirt or pants, and change the blouses or tops. You can add to the look with a short bolero or dressy shawl. Men can wear the same sports jacket a few times during informal nights, changing the shirt color and wearing different ties. Try to take shoes that will complement a number of outfits. You can also make an outfit look different and dressy by taking along an array of jewelry.

4) Remember that if your cruise is going to be at least a week, then invest into theĀ best insulated coffee mug so you can keep your coffee warm!

5) Once you have packed everything, go through the suitcase again and see what you might be able to leave out. Chances are you have still packed too much, and can leave some things behind. However, don’t forget to take a light jacket or sweater for you and / or your spouse, partner or children, even if you are going to a warm climate. Ocean travel can bring surprising changes in weather,and you might need this extra covering especially in the mornings and evenings on deck. In addition, unless you are traveling a short distance from one port to the other, ocean travel brings a lot of wind on the deck, and you might need to wear a hat or hood while walking the decks.

6) Always pack the sunscreen. The combination of direct sun and salt water can make you sunburn more quickly than on land, especially when you are in the ship’s pool.

For more information on packing for a cruise, visit This site provides links to cruise fashion forums and other sites that offer cruise packing tips.

You’ll see many different clothing styles on a ship, particularly during the day. However, on most ships there is definitely a protocol when dressing for the night. It is part of the elegance of cruising, but it does not have to be a hassle if you plan well, and be creative in your packing.