What to Pack for a Cruise: Travel Advice

What to Pack for a Cruise

What to Pack for a Cruise

My heart beat with anticipation as our shuttle made its way to our departure port. The excitement of a first cruise, the knowledge that I would soon be in a small floating city on the high seas, brought out my inner traveler. When I started preparing for this trip, the last thing I wanted to think about was what to pack.

But that’s just part of the pre-trip fun! Depending on what sort of cruise you take and where you will be sailing, choosing your wardrobe and what to pack for a cruise only lends itself to the excitement.

To be on a huge ship where you can look out onto the endless blue water, and not feel hardly any swaying, is a unique experience. The sun shining down on crystal waters where the rays bounce up from the ocean; it’s truly like being in another world. Then I watched as my floating hotel approaches the shore at some exotic destination. And the best part? I got to visit several fabulous destinations without schlepping my bags. The scenery keeps changing, and yet your stuff stays in one place. Genius!

My first cruise to the Bahamas was nothing short of a wild ride. Day’s full of sunshine and tropical waters with tons of food and activities, and nights full of fantastic shows, comedy and the wonderful camaraderie of fellow passengers who became friends. Being on a cruise, you are somewhat limited on where you can go. It’s almost like a group tour. But you always have the choice on whether to follow a guide to a port-of-call excursion or be on your own to explore.

Despite the limitations, there is so much to do! Whether I stayed on the ship or went on land when we docked, some days I had trouble choosing. You will want to decide what you are going to do beforehand, so you know what to pack. Packing minimally is key because it’s always wise to leave extra room in your suitcase for souvenirs to take back home.

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Cruise Casual

A swimsuit with a cover-up and flip flops are usually required when out on the pool deck. A sundress and shorts/top for other outside lounging or activities. But even if you will be cruising a sun-drenched destination, be sure to bring a light sweater and jacket for those overcast and rainy days that are sure to crop up when you least expect it!

When on board the ship, there’s a time to be casual and a time to be dressy. At poolside, wearing just your bathing suit and flip-flops is acceptable. However, in certain areas of the ship you are required to be fully clothed or at least have a cover-up over your swimsuit.

You will be spending a fair amount of time on deck, so wear whatever is appropriate for the kind of sea weather you will encounter! Casual shorts/shirts, nice jeans/skirts, and sundresses are good for southern cruises. While long sleeve shirts, trousers, and outerwear will be needed for more northern-bound cruises.

Whatever you wear during the day, you will likely be tired by the time you get back to the ship for dinner. So choose clothes that can easily be ‘dressed up’ by throwing on a nicer top and shoes when you go to ‘the mess hall.’ Dress in layers if you will be encountering wildly varying temps.

Cruise Formal

The cruise experience harkens back to a time when the upper-class dressed up for dinner and wore formal clothing on a regular basis. Nowadays, your cruise will have only one or two formal dinner nights. Be sure to check your cruise line’s dress code for what to wear, and pack accordingly.

If you don’t have a tux or evening gown/cocktail dress, not to worry. A nice blazer and slacks for the guy, an elegant dress or trousers/dressy shirt for the gal are just fine. I wore an old bridesmaid dress and was given compliments! Don’t want to participate in a formal dinner? No worries, stay casual and eat at the buffet. But I highly recommend going to at least one formal dinner, it is a unique experience.

So now that you have the clothing worked out, it’s time to move on to accessories and what you’ll need to take with you for your various activities. Pay close attention to what activities you are interested in. The information you receive when booking your cruise should give you all of your options.


Sandals/flats and athletic shoes are needed for the deck area and various day activities, while flip-flops are good for the pool area. Whether walking around the deck or exploring a port-of-call destination, pack a pair or two of comfortable walking shoes or sandals. You will also need dress shoes for that special night at dinner.


Keep your jewelry to a minimum (yes, even during formal dinner night) and bringing a sun hat and sunglasses are a must for just about any cruise. You’ll thank yourself when you’re gawking on the deck watching that incredible endless ocean.

One important thing to note: be sure to pack everything you will need, especially in the way of clothing. Again, each cruise has its own dress code. Sure, you can buy anything you will need while on board, just know that you will pay a premium!

I am a firm believer of bringing a water bottle with me, wherever I go. And when vacationing in a warm place, this is a must. For those particularly hot destinations, a cooling towel to have around your neck works wonders. Suntan lotion is a given, and take a small, lightweight backpack with you for your day outings for hands-free exploring.

Read the Cruise Lines’ Dress Code and Excursion Descriptions Carefully

Your cruise line will be a valuable guide in helping you decide what to pack. They will advise you on general weather conditions and what is appropriate to wear while on board the ship. Take heed of these guidelines and you will have a worry-free, fabulous cruise!


About author View all posts

Lara Morrison

Lara proudly works as a digital nomad. Meaning she relies on the internet to financially sustain a modern lifestyle and travels while working. Lara and her boyfriend plan to travel the world for the next five to seven years without a place they can call home. Lara grew up in Fresno, California, but only now returns for the holidays. Lara's goal is to see as much of the world as possible without having to return home broke, that and witness another 49er's Super Bowl victory.

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