“Oh my Gawd, what am I going to wear?”
You’ve heard the wail and I’m sure you’ve made it. The great dilemma of a woman’s life is how she is going to present herself to the public, especially what to wear on a cruise.
A cruise is the ultimate catwalk for cruise wear. You’ve got lounge chair wear, swimwear, cruise walking wear, dinner wear, workout wear, evening wear and on shore excursion wear in places like the Bahamas.
Cruising is a fun time for fashion.
But, there’s no need to walk the plank with an overstuffed suitcase. My simple cruise packing checklist and handy packing tips for a cruise will help you!
There are many different types of cruises, but it’s easy to have just one cruise packing list to make your life simple.
We’ve done multiple cruises of varying lengths and my list of things to pack for a cruise has never changed – just the style of the clothes has.
I’ve used our recent 6 day Western Caribbean cruise as the example for this cruise packing checklist.
4 questions to consider when packing for a cruise vacation
With the following six questions, you’ll rarely go wrong when planning your outfits and packing for a cruise.
They will help you adapt your packing and cruise outfits for any destination and length of cruise.
Grab a coffee and a pen and start planning your list for your cruise.
1. What will the weather be like?
The ultimate question when deciding what to wear on a cruise is what will the weather be like. Cruise wear is governed by what the sun, rain and wind are doing!
Of course, you don’t have a crystal ball, but the weather forecasts should help with your cruise planning.
Before our Carnival Vista Western Caribbean Cruise we had our eyes peeled to it thanks to the arrival of Hurricane Irma!
2. How long is the cruise?
No you know how many pairs of undies and change of clothes you need. Be sure to consider day wear (activities based) and evening attire (casual and more elegant evenings).
3. What type of cruise activities am I doing?
Good planning is essential for a happy cruise.
Research your cruise for the kind of activities they offer and what outfits you’ll need, not just for the boat but your on shore excursions.
It’s more than likely you’ll be spending most of your time in a swimsuit and flip flops, which is great news for your packing.
Our simple cruise packing checklist (which you can download a free printable copy of below) will help you.
4. Who am I traveling with?
If you’re traveling as a couple you may choose to pack your sexy lingerie.
If you’re cruising with kids, the old granny ones will do, because you’re not going to have much time or space for romance.
If your’re single, you might pack more outfits for the nightclub to party with your friends.
5. What are my luggage limitations?
The luggage police are out to restrict our wardrobes. Plan carefully, you don’t want to get stuck with excess luggage fees getting to the cruise (if you fly).
Cruise luggage limits are typically 2 x 50 lbs (23kg), although they do recommend you bring only one suitcase. I also recommend that!
6. What’s my transportation to the cruise and back? (Bag drag)
If getting to the cruise departure port involves dragging your bag around, you may want to reconsider how much you pack.
If you are moving from your front door, to the car, to the cruise front door, you might feel okay with packing a little more as you won’t be lugging the luggage.
My packing list will work for any kind of cruise. It’s simplistic so you don’t over pack or over stress.
I’ve not listed quantities so you can use it for any length of cruise. I think you can easily determine how many dresses, shorts, undies and tops you need.
It all depends on the length of your cruise and your activities.
What to wear on a cruise ship
Okay, let’s dive into a little of the types of cruise clothing you’ll need.
What are you going to do when you are in port? This will determine what to wear.
For example, on our recent cruise, here were our three island destinations and what I wore.
- Ochos Rios, Jamaica – we were zip lining and walking through the water up waterfalls. I wore my board shorts, costumes, and a simple tank top, my Keen shoes and my day pack.
- Grand Cayman Island – we hired a car to cruise the island. I wore my swimsuits and a summer dress with my flip flops
- Cozumel, Mexico – we had a lazy beach day swimming in the ocean. I wore my swimsuit, kaftan, beach dress and flip flops. Beach bag had cruise towels, reading book, journal and sunscreen.
If you are exploring the city, you might wear shorts and a tank top.
Whatever your activity, make sure you have comfortable walking shoes as the days can be long and the feet sore.
On board the ship
Your cruise wear will be multi-dimensional on board the cruise. You might put your workout gear on for early morning yoga, walks on the deck, boot camp or gym workouts.
Breakfast can be casual shorts/ skirts and tops. If you eat at the buffet, you can even walk in with your swimwear! Maybe put a kaftan over the top.
If you eat in the restaurant for breakfast or lunch then definitely wear an outfit. It can go over your swimsuit though. And make sure you wear shoes.
There are lots of activities you can do on board the ship like mini-golf, basketball, and high ropes course, which will see you more in your active gear.
Otherwise, you’ll be in your swimsuits in the water or by the pool deck. That’s when your hat, sunglasses and kaftans, and summer dresses come in handy!
It’s very laid back and casual.
Non-formal dinner wear
As mentioned in this post on how to stay healthy on a cruise ship, we chose to eat in the dining room every evening. I hate buffets and the food and service is far more enjoyable in the restaurant.
After lying around by the pool all day, or adventuring on land, it’s nice to switch into a different mode and dress up a little – well out of your swimwear at least.
Even though the restaurant sounds more elegant and formal, casual dress is acceptable. As long as you look presentable and you aren’t in your swimwear, you’ll be fine.
If you plan to attend a show afterwards, or go to the nightclub, you might dress up a little more. But still bear in mind it’s not fancy fancy.
A pair of jeans, or nice pair of pants/trousers/slacks, with a dressy top is perfect. Casual dresses also work fine. You can see in our video some of the dresses I wore to dinner.
Formal Night / Elegant Dinner
It might be a good idea to check for details with your cruising company to see if there will be any other theme night during your cruise.
We didn’t know until the day it was announced that the evening was going to be white theme.
So we didn’t have any white clothes to wear to dinner. You can wear what you like and choose not to participate, but I think it’s fun to join in on the cruise themes and festivities.
We also had a formal night or elegant dinner, which we do know about in advance. You can see the formal maxi dress I wore here.
The cruise formal wear doesn’t have to be anything like your high school formal. I have seen people on cruises wearing tuxedos and super fancy dresses. Whatever you want!
But, something like what you’d wear to a wedding is also okay.
You may even get to meet the Captain, so dress accordingly!
All cruises are different and I’m not sure if you can find out beforehand, but you can definitely plan for one elegant evening. Most cruise lines will have at least one, no matter the length of the cruise.
More insight into what clothes to wear on a cruise
You can see in our Carnival Vista cruise video below the types of outfits I wore (and those in the background!)
Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube Channel
Grab some tips from a stylist in this post, Kirsty Ashe wrote for us: 10 Style and Packing Tips for Holiday Travels
And my ultimate favorite is Stitch Fix.
Are you like me and have little interest in shopping for the perfect cruise outfit, mostly because you have no fashion skills and so little time?
This is my most favorite discovery of 2017.
Stitch Fix is your own personal stylist in a box. You sign up for an account, fill out a questionnaire about your body, budget, and style interests. A stylist is then assigned to you, who chooses outfits to match your profile.
They send it to you – you choose how many times and year – and you only pay for what you want and send back what you don’t.
I’ve just put in my request for my New York City outfits as we are going there in a few weeks and I want to look New York cool! I do not have to leave my home or experience any anxiety over shopping at all.
I am a paying customer of Stitch Fix, by the way, but did join their affiliate program once I experienced how freakin awesome hey were and wanted to share it with you.
Cruise packing tips for you
I filmed a video sharing my tips for packing for a cruise.
I go through how I lay out everything, my cruise essentials, lifesaving packing organizers, and what I packed for our recent 6 night Western Caribbean Cruise – the one where we were on the run from Hurricane Irma.
Press play to check it out:
One packing hack I forgot to mention in the video is to be sure to pack a tote bag/ day pack for when you first board the ship.
Check in as early as you can so you can have more time on the ship using the activities. Your suitcases will be checked in (just like on the plane) and porters will deliver them to your room, which you often can’t get access to until later in the day.
So pack what you need in your tote bag: i.e. swimwear, reading books, hat, etc. for whatever you want to do on board the ship until you can check into your room.
I recommend when you arrive in your stateroom, to unpack and put your clothes away.
The cupboard space in cruise cabins is limited, especially if you’re sharing with the whole family. They usually have plenty of hangers.
Put your suitcases under the bed when you’re done. You’ll appreciate the organization as your time on the cruise passes.
Cruise Packing Checklist
Now this packing list is geared towards women, however, the majority of it can be adapted for men and definitely for kids
My cool freebie for you is my simple Cruise Packing List. First fill in the form below to download your copy and then print it off and check off all items when you are done:
As mentioned I am not giving you a quantity of each item. It depends on your activities and the length of your cruise. You decide and plan it out before packing. Mix and match as much as you can.
Remember less is more!
No one will notice if you wear the same outfit twice and a kaftan is more than adequate for each day on board the ship.
I have linked to some of these cruise essentials and lifesaving packing organizers to products on Amazon. We are affiliates and may receive a small commission if you do purchase something through our links.
We thank you in advance.
- Shorts/ skirts
- Tank tops
- Casual dresses
- Evening wear/ formal
- Kaftan/ Kimono
- Long Sleeved shirts
- Jeans/casual pants
- Semi-dressy tops
- Workout gear
- Swimwear – I’d pack two pairs
- Rash shirt (sun protective shirt)
- Underwear – pack enough so you don’t have to worry about washing.
- Socks – 1-2 pairs should be fine, depending on your activities.
The ship will provide pool towels you can use and you can take them with you when you get off at each port.
- Flip flops
- Hiking shoes – I love my Keen sandals and closed in Merrell hiking shoes.
- Exercise shoes
- Evening wear shoes
- Evening purses
- Beach bag/ day pack
- Cross body bag – just makes carrying your personal items so easy and it stays secure to your body. I like this kinda style.
There are medical staff on board the cruise and you can access if needed. But why see them ($$$), or pay for expensive forgotten items at the ship store, when you can remedy a lot of ailments with your own first aid kit.
- Mosquito repellent
- Sunscreen or spray
- Band aids
- Medications – carry any required medications (+ extra just in case your cruise is made longer due to hurricanes!!)
- Panadol / Ibuprofen
- Thermometer – the one item I recommend you don’t forget to pack when traveling with kids.
- Seasickness prevention
- Tea tree oil – great natural antibacterial. Good to put on pimples too.
- Liver tonic – you’ll be indulging for sure on the cruise. This liver tonic will help.
- Probiotics – the number one best thing you can do for your health, especially when you travel, is to take probiotics.
As with any resort or hotel, you will be given basic toiletries to use. My hair is disgusted with me when I use them so I bring my own.
As I mentioned in the video I was lugging my big shampoo and conditioner which is a no go. I lost my silicone travel bottles, You might want to take an extra one for conditioner.
Keep them in a zip lock bag (pack extras) as well in case of spillage during transportation. Pouches like this or small make up bags are good for carrying your face creams, sunscreen, or anything that may squeeze out all over your clothes.
In the packing accessories section, you’ll find some links to good hanging toiletries bag as well as other specific items I love.
- Face Wash
- Face Cream
- Make up Remover
- Make Up
- Bobby Pins
- Hair bands
- Hair accessories
- Hair straightener / curling iron – may come in handy for elegant night, if you want to go all out!
- Razor – or just shave the night before you go
Packing Accessories for Cruise Travel
- Packing cells – the perfect way to keep an organized suitcase. Makes it so easy to find what you want and eliminate chaos. These ones are so pretty and have multiple sizes in the set.
- Hanging Jewellery organizer – Absolute lifesaver. This is similar to what I have. I love that it hangs and I can easily choose jewellery to match my outfit.
- Underwear organizer – I don’t know how I packed a suitcase before this Origami Underwear Organizer
- Laundry bag – Throw your dirties in a separate bag. I love colourful ones like these.
- Wet and dry bag – Super useful on a cruise with all the wet gear you’ll have. Go for the color again like these.
- Charger and cable bags – I love how organized this keeps my electronics
- Toiletry bag – I like mine to be a little bigger – I carry too much as you saw in the video!
Entertainment + Electronics
Truly minimize your tech gear as much as you can. Cruising is a great way to unplug and reconnect with your love ones.
I highly, highly recommend you leave the kid’s devices, including their phone, at home. They won’t need it and they won’t miss it. There are so many awesome activities for kids to do on cruises. Our girls were never bored and never once asked for their tablet.
- Reading – traveling with kids, there’s possibly not a lot of chance you’ll read your book. I think I got five minutes.
- Camera – I bought this mirrorless camera two days ago. Can’t wait to try it out. A great mid-range camera for a good price!
- GoPro – We currently have the GoPro Hero 5
- Gorilla Pod – A very easy tripod to carry and take any kind of photo with.
- Selfie sticks – If you want one!
- Power board or power strip – there will be a lack of power sockets in your cabin so it is a great idea to bring a power board if you have a lot of electrical items. I like this one with the swivel outlets for those awkward socket positions
- Power adaptor – essential if you are traveling internationally.
- Laptop – we travel with ours as work and travel are rarely separate. Leave it at home otherwise. But if you must, we absolutely LOVE our Microsoft Surface Book. The first time I’ve been a cult fan of a lap top.
You might want a pretty travel wallet to carry documents and passport in. This is my next travel gear purchase. I’m tired of having all my important documents scattered everywhere.
- Passport – Americans don’t need passports on Caribbean cruises. However, many passengers were stuck on the boat and could not leave to avoid Hurricane Irma because they did not have passports and so could not fly out of Mexico. It was a nightmare for them. You just never know what might happen.
- Government issued ID or drivers licence
- Cruise documents – itineraries, booking receipts, luggage tags and excursion tickets
- Credit cards or debit card
- Travel insurance policies
- Documents for visas if you need them
Travel Insurance for Your Cruise
Too much can go wrong when you travel. Don’t leave home without a comprehensive travel insurance policy. We used ours thanks to Hurricane Irma.
We’re still waiting for our claim to be processed, fingers crossed it will go through.
If it does it will save us $2,000 which is what we paid in having to get ourselves off the boat early in Cozumel, Mexico and home to Raleigh, North Carolina.
Other great packing bags and resources for your cruise
We recently bought the Delsey hard case spinner suitcase for my checked luggage, which I absolutely LOVE. I’m a frequent traveller and this suitcase suits me for some many reasons. It’s not perfect as no suitcase ever will be but it’s the best I’ve had so far. the things I love most
- The pink color – easy to pick on the luggage carousel
- The four wheels – so easy to roll around
- How it folds open with two sides. On one side is a zipper section and inside I keep my shoes and accessories. I did not have this suitcase for the cruise so you won’t see it in the video.
Day packs are great for when you go on land – depending on your shore excursion. I recommend a day back over a shoulder bag – otherwise you’ll be spending a lot of time at the chiropractors on your return home.
Spend a little extra for quality and for women, get a day pack made for women. It makes a HUGE difference. I love the look of this day pack from Osprey. The design means you can get away with it looking chic in the city as well as in the forest.
I regret not having a large beach bag. They really do make days around the pool or beach easier and are far better at organizing than a day pack. I love the look of this one and have bookmarked it for next summer.
Wow! I think that is all you need to know for your upcoming cruise vacation!
Before you leave, be sure to download your easy checklist so you don’t miss anything. It’s free. Bookmark this page, so you can easily find some of the cruise essentials and specific ideas I had for some of your packing list items.
Thanks for sticking with me to the end and have an amazing cruise.
Please, if you found this useful, and know someone going on a cruise, share this post with them to help save them time!