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Packing for a Cruise Vacation: The Beginners Guide to Getting It Right

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


Oh, how much do I hate packing my bags for a holiday! Most of us have no idea how many of any items we are going to need. Is 15 pairs of socks enough for a 6-night cruise? I don't know, maybe just one more pair... What the hell am I going to do if I run out?

Next thing you know you are surrounded with 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. Asking the big questions of ourselves and any loved ones in the vicinity at the time and it can be a little stressful and detract from the awesome fact that you are about to embark on an awesome cruise vacation. It is already bad enough that we are walking around never letting go of our passports for fear of losing it somewhere.

Cruising these days is a lot more relaxed than it has ever been. No need to pack a suitcase the size of a small human with everything you own in it to take a month-long journey (unless you really want to and have pockets deep enough to afford it).

Now you can just pack the basics of what you need and hop on the ship and you are pretty much going to be comfortable on any ship from the cheapest to the most lavish and expensive. No luggage size limits mean that you don't have to pay extra, you just have to make sure that the poor cabin stewards are able to lift your bag up without being crushed under its sheer weight. No need to worry about those extra charges like those that airlines sneak into the cost of your flight or slug you with the moment you try to check-in at the airport.

Taking a little bit of a breather to check that your bags are under the weight guidelines will save you with the airlines, as they will slug you for it even if it is only just a little bit over. Like half a gram is going to make the plane run out of fuel on an hour and a half flight.

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

Below I have supplied what are my simple tips for being in control and being sure that you are aware of what you will need to have in your luggage before you embark on your cruise vacation.

Making sure that you don't overpack your suitcase is going to make sure you don't break your back or your bank. When you pack you just need to make sure you are aware of what kind of clothing, shoes, and other accessories you need and what you have packed. This will make sure that you don't accidentally take the kitchen sink.

So if you still are not clear on what to pack for your next cruise holiday keep reading below for my opinion on how to make the process a lot easier.


For the Woman That Wants Everything

Everything packed in their luggage that is. Sorry girls that just can't happen, unless you are willing to pay top dollar in oversize luggage fees with the airlines or if you are happy having your arms ripped out of their sockets by the sheer weight of your suitcase and probably breaking the spirit of a few ships porters as well.

If you are packing for the sea days then 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 a bit of a favorite 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 the food areas like the lido deck buffets.

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.


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. 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 7 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 then that is your choice.


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 be a good guy and 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 that doesn't have a picture of something sus on it.

First Cab Off of the Rank

Most cruises in your vicinity are going to be pretty chills with the casual clothing vibes. When it comes to dinner time I try to stick with chino 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 wear a suit or dress shirt at least goes down well and lets you blend in with trudging through a bunch of fancy people in your sandshoes. A suit isn't a must-have item but if you do wander into the dining room they may remind you it is formal night, though 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 the buffet or treating yourself to room service is an option, plan to have dinner in the buffet or room service on a formal night.

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 that I 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 ports considered more traditional and with a strong ingrained traditional 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 overly offensive or explicit on them as well as this can cause offense with those at the ports as well as those on the ship as well.

Evenings are an art form

On non-formal nights a smart casual is the way to go, basically whatever look you want and whatever you are comfortable in. For formal nights, you can pack a 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 something. I find a tuxedo to be too restrictive and I end up overheating and most of the time I look sharper in business attire, 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 and if this is something that you really want it pays to do some research before you leave for your trip.

For Everyone, because somethings are universal

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. Make sure you pack a cover-up or wrap for the ladies and for the fellas make sure you take a t-shirt and a pair of shorts so that everyone doesn't have to glimpse your budgie whilst they are eating their lunch.

Jumpers, Jackets, and the like: Chance Favours the Prepared Mind.

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, and the Caribbean, South Pacific, or Hawaii cruise locations a rain jacket and jumper for those port days where the skies decide to open or those starry evenings when there is a cutting breeze across the open decks of the ship will be a god spend. Cruisers that happen to visit the chiller 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. A good pair of sunglasses are worthwhile too, as to whether it is sunny or snowing the glare off the water or snow 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, and remember your sunglasses, as well. Consider headbands, bandanas, and scarves for practical and style concerns.


Ladies especially should try not to pack a suitcase full of shoes. Try to 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. High heels are not recommended on a moving ship; most women wear flats, even at dinner.

Non-Clothing Accessories

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.


You'll likely bring your smartphone, but you might also want to take a tablet, DSLR camera, GoPro, portable game player, or book reader. Don't forget to check about any foreign country and onboard roaming charges before you turn your phone on mid-cruise; 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.


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.


Some cruise lines do not let you bring alcohol or even soft drinks and water on board. Do check cruise line requirements. One warning about smuggling booze: 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.


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.

Found out a little more about cruising by visiting the following articles

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


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

Well presented. Good points.