1. Home
  2. First Time Cruisers
  3. Cruise Packing 101
Cruise Packing 101 (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com)

Cruise Packing 101

There once was a not-so-savvy seafarer who didn't feel right unless she took two steamer trunks crammed with outfits on every cruise. This, she learned, was not a good idea.

Besides incurring the wrath of her male traveling companion, who pointed out that he would have to wrestle with excess baggage through airport terminals and beyond, she quickly tired of cramming her belongings into tiny closets and bureaus. The now savvy seafarer follows her own packing 101 rule: Thou shalt put into one's suitcase only that which will fit neatly in the allocated storage space without hogging every available nook and cranny for thyself.

Following that advice is getting easier these days because, for the most part, cruising has become a much more casual vacation -- even on luxury and traditional lines. Plus, with airlines charging to check bags and imposing extra fees for overweight luggage), it's just plain economical to pack light. To do so, you need to have a good sense of what you’re going to wear on a cruise so you don't pack your entire closet. If you're wondering what to bring on your next cruise, here are our guidelines for what you'll need to pack.

To win the battle of the bulging bags, the savvy seafarer follows this rule: Thou shalt put into one's suitcase only that which will fit neatly in the allocated storage space without hogging every available nook and cranny for thyself.

Following that advice is getting easier these days because, for the most part, cruising has become a much more casual holiday -- even on luxury or traditional lines. Plus, with airlines charging to check bags (with extra fees for overweight luggage), it's just plain economical to pack light. To do so, you need to have a good sense of what kind of clothing and accessories you're going to need, so you don't pack your entire wardrobe... just in case.

If you're wondering what to bring on your next cruise, here are our guidelines for what you'll need to pack.


The Female Wardrobe

First Things First: Short shorts are best kept to the pool deck or the fitness centre. Swimming costumes should be worn only at the pool (though appropriate cover-ups are fine for buffet lunching).

The Daytime Guide: Good bets for indoor activities include walking shorts, slacks, jeans, casual skirts and sundresses. Outdoors, of course, swimmers and shorts or jeans and T-shirt ensembles are de rigueur.

On Shore: Rules of taste vary; if you're heading off to a kayaking expedition or a snorkelling sail, the most casual of clothing is appropriate. If you're heading into town, opt for those items specified above in "Daytime Guide."

Evenings: Cruise ships assign daily dress codes -- casual, informal, resort casual, formal -- that take effect in public rooms and restaurants from 6 p.m. onward. (Daytime is always casual.) On seven-night trips, you may have one or two formal nights; on some ships there is none. To find out the dress code on your next cruise, read Cruise Line Dress Codes.

For all but the most formal of evenings (even on the more upscale ships), smart casual is the common dress code. That means dress comfortably but nicely, though not in a silk gown. Think flowing cotton dresses or pants and a top that would be appropriate at a nice local restaurant on land.

The Male Wardrobe

First Things First: Consider chinos and a collared shirt, polo shirt or (nice) T-shirt. You can wear this type of outfit just about anywhere except dinner on formal night when you should have a suit. If you don't want to bring a suit, plan to have dinner in the buffet or room service on formal night. Also, unless you're hanging by the pool, some kind of shirt is required when indoors.

The Daytime Guide: Shorts are pretty versatile. Jeans and casual khakis work, too. T-shirts and sports shirts go everywhere. Singlets are fine on Australian ships except you should make more of an effort at dinner.

On Shore: Going too casual (tank tops, scruffy jeans, any kind of athletic garb) is considered disrespectful in some ports of call. And let's face it: You'll generally be more warmly welcomed in restaurants and shops if you're dressed nicely. The only caveat for men is the same as for women: On active shore excursions or beach days, ultra-casual is just fine.

Evenings: You can pack a tuxedo -- hey, if the mood strikes, you've got a much more elegant photo op -- but tuxes are increasingly being outnumbered by business suits on formal nights. On some ships, you can rent tuxedos. But, for most people, we'd recommend that you do pack at least a suit and tie because some onboard alternative restaurants are so elegant that you really will feel out of place without them. And don't forget the shoes to match. Will you need cufflinks with that shirt? Otherwise, on non-formal nights, smart casual works well.

For Everyone

Jumpers and Jackets: Embrace the layered look. You will want a rain jacket and jumper on a Tasmanian, New Zealand and even Caribbean, Pacific or Hawaii cruise for those less-than-perfect island days. And Alaska cruisers have been known to need everything from swimmers and short-sleeve tops to warm fleece jackets, hats and gloves; the same goes for cruising round the Horn of South America. Rather than pack clothes for multiple temperatures, bring cardigans or jackets to wear over lighter layers if it gets cold. Obviously, in Antarctica or the Arctic, bring lots of long-sleeved layers, thermals, coat, hooded jacket, scarf, two pairs of gloves (in case one gets wet), beanies and boots.

Hats: 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.

Shoes: 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). Colour-coordinate your formalwear so you only have to pack one pair of dress shoes.

Find a Cruise

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.

Tech: Travellers and their gadgets seem to go hand in hand these days. You'll likely bring your smartphone, but you might also want to bring a tablet, DSLR camera, GoPro, portable game player or book reader. Don't forget to check about 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.

Entertainment: On the lower-tech side of things, you'll 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 snorkelling in every port, you might consider bringing your own gear.

Beverages: Some cruise lines do not let you bring alcohol or even soft drinks and water onboard. 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. Bring along a Champagne corker if you have a penchant for bubbly in your stateroom but don't want to drink the whole bottle in one fell swoop.

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.

Find a Cruise

Popular on Cruise Critic

Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. Fall foliage enthusiasts, for instance, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise, whereas water sports-lovers (and families) much prefer to sail the region in the summer when school is out and temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.