The must-haves on any cruise include a raincoat, an umbrella, and comfortable walking shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. A swimsuit is also a must if your ship has a pool or hot. You’ll also want to pack enough outfits for daytime sightseeing and dinners in the evening.

Packing for Formal, Informal & Casual Events

Some people agonize over what to pack for a cruise, but there’s no reason to fret. Except for the addition of a formal night or two, a cruise vacation is really no different from any resort vacation. And in some cases, it’s much more casual so don’t feel you have to go out and buy cruise wear. Sweatshirts, jeans, and jogging outfits are the norm during the day. Dinner is dress-up time on most ships, but certainly not on all (and except on smaller vessels, there’s always somewhere you can just pick up a quick bite in shorts and a t-shirt).

The small adventure-type ships are all casual, all the time. Generally, ships describe proper dinner attire as formal, informal, or semiformal (the latter two terms mean the same thing in this case), smart casual, or casual. There are usually either 2 formal nights and 2 informal (or semiformal) nights during a weeklong cruise or 2 formal nights and the rest smart casual or all smart casual/country club casual; check with your line for specifics. Although the term has gotten somewhat more relaxed in recent years, formal generally means a dark suit with tie for men (some still wear a tuxedo) and a nice cocktail dress, long dress, or dressy pantsuit for women. Informal (or semiformal ) is a jacket, tie, and dress slacks, or a light suit, for men, and a dress, skirt and blouse, or pants outfit for women (the ubiquitous little black dress is appropriate here).

Cleaned & Pressed

Many ships offer dry-cleaning and laundry services for a fee, of course. Look for deals where they will wash whatever you can squeeze into a laundry bag for a set price, usually around $25. Other lines offer either free or coin-operated laundry facilities (the latter requiring quarters or tokens that you can get at the reception desk). Using these services can save you a lot of packing, especially on long itineraries. Check the line’s website for details on what’s available on your particular ship before you start filling your suitcase. After all, bringing less clothing will leave more room for any souvenirs you may choose to bring home.

Smart casual or country club casual is pretty much the same as informal without the tie. Casual at dinner means a sports shirt or open-collar dress shirt with slacks for men (some will also wear a jacket), and a casual dress, pants outfit, or skirt and blouse for women. In other words, for casual nights, dress as you would to go out to dinner at a midrange restaurant. Just take the entire thing with a grain of salt: In all dress code situations, don’t be surprised if there are some people on board who ignore the suggested dress code altogether.

Preparing for the Weather

Here’s a quick rundown of the major cruise areas and what types of weather you’ll need to dress for: The Caribbean tends to be sunny and warm year-round.

Europe ‘s seasons often mirror the weather on our East Coast, with cooler winters, temperate spring and fall seasons, and hot summers.

Alaska ‘s weather is sometime extreme and always unpredictable: During a summertime cruise, you may experience temperature variations from the 40s to the 80s or even low 90s Fahrenheit (single digits to low 30s Celsius). The days will be long, with the sun all but refusing to set, especially in the more northern ports, and people will be energized by the extra daylight hours. You’ll likely encounter some rain, and you’re less likely to encounter snow, but it is still a possibility, especially in the spring. Dressing in layers is smart in this part of the world.

Asia ‘s weather swings wildly, too. You’ll want to know if monsoon season will be a factor before you pick out your clothing (and it’s such a large region we can’t give seasons here). Light, long sleeved shirts can actually be your friend in Asia, as it protects you from both the sun and potential bug bites.


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