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She Cruises; He Cruises: Are they packing for the same boat?

packing for a transatlantic cruise

The following is a piece on packing for a transatlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2 by Merle Minda. See all packing list posts here.

It was bad luck timing that the New York Times Sunday Travel Section published a major piece on transatlantic cruises or crossings the very week and actual day that the second worst cruise incident in just over a year hit Carnival’s Triumph, drifting without power in the Caribbean with over 4,000 people aboard.

Even though the piece was generally excellent – I have made this “crossing” myself on the exact same ship in the article (Cunard’s Queen Mary 2) – and agreed with most of it, I take major exception when it comes to the included packing list.

For men, there is an abbreviated list including a tuxedo and a suit, two pairs of shoes and so on, allowing for the dress code and several formal nights on this very British ship (although my husband just takes a dinner jacket and slacks, and one sport coat).

But for women, the list induces a heart-thumping ‘fear-of-packing’, including three formal dresses and two cocktail dresses; three pairs of heels and pumps for day and evening, plus boots and walking shoes; shawls and scarves of wool and silk at different levels of warmth; three purses (clutch for evening, daytime purse and spa bag); plus assorted skirts (3), blouses, sweaters, tights, socks, underwear, pajamas and a nightgown, two bathing suits, etc. The list calls for taking your best jewelry and “lots of it.”

Well, what are we dressing for here – Downton Abbey at sea? Only a man could have come up with this list; daunting enough to intimidate even the most practiced female packer.

I agree that it is much more challenging to pack lightly for a cruise than most other trips, but I think this author must face the fact that the era of the steamer trunk is over, even on board the Queen Mary 2.

Merle Minda packs smart
Merle Minda packs smart for her cruises with versatile tops and sparkly (fake) accessories.

Let’s dissect author Dwight Garner’s packing list for women. First, even given that the atmosphere on board is a bit more formal on a British ship, taking three formals and two cocktail dresses is beyond overkill.

My suggestion: two dressier outfits – I get around the various evenings by packing one pair of black silk slacks (a long black silk skirt works too) and two sparkly tops. I wear each outfit twice; or perhaps on another night I wear a black silk blouse with a pretty scarf or shawl. Same silk slacks. I say no skirts, but rather, two-three pair of khaki or black cotton slacks. (If you are a skirt person, make it two casual cotton skirts.) No cocktail or day dresses for me; days on board remain casual. For shoes, I take only two pair – one casual and one for evening, plus I usually wear athletic or tennis shoes for traveling and walking the decks. For jewelry, I say leave your best jewelry AT HOME! For evenings, I wear fake rhinestone earrings and one string of pearls, which can also be fake. Yes, there is a safe in every cabin but why worry? And whom do we need to impress? You don’t know 99 percent of the passengers and chances are you will never see them again. When it comes to shirts, underwear and socks, be sparing. The ship has laundry service and a dry-cleaning service should disaster strike. You won’t regret these decisions as you lug your luggage to and from the ship, on trains or through airports. Why risk a rotator cuff injury for strangers?

Merle Minda and Husband Cruising
Merle Minda cruising with husband. Love that Merle shows it is quite possible to look and feel fabulous on a transatlantic cruise while packing light.

Here’s my shorter version packing list for a 7-night transatlantic crossing:

3 khaki pants or casual cotton skirts

Scarves or shawl: 1 black Pashmina shawl (they’re warm); 1 silk scarf

2 pair shoes – one casual for day; one for evening

Wear 1 pair of athletic or tennis shoes for traveling and deck-walking

If you are a swimmer or hot-tubber, perhaps 1 lightweight pair of flip-flops

1 pair earrings, 1 necklace and 1 pair earrings for evening (suggest fake)

1 carry-on bag (for airport travel)

1 smaller, cross-body purse for day or evening use

Skip the spa bag, the ship gives you a logo’ed canvas bag which works

4-5 assorted t-shirts or blouses

Socks or tights, underwear and 1 nightgown or PJ’s (plan to do 1 laundry load)

1 warm hat for deck-walking

1 rainproof and fleece-lined jacket with hood

That’s it; enjoy a lighter approach to cruise packing.

About the Author: Passionate traveler Merle Minda is a travel writer and travel blogger based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her articles are published in Delta SKY Magazine, the Star Tribune and many other regional publications. She also appears on television with packing and travel tips. Access Merle’s travel blog at

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Reader Interactions


  1. wendy says

    About to do my first TA on QM2 (only my 2nd cruise) and we’re going on to visit friends near DC afterwards so I’ve been trying to work out what to take & what can double up so this list is a boon. Thank you

  2. Florence says

    We are taking the QM2 in May from NY to Southampton. The ship’s dress suggestions say that evening dress is required on formal nights, and dressy separates are ok for informal nights. I was planning to take only silk pants and sparkly tops, but am now rethinking that. Any thoughts?

  3. Susan says

    Hi, I just found this post as I have booked my first ever “cruise” – a transatlantic crossing on the QM2 this June, and I was intimidated the prospect of how many outfits were expected, as I am used to traveling light (I generally travel overseas for 2 weeks with a small suitcase which in a pinch could be carried on…)

    I don’t relish the prospect of lugging a larger suitcase around Europe after the cruise, but your list is encouraging – maybe I can get by with a mid-size suitcase.


  4. Bernadette says

    Going on QM2 for first time in June 2018. I understand there will be 3 formal nights. Do “formal” dresses need to be long or are “after five/cocktail” type dresses suitable?

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