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After a few trips overseas, many of us probably have the packing basics down to a science. We pack lightly, select versatile items, and bring perhaps one week’s worth of clothing, which will be washed and re-worn (time and time again if on a long trip).
When we are packing for a style of travel we’ve never experienced before, however, do the same basic packing rules apply? Or are there new rules to follow?
Think of a cruise. You’re on a boat for an extended period of time. Not something that an ordinary person would be doing regularly in their daily life. If you want to pack light for a cruise, the same minimalist packing techniques apply, there are, of course, a few unique twists for life on the sea.
Above all, remember that you are packing for life on the ship, and depending on the cruise, for various ports of call. While there are several scenarios to prepare for, packing relatively lightly is still a necessity. Unless you live close to the departure city, you will need to fly and adhere to airline luggage and weight restrictions.
In addition, your cabin on the ship is most likely going to be relatively small, so large bags may prove to be a hindrance. Therefore, packing light is essential.
Spend the Day by the Pool
During your cruise days, many cruise-goers spend their time by a pool.
It’s a good idea to pack two swimsuits so that one is always dry. If you want a different poolside look each day, you can always pack swimsuit bottoms of a solid color that you can mix and match with patterned tops to create a completely new look. That way, if you pack two swimsuit sets, you actually have four unique swimsuit combinations.
Another great idea is to pack a reversible swimsuit or a swimsuit that can be worn in multiple ways. This way you will have two looks for the space of one!
We love the Hurley Bloom reversible swimsuit (pictured below).
- Check out this post on swimsuit packing hacks for more ideas.
When spending the day by the pool, you are going to need some essentials to make sure you have the best experience possible.
A cover-up is often required for walking between your room and the pool and is great to slip on when you want to visit one of the casual restaurants during the day. Consider using a cover-up that can double as an outfit. Think light airy dresses like an infinity wrap dress.
The Eddie Bauer Hemplify Swim Cover-Up (pictured below) is perfect for throwing over a swimsuit, but it can also be paired with shorts or pants for a casual outfit.
Many cruises supply towels for by the pool and some might even supply beach towels for beach excursions. Double-check with your cruise line to make sure you’re prepared if they don’t supply towels. If you need to bring your own towel, a great option is a Turkish towel.
Turkish towels are thin and lightweight but at the same time, they are super absorbent and quick drying. They’re also much larger than your standard travel towel.
A Turkish towel can also double up as a sarong.
The Bali Market is a great brand if you are in the market.
A wide-brim hat is perfect for protecting your face, neck, ears, and scalp from the sun that you will most likely be spending the whole day in. It doesn’t hurt that they also look super classy and cute.
One of our favorite options is the Sunday Afternoons Sunset Hat (pictured below) which is upf 50+ resistant, moisture-wicking, and packs flat making it easy to pack in your suitcase.
You are going to be happy you packed your sunglasses when you’re trying to read your book by the pool.
Choose sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection. You could also consider getting glasses with polarized lenses that reduce glare. We love the Maui Jim brand for sunglasses. Their Polarized Fashion Sunglasses are polarized and have a UV protective coating.
When packing your toiletries, make sure to remember sunscreen. This is no doubt, one of the most important items on this list! Make sure to reapply often, especially after you swim.
Consider packing a reef-safe sunscreen if the excursions you are planning on going on include being in the ocean around a reef. A great option is this Raw Elements Face and Body All-Natural Mineral Sunscreen.
Pack a pair of non-slip sandals that can be worn both with your swimsuit and with your normal clothes as well. It’s important to note here that flip-flops are not the best choice for a cruise ship because some of the restaurants won’t allow them.
Something like the Alicegana Women’s Sandals are a great option because while they are non-slip, they are also dressy enough for wearing to restaurants. They also have a cushioned insole making them perfect for walking. Alicegana has a whole range of similar shoes if you want to check them out.
Try Out the Ship Activities or Casual Restaurants
A key to packing light for a cruise is to mix and match articles of clothing.
Choose only a few bottoms, whether they be skirts, pants/slacks, or capris. Then, select tops that you can pair with any of the bottoms for interchangeable looks. Your head-to-toe look will vary every day, and you can still address the variety of dress code situations found on a cruise experience!
Stick to one color scheme to ensure that all your pieces work well together. To make things even easier, stick to mostly solid colors and one or two fun patterned pieces.
Make sure to pack layers. While it may be hot outside, cruise ships have air conditioning that may make it a little chilly inside.
The warm jacket or cardigan you bring should be able to match all of your outfits.
Most cruises offer on-board laundry at an extra cost if you do need any clean clothes and don’t want to do washing in your small cabin. (Here’s a list of clothes hand-washing essentials for anyone interested.)
Are you a gym junkie? If you need more than a swim in the pool and walks around the ship to keep up your fitness routine, pack one or two sets of workout clothes for the ship’s workout facilities. You can wash a set after you use it and then wear the other one while it dries.
Your workout clothes can also be worn for on-land activities. Taking note of this will help you not go overboard with your packing!
Make sure the sandals that you choose to bring for days by the pool match all your outfits. That way your poolside sandals can double as your shoes for casual restaurants and excursions.
Pack a pair of sneakers if you are planning on utilizing the gym.
Glamorous Evening Activities
Depending on your cruise line, evenings may call for anything from nice casual clothing to formal wear. On many cruises, the dinners may be more formal, or they may have specific formal nights that you have to dress up for.
Review the expectations of your cruise line carefully to ensure you pack appropriately.
If formal wear is required, consider packing one nice dress that can be worn with different accessories to create different looks. Something like a little black dress would work well here.
Packing a scarf or shawl will keep you warm at night and can also be used to create a different look if you are wearing one dress multiple times.
Repurposing your casual clothes
Make your clothes work for you! You can wear the same clothes from day to night simply by dressing them up with accessories and a nice pair of shoes.
A nice versatile top can be worn during the day with jeans or shorts and then worn at night with a skirt for a completely different outfit.
If you’re using a dress as a swimsuit cover-up, it can transition to an evening look by changing shoes and adding a shawl.
Pack one nice pair of shoes (heels or flats) that you can wear for all of the formal events on the cruise. Make sure they are comfortable, and match all of your planned evening outfits.
If your poolside sandals are versatile you may even be able to wear them to fancy dinners. (Tip: No one pays as close attention as you think they do!)
Life on Land
You are probably looking forward to the ports of call as much as the activities on the ship. Be sure to pack appropriately for days on dry land.
Research the excursions beforehand so you can come prepared. You might need to pack some specific things for the excursions that you wouldn’t necessarily need for life on the ship.
When packing for a cruise, try to pack items that can be used both on land and at sea. Snorkeling or diving requires the same swimsuit you had on board, and if hiking is on the agenda, pack an outfit that works both for hiking and for gym workouts on the ship.
If foodie experiences top your list, wear the same nice casual outfits that you wore for non-formal evening meals.
Pack for the Weather
Make sure you consider the climates of the port cities, taking into account the time of year. You might be traveling through a wide range of temperatures and weather so make sure you are prepared.
You might be fine wearing your poolside outfit in one location but another port may require a rain jacket and long pants.
If you are planning on doing a lot of exploring at your destination, pack a closed walking shoe that is comfortable and supportive. These will preferably be the same ones you are wearing at the cruise gym.
There are so many activities on the ship, not to mention the off-ship excursions, so you don’t need to worry about getting bored and bringing heaps of stuff to entertain yourself with.
While reading a nice book by the pool is ideal, don’t weigh your bag down with lots of books rather bring an eReader. This will ensure that you have plenty of reading material but don’t have to compromise on packing light.
Make sure to download any books or podcasts you want beforehand, as wifi may be slow on board the cruise (not to mention expensive).
Unless you need them for work, you most probably won’t be needing your laptop or tablet.
Don’t forget to pack travel adaptors!
For the whole cruise experience, you only really need 3 pairs of shoes.
- Non-slip sandals for by the pool, casual restaurants, and onboard activities
- Closed walking shoes for the gym and excursions
- One dressier shoe for evening activities (this could be something like a black sandal that you can wear during the day too)
Depending on your travel style, the specific cruise, and the destination, you could even get by with fewer! If you’re not a gym junkie and don’t plan on doing any hiking, you might get by with a pair of cute walking sandals. They might even work for evening activities, too.
Brooke recommends her Naot Dorith sandals as the perfect middle ground. They’re comfortable for walking and cute with a dress.
It all depends on your intended travel style and how light you are wanting to pack for your cruise.
Some Extra Information
If you’re worried you may leave something behind when packing light for a cruise, most cruises have a small shop on board, so if you need something desperately, you can purchase it there.
If you’re prone to falling ill on the sea, check out these ways to prevent motion sickness and pack accordingly.
Check out these other cruise packing posts:
Have you ever been on a cruise? Where did you go and how long was the experience? Tell us your must-pack items or things you wish you would have left at home.