We’ve listed a typical day on board and ashore, so you’ll get a better picture of what to bring and what to expect.
This is a casual meal, as many people are grabbing a quick bite before heading off the ship to explore. Shorts or jeans are ideal, with a comfy top and shoes. If you don’t feel like getting out of bed, order room service. After all, when’s the last time you had breakfast in bed?
On the pool deck, your fellow cruisers will be in their swimwear. If stepping through the glass doors to hit a buffet, or even to walk through, guests are required to wear shoes and a coverup. The cruise line provides beach towels, so you won’t have to pack any. If you’re going to eat at one of the ship’s sit-down restaurants, shorts, jeans or capri pants are welcome at this time of day. Sneakers and sandals are welcome, too.
Depending on which cruise line you’re sailing, dinner attire will vary greatly, from smart casual to swanky. Some specialty restaurants may require a more elegant dress code (such as NCL’s top tier offering, Le Bistro). Women should pack a dress or sundress, and men should have collared shirts, like polos or a button-down, and dress and khaki pants. No sneakers at dinner. No kidding. If you’re on a larger ship and you’re just going to the buffet, they'll likely allow jeans and t-shirts, but swim trunks with a tank top are basically a no-no.
In the words of Oscar Wilde, “You can never be overeducated or overdressed.” We agree. These days, not all cruise lines offer a formal night but for those that do, here’s your chance to dress to impress. Women should pack a cocktail dress or gown with all the accessories; men can don a dark suit or even a tuxedo (rentals are available onboard). If you’re thinking, “why bother?” Think again! You’ve got a staff of professional photographers at your disposal, with gorgeous backdrops and professional lighting, and it costs nothing to have them snap a few pics of you all spiffed up. The captain is usually available for photos this evening as well. Purchasing the photos is optional.
Special onboard events
Black lights, pumping tunes, glow-in-the-dark accessories…these are the makings of an onboard White-Hot party. While not available on all cruise lines, many offer a White-Hot party of some sort one night of the sailing. The fun takes place on the pool deck, weather permitting. Pack something white so you can glow forth and prosper.
Check your cruise itinerary or your cruise docs to see if any special events are planned, such as a Halloween party during a fall cruise, or an 80s night. And if you have kids, pack a nice pair of pajamas for them, as the kid's club usually hosts a pajama party.
If you’re planning to indulge in a spa treatment (and you should), plan your outfit. For instance, bring a swimsuit to enjoy a dip in the private spa pool or to sweat in the steam room and sauna. Getting a massage? You’ll want to slip back into something comfortable afterward, like a sundress for women or loose shorts and a shirt for men. Slip-on shoes, flip flops or sandals are smart options, especially if you’re having a pedicure. Also consider that you’ll have to walk through the ship to get to the spa, so make sure you’re appropriate.
Going whale watching in Alaska? Hiking up Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica? Taking a walking tour in Venice? You’ll want a backpack or zippered tote bag to hold your stuff and any souvenirs you purchase on shore. Your shore ex tickets will state how to dress, so pay attention. You might need water shoes, a windbreaker, or a rain poncho. If you’re visiting a place of worship, leave your Kardashian clothes on the ship. It will vary by country, but for the most part, no shorts, no tanks, no exposed knees, bellies or shoulders. Capeesh.
Purses and Bags
Big purses are not necessary on a cruise because all you need while on board is your ship card. Ladies, we know you need to carry a few more goodies, such as a mirror, lip gloss, and a travel size bottle of pou~pourri or hand sanitizer, so pack a small, zippered, wristlet-style purse. And remember fanny packs? Well they’re back, and they’re perfect for a cruise. Sure, you can call them belt bags, utility bags or fusion bags…just pack one.
Most ships have a gym, and small ships have at least yoga classes. If you work out, pack your gear. If you don’t, think about maybe packing one outfit to try a free class but don’t go crazy. You’ll want the space in your suitcase for other things. Truth.
Comfort is king when it comes to shoes and cruising. Ships are longer than a football field (the largest ships are 3x longer). That equals a lot of walking, not to mention exploring every port. Sneakers or other comfy close-toed shoes are a must. Water shoes are great for the Caribbean (and the spa). Dress shoes for dinner. Sandals for everything in between. Certain attractions, like Dunns River Falls in Jamaica, require water shoes. FitKicks score high with beachcombers for their comfort and packability--and they keep the sand out.
Don’t forget to pack your jammies, along with your unmentionables. You won’t need a sleep mask as the curtains on a ship are designed to keep the sun out. Like it chilly? You’ll be able to control the temperature in your stateroom and there are blankets available. Sleep in socks? Bring ‘em. Like your slippers? Pack ‘em. Some guests will have the luxury of a plush terry robe and slippers waiting for them in their suite or upgraded stateroom. There are outlets near the bed so you can charge your phone, tablet, CPAP machine, or anything else.
To Lanyard or not to lanyard?
If you’re a cruiser, you know about lanyards. If you don’t know, most people wear them around their necks and their ship key card dangles from it or is inserted into the lanyard’s plastic pouch. Since everything onboard is purchased with your ship card, and it’s also the key to your stateroom, you will never leave ‘home’ without it. For security measures, you’ll need your ship card to get on and off the ship. But where should you put this most important piece of plastic? For many, a lanyard is the answer. And with all the colors and styles you can find online these days, you could have your own lanyard wardrobe.
Leaving space for souvenirs
If you live to buy gifts and souvenirs, your suitcase shouldn’t be fully packed to start. One trick is to bring an empty, zippered or collapsible tote bag or an extra carry-on. Fill it with your dirty clothes or your souvenirs, you decide. Either way, it provides extra space. The tote is also great for when you go ashore, so you’re not carrying around a bunch of shopping bags. Make sure the handle and fabric are sturdy.
If you’re out of space and it’s close to the end of your cruise, mail your dirty clothes home. Do a little online research to see where the post office is at your next port. If it’s close, pay a visit and pay to ship your dirty laundry to your doorstep, third class mail.
Staying in touch
It’s easier than ever to keep in touch with loved ones, even in the middle of the ocean. Bring your tablet, laptop, charging cords, or not. Ships have venues with desktop computers for guests’ use. Note that you will have to pay for Wi-Fi on most cruise lines by the minute or by the package. If you’re an internet junkie, it’s worth it.
Another great option these days is to install the cruise line’s shipboard app. Download it before you step aboard and you can view what’s happening around the ship, set alerts for events and stay in touch with those in your party; it will even guide you to onboard venues. Features will vary by cruise line. WhatsApp messaging service is another easy way to stay in touch with friends and family while on board and ashore.
In-room safes are available on most cruise lines. They’re easy to use (just choose your own four-digit code) and they’re the ideal spot to keep your jewelry, wallet, ID, passport and other valuables.
Don’t forget to pack your prescriptions. If you’re worried about getting seasick, motion sickness pills and patches can be brought from home or bought on board. Bring your own toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, razors, toothbrush and toothpaste. If you forget anything, you can find it on board in their shops. Sunscreen and after-sun lotion can be brought or bought as well.
Now that’s smart
For a great view of sea life and shorelife, pack binoculars. If you’ll be in the Caribbean, you might want to BYOS (bring your own snorkel) and a waterproof phone case. An underwater camera or a GoPro would be awesome. Hats provide a welcome reprieve from the sun. In Europe, use a money belt or fanny pack to deter pick-pocketers. A compact umbrella is smart to have in the bottom of your tote. While plastic isn’t fantastic, a few bags tucked in your luggage are ideal for damp swimsuits. Carabiner clips keep bags and drapes closed, and can hang swimsuits from the retractable clothes line in stateroom bathrooms. Since stateroom doors are metal, bring strong magnetic hooks to hang cosmetic bags, hats, towels, cords, most anything.
Can’t live without your favorite wine? For a corkage fee, you can bring it onboard. You can also bring a certain number of unopened bottled water and soft drinks. The limit is determined by each cruise line.
Forgot something? No need to panic. If you’re sailing on a larger ship, chances are excellent that a store on board will have everything you need. Cotton balls, Q-tips, over-the-counter medicines, nail files, deodorant, make-up, feminine products, sunglasses, even clothing. The ship’s spa will have full-size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotions for purchase.
There you have it. A pretty darn complete list of what you’ll need and what can make your cruise experience even better. One more important thing to bring is your bubbly personality and that fabulous positive attitude that you’re famous for. See you on board soon!