Packing for a Cruise

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Published on July 07, 2010 with No Comments

by Barbara DesChamps
Cruise lines advertise: Unpack only once! You may figure this is your chance to out-do Imelda Marcos because your fellow passengers will be seeing you every day and some formal attire may be necessary, but wait! First you have to get to the port. If that involves a flight, the airline might lose your luggage. If it is not found by sailing time, shopping options on board are much more limited than on land. It also takes hours for ship staff to deliver bags to all rooms. You may not have your swimsuit or dinner clothes when you want them. Better to take all the essentials in a carry-on bag and only check the items you can live without. Minimalists would argue that if you can live without them, you shouldn’t take them.
Unless it’s a “cruise to nowhere,” it’s more important to consider the shore excursions than what to wear onboard. The ship interior is “climate controlled” but the world outside can be brutally cold or hot. If you want to hike a glacier, you’ll need appropriate boots, parka and gloves. Some lines have parkas and more for loan or rent so ask before booking to see if you can avoid taking bulky items.
Away from the glacier, you may still need warm clothes. Avoid heavily-insulated items in favor of layers, which provide more flexibility for a variety of trips and situations and are easier to wash and dry along the way. Splashes happen. We were once doused with dirty water when a car sped through a deep puddle. The ideal outer layer is wind and water resistant and if it has a hood, you may not need an umbrella. Instead of a zip-out liner, wear a fleece jacket under it. Fleece is much easier to wash and dry than a wool sweater. Long, silk underwear is another helpful layer. Vinyl or rubber shoe covers don’t look elegant but are better than wet feet.
For hot weather, you have different problems. For sun protection, wear long sleeves and head covering. Hats are helpful but often inconvenient. They blow off in the wind and even foldable ones can be bulky. A visor scarf provides the protection of a hat without those problems. You can wear it with the tails hanging out or tucked in like a baseball cap (some men wear it this way.) A pattern for it is included in the Lightweight Travel book. It also provides the required head covering for women visiting mosques and other religious sites. Bare arms and legs are not permitted in mosques, so have a shirt or jacket with sleeves that cover the elbows and don’t wear shorts or short skirts. One woman wrote me: “My husband and I enjoy cruising. On a recent trip through the South Pacific, we found that the ship newsletter gave advice on local customs regarding what to wear and what not to wear. Mostly this had to do with what attire was considered too scanty. That’s great if you happened to bring the right stuff. What if your travel agent didn’t clue you in? Who knew some cultures would be so modest, in an environment that is so warm?”
Men will be ready for most occasions with a blazer, slacks and conservatively-patterned shirts, including at least one dress shirt and tie. Medium to dark colors for blazers and slacks will not show smudges as easily as light colors; it is hard to avoid smudges from cabs and public transport. Shorts and T-shirts may be OK for deck or fitness center, but not for visiting museums. Women can wear skirts or slacks with blouses and jackets. A two-piece “dress” of matching separates is more practical than a one-piece dress. You can wash the pieces separately and use them with other items in your wardrobe. You can also access your money belt on shore excursions, difficult with a one-piece dress. Carry only a small amount of money in a purse or waist pack.
If some events call for a tux, the cruise line probably has rentals. Inquire when booking. If not, you can fit a tuxedo and its shoes in a carry-on bag if you don’t pack a lot of other clothing. The Custom Wardrobe book tells how.
Women shouldn’t need more than a carry-on bag. Take a long skirt that isn’t bulky. It can be a slim skirt just wide enough at the hem for dancing or a pleated polyester chiffon skirt. If a long skirt is not required, a shorter one in a dressy fabric may do. Add some compact tops in fabrics such as lace, chiffon or tissue lamé. Three of these may take up no more space than one regular shirt. Avoid heavily beaded or fussy fabrics. Basic dark pumps may be more practical for dancing than sandals. Add some decorative clips if you like and be glad you don’t have to deal with a tuxedo.
Barbara DesChamps is a wardrobe consultant and author of It’s In The Bag: The Complete Guide to Lightweight Travel and It’s In The Bag: Your Custom Business and Travel Wardrobe. Books and services at

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