Packing for a Cruise: Clothes & Personal Items

Kona sunset

Normally, I wouldn’t post a list of clothes to take on a vacation.  That seems ‘insulting’ to the intelligent reader.  🙂   However, for those new to cruising, packing for a cruise can be a little intimidating…. formal wear, smart casual wear, ports and excursions, etc…

So, for cruising, a ‘What to Wear on a Cruise‘ packing list is helpful.  🙂

Note:  This pertains mainly to warm weather cruises.  I’ll write a separate packing list for Alaskan cruises as they break many of the rules for almost everything ‘cruising’…..including the packing. 🙂



  • Formal Night – The ‘level of formality’ on formal nights seems to be decreasing on many cruise lines (luxury lines excluded).  Cocktail dresses or elegant pant suits for women work well.  For the men, you will see a few suits, though a jacket/blazer with dress shirt and tie are more common.  On the more casual cruise lines, men are forgoing the jacket and just wearing the dress shirt/tie combo….or dropping the tie entirely.   The general rule is to dress as you would for a nice wedding.   Elegant gowns and tuxedos may be expected on luxury cruise lines, and you will see a few elegant gowns on the ladies on other cruises, but it is not a ‘requirement’.  Most ships have formal wear rentals if you want these items without packing them.
  • Non-formal nights in the dining room are typically business or ‘smart’ casual, though you may see some cocktail dresses then too.  The little black dress is so versatile that it’s always an EXCELLENT choice.  Accessorize it ‘up’ or ‘down’ for formal or informal nights and certainly wear it more than once.  Also working well are maxi dresses, pantsuits, slacks and blouses. Carnival has recently begun empty suitcaseallowing jeans in the Dining room on casual nights.  For men, dress slacks and a collared shirt with or without a tie works fine.  Jackets optional.  🙂 In the interest of packing lights, we wear pants/skirts several nights with a different shirt/blouse/top.  We’re usually changing clothes after dinner, so they’re only worn about 2 hrs each night.
  • Days in Port:  Dress is determined by what you’re doing so follow the instructions given by the excursion vendor.  Note:  Do some research on the norms for the port areas.  In some areas of Europe, Asia and a few Caribbean ports, modest apparel is socially ‘required’ to avoid offending the locals.  (i.e. cover ups or shorts/t-shirt over swimsuits)  Modest apparel is necessary for admittance to religious sites.  Remember your Feet:  If you’ll be doing significant walking, ‘comfort’ trumps ‘fashion’….except in European ports where sneakers are considered taboo.   🙂

NOTE:  Do NOT wear camo on Caribbean islands.  It’s actually illegal and can get you some pretty hefty fines. (Their military wears it and civilians are prohibited from doing so…  )  

  • Sea Days:  Obviously, this is determined by climate and temps, but ‘casual’ is the mode here.  Shoes and a cover up over swimwear are required in the buffet and dining rooms on most cruise lines. (Norwegian allows swimsuits in the buffet area.)
  • Swimwear – many recommend bringing 2 – 3 swimsuits for back-to-back pool or beach days.  Swimwear is only appropriate at the pool areas.  (typically a requirement)  A swimsuit coverup is also culturally required in many ports as noted above.  Most cruise lines provide beach/pool towels (for ship AND port use) so don’t be concerned with packing your own.
  • Shoes:
    • Low-heel rubber sole shoes for sea days
    • Comfortable walking shoes for excursions/port days
    • Gym/workout shoes ??
    • Shoes for dinner attire
    • Excursion-specific shoes??  consult information about
      walking deckyour chosen excursions
  • Work out clothing if you plan to work out on board….or walk the open air decks in the mornings.
  • Sweater/light jacket for cool evenings on deck or in the dining room where the a/c can be chilly.



  • Sunscreen, sunblock and/or after-sun lotion.  This is very expensive on the ship.
  • Personal Products in TRAVEL SIZES: travel size bottlesI buy travel size containers and put my favorite products in them.  Your cruise line may place a few personal items  (shampoo, lotion, etc…) in the stateroom, but that varies by cruise line.
  • Jewelry:  Keep security in mind as you choose the jewelry to bring. Expensive pieces are probably best left at home.  If you DO choose to travel with them, bring it on board in your carry on and put it in the safe when not wearing it. The cabins have room safes, but only valuables locked in the purser’s safe are covered under the ship’s insurance (check your cruise contract).  We also bring a watches as we turn data off on our phones when we leave port – to avoid roaming charges.
  • Lip balm (with sunscreen)  The sea air can be very drying!
  • Insect repellant with DEET ??  (dependent on itinerary)
  • Hat and/or sunglasses
  • Umbrella or poncho  (dependent on itinerary)

pill organizer - 3x/day

  • Medications:  These are VERY expensive on board.  The pill organizers from Dollar Tree are great for either daily medication regiments…or to keep a supply of Over-the-counter meds in
    • prescription medications in ORIGINAL BOTTLES
    • motion sickness remedy – Bring more than 1 option as you don’t know what will work for you)  For detailed information on medicines and homeopathic/natural remedies:  Dealing with Motion Sickness
    • pain killer of choice – Tylenol, Advil, etc…  Travel sizes!!
    • antacid  (your diet may be quite different from when you’re home)
    • anti-diarrheal
    • cortisone cream
    • antihistamine
      Our meds bag – small quantities of a LOT of items.

      antibiotic cream

    • stool softener (diet changes affect digestion…..)  🙂
    • Band-Aids/bandages
    • germicidal hand cleaner  (You can get this at Dollar Tree – for $1)


NOTE: Bring ANYTHING you might need for children as there are very few little variety/choices in children’s meds on cruise ships (Disney Cruise Line being the exception to this)   🙂

Though the ships have irons and ironing boards, they will be in a laundry room, NOT in your cabin. I try to just pack items that don’t require ironing. If you DO need to iron on formal night, do it early in the day to avoid long lines.

A Word About the Cruise Luggage Tags:

Cruise lines provide these.  Most cruise lines put them online for you to print – in an effort to go “green” (I’m not sure that saves much paper ha!  but it DOES save the cruise line money.)   That leaves you to figure out how to attach them to your luggage so that they STAY THERE during travel.

If you are flying and handling YOUR OWN bags at the airport, I recommend NOT attaching the cruise luggage tags until after your flight to ensure they are not lost en route. When you pick up luggage at baggage claim, remove the airline tags and attach the cruise tags.

If you are flying and have purchased transfers from the cruiseline (they’re picking up your bags at the airport) you’ll need to attach those tags BEFORE LEAVING HOME.  I suggest putting TWO tags on each piece of luggage, securely attached, so they STAY attached through all the handling.  (It’s a LOT – multiple flights, transfer and cruise terminal…)


  1. Print and “laminate” them using clear plastic packing tape or contact paper.  Punch a hole  and attach to the bag with a zip tie  OR duct tape
  2. Make a luggage tag protector (pocket) from plexi glass. Cut 2 – to size – and tape together with clear packing tape.  Punch a hole in the top and attach with zip tie.
  3. Make a protector from a plastic page protector corner –  cut down to size, fold, staple, wrap clear packing tape over the ends and the staples.  Attach with zip tie or staples.

zip tiesZip ties are available at the Dollar Tree – for $1.

Remember… 2 tags/bag is a good idea to keep things attached through much handling.

  1. 4.  ONE MORE OPTION:  Several years ago, I ordered vinyl luggage tag covers from Favors by Serendipity  (Yes…this is what we use)  These run around $2.50-$3 each.  – with an extra charge of .25 for the 9″ loops –which I recommend as the 6″ loops are challenging to attach to the suitcase. I’ve used them for all our travels – cruises AND flights.  I LOVE them!  Similar ones are available from Amazon for a little cheaper, but only in quantities of 4 or 8 and they don’t carry the 9″ loops.  I personally think the 9″ loops are worth the extra $1-2 it costs to order from this company.

Here’s hoping this list give you a good idea of what to pack for a cruise – taking a bit of the mystery out of packing for that first cruise.

Other Posts on Cruising:


2 thoughts on “Packing for a Cruise: Clothes & Personal Items”

    1. We have always found them to be large enough. However, if it’s something you’re concerned about, then perhaps you should go ahead and bring your own on a first cruise….until you find out for sure if they meet your needs. Some cruise lines will give you more than 1 towel but I don’t even think THATS consistent across the entire cruise line…It’s often a ‘ship-by-ship’ thing.

      Liked by 1 person

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