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Cruise Packing Tips: What to Pack for a Cruise

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Cruises can be hella fun. They’re easy to book, with itineraries already planned and activities galore to pick from on and off ship.

But when it comes to packing for a cruise, it can be super confusing. Smart casual? Formal? What exactly do either of those terms mean?

Check out my guide on what to pack for a Caribbean cruise, including a few options that you can shop for right from the post!

Pool and beach wear

If you’re headed out on a cruise in the Caribbean, the number one item to pack for a cruise is pool and beach wear!

Pack at least 2 swimsuits (one to wear while the other is drying from the day before).

From there, loose layers to throw on top of your swimsuit so that you can go from pool or beach to lunch or shopping is key.

Think flowy dresses, caftans, button-up shirt dresses, slip-on shorts, etc.

Don’t forget to pack plenty of sunscreen and double check to see if any of your excursions require reef safe sunscreen.

Day outfits

Whether you’re out at sea or at port headed to an excursion, it’s likely to be hot given that you’re sailing the Caribbean region.

Pack light colors and loose layers to keep comfortable. Fabrics like cotton and linen will be your best friend.

Go through your list of excursions and activities to determine if you need any special outfits, like long pants for hiking or exercise gear for fitness classes.

Casual evening outfits

Not all evening activities or meals will require formal wear, so go ahead and pack your favorite dress or cute top and jeans for night time.

It might be breezy and cooler than during the day, so you might want to include pants or long sleeves depending on the weather forecast.

Otherwise, a wrap or jacket can keep you warm.

What to pack for formal night on a cruise

Formal wear is where many people seem to panic when deciding what to pack for a cruise.

Many cruise ships require more formal wear for select events and dinners. Just to be on the safe side, pack at least 1 formal evening outfit, such as a floor length dress or jumpsuit.

More than likely, a cocktail dress will do, so don’t feel that you have to purchase an expensive evening gown.

TIP: If you want to wear an evening gown, but don’t want to purchase one, check out Rent the Runway. I am a long-time Rent the Runway customer and highly recommend both their one-time rental and subscription options!

If you’re not sure whether your cruise requires formal wear, the safest bet is to pack a solid colored maxi dress.

When paired with the right accessories, a solid colored maxi dress can easily be dressed up with heels and costume jewelry or dressed down with flat sandals and minimal jewelry.

Even if you don’t end up having any formal wear events, a maxi dress can be dressed down for daytime activities or a casual dinner.

TIP: These days many cruise lines make formal night optional, so if you don’t want to go or don’t want to deal with buying or renting a formal dress or outfit, you probably don’t have to! On my last Caribbean cruise, I opted out of participating in formal night and still had a great time.

Accessories to pack for a cruise

At a minimum, be sure to pack a hat and a pair of sunglasses to keep the sun out of your face, plus an umbrella or rain jacket in case there’s rain on a port day.

If you’re planning on a lot of sporty excursions, a baseball cap might be best over a floppy straw hat.

The right kind of jewelry can change an outfit, so pack some fun pieces that can dress up a plain dress or make jeans and a tee look extra cute.

Finally, you might want a small purse or clutch for evenings, as well as a beach bag for leisure time at the pool and for excursions.

Best shoes for a cruise

Last but not least, nearly every woman’s favorite fashion topic: shoes.

If you’re the minimalist type, you can likely get away with a pair of plain flat sandals in a neutral color and a pair of sneakers.

But you’ll likely want a few extra pairs: flip flops for the pool, heels or wedges for the evening, athletic sneakers for workouts, canvas sneakers for excursions, and so on.

Think about the activities you plan to do aboard the ship, as well as on shore excursions to help narrow down the number of shoes you pack.

What do you plan to pack for a Caribbean cruise?

What are your must-haves when it comes to packing for a Caribbean cruise. Let me know in the comments below.

About the author

Photo of travel blogger Meg Frost, of Frost + Sun, in Havana, Cuba.
Photo by Meg Frost, all rights reserved.

Meg Frost is a Boston-based travel blogger that helps people embrace technology to make vacation planning and traveling wicked easy, affordable, and fun.

She holds an M.A. in Journalism from Northeastern University and B.S. in Communication & American Studies from University of Miami.

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This post was originally published May 18, 2017. It was last updated November 2, 2022.

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