What To Wear On A Cruise: The Ultimate Guide

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When going on a cruise, it can be difficult to know what clothes to wear for the different times of day, different climates and the cruise line’s dress code.

As someone who regularly goes on cruises, I’ve had to pack many times for different types of cruises. From my experience, I now know all the things you need to take into consideration.

Me and my friends on a cruise wearing formal dresses

In this guide, I’ll share my tips and give you all the info you need to help you decide what to pack for your next cruise.

Consider Your Destination

When packing your clothes for a cruise, the first thing I would consider is the destination. Not only will you need to think about the weather, but the inside and outside temperature when on the ship, the activities you’ll be doing and any cultural factors you may need to consider.

Temperature

It may seem obvious what to pack depending on the weather conditions. It’s no surprise the temperature varies widely from the Caribbean to the Alaskan seas. But even when going to a hot destination, there are a few other things to consider.

Me and my husband on a Norway cruise wearing jackets

Sometimes it can get a little bit cold on a cruise ship, even if you’re in the Caribbean. Firstly, the air con can make the inside of the ship feel quite cold. If you’re doing indoor activities, where you may be sat still for a long period of time, such as watching a show or enjoying a top dining experience, the air con can make you feel a bit cold.

Secondly, it can get windy out on the deck, making it feel cold. If the ship is going full steam ahead, the wind can really pick up, even if the sun is blazing.

windy on deck
Us, failing to get a good photo in the sun and wind!

So I recommend packing a balance of light, and warm clothing will give you the flexibility to enjoy your cruise regardless of the weather. 

Cultural Considerations

Countries such as those in the Middle East can sometimes have an expectation of what should be worn. This means you may need to take into account any cultural considerations. Also, you may want to visit religious buildings, such as a mosque or temple, when doing shore excursions. 

White Mosque, United Arab Emirates

It is expected that clothing should be respectful, this means you should not wear anything too revealing. Also, many of these places are hot destinations, so make sure your clothes are light and cover your arms and legs, such as a long dress or linen trousers and a top.

Consider Your Cruise Line

Each cruise line has a different dress code, so it’s important to find out what the cruise line expects before you go.  During the day, it’s usually quite relaxed, however, it may be quite different in the evening. Before you start packing, make sure you check the cruise line’s policy.

Daytime Cruise Wear

During the day on a cruise, you’ll likely be doing a range of activities, particularly if you have a day at sea. During the daytime, you’ll likely want to wear a few different outfits. In one half of the day, you may be relaxing by the pool and the other half taking part in some of the onboard activities.

Poolside and Sunbathing Outfits

If you enjoy swimming, sunbathing or relaxing by the poolside on the Lido Deck, make sure you have a few pieces of swimwear. Particularly, if they get wet, you may want a second swimsuit or bikini to put in in case the other set has not dried yet. Also, the deck can get quite hot sometimes, so make sure you bring a pair of sandals or flip-flops, so you don’t burn your feet.

Cruise Mummy on cruise

Many cruise lines will not let you in the ship’s restaurants, bars or reception if you just have swimwear on. So if you’re planning on going from the pool to a restaurant, make sure you bring something to cover up with to the poolside, like a lightweight summer dress or shirt and shorts, and appropriate footwear.

Clothing for Onboard Activities

Most ships have a gym, so if you’re a regular visitor to the gym and don’t want to miss out, make sure you bring your gym gear. When packing your clothes, plan how many workouts you’ll be doing and make sure you have enough. Some gyms won’t let you in if you don’t have the right footwear, so make sure you have a pair of trainers.

Some cruise ships have activities such as rock climbing, ziplining and Royal Caribbean’s surf simulator, the FlowRider. Each one will likely have a specification on what you need to wear. For example, you’ll need close-toed shoes for rock climbing and laser tag and secure shoes for ziplining.

Father and daughter rock climbing

For the FlowRider surf simulator board shorts and a rash top are recommended. But you can get away with a swimsuit and a t-shirt. One thing’s for sure, though… Ladies, you must wear a top! If you try to do the FlowRider in a bikini, things won’t end well for you!

If you’re doing indoor activities, such as ice skating, you must pack something that covers your legs, such as long trousers or leggings. Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean state that you won’t be allowed on the ice if you do not have suitable clothing. Also, it will be a bit cold in there, so if you are watching or taking part, remember to pack a few layers.

Evening Cruise Wear

In the evening you’ll likely want to wear completely different clothes. Whether it’s a casual, formal or theme night, you’ll want to be prepared when packing your luggage.

Casual Nights

Many cruise lines have casual nights, but many wonder how casual is casual? It all depends on that particular cruise line’s dress code. On most cruise lines, they would expect you to wear something such as a nice top with jeans, a polo or casual button-down shirt, or a smart dress.

Below, you can see the type of clothes that we like to wear on casual evenings…

Family on cruise wearing casual dress

Some cruise lines, such as Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), are freestyle, meaning you can wear casual clothing at all times, even during formal nights.

Some cruise lines are more strict than others. For example, on a recent Fred. Olsen cruise, my husband was turned away from the main dining room on a casual night because he was wearing smart shorts. He changed into more casual jeans, and that was fine!

I find that cruise lines are generally much more strict with men. I’ve worn smart trainers and a dress in the main dining room with no issue, whereas men may be less likely to get away with it.

On the whole, as long as you look nice and your clothes aren’t ripped or have too much skin showing, you’ll generally be fine. But, it’s wise the check the dress code of your particular cruise line to avoid having to nip back to your room to change.

Formal Nights

On formal nights, cruise lines often have a smart dress code that allows passengers to wear their most glamorous clothes.

Family on cruise wearing formal dress

For example, Cunard usually has three formal evenings for a week-long cruise. Ladies may wear a cocktail dress, a ball gown or something a bit more chic. Men might wear a suit or tuxedo.

On some of Royal Caribbean ships, it’s listed a dinner dress suggestion of “Wear Your Best”, which is described as “Say goodbye to Formal Night, and hello to Wear Your Best.  Get glamorous. Be Chic. It’s time to shine – your way.” [Source].

Check out these cruise dresses for formal night to some ideas as to what people wear.

It’s also worth noting that typically, if you don’t want to wear formal clothing, you’ll be able to relax in your casual gear but your dining options may be more limited – you’ll have to eat in the buffet, rather than the main dining room. You may also find that some bars are off-limits.

Theme Nights

Most cruise lines offer a variety of themed nights. This is the perfect time to dig out costumes from parties out the back of your wardrobe. Usually, costumes aren’t sold onboard, so coming prepared is essential. Check what theme nights are scheduled in advance and pack accordingly. 

Cruise Mummy on Scarlet Lady
Wearing red on Scarlet Night

Each cruise line has different themed nights. For example, Royal Caribbean is known for various theme nights, such as Black and White Night, 60s, 70s, and 80s nights, and Toga Parties.

Meanwhile, Carnival offers its unique 80s Rock’n’Glow Deck Party, Silent White Hot Night, and Superhero Music Party.

NCL encourages its guests to take part in their vibrant neon “glow” party. 

Virgin Voyages theme nights include Scarlet Night and a pyjama party where you can arrive in your best nightwear!

Disney Cruise Line features Pirate Nights. Many of the kids dress up as pirates for this, and some of the adults do too!

Packing for Shore Excursions

Another thing to consider when packing is shore excursions. Your clothing needs may be quite different to what you need on the ship.

Walking Shoes and Comfortable Clothing

Firstly, it’s important to pack the right shoes. Sightseeing can often involve lots of walking, so if you want to make the most out of the shore excursions, you’ll need some comfy shoes.

The best type of shoes are the ones that you are used to, which provide plenty of support. I would also recommend they are flat. If you come across any cities with uneven pavements or cobblestones, anything with a heel can be difficult to walk in, so it’s best to stick to flat shoes, like trainers or sturdy sandals. You may want to check out my guide on shoes for cruises.

Cruise Mummy wearing comfortable clothes

Secondly, choose comfortable clothing suited for the climate. Clothes made from cotton, linen, or moisture-wicking synthetics can be the most comfortable, especially in warmer climates. 

It’s also a good idea to wear layers, as there may be changing weather conditions throughout the day, or it might be cold outside, but if you’re visiting indoor places, it can get warm. Or if you’re in a hot destination, you may go into a place with freezing cold air con.

Dressing warmly on an excursion in Norway

Essential Items for Day Trips

When packing for shore excursions, you also need to think about other essentials that will make your day more comfortable and enjoyable.

If you’re in a hot destination, sun protection should be on your list. You may want to purchase a good sun cream that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Bring a hat and sunglasses too, to further protect yourself from the sun. Also, to stay hydrated, I like to pack an insulated water bottle that can be topped up throughout the day.

Sometimes I also like to pack light snacks, particularly if you have kids. Dry pre-packaged snacks, like granola bars, are usually fine. However, if you’re bringing food off the ship, it’s best to check the country’s laws, as sometimes it can be illegal.

To carry all of your items, take a comfortable backpack or crossover bag. It will need to be able to fit your essentials in there, including your phone, purse or wallet and other items that you might buy on your day trip.

How Much To Pack

Another factor to consider when deciding what to wear on a cruise is how much you need to pack. You’ll need to consider your luggage allowance and whether you will use the onboard laundry service.

Luggage Allowances

Usually, cruise lines give a good luggage allowance – or none at all, letting you take as much as you can carry. This means you can take quite a few outfits with you. However, think about the size of your bags as they have to fit into your stateroom and your clothes in the wardrobe and drawers available. 

Star Legend closet

Before going on a cruise, you can look at the size of your room and the storage available. Secondly, you can check the size of the luggage allowance. You could take quite a lot of clothes with you, but you definitely don’t want to bring too much and then have to return it home.

Some cruise lines like Carnival have strict restrictions on the size and weight of your bags. Read more here: Carnival Luggage Restrictions.

Also bear in mind any luggage restrictions on flights to get to your embarkation port or to return home. They’ll usually be stricter than the cruise line.

It is easier to pack light, which means you may want clothes that don’t take up too much room or items you can mix and match for different outfits throughout your time on the cruise. For more top tips on what to pack, check out these handy cruise packing tips and tricks

Laundry

Another key factor when deciding what clothes to bring on a cruise is whether you want to use the ship’s laundry service. If you’re going on a long cruise or travelling with kids, this might be ideal for you.

Laundry-room inside a cruise ship

Most cruise lines have some sort of laundry service. Some cruise lines have a full-service with dry cleaning for an item-based fee. Others offer self-service or a flat-rate ‘fill the bag’ service. For more details, check out my helpful cruise ship laundry guide.

FAQs

Do you have to dress up for dinner on a cruise?

Most cruises have a dress code for dinner, however, this is recommended and not enforced. Depending on the cruise line, this could range from casual smart to formal clothes. If the cruise is at least a week long, there are at least one or two formal nights. On other nights, ‘smart casual’ is usually the dress code. 

What should you not wear on a cruise?

When going on a cruise, there are certain clothes you should not wear, including offensive t-shirts, cut-off jeans, and overly revealing swimwear. Also, most cruise lines discourage beachwear, shorts, or flip-flops in dining rooms and bars. 

How many outfits should you pack for a 7-day cruise?

For a seven-day cruise, consider taking about three to four daytime outfits, two to three casual evening outfits, one to two formal options and two swimwear options. Rather than take your whole wardrobe with you, have outfits that are versatile and can be mixed and matched.

How many swimsuits for a 7-day cruise?

For a week’s cruise, it’s best to pack two or three swimsuits. You can wash them in the shower each day and hang them to dry. So with a couple of options, you’ll always have a dry one to wear.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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