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MEI Travel

Cruise Clothes for Women: What to Wear on a Cruise

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Ladies - this one's for you!

Are you cruising soon and need to start packing? After 25+ cruises and spending 105 days on a ship for a semester in college, I feel pretty confident in my ability to pack well for a cruise. 

While some might get overwhelmed packing for a cruise, I find that packing for a cruise is very predictable. 

Packing for a cruise will be heavily based on your itinerary. I’ve cruised all over the world - from Europe to Asia to the Caribbean- and each destination requires a slightly different wardrobe. Your excursions and day-to-day style will also need to be considered when deciding what to pack. 

With every cruise though, there are definitely a few key pieces that I will absolutely always pack in my suitcase.

Ships are cold

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One thing that is universal while cruising - the cruise ship is ALWAYS cold. My mom taught me this from a young age. I have yet to be on a cruise ship that’s not cold!

Whether this is the dining room, the theatre or your cabin, you will probably find that you’re cold inside due to the air conditioning. 

For this reason, I bring a light sweater to dinner every night. Even while sailing in the scorching Southeast Asian heat, I found myself chilly inside the ship each night. You’ll find that a light sweater is very versatile and travels well during day excursions too. 

Dinner Clothes

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When packing for a cruise, I like to first start with my dinner clothes. If you’re cruising for 7 nights, that means you’ll need about 7 different outfits to wear to dinner. With longer cruises, I will typically re-wear a dinner outfit to save suitcase space. 

I’ve found that casual dresses are perfect for dinners on a cruise. These travel well and are easy to dress up or down. You can add a cute shawl, jean jacket or sweater to switch things up if needed. I will pack a few statement necklaces and earrings to complete the outfit. 

While deciding what to pack, keep in mind that you will likely be eating and drinking more than normal. For me, this means packing dresses aren’t too fitted. There’s nothing worse than trying on a tight outfit on vacation and feeling self-conscious or overly bloated.

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Pack dinner outfits that are comfortable and always make you feel good. You want to enjoy your meals onboard - for me, the food is my favorite part! To avoid uncomfortable outfits, I pack a few flowy and loose dresses - these are usually perfect towards the end of a cruise. 

Most cruises will have at least one formal night. Some women will go all-out with formal wear. If you’re someone who loves an excuse to get dressed up in full glam, then go all out! 

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For the most part, cruises are a judgement free zone. You will see people wearing gorgeous ball gowns and others sporting casual jeans on formal night. Most women fall in between somewhere when it comes to formal night. 

Pack what makes you feel confident for formal nights. I usually pack a dressier romper or jumpsuit for formal nights and wear a pair of casual heels.

Comfort and Versatility

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After packing dinner clothes, I start packing for days in port and on the ship. This will take up most of the room in your suitcase, so don’t overthink your packing! Comfort and versatility are key.

Pack clothes that fit your typical style back home. If you’re someone who likes to be casual most of the time (ahem - me!!), plan to pack your favorite casual clothes. In my opinion, most women dress casually onboard, especially if your itinerary has a lot of sea days. 

If I am cruising in warmer climates, my day outfits will consist of a variety of shorts (high-waisted preferably). I pack multiple tops that can be easily layered with other pieces. 

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For cooler climates, I will focus even more on layers and pack leggings, sweaters and multiple jeans. Because eating and drinking is one of my favorite cruise activities, I will leave my skinniest fitting jeans at home.

Again, the cruise ship is a judgment free zone most of the time. Feel free to wear what makes you feel your best!

Excursions

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If you have specific excursions planned, read through the tour description and determine if you need to pack anything in particular. If you are doing something active like ATV riding, zip-lining, or hiking, then you need to pack appropriately.

I’ve found that 1-2 pairs of workout shorts and tops can be very versatile for active excursions. These are quick to dry and easy to clean if you get dirty.

Cooler climates might require a pair of workout leggings. I prefer to pack a basic pair of black leggings that can be worn hiking or on a day trip. 

Shoes

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Women's shoes

As someone who loves shoe shopping, it can be tough to narrow down to just a few pairs of shoes. I wish I could pack a whole suitcase of shoes!

Birkenstocks are my go-to travel shoe. I hiked the entire island of Santorini in a pair of Birkenstocks and didn’t get any blisters! These are so comfortable for day trips, but they have many styles that pair nicely with dinner outfits too. I love to slip these on for wandering around the ship too.

Along with my Birkenstocks, I pack a pair of heels to wear for dinner and formal night. Nothing crazy, but a basic nude heel usually does the trick. 

I always pack my black Nike tennis shoes that I can wear for hiking or even walking around the port. These are a necessity for any trip.

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Kayak shore excursion tour

If you plan to be kayaking or doing a lot of water activities, you might want to consider packing water shoes. I’ve found these are great for water activities or rocky beaches. I’ve also worn these while walking around ports that might not be as clean. Water shoes are easy to clean if they end up getting dirty. 

If you will be enjoying cooler climates on your cruise, you might want to pack a good pair of boots. I’ve found Sperry boots to be comfortable for walking but also great for cold, wet climates. Timberland boots have also served me well. 

Keep culture in mind

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Depending on your itinerary, women need to keep different cultures in mind when packing. Churches in Europe (especially Italy) expect women to have knees and shoulders covered. 

I visited the Vatican on a recent cruise and totally forgot to bring something to cover my knees and shoulders. Guess who sat outside while the rest of the family toured the church? Yup.. there was no way to get around the fact that I was in shorts and a tank top with nothing to cover my shoulders or knees.

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Church

This is where your light sweater can come in handy! A light sweater is perfect for covering your shoulders when culturally necessary. A simple scarf or shawl would also work in this instance.

If you’re cruising in the Middle East or Africa, women are expected to dress modestly. While in Morocco, I wore maxi skirts and modest shirts. I also had a scarf that I kept with me to cover my head in certain spots, such as touring mosques. 

Multiple swimsuits

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If you’re planning to be on the beach or at the pool deck everyday on your cruise, packing multiple swimsuits is a no-brainer. But, you should also consider packing multiple kinds of swimsuits. You might not be in the mood to wear a bikini all the time! 

I prefer to pack a variety of swimsuits to make sure I always have something that I feel comfortable and confident in. 

A classic one-piece swimsuit is a perfect piece to pack for your cruise. You can also wear this with cute shorts for an easy outfit when heading to the beach. One piece suits are also great when you have water activities or active excursions. 

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