photo: etorres69 / iStockphoto

You don't need to overextend a credit card to fill your suitcases with brand-new cruise duds.


    Despite any anxiety you may have about what to bring on your trip, you more than likely already have almost everything you need. You will, however, have to know your cruise line’s policy on cruise wear, and be considerate by adhering to each evening’s dress code (ranging from casual to formal). Making a packing list in advance helps, as does reading up on some key packing strategies. Make the planning and packing stage of cruise preparation a family affair by enlisting everyone’s help.


      Packing for Adults

      Cruise wear falls into three general categories: casual, informal, and formal. Cruise documents should include information indicating how many evenings fall into each of those categories, and the daily newsletter will tell you the dress code for each evening.

        • Casual wear means T-shirts and shorts by day, collared shirts and long pants for men or sporty dresses or pants for women. Tank tops and shorts are not usually allowed for dinner.
        • Formal wear means cocktail dresses or gowns for women, tuxedos or dark suits for men. The degree of formality varies by the cruise line.
        • Informal dress varies by the cruise line, but it’s usually a degree nicer than casual. For men, it can mean a sport coat and tie.

      Packing List for Women

        • gowns or cocktail dresses
        • skirts, blouses, or pant outfits
        • shawl or sweater
        • T-shirts or polo shirts
        • swim suit (two for tropical cruises)
        • undergarments
        • dress shoes and hosiery
        • accessories (scarves, pins, etc.)
        • casual shoes
        • shorts or slacks
        • tennis shoes and socks
        • sleepwear

      Packing List for Men

        • tuxedo and accessories (studs, formal shirts, tie, cummerbund, belt), or dark business suit with shirts and ties
        • sport coat
        • polo or golf shirts
        • casual shoes
        • shorts
        • tennis shoes and socks
        • sleepwear
        • dress shoes and black socks
        • slacks and belt
        • khaki pants
        • T-shirts
        • swim suit
        • undergarments

      Packing for Children

      Packing for babies and toddlers will be the parents’ responsibility, but kids can help with their own packing. To make things easy, make stacks of clothing for children for every day of the cruise, including underwear and socks. Put each day’s stack in a zip-top plastic bag and label them Monday, Tuesday, and so on. Once on board the ship, each child can easily unpack his or her own suitcase and slip the plastic bags into drawers. Every morning they will know what to wear. Obviously, this won’t work for older kids and teens, but parents may want to keep an eye on what they’ve chosen to oversee the appropriateness of their wardrobes.

      INSIDER TIPKids can be more casually dressed than adults, even on formal nights.

      For Babies

        • Children’s Benadryl (seasickness or restlessness)
        • sunblock
        • Children’s Tylenol
        • hat
        • water shoes
        • bottles and sippy cups
        • diaper wipes
        • cotton swabs
        • poolside robe
        • sunglasses
        • juice boxes
        • pacifiers
        • umbrella stroller
        • PediaCare decongestant
        • adhesive bandages
        • diaper rash ointment
        • disinfectant ointment
        • diapers
        • disposable bibs
        • hand and face wipes
        • nail clippers
        • bathing suit
        • bottled water
        • favorite blanket or toy
        • thermometer

      For Children and Teens

        • A suit, tie, shirt, and dress shoes (if the cruise line requires formal dress)
        • shorts
        • T-shirts
        • flip-flops or sandals
        • socks
        • sleepwear
        • swim suits (two for tropical cruises)
        • at least one pair of long pants
        • athletic shoes
        • undergarments
        • sunglasses

      Packing Your Carry-On

      Because you may not have access to your checked bags for a few hours after boarding (or the morning of disembarkation), it’s important to pack a carry-on with what you might need both on the plane and on your first and last hours on board your cruise ship. Needless to say, you’ll have time to put your last day’s clothing aside on the evening before you dock, but it’s just as important to have your toiletries and a few other things you might need to freshen up in case your bags don’t arrive. It’s not a bad idea to include a change of clothing for dinner on the first night.

      Essentials for Your Carry-on

        • passport, money, documents, and keys
        • extra glasses
        • contact lens supplies
        • mouthwash and dental floss
        • shampoo and conditioner (if you want your own brand)
        • shaving kit
        • hat or cap
        • small flashlight and nightlight
        • body and hand lotions
        • sunscreen
        • brushes, combs, and hair spray
        • curling iron
        • feminine hygiene products
        • notebook and pen
        • cable ties
        • folding tote bag or waist pack
        • swimwear
        • camera, film or memory cards, and extra batteries
        • reading glasses (if you use them)
        • toothbrush and toothpaste
        • deodorant
        • sunglasses
        • jewelry
        • travel clock
        • perfume
        • talcum powder
        • cosmetics
        • hair dryer (if your cruise ship doesn’t provide them)
        • shower cap
        • short, multiplug extension cord
        • duct tape
        • liquid laundry soap
        • binoculars

      Cruise Packing Strategies

      Once you know what you want to put into your bag, consider these strategies to streamline your packing efforts.

      Stick to the List:

      Personalize the packing list and stick with it.

      Pack and Tick:

      Assemble everything on the list before starting to pack, and check items off when they’re placed in the suitcase.

      Eliminate the Extras:

      Resist the urge to toss in something “just in case”—that’s the item you surely won’t need.

      Take Tiny Toiletries:

      Plan ahead and shop for sample- or small-size containers of favorite toiletries.

      Wash on the Go:

      If the ship has self-service laundry facilities, you can opt to pack lighter and wash clothes midway through the cruise; or, bring along some laundry detergent so that you can wash some items in your bathroom sink in a pinch.

      Prepare to Expand:

      A collapsible tote bag is handy as a shopping or beach bag and invaluable when it’s time to pack the souvenirs that are preventing your suitcase from closing on the return trip.


      Consider cross-packing your luggage with your travel companion. Chances are if a suitcase is missing, it’ll turn up eventually. In the meantime, you’ll both have fresh clothing until it does.

      Guard Your Valuables:

      Valuables should never be packed in your checked luggage. Jewelry, medicine, cameras, and travel documents belong in your carry-on. For safety and peace of mind, consider carrying cash, cards, and your passport in a money pouch under your clothing.

      Lock it Up:

      Lock your checked luggage with TSA-approved locks for peace of mind.

      Keep Luggage in Check:

      Cruisers arriving at their embarkation port by air should be aware of airline restrictions on luggage size and weight policies, to avoid any rude (and expensive) surprises. Cruise lines, too, while not as strict, also have their own luggage restrictions, so be sure to verify in advance that the luggage you bring aboard is within their stated limits.