What to pack for a cruise

Cruising couture or casual combos? Here are our tips for what to wear on a cruise ship.


In the Golden Age of cruising of the 1920s and ‘30s, first-class passengers donned full-length evening gowns and tuxedos as they steamed across the Atlantic.

Cruises often have formal nights – but not as often as they did in the 1920s.

Dress styles changed as cruising became more egalitarian, although five-star lines maintained strict formal dress policies to allow well-heeled passengers to parade their finery.  

I clearly remember staring in wonder at the dazzling array of full-length, full-beaded gowns in the boutique on board stylish ship Crystal Symphony in the early 1990s. There was plenty to plunder if one needed a bejewelled outfit for the evening.

Dress codes still exist, however sequins and bowties are more an option than a requirement.

What you wear on board a cruise depends on the cruise you are doing. Picture: Shutterstock

I’ll go out on a limb and say that most women love to dress up; I know very few who’d sneer at the chance to put on that cocktail outfit that’s been bought and begging for an outing. Conversely, men favour the phrase: “I’m on holidays – I don’t want to wear a tie.”

To appease all-comers, cruise lines still offer traditional ‘formal’ nights (they may have a different name such as ‘cocktail’ or ‘dress to impress’) but also permit passengers to ‘dress down’ as long as they dine in the casual eateries.

As a rule of thumb, cruise lines have a resort/casual code for daytime and two different codes for the evening.


Day wear

For summer cruises passengers should pack swimsuits (preferably two), sarong/cover-up, shorts, t-shirts, resort dresses, jeans or light-weight pants, sandals, thongs or ballet flats and gym wear if heading to the fitness centre along with the right footwear. Others should pack flat rubber-soled shoes to avoid slipping on deck.


Go for comfort on a cruise. Picture: Shutterstock

Swimsuits and sarongs are not allowed in restaurants and lounges during the day time, while some cruise lines also prohibit tank tops (sleeveless T-shirts) and baseball caps. The best advice is check the cruise line website under the Q &A section.   

Those taking expedition cruises or venturing to cooler climes should pack hiking pants, waterproof over pants, wind-cheaters, lightweight warm jackets, thermals, beanies and hiking boots.

Evening wear

Most cruise lines – be they the affordable mass-market companies or the luxury lines – have two dress codes for the evening.

On most nights the code with be “smart casual”, although a cruise line might call it “elegant casual”, as Seabourn Line does.  

Women can wear a good dress (something one would wear out to dinner), pantsuit or separates (top and skirt/pants). Men are required to wear a collared shirt and long trousers and sometimes jeans (depending on cruise line), while jackets and ties are optional.

The best choices for women are non-crush, no-iron varieties. There are plenty of jersey fabric dresses and outfits available, while a scarf or two, a pashmina, or a light evening jacket never goes astray.

Group of people enjoying cocktails at the Sunset Bar onboard Celebrity Solstice SL, drinks

The biggest change in the cruise industry has been the relaxing of the “formal” dress code. Ladies can go to town and put on that sparkling evening dress, pantsuit or dressy separates. On most lines men are required to wear a tuxedo or a dark suit with tie or bow tie; P&O Cruises Australia say a tie is optional, while Celebrity Cruises allows men to wear ‘pants or designer jeans’ on their ‘evening chic’ nights. These nights are held once or twice during a seven-night cruise.

Theme Nights

Many lines have these, with the most popular being ‘white’ parties and ‘Gatsby’ nights. Cunard ships also have masquerade and Victoriana balls, while P&O has a “Back to School” party.  

Shore Excursions

Pack the sunscreen, hat, water bottle, lightweight jacket/jumper, rain jacket (or umbrella) into a light day-pack or travel bag and carry local currency for drinks, lunch and tips.

Heading to the Arctic? You will need warm clothing

The key to stress-free packing is check the cruise line website and choose lightweight, drip-dry outfits than can be mixed and matched and glammed up with a scarf, pashmina and some bling.


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