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The Cruising Gal’s Essential Packing Tips For Your Caribbean Cruise

First cruise? Think packing a suitcase for a cruise is simply packing yet another suitcase, “same old – same old”?  I beg to differ. Not for us classy gals. Here we are packing for an exotic 7 night cruise, taking us to sunshine drenched sandy white beaches, and maybe with single cruise group activities on the menu. We want to be sure we have all we need to look and feel fabulous! And that it all holds in the tiny space we are allotted onboard, called a cabin, as most cheaper inside cabins are around 100 to 140 square feet. I bring to you my experienced wisdom gathered while enjoying rum cocktails on past ten or so cruises.

Essential Cruise Packing Tips – Part One: Clothing

Cruise traveling involves numerous activities for which we beauties need to be properly prepared:

1. Bathing suits galore, and accompanying accessories- your most seductive attire aboard! You will need several:

  • One for the beach, which allows a lot of movement comfortably whether jumping in the waves or off the seat of a fast flying Jet Ski. Translate that to a bathing suit that does stay put, bikini top not blowing off and everything staying modestly strapped in as we have our fun in the sun.
  • One or two for the numerous pools and jet tubs on board. Talking about modesty… Please keep in mind that cruises are all family oriented. There are kids around you, and married couples… Be a lady, or at least look like one. Let’s keep our “derrière” covered, as it should be, no matter what the trend is in Brazil or Europe! You want to feel sexy, which is understandable, but let’s not exaggerate. And if you have cellulite here and – especially – “there”, believe me when I say that you are not doing yourself a favor. Really though, it’s all about respecting others, and they will respect you in return.
  • Don’t forget the pretty coverall, your large brim hat, and a beach bag to carry all your beach or pool day necessities.
  • Are you an enthusiastic spa goer, like me? Clothing is usually optional for massages, but if you are not comfortable with that, you may want to pack a bikini which life’s span would not feel threatened by oils slathered upon it… You could also ask for those paper undies that they should offer to you anyway.
  • An extra tip about bathing suits: for those of us that have not been successful shedding those few extra unwanted pounds before the cruise… I have bought some one-piece suits that are specifically engineered to help minimize that little belly, the Miracle Suit brand in particular truly does miracles for me! I find one-piece suits pretty classy looking on any woman. Some bathing suit brands specialize in having you look your very best, no matter your body structure.

2. Fitness, if you are so inclined… Even though I brought along an outfit with the intention to hit the very well equipped onboard facilities on each cruise, that cool outfit stayed right in the suitcase each time. You sometimes need to choose between late night piano bar and early treadmill… I chose! 😉

3. Outdoor excursions or activities sometimes demand some specific outerwear, like water shoes as my trustworthy Keens for example. You will find Columbia brand type outerwear shirts and hats that protect from those harmful UV rays, dry fast after a tropical rainforest downpour, or keep you cool in hot climates. Checking out your cruise excursion offerings online could give you an idea of what trouble you could get into while in the different cruise ports. Bringing along your own snorkeling mask is also something you may want to consider, although you will find snorkeling gear for rent on most beaches or included in organized activities. If you still find space for that comfortable snorkeling mask in your suitcase by the time you finish packing…. Good for you!

4. Entertaining evenings start with your grand entrance into the dining room. 7 nights pretty much equals 7 different outfits.   These should be your “evening on the town” little dresses or more classy pants, also called “resort casual” style or your Sunday best. Dining is an elegant affair on a cruise ship, and in my personal opinion should stay that way even though it has became widely a cheaper traveling option, so to keep cruising an upscale experience. There is a dress code to respect, usually no jeans, cutoffs, shorts, bathing suits… You will find the dining room dress code in your daily activity newsletter on board.

Now you are thinking: “Oh, easy stuff…” Not so! You need to take into consideration a few important variables, where preparation is key:

Your first mission is to check online your cruise activity and dining options schedule. They usually have the same schedule week after week. Do not go by past experience on a different ship, as cruise lines do not follow all the same model.

The most important of these events is “Formal Night”, that sadly some cruise lines do not adhere to anymore. “Freestyle Cruising” with Norwegian, for example, choses to let you decide if you would like to bring along more elegant attire, although they will put on the agenda a “Night Out” evening, inviting you to dress up to the occasion. Formal Night aboard cruise ships is THE one night where us prom queens wannabes and dreaming Disney princesses are waiting for, the night to shine playing dress up and heavy makeup extravaganza! Those nights are very formal, think long dresses and high heels, and get all the bling out.  The guys have it easy with tuxedos to rent on board… Handsome! Keep in mind, you will find on those nights a hoard of photographers standing by to capture your glamourous portrait – that they will then attempt to make you pay as if you were as wealthy as the Great Gatsby in person… (An 8×10 inch will usually sell for over $20 of your hard earned vacation cruise budget). Go “all out”, and grab the captain’s arm and a glass of champagne for a photo souvenir with bragging rights 🙂

Some special themed evenings, like a “White Hot” night, where you wear whatever you fancy as long as it is white. If you are going as part of a specific group aboard the ship, singles group or other, do not forget to go over your activity calendar, usually sent to you just in time for packing purposes. You could have a Hawaiian themed night, 60’s psychedelic, a funny t-shirt contest…. or whatever party scheduled. Dressing for and participating in these events is a lot of fun on these cruises.

All this being said… You have the choice to participate or not in any or all of these activities. Remember, this is YOUR cruise. If you wish to eat pizza or burgers every night in your shorts on the pool deck: go for it! Your vacation, your well deserved time off. Spend it as relaxed as you wish, guilt free.

5. An important note about… Shoes! Remember, space is at a premium. I know this is going to be very hard ladies… Consider packing ONLY:

  • One pair of comfortable walking sandals for shopping and exploring when in the different ports of call, or walking around the ship.
  • One pair flip-flops type sandals, that don’t mind getting dirty for the beach. Sand can get really hot.
  • One pair of tennis shoes if you are planning hiking excursions, or fitness on the cruise ship. Don’t forget socks.
  • One pair of heels for the dining room. Black goes with everything. Yes, you can wear high heels! These cruise ships are so huge; they are very stable. Rarely did I ever feel swaying, I wear heels every night. So go ahead and show off those pretty legs girl 🙂
  • Optional: One pair water outdoor shoes, like Keens, if kayaking or visiting places with rocky coastlines or non-powdery sand beaches…

Additional cruise packing considerations:

  • A little black cardigan or shawl for the dining room, or walking about the ship. Women are not like men; we are not polar bears… It is chilly if the air conditioning is too strong, or the night is cool out on the highest deck playing the popular Titanic scene while dreaming of your own Leonardo Di Caprio’s arms wrapped around you… Come on, you know you want to do it!  I am not comfortable if I am cold. Not comfortable = not fun.
  • By the end of this week long cruise, the 24-hour-food-for-all-frenzy will have taken its toll on that bikini beach ready body you spent weeks – or months – painstakingly dieting for… Pack a dress or some clothing that you will still look good in “if” a few pounds heavier… a little bit looser or comfortable for the final days.
  • Think about clothes made of fabrics that travel well in a suitcase. Wrinkle-free synthetics. There are no irons in the rooms for safety purposes. It is a fire hazard, the #1 enemy onboard a ship!
  • Keep in mind, there is laundry service available onboard. Washing, Dry Cleaning or Ironing only. It is a bit costly though.  If given the choice, I’ll choose the pretty umbrella drink instead 😉

Stay tuned for the next part in the “Cruising Gal’s Packing Tips” series: Necessities, and the little extras that can make your life easier onboard a cruise ship!

Are you a Caribbean cruise fun addict? Please share your packing experience with us in the comments section below.

By Aimée Fawn, Wanderlust Addict 

Also known as “The Cruising Gal” per her experience cruising the seven seas, and as “La_Voyageuse” globetrotting on Twitter, but mostly as “The girl laughing with the glass of wine in her hand” 😉


  1. Capt Jill March 20, 2014 Reply

    Hi Aimee,
    Those sound like some great tips. I’ve never been on one of those big cruise ships. I have gone on a couple of small ship cruises. One was on a sailing ship and was a fantastic experience. Especially for me since I really don’t like to get dressed up. All I needed for the whole week was my bathing suit and a cover up!
    I do like that you suggested bringing your own mask for snorkeling. I have a prescription mask so if I don’t bring my own, I can’t see anything! I never want to forget it!
    Also, I just got a decent waterproof camera, so now I don’t have to worry about getting it all sandy or wet at the beach. It comes in handy for a rainy day too. 🙂

  2. Author
    Aimée Fawn March 20, 2014 Reply

    Thanks Captain Jill,
    Yes, the big 4,000 people cruise mega ships compared to the small 150 persons cruises are two completely different experiences! The big ship Caribbean cruise is one for those wanting some exotic beaches and fun in the sun, a well deserved break when snow is piling up in the driveway like this winter, and budget friendly vacation.
    I enjoyed a small ship atmosphere in the Greek islands and into Turkey, with historians on board talking about the intriguing mythology surrounding this cradle of humanity. A wonderful experience. Really two different types of travel.
    I also have issues with standard size snorkeling masks not conforming to my head’s morphology (I guess just as my brain does not want to have anything to do with conformity either… LOL), and you can get some custom-fitted. It can ruin a beautiful snorkeling experience when you have to go up every two minutes to take care of that leak in the mask, or the fog not allowing you to see well…
    Happy you got the waterproof camera, you will enjoy using it. They make some great ones now, shockproof too, great for adventure travel. I am trying to wait for one that would shoot in RAW format, for post processing. And I did not take my new dslr out on the beaches… they had found sand in my older lens when getting checked, and the guy said it was not Florida sand! Told him I traveled a lot LOL
    I will recommend taking that type of camera in Part 2 of this Cruise Packing Tips series.
    You have a great following on your maritime blog Captain Jill, great job 🙂

  3. Author
    Aimée Fawn April 12, 2014 Reply

    I got a question on my Facebook page, asking why I thought formal nights were less favored in recent years. Per my last cruising experiences, less cruisers, mostly families traveling together, embrace the formal night “all out” experience. Us ladies love it, but I think it boils down to people wanting a more relaxing experience, hence my last cruise on Norwegian where they adopted not to put on a formal night per say, and “freestyle cruising”, choosing yourself each day where and when you eat. I am guessing this is all part of the relax caribbean vacation vibe that most people want when hopping on a deeply discounted cruise, no fuss. And of course, cruise lines have market surveys telling them what most cruisers want. As an additional thought, the airline carriers exorbitant baggage fees may be an overlooked culprit, people not wanting to weigh down their suitcases with one night tuxedos and such…

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