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What to Bring On a Cruise

Thanksgiving has come and gone and winter break is upon us. As we’re all finishing up our holiday shopping, it’s also time to start getting excited about what the vacation ahead of us has in store.

One popular winter break getaway for collegiettes is jetting off on a cruise. But if you’ve never been on one of these luxurious sea voyages, it’s difficult to know what you should pack. Don’t worry; check out our guide for what to bring on your next cruise vacation and you’ll be ready to go in no time!


A major mistake that many cruise-goers make is severely over-packing for their trip. If you’re flying to the starting destination of your cruise, you have to be aware of airlines’ 50-pound limit for checked baggage and also the size limit for carry-on baggage. This means you’re going to want to make sure that you’re only bringing the essentials.

When packing clothing, the most important thing to remember is versatility. “My tip for packing clothing on any trip would be to only take a few basic outfit elements that you can mix and match to create other outfits,” says Ashley, a junior at West Virginia Wesleyan College. “Pack pieces that you know you’ll wear, not pieces that you think you might wear.”

Before you start packing, check the dress code of the cruise line you’re going on. Dress codes for cruises tend to vary, and to ensure you don’t end up being either over- or underdressed, you’re going to want to verify your cruise’s dress code (which can normally be found on your cruise line’s website). Here are some general clothing ideas:


Of course, you’ll want to pack a few of your favorite bathing suits. But for lounging on the pool deck, you should bring a few extra outfits that are both casual and comfortable. A pair of denim shorts paired with a tank top is fine if you’re only planning on staying by the pool, but a nice cover-up is much more flexible.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Blouson Romper Cover-up, Victoria’s Secret, $46

Reef – Gypsy Love Dress, SwimSpot, $37

Tie-waist Cover-up Dress, Victoria’s Secret, $45.50

Since most cruise ships require that you wear more than a bathing suit in the dining rooms, throwing on one of these cover-up pieces will ensure that you’re dressed appropriately to go straight from the pool to lunch and back again. 



On most cruises, there will be many daytime activities on the ship that require you to dress “smart casual.” A sundress, dress shorts, a skirt or nice jeans paired with a blouse or a classy tank top should do the trick. Plan enough of these kinds of outfits for the number of days you’re going to be gone.

Here’s one example of perfect daytime wear:

Top, H&M, $24

Veracruz Shorts, Nasty Gal, $38

When going ashore, what is appropriate to wear depends on the ports you’re docking at as well as what you’re going to be doing there. First, figure out what is considered tasteful where you’ll be stopping and go from there.

If you’re going to be doing an activity like snorkeling or kayaking, rock a bathing suit with shorts and a t-shirt. But if you’re going into town, opt for the “smart casual” look described above. This means that you’re going to want to take a look at your cruise’s itinerary and plan out what you want to do beforehand to make sure you wear the proper attire.

Also, if you’re planning on using the fitness center on board, you’re going to want a few gym-appropriate outfits.


Most cruise ships will assign a daily dress code that goes into effect around 6 p.m. The spectrum of the dress code will normally range from casual to formal with most of the nights falling more on the casual side. On the casual nights, you should think slacks or nice jeans with a blouse. On the semiformal nights, go for a relaxed sundress.

For the more formal nights, you don’t need to wear a ball gown. On most cruises, formal attire is more along the lines of an elegant cotton dress. Think about what you would wear out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and go with that.

However, there are a few cruise lines where “formal” is fancier, and that means you should wear a cocktail dress. It’s best to be safe by checking out the details of your cruise’s dress code beforehand.


Lace Collar Top, Topshop USA, $32

INC International Concepts Jeans, Skinny Jacquard Ankle-Length, Macy’s, $32.99



Friendly Floral Arrangements Dress, ModCloth, $49.99


Dress, H&M, $24


Since they take up so much room in your suitcase, shoes are definitely something you don’t want to bring too many of. Your best bet is to pack a pair of flip-flops you can wear to the pool, a pair of nicer sandals that fit the “smart casual” vibe, a pair of comfortable sneakers for off-ship excursions and working out, and a pair of either heels or dressy flats for the evening. Neutral-colored shoes are a safe bet because they’ll go with multiple outfits.


A few other clothing items that you should fit in your suitcase are a raincoat, a sweatshirt and sweatpants, pajamas, and a cardigan or jacket that is more formal.

In terms of accessories, don’t bother bringing a bunch of jewelry with you because it’s really easy to lose small jewelry items while off doing cruise activities. Unfortunately, there’s also the chance that your nicer jewelry items will be stolen. Instead, opt for more practical items such as sunglasses, a hat to shield you from the sun, and some headbands or headscarves.


Non-clothing items


Figuring out which of your electronics you should bring on a cruise can be difficult. You don’t want to spend your entire cruise staring at technology, so it’s important to only bring the essentials.

It’s safe to bring your electronics on a cruise as long as you’re not flashy with them and use them with discretion. In other words, don’t go around bragging about how expensive your new iPad is and then leave it on a poolside table while you go take a quick dip.

To avoid racking up a huge bill, don’t bring your cell phone before investigating on-board roaming charges and, if your cruise is international, foreign fees. You can also always bring it and put it on airplane mode so you can still use the camera, alarm, etc. However, if you don’t end up bringing it, you may want something else you can use as an alarm clock.

In terms of entertainment, a portable music player or an e-reader are great to have when lounging by the pool or during other downtime. “When I went on a cruise, the best thing I brought was my MP3 player which didn’t take up much space in my bag and was crucial for long afternoons spent tanning,” says Annalee, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

You can also bring your laptop, but make sure you know what the Wi-Fi charges are before logging on to the Internet. Of course, one of the most important electronic devices you should bring is a camera to document the trip.

Another good idea is to bring a power strip to avoid limited outlet space in your cabin. And don’t forget all of your chargers!


If you have an e-reader, bring it instead of taking up a bunch of room in your suitcase with books and magazines. But if you don’t have one, you’re going to want to use at least a little space for some fun reading material. You may also want to bring a journal or a travel guide to get a feel for your onshore destinations.

Toiletries and other necessities

The cruise should at least provide soap and shampoo, but it’s better to be safe than sorry by bringing travel-sized containers of the items you use on a daily basis (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, toothpaste, etc.). Make sure you also don’t forget other essential items such as your toothbrush and razor. You can buy toiletries onboard a cruise, but they’re normally incredibly expensive. Getting travel-sized items ensures that even if you’re flying, you’ll be able to bring your own toiletries.

There are normally low wattage hair dryers provided on cruise ships, but if you prefer your own, bring it. Other similar appliances such as hair straighteners or curlers are definitely your responsibility to bring with you.

And of course, don’t forget lots and lots of sunscreen!


Some sort of backpack, tote bag or large purse for carrying around items such as sunglasses and sunscreen is important for onshore excursions, and binoculars can be great for onboard sightseeing. Many passengers also choose to bring an over-the-door shoe bag to create more storage space in small rooms.

There you have it, collegiettes: the packing essentials for a great cruise experience. Remember these tips as you’re packing up to avoid an overstuffed suitcase and extra fees. And of course, remember to leave room to bring back souvenirs!

Megan McCluskey is a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. with Distinction in Journalism and Mass Communication, and a second major in French. She has experience as a Campus Correspondent and Contributing Writer for Her Campus, a Public Relations Consultant for The V Foundation, an Editorial Assistant for TV Guide Magazine and Carolina Woman magazine, a Researcher for MTV, and a Reporter and Webmaster for the Daily Tar Heel. She is an obsessive New England Patriots and Carolina basketball fan, and loves spending time with her friends and family (including her dogs), going to the beach, traveling, reading, online shopping and eating bad Mexican food.