How to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise

April 24, 2013 by

Caribbean, Travel Advice & Inspiration

For a Caribbean vacation you may just think, “Swimsuit? Cover-up? Flip-Flops. Check, check and check.” And then be done with your packing list.

However, this bare minimum packing strategy doesn’t work for a Caribbean cruise. You get to have a bit more fun with your wardrobe when you’re traveling around the Caribbean via a cruise ship.

When packing for a Caribbean cruise, you’ll need to think of your wardrobe for your cruise vacation in three different components: days at sea, days in port and evening attire. What you’ll want to wear for each of these parts of your cruise will differ; here are tips on how to pack for each one to make sure all your cruise moods and activities are covered.

Days in Port

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

If you plan to jump in the water, don’t forget your swimsuit!

If you already know what you’re planning on doing in port and already have shore excursions or other activities planned, then you should pack clothes that will be comfortable and ideal for the agenda planned for the day. Not sure what you’re doing yet? Don’t automatically assume you’ll just lie by the beach all day and pack for that. The Caribbean has a wide range of activities and once you start hearing about them on board, you may become enticed to spend a more active day in port. Here are some items you’ll want to toss in your suitcase:

Hiking Shoes or Sandals: Ideal for any excursion that includes a lot of walking.

Swimsuit: A must have for a beach day or any water activities, such as scuba diving or snorkeling – both popular Caribbean pastimes.

Sundress or Casual Slacks: Ideal for a day of shopping or a nice meal while in port.

Active Clothes: If your excursion includes hiking, off-road driving or some other active excursion, wear clothes that are breathable and easy to move in and will keep you comfortable and cool.

Light Raincoat: The Caribbean is prone to rain showers that come in quickly and leave almost just as fast, but last long enough to get you thoroughly drenched. Your cruise ship will notify you of the day’s weather the night before and having a light raincoat on hand which folds up easily is nice to bring along with you in a daypack or purse if the weather is calling for rain.

Sunglasses: Just as a raincoat will shield you from pounding raindrops, sunglasses will protect your eyes from glaring rays of sun. Plus, you don’t want to miss the sight of a dolphin jumping because you were too busy squinting.

Book shore excursions in the Caribbean

Days at Sea

Royal Caribbean Oasis - Rock Climbing

Pack for active days at sea! Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas.

When the ship is spending the whole day sailing, you’ll find you may still be just as busy or active as when in port. There are many different ways you can spend your days at sea and depending how many are part of your itinerary, you may want to pack for a few different occasions:

Spa Day: Most cruise ships have spas on board with many different treatments and packages available. Lounging away a day at sea while watching the ocean pass by from the spa’s serenity room is a relaxing way to spend your day. To keep the relaxation going before and after your spa treatments, pack yoga pants or your most comfortable shorts or pants with a loose-fitting shirt to arrive and leave the spa in.

Pool Day: Even when the ship’s in the middle of the ocean surrounded by water with no land in sight, the weather is often warm and the sky sunny, making a pool day a fun way to spend your day at sea. A swimsuit, flip-flops and a cover-up for jaunts to the pool bar or food court are all you’ll need to pack. And maybe a good book (or your Kindle, iPad or iPod).

Workout Day: If working out while on vacation sounds like blasphemy to you, don’t worry – cruise ships offer fun way to get your pulse rate up (although most cruise ships do have a typical fitness center with treadmills and weights). You may be able to rock climb, ice-skate, play basketball or even practice your golf swing while on board depending what cruise line and ship you’re sailing on, so pack up those gym clothes and get ready to have fun working off all that delicious cruise food you’ll be eating.

Enrichment Day: Cruise ships offer a wide range of enrichment activities; popular ones include wine tasting, cooking classes, art shows and history lectures on the destinations you’re visiting. For these types of days at sea, some smart casual attire is great to have on hand in your stateroom to change into – although if you’re taking that onboard cooking class, you may want to make sure it’s something you don’t mind getting dirty.

Evenings on Board

Cruise formal dinner

All dressed up for dinner! Photo credit: Elizabeth K via Flickr.

Though some lines have gotten rid of them, most cruise lines still have at least one formal night during a cruise. Formal nights are a nod to tradition for cruising, and most passengers partake in the fun of getting all decked out for a night. Here are some guidelines on what to pack for formal nights onboard plus other evening dining activities.

Formal Dining: Pack your most glamorous, fit-for-a-prince or -princess clothes for formal dining nights on board the cruise. Men are expected to wear suits. They can even don tuxes if they so desire. Women often wear evening gowns or cocktail dresses that are high on the formal scale.

Formal Hint for women: Remember that bridesmaid dress in the back of your closet you never thought you’d have a reason to wear again? Bridesmaid dresses often work great for formal nights on cruise ships.

Semi-Formal Dining: In the main dining room jeans and shorts are generally not allowed any night of the cruise. Think business casual when packing for these types of dining nights. Slacks and a dress shirt or a semi-formal dress are appropriate attire for semi-formal nights on board for dinner.

After Diner: Shows usually start after dinner and most people stay dressed up for attending them on board ship where dining isn’t casual. If you’re into dancing and your ship has a dance club onboard, bring some dancing clothes and shoes as well. Also, when the sun goes down, it sometimes gets chilly on deck so pack a light cardigan or jacket for drinks al fresco while on board.

One last thing to pack that may be the most important thing you bring with you: sunscreen. Part of the Caribbean’s charm is its sunny days and warm weather, but it unfortunately it can bring about nasty burns for travelers not used to the harsher rays as you’re closer to the equator. The key to packing for a cruise is bringing what you’re comfortable in that is appropriate for each event while on your cruise, whether it’s for the beach, basketball or cocktails. If you do happen to forget something, you can take comfort in knowing cruise ships almost always have an onboard shop with clothing and other necessities.

Read more packing tips

 – Gina Douglas

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4 Responses to “How to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise”

  1. Bobby J Says:

    Great tips, I will keep these in mind for my next cruise!

  2. George Says:

    That rock climbing wall looks like great fun, i’ve recently started climbing with some friends and it’s so much fun. After being on a cruise not long go i’ve been trying to persuade them to come on with me, i’ll have to try and find a decent deal on a royal caribbean cruise and try and motivate them with the climbing wall, and of course how much fun cruises actually are.

  3. Helen Says:

    Very helpful tips you have, thanks! I would definitely add that to my must-pack items list 🙂 These items are also helpful 🙂
    Snorkel and Mask
    Underwater Camera
    Wildlife and Night Sky ID Charts
    Sun Hat and Fastener
    Day Pack
    Resealable Plastic Bags
    Kids’ Beach Toys
    Rain Gear and Warm Layers

  4. Agencija za zaposljavanje Says:

    Wonderful explanations for those who are first time cruisers as well as the returning ones. I can’t wait till my Caribbean cruise next Ferbruary 😀 Keep up the good work and those blogs coming!