Cruise lines often get a bad rap (thanks a lot, Titanic). But if you can overlook the occasional bad press, cruise ships are by and large one of the best ways to vacation. Think about it— as if visiting all the different ports of call isn’t cool enough, you also get to spend the rest of your days relaxing on a giant, floating hotel that caters to your every whim.
It’s basically an entire week of saying yes to everything. Poolside rum bar? Oh, yes. Rock climbing wall and water parks? Let’s do this thing. Fresh-caught lobster doused in garlic butter? Our stretch pants are R-E-A-D-Y.
The hardest question you’ll probably face is figuring out what to wear on a cruise in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t just live in your swim shorts or your bikini for the entirety of the trip. To help you pack like a pro for your sea-worthy adventure, we’re dishing out our best tips for what to wear on a cruise.
What to Wear on a Cruise: Sea Days
You either love sea days or hate ’em—there is no in-between. In case it needs explaining, sea days are the days when your cruise ship is traveling to the next port. You’re essentially trapped at sea, but it’s fine! There are a million things you can do in the meantime, such as grab dinner and see a show. Or visit the tiki bar and relax by the pool. Or attempt to recreate the Titanic pose after visiting said tiki bar for too long (we’ll take, “Why do people fall off cruise ships?” for 400, Alex).
Sea days are typically more relaxed and casual, so keep that in mind as you pack. Here are a few recommendations for what to wear on a cruise while traveling in-between ports of call:
For the Women
- Multiple Swimsuits. One swimsuit just isn’t going to cut it on a cruise. You’ll need to pack a few bikinis and bathing suits to take full advantage of the waterparks, pools and Jacuzzis at your disposal- unless you’re cool with the idea of squeezing into your cold, wet swimsuit? Yeah, we didn’t think so.
- Breathable Tops. You don’t need any fancy tops for casual sea days. Some cute tank tops and t-shirts will do the job just fine. If possible, try to pack tops with a more flowy fit. Flowy tops are not only more breathable, but they also give you more room in the stomach area for when you want to go absolutely ham on the buffet.
- Nice Shorts. Shorts are the go-to choice for sea days, but we’re not talking about the distressed jean shorts that you wore to Coachella last year. Pack a few pairs of tailored women’s khaki shorts in classic colors (think white, navy and tan) instead, which are far more appropriate for a cruise and won’t get you evil looks from the more conservative snowbirds.
For the Men
- Multiple Pairs of Swim Trunks. Just like the ladies, you need to bring at least two pairs of men’s swim trunks on your cruise. While one pair is completely soaked from your epic wipeout on the Flowrider, you can simply slip on your second pair of dry swim trunks and pretend like you didn’t just lose your dignity in front of your fellow cruise ship guests.
- A Performance Sport Shirt. Men, if there is only one type of top you bring on a cruise, let it be a performance sport shirt. These hardworking shirts have quick-dry fabric and UPF protection to keep your skin extra protected from the sun while on your cruise. They’re also classy enough to get you into the fine dining restaurants that most cruise ships have onboard.
- Khaki Shorts. A nice pair of men’s casual khaki shorts will go perfectly with t-shirts and sport shirts alike. For a warm-weather cruise, be sure to check out Southern Tide Gulf Shorts that have UPF 50+ sun protection and moisture-wicking technology. They also have FIVE pockets, which you can stuff full with blueberry muffins from the buffet and eat in your cabin later when those 3 a.m. munchies strike.
What to Wear on a Cruise: Visiting Ports
While there is no rule that says you MUST get off the cruise ship when it docks at port, you’d be silly not to. After all, why wouldn’t you want to experience the unhurried lifestyle of Nevis or walk the white sand beaches at New Providence Island?
Just like eating yourself into oblivion (Fact: calories don’t count on cruises) or seeing old men wearing ridiculously small Speedos, visiting beautiful islands is all part of the cruise experience. What’s not to love? You get the opportunity to explore new places, visit historical sites, go bar hopping and see things through the eyes of a local.
Speaking of locals, you can do yourself a big favor by skipping the fanny pack and/or the American flag shorts, both of which are dead giveaways that you’re a tourist. Instead, pack these adventure-ready pieces before heading ashore:
For the Women
- A Seersucker Dress. You simply can’t go wrong wearing a seersucker dress for your onshore excursions. Whether you’re walking the beach or strolling through town, this ultra-breathable fabric will keep you cool and stylish all day long. Now, if only seersucker’s humidity-fighting powers extended to our hair…
- Comfortable Sneakers. This probably goes without saying, but running around an island in heels or flats is a BAD IDEA. Within an hour, you’ll be begging your boyfriend to carry you around, which he’ll do for a bit because he has the patience of a saint. Save you and your boyfriend the trouble by packing a pair of comfortable sneakers you’ve worn before.
For the Men
- Polo shirts. In addition to your sport shirts, be sure to pack plenty of men’s polo shirts for your cruise. These are perfect for wearing on the ship itself and for onshore adventures. Polo shirts are a classy yet casual option that fits the laid back vibe of most islands.
- Chino Pants. For onshore excursions, you may want to wear pants instead of shorts. It’s always nice to have a little more coverage when you visit port towns just in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. Skip the jeans (which are way too hot for balmy island weather) and wear breathable chino pants that will look nice while keeping you cool.
What to Wear on a Cruise: Evening Attire
Before we get into evening attire for your cruise, we need to bring up cruise ship dress codes. Some cruise ships have no formal dress code. Others have a “resort casual” dress code, which is basically business casual attire with a tropical twist—think dress pants, loafers and your dad-approved Hawaiian t-shirt that is weirdly fashionable again.
Other cruise lines still have formal dress codes specifically for dinners at high-end restaurants and evening entertainment. How dressed-up you decide to get will probably depend on the type of restaurant and evening show. You probably don’t need to dress as fancy for, say, the Lip Sync Battle show as you would for a steak dinner prepared by a Michelin-starred chef.
It never hurts to research your cruise ship’s dress code in advance. But to play it safe, here are a couple of evening-wear options that will work on most major cruise lines:
For the Women
- Preppy Dresses. You’ll want to aim for a dress that you can easily dress up or down in a flash (packing light is key on a cruise). We recommend you reach for a preppy dress in a flattering fit, like a classic shift dress. Wear it with a simple pair of women’s sandals for those casual dinners, or dress it up with cute wedges and a pair of sparkly earrings if you want to impress that special someone.
- Little Black Dress. When it comes to fancy events, a LBD will never steer you wrong. Pack your little black dress for formal nights on your cruise and jazz it up with a statement heel. Since you and your beau will probably snap a few pics of the evening, make sure to style your hair into a humidity-proof updo. You’ll thank us for that tip later when your hair doesn’t look like it was attacked by a rabid raccoon that evening.
For the Men
- Khaki Pants & A Collared Shirt. If you’ve taken our advice above and packed at least one pair of casual men’s pants and a sport shirt, then you have almost everything you need to get into your cruise ship’s fine dining restaurant. All that’s left is to dress up your outfit with a nice pair of loafers and maybe a blazer if the air conditioning is cranked on high. Just be prepared to fork over your blazer to your girl (because you know she’ll forget hers).
- A Dark Suit. If you’re going to a formal dinner (hello, lobster tails and prime rib), you might be required to wear a dark suit in navy or black. Some cruise lines suggest wearing tuxedos, but it’s rare to strictly enforce this rule. If you’re worried about being turned away, just call up the cruise line and ask about what is and isn’t appropriate attire.
One last thing you need to bring with you on a cruise? A good attitude. Just like any vacation, it’s likely not every last thing will go according to plan. Don’t let something small ruin your entire trip. Try to embrace the mishaps as best you can and enjoy the experience. Happy cruising!