When I went on my Panama Canal cruise, one of the things I stressed about was what to pack. To start with, I wanted to travel carryon: it was easier, it was cheaper (my airfare didn’t include checked baggage), and I worried about what would happen if my luggage got lost when I was leaving the next day. Of course, this didn’t make it any easier for me to figure out what to bring- I had to be selective. But, at the end of the day, I think I did pretty well and am happy to share my tips on what to pack for a cruise with you.
Keep in mind, these tips are based on warm-weather destinations. I was in Central and South America but these tips would also work for the Caribbean, and Europe in the summer as well. I should also note that there were no mandatory formal wear requirements on our cruise (we cruised with Norwegian). While I did see several older women and men get dressed up quite nicely for photos, all in all it was a pretty casual cruise. With that being said, here are my cruise packing tips.
Convertible Wear Will Be Your Best Friend
One of the reasons I’m able to travel carry-on so easily is because I’ve discovered two amazing Canadian clothing brands that offer comfortable and stylish convertible clothing: Diane Kroe and encircled.
For those who don’t know what I mean when I say convertible clothing, I mean a piece of clothing that can be worn several ways to give you different looks. I have my favourites from both and will make recommendations later on in the article. Just know that this type of clothing does exist, can be really flattering, and is perfect for travel-especially if you are like me and want to travel light.
When it came to tops, I brought a mix dressy and casual. Nothing too fancy, but a couple of things that would look a little nicer with dark jeans for the nights we had dinner at the restaurants. My casual shirts were more along the lines of things I would be comfortable wearing while exploring (think airy, breathable fabrics since it was so hot outside). As for all my trips, my go-to travel shirt is the evolve top by encircled which you can wear different ways to change the neckline and sleeve length. I love it because I can easily dress it up or down.
I also made sure to bring a couple of sweaters with me. Even though the ports and being outside was warm, the ship was air conditioned and I did find myself getting a little chilly sometimes. Especially after a long day out in the sun and the heat. One of my favourite sweaters is the layer jacket by Diane Kroe which I think is super versatile. It’s longer which makes it easy to pair with leggings, or I can dress it up a bit for dinner. I love this style so much that I have one in black and red. Again, because of its versatility its perfect for travel and a great option for cruise wear.
PS: Use promo code hannah10 on any Diane Kroe purchase for a special discount!
I kept it simple with the bottoms I choose to bring on the cruise: shorts, long jeans, and a couple of pairs of leggings. The shorts and leggings I wore mainly for exploring the ports and relaxing on sea days. I made the mistake of wearing jean shorts to the dining room for dinner once (Nicki and I had just come back from a full day excursion in Nicaragua where we had very little time to explore so hadn’t eaten all day). While nobody actually commented or said anything to me, I did get a couple looks at my outfit that left me wishing I had thought to change ahead of time. Jeans (nice jeans) are totally acceptable though.
I love a cute dress and ended up bringing a couple on the cruise. Two of them were convertible wear, nothing fancy, but cute enough to wear to nicer dinners or explore the ports in.
The first dress I brought is the red chrysalis cardi from encircled. There are several styles ways to wear it both as a dress and a top. The Grecian tunic style is my go-to favourite. I wore it for dinner one night in one of the restaurants and I also wore it in Cartagena. Very soft, comfortable, and airy in the heat.
I also have the retrograde kimono II from encircled which I tried for the first time on the cruise. This piece can be work as a kimono-type jacket or as a dress. I wore it both ways and loved it. Again, super comfortable and a great piece that you can dress up or down.
If you haven’t yet, check out encircled clothing here.
Shoes and Other
Of course, it goes without saying that you will want pjs, socks, underwear, bras etc. One of the things you may want to consider ahead of time are laundry options. Some cruise ships had laundry facilities where you can do it yourself for cheap. Our ship did not, but there was a paid service. Again, I’m cheap so I just chose to pack enough underwear to last the trip (plus like 5 extra because I am one of those people). Of course, you can also do some sink laundry. All you need is travel laundry packs which you can get here.
Another thing you’ll want to make sure you bring is a swim suit. Even if you aren’t doing any water-based excursions you may want to take advantage of the ship’s pool or spa area. The Norwegian cruises have these really nice spa pool areas that you can get day passes to so you can enjoy hot tubs, jet pools, a swimming pool, steam room, and sauna. I also recommend bringing a cover up to throw over your swimsuit as you walk around the ship. If you are looking for some suggestions, consider the butterfly wrap or carryon cozy by Diane Kroe. Both have skirt or dress looks that are perfect for over swimwear. (Remember, use promo code Hannah10 for a special discount on any Diane Kroe order).
You may also want to bring a hat and sunglasses (a couple of pairs in case). I just brought a baseball cap with me for when I was out in the sun on the deck reading or sitting by the pool. Of course, you can get something cuter and beachier like this hat.
When it comes to figuring out what to take on a cruise, shoes can be one of the hardest things to decide on. Especially if you are shoe aficionado which, thankfully, I’m not. Even then, I still ended up bringing 3 different pairs.
I brought a pair of basic flipflops that I could wear around the ship, to the pool etc. My go-to for these types are tevas because the straps don’t give me blisters and they are a little more supportive than most. Plus, mine have always lasted really well and never broken on me. I also brought a pair of nice, dressier sandals for dinners. Finally, I brought a pair of light-weight running shoes/sneakers to wear on the excursions.
Random Things to Pack for a Cruise
While the clothing basics are out of the way, I’m not done with my recommendations on what to pack for a cruise. There are definitely a few small things you’ll want to make sure to bring with you- random things that you may not have thought about. These include:
- An adaptor. Our state room had north American and European plugs. I only had a converter with me because it just happened to be in my backpack from my last trip- but I’m sure glad I did or charging would have been tricky. Get a multi-country adapter here.
- A power bar. On top of having a mix of European and US plugs, we also only had a couple outlets in our room. Nicki and are both work in travel and each had a camera, phone, computer, and more to charge. If you too plan on brining lots of electronics, a power bar will be a real life saver. Find a travel-friendly power bar here.
- Anti-nausea pills: The Caribbean part of our Panama Canal cruise was very rough with big swells. Thankfully, I don’t get sea sick but if you think you may then bring some medication with you. Or, try one of the bracelets that are supposed to help you avoid getting sea sick.
- Sunscreen: It’s hot, it’s sunny, you’ll want sunscreen. I burned really badly one day just sitting on our balcony even though I was in the shade (thanks glare from the ocean!) You can buy sunscreen on board, but it’s much cheaper to bring some with you. I recommend making sure you get some that is reef safe, especially if you plan on being in the ocean at any ports. I recommend and trust this brand.
- Along those same lines, you’ll probably want a good moisturizing lotion. There probably will be a small bottle of cream in your bathroom when you arrive, but it’s not the best quality. If you are travelling light, or worried about leaky bottles, try these solid lotion bars. There’s no perfume smell and they feel really nice on your skin.
- A notepad or sticky notes: this seems kind of random, but there is no wifi on board and the packages are crazy expensive. So, unless you plan on buying one, it’s worth brining a pen and some paper to leave notes for your roomie about where you are if you are splitting up while on board.
Final Tips for Packing for a Cruise
Packing for a cruise can be a bit stressful, but at the end of the day it wasn’t a fashion show. It was about being comfortable, and looking put together enough to eat in a dining room. If you are someone who likes to dress up at any chance, then bring nicer clothing. If you are more of a casual person, then pack casual wear. Don’t think you need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe for your trip. Keep my tips and photos of my outfits in mind for inspiration and have an amazing time.