Perhaps it's your first luxury cruise. Or maybe it's been awhile since you boarded a swank ship and you're unsure if your wardrobe is up to snuff. Packing for a posh cruise experience is different, but it doesn't have to be intimidating or entail expensive clothes shopping (although if you can, that's fun, too). It's more about dressing tastefully than flaunting fancy designer names.
These days, luxury cruises have relaxed dress codes, with rare -- if any -- formal nights. Even then, passengers usually eschew tuxes and gowns. Casual -- anything but T-shirts, jeans, shorts and tennis shoes -- and elegant casual are more the nightly norms. (See Cruise Line Dress Codes for individual line requirements.) Each line has its own style, but there's a certain thread (pardon the pun) that's common to all such ships. We've got the goods on what to wear on a luxury cruise.
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All-Purpose Luxury Cruise Packing Tips
Keep it simple. Stick to mix-and-match neutral tones like white, beige and tan; or gray, black and white. Get pops of color from silk scarves, pashminas and jewelry. Vary accessories to keep your look fresh each evening.
Rock the cover-up. Bring attractive swimwear cover-ups when eating breakfast or lunch alfresco, or walking to and from the pool.
Take it up a notch on casual evenings. Men pack collared polo, long- or short-sleeved shirts, and cotton or dress slacks for casual evenings. Women bring sundresses, and casual blouses or tops and slacks or skirts, all neatly pressed. Even if ships say no jeans after 6 p.m., they are usually OK with women wearing high-end white or black jeans (not distressed or torn), paired with fine cotton or silk tops and nice sandals.
Go all out on formal night. Men generally wear dark suits and women don cocktail dresses on formal evenings. However, if you're headed on a world cruise, you might consider bringing tuxedos and gowns as this is when passengers really dress up.
Don't fret about the last evening. Pretty much any attire goes on the final night, so wear something comfortable for dinner that you can don for flying home.
Pack smart to avoid wrinkles. Pack all shirts, pants and dresses on lightweight travel hangers and place in dry cleaning plastic bags (two-to-three outfits per bag; one per bag for dressy attire) to prevent wrinkles. Your clothes come out looking sharp, and unpacking is a snap.
What to Wear on Each Luxury Cruise Line
When it comes to dressing up at night, each cruise line puts its own spin on the standard dress codes. Here's what you need to know about what to wear for dinner on five of the most popular luxury cruise lines.
Crystal Cruises: Crystal passengers tend to dress up more, even though most evenings are labeled "Crystal Casual." Sport jackets are optional, but pack one as many men wear them. For women, dressy tops and slacks or a little black dress will do. For black tie optional evenings, pack the tuxes and gowns for world cruises only. Otherwise, a dark suit for men (a tie is optional but most passengers wear them) and cocktail dresses for women suffice.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises: For cruises less than 16 nights, elegant casual is as dressy as it gets on Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Think collared shirts, cashmere or other high-end collared sweaters and dress slacks for men. Sport jackets are optional and about half the men wear them. Women bring dressy sundresses or that little black dress, pantsuits or silk blouses and slacks.
Seabourn: Seabourn requests formal attire for only one evening on cruises up to 13 days -- and only for dining in The Restaurant. (Some passengers choose alternative dining to go elegant casual.) However, Seabourn is not the tuxedo and gown crowd. Men should pack a dark suit, dress shirt and tie; women should bring a cocktail dress. Most nights are elegant casual; men wear collared dress shirts and slacks, and skip the optional sport jackets. Women wear dressy blouses and slacks, a little black dress or a fancier sundress.
SeaDream Yacht Club: SeaDream Yacht Club has the most relaxed dress code -- resort casual nightly whether in the Med or the Caribbean. Everyone wears bathing suits, cover-ups, tops and shorts by day. Come nightfall, women wear sundresses or tops and pants, and men don polo shirts and cotton slacks.
Silversea Cruises: Silversea Cruises has three different evening attires -- casual, informal and formal. Sometimes the lines blur between categories, especially informal and formal. Alternative restaurant dining is always an option if you want to skip formal night.
Most men wear polo shirts and slacks on casual nights; sport jackets with dress shirts, ties (although ties are optional) and dress slacks on informal evenings; and dark suits with ties on formal nights. Women wear sundresses or blouses and slacks on casual nights; that little black dress or dressy pantsuits on informal evenings; and that same black dress or dressy pantsuits with heels and more jewelry on formal nights.
What Not to Pack for a Luxury Cruise
Contrary to what you might think, you don't need to pack two steamer trunks' worth of stuff for a luxury cruise. These days, even luxury cruisers don't bring tons of clothes, given all the baggage restrictions and travel hassles. Here are a few items you don't need to bring -- either because they're not up to the style of other luxury cruise travelers or you simply don't need them.
Polyester: Leave inexpensive polyester clothes at home. Luxury cruisers usually wear cotton, linen and silk.
Loud attire: Don't pack loud-colored or wildly patterned clothes (unless they're created by a designer and in exquisite taste). Forget those bright, inexpensive Hawaiian shirts, too.
Don't bring tank tops, cutoff shorts and torn or distressed jeans.
Logo-wear: Skip the touristy T-shirts and baseball caps, especially those advertising bars or cheesy destinations. If you see these anywhere on a luxury ship, it's only in the gym.
Expensive jewelry: You might be surprised, but most luxury cruisers bring attractive costume pieces (think on-trend statement pieces). To avoid against theft while traveling, they limit the expensive baubles to a wedding and/or cocktail ring, earrings and a watch.
Toiletries: Leave shampoos, conditioners and lotions at home. Luxury ships provide passengers with high-end toiletries, such as Hermes, Bulgari and L'Occitane.
Other items supplied by the ship: You won't need to pack umbrellas, travel alarm clocks, hair dryers, bathrobes and slippers. Luxury ships provide all this and sometimes more. For instance, SeaDream provides personalized pajamas for passengers.