Cruise clothing for women: what to wear on a cruise?


Ladies – this one’s for you!

Are you sailing soon and need to start packing? After more than 25 cruises and 105 days spent on a ship during a semester in college, I feel quite confident in my ability to properly prepare for a cruise.

While some might be overwhelmed with packing for a cruise, I find packing for a cruise to be very predictable.

Packing for a cruise will depend heavily on your itinerary. I’ve sailed all over the world – from Europe to Asia to the Caribbean – and each destination requires a slightly different wardrobe. Your excursions and daily style will also need to be considered when deciding what to pack.

However, on every cruise, there are definitely a few key items that I will absolutely always pack in my suitcase.

The boats are cold

One thing that is universal in cruising – the cruise ship is ALWAYS cold. My mother taught me this from an early age. I have yet to be on a cruise ship that is not cold!

Whether it’s the dining room, the theater, or your cabin, you’ll likely find that you’re cold inside because of the air conditioning.

For this reason, I bring a light sweater to dinner every night. Even while sailing in the scorching heat of Southeast Asia, I found myself chilly inside the ship every night. You will find that a lightweight sweater is very versatile and also travels well during day trips.

dinner clothes

When I’m packing for a cruise, I like to start with my dinner clothes. If you’re sailing for 7 nights, that means you’ll need about 7 different outfits to wear to dinner. With longer cruises, I will generally wear dinner attire to save space in my suitcases.

I have found that casual dresses are perfect for dinner cruises. These travel well and are easy to dress or dress up. You can add a nice shawl, denim jacket or sweater to change things up if needed. I will pack some necklaces and earrings to complete the outfit.

When deciding what to pack, keep in mind that you will likely be eating and drinking more than usual. To me, that means wrap dresses aren’t too tight. There’s nothing worse than trying on a tight outfit on vacation and feeling uncomfortable or too bloated.

Pack comfortable dinner outfits that always make you feel good. You want to enjoy your meals on board – for me, food is my favorite part! To avoid uncomfortable outfits, I pack a few loose, flowing dresses – these are usually perfect towards the end of a cruise.

Most cruises will have at least one formal night. Some women will go all out with formal wear. If you’re someone who loves an excuse to dress up in glamour, then go for it!

For the most part, cruising is a judgment-free zone. You will see people wearing gorgeous prom dresses and others wearing casual jeans at a formal party. Most women fall somewhere in between when it comes to formal evenings.

Pack whatever makes you feel confident for formal nights out. I usually pack a dressier romper or jumpsuit for formal nights out and wear a casual pair of heels.

Comfort and versatility

After packing dinner clothes, I start packing for days at the port and on the ship. This will take up most of the room in your suitcase, so don’t overthink your packing! Comfort and versatility are key.

Pack clothes that match your typical style at home. If you’re someone who likes to be laid back most of the time (ahem – me!!), plan to pack your favorite casual clothes. In my opinion, most women dress casually on board, especially if your itinerary includes many days at sea.

If I sail in warmer climates, my daytime outfits will consist of a variety of shorts (preferably high waisted). I pack several tops that can be easily layered with other pieces.

For cooler climates, I’ll focus even more on layers and leggings, sweaters, and several jeans. Because eating and drinking is one of my favorite cruising activities, I’ll leave my tightest jeans at home.

Again, the cruise ship is a judgment-free zone most of the time. Feel free to wear whatever makes you feel your best!


If you have specific excursions planned, read the tour description and determine if you need to pack anything in particular. If you’re doing something active like mountain biking, ziplining, or hiking, you need to pack appropriately.

I have found that 1-2 pairs of workout shorts and tops can be very versatile for active excursions. They dry quickly and are easy to clean if you get dirty.

Cooler climates may require a pair of workout leggings. I prefer to pack a basic pair of black leggings that can be worn while hiking or on a day trip.


As someone who likes to buy shoes, it can be difficult to limit yourself to a few pairs of shoes. I wish I could pack an entire suitcase of shoes!

Birkenstocks are my favorite travel shoes. I traveled all over Santorini in a pair of Birkenstocks and had no blisters! They are so comfortable for day trips, but they have many styles that pair well with dinner outfits too. I also like to put them on to walk around the ship.

Along with my Birkenstocks, I’m packing a pair of heels to wear to dinner and the formal evening. Nothing crazy, but a basic nude heel usually does the trick.

I always pack my black Nike tennis shoes that I can wear for hiking or even strolling around the harbour. These are a necessity for any trip.

If you plan on kayaking or doing a lot of water activities, you might want to consider packing water shoes. I found them perfect for water activities or rocky beaches. I’ve also worn them while walking around harbors that might not be so clean. Water shoes are easy to clean if they end up getting dirty.

If you enjoy cooler climates on your cruise, you might want to pack a good pair of boots. I found the Sperry boots comfortable for walking, but also great for cold, wet climates. Timberland boots have also served me well.

Keep culture in mind

Depending on your itinerary, women should keep different cultures in mind when packing. Churches in Europe (especially Italy) expect women to have their knees and shoulders covered.

I visited the Vatican on a recent cruise and totally forgot to bring anything to cover my knees and shoulders. Guess who sat outside while the rest of the family visited the church? Yep…there was no getting around the fact that I was in shorts and a tank top with nothing to cover my shoulders or knees.

This is where your lightweight sweater can come in handy! A lightweight sweater is perfect for covering your shoulders when culturally necessary. A simple scarf or shawl would also work in this case.

If you are sailing in the Middle East or Africa, women should dress modestly. In Morocco, I wore long skirts and modest shirts. I also had a scarf that I kept with me to cover my head in certain places, such as when visiting mosques.

Several swimsuits

If you plan to be on the beach or by the pool every day on your cruise, packing several swimsuits is a no-brainer. But, you should also consider packing multiple kinds of swimsuits. You might not be in the mood to wear a bikini all the time!

I prefer to pack a variety of swimwear to make sure I always have something I feel comfortable and confident in.

A classic one-piece swimsuit is a perfect piece to take on your cruise. You can also pair it with some cute shorts for an easy outfit when you’re heading to the beach. One-piece suits are also ideal when you have water activities or active excursions.

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