In a former life, this not-so-savvy seafarer never felt right on a cruise ship unless I was accompanied by two steamer trunks crammed with enough outfits to dress a small nation. This, I learned the hard way, was not a smart way to cruise.
Besides incurring the wrath of my first mate Richard, who pointed out in gentlemanly fashion that he would have to wrestle with excess baggage from car or cab through airport terminals and beyond, I eventually grew tired of trying to cram my belongings into tiny closets and bureaus.
And so, lesson learned, to win the battle of the bulging bags I created Patti's First Commandment of Prudent Packing, which simply states:
Thou shall put into one's suitcase only that which will fit neatly in the allocated storage space without hogging every available nook and cranny for myself.
Here's how to do that in practice.
Packing essentials for women cruisers
With a little creativity, women's cruise wardrobes can be a breeze to assemble. Dress as you would for a fine shore-side restaurant or tropical resort. Be as snazzy as you feel on formal nights in long gowns or cocktail dresses. Take a few pretty gauzy or silk numbers for informal wear and pantsuits, resort chic dresses or slacks and pretty tops for casual evenings.
To lighten your load, opt for silk (it works anywhere) and mixed and matched tops and bottoms. During the day, especially in tropical areas, you will probably spend a lot of time sunning and lounging by the pool and will virtually live in your bathing suit, but do have a cover-up for walking from stateroom to the pool deck.
While short shorts are taboo in most dining rooms, they are acceptable wear for daytime deck buffets or at the casual deck buffets offered on all ships. For walking around port or daytime indoor activities, you'll want slacks, nice shorts, jeans, T-shirts, cotton or silk blouses and good walking shoes (and be mindful of local traditions). If you're into fitness, be sure to pack workout wear to use in the gym and running shoes for the jogging deck.
Packing essentials for the male wardrobe
The biggest challenge for men is formal night (for cruise ships that still do formal nights). Tuxedos take up a lot of room and require extra accessories. While tuxedos are the preferred formal wear, on nearly all ships men can get away with business suits. However, black ties seems to rock and rule on upscale luxury ships.
Note: Tuxedos are available for rent on board ships from Princess Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal Cruises and other cruise lines. For other evenings you'll want a sport coat (sports jacket) and appropriate shirts and shoes for informal nights and pants and nice shirts for casual nights.
Daytime wear is a snap: a bathing suit with a cover-up for sun/pool time, shorts (but not too skimpy) or jeans, tank tops, T-shirts, etc. for strolling into port, and workout wear.
Most upscale ships (from Celebrity, Oceania, Regent, Seabourn, Silversea, Windstar, etc.) provide robes for use while on board as well unlimited toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, body creams, shower gels and even toothbrushes and razors on request. Bring sunscreen if you’re sailing into tropical areas; however, if you forget, it’s sold in the ship’s sundries shop.
One final Commandment of Prudent Packing before you set sail: After you're all packed and think you're ready go go, open your bags and remove about half of the items. What's left is exactly what you'll most likely use on board.