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The Caribbean's unfussy, laid-back charms await you on the streets of Curacao.

Courtesy of CuraƧao Tourist Bureau

The Caribbean's unfussy, laid-back charms await you on the streets of Curacao.

Tips on how to pack for a Caribbean vacation

Advice from a veteran traveler who knows how to make it a breeze

What should you pack and bring along when you're heading on a cruise to the Caribbean? It's one of the easiest destinations to pack for (tied actually with French Polynesia).

Tips from veteran travelers

For the most part, less is more. Given that the weather is almost always warm, there's no need for coats or jackets (except on the ship to ward off the air conditioning, which for some reason the powers to be think should be turned on to arctic low). So do bring a wrap for dinner on the ship and a hoodie for going from stateroom to, say, the fitness center.

What to pack? Start with the basics

So what goes into your suitcase or carry-on? Let's start with the obvious:

  • Age and body-appropriate swimwear (shapely sorts can get away with thongs and bikinis).
  • Cover-ups for going from stateroom to pool.
  • Shorts and tank tops for daytime wear either on deck or in port.
  • Silks, cotton and other light fabrics for dresses, pants, pantsuits, skirts for the evenings.

A note about dinnerwear: On some ships such as from Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea and Cunard, you might want to bring a special dinner outfit to wear once in a while. On Cunard men will need jackets for the dining room so women should dress accordingly. The true formal night is pretty much so yesterday. However, some steadfast seafarers won’t give up their tuxes and gowns so you will see such attire on what is now dress-up nights on board Crystal, Silversea (where you often see passengers dressed to the nines at night), Seabourn, Cunard and even some Princess cruises. Just keep in mind: Those passengers pretty much dress for evening like they do when going out to dinner at home.

Walk in the surf in your tropical casualwear during a Windstar Cruise odyssey to the Caribbean.
Courtesy of Windstar CruisesWalk in the surf in your tropical casualwear during a Windstar Cruises odyssey to the Caribbean.

How to dress for the tropics 

Caribbean ports are very casual and the locals are used to cruise passengers showing up in everything from bathing suits with cover–ups to short shorts. But be aware that customs vary from country to country.

Restaurant options range from the super-casual to more upscale eateries such as Crystal Cruises' Prego.
Henrike Schunck / Courtesy of Crystal CruisesRestaurant options range from the super-casual to more upscale eateries such as Crystal Cruises' Prego.

For the most part, jeans and a tank top or light tee look better for touring and shopping than do bathing suits. Jeans were once prohibited at night on ships but most (save Cunard) have relaxed that rule with the exception of the main dining rooms. Remember you now have many choices for dining on ships from super-casual deck options to elegant eateries such as La Champagne on Silversea, Restaurant2 on Seabourn (soon to become a Thomas Keller restaurant) and other top-flight venues (some of which have an added charge, like Silkroad and Prego on Crystal).

Bottom line: A Caribbean cruise is very laid back, but still most female passengers attempt to be fashionable. Just remember, casual doesn’t translate into sloppy (and I’ve seen a lot of that).

Items you might forget

After you've set aside the basics, the decisions really come down to personal preference. (For packing basics, start by checking out Packing essentials for your cruise and Janet Fullwood's Gear, gadgets & strategies for packing light.) 

Reef walkers from Billabong.
Reef walkers from Billabong.
  • Running shoes or other footwear for jogging or walking around the deck and workout clothes for the fitness center.
  • Hat and sunscreen, which you must slather over your body before stepping into the sunlight or you'll burn and damage you skin. Seabourn now has free supplies of sunscreen on the deck, but most ships don’t, though you can buy it in the ship shop or on shore. Just remember to bring at least one bottle for starters.
  • Reef walkers. This is a vital if you are going to go on any snorkel or beach trips. I once stepped on sea urchins and it wasn’t pleasant, I had to be taken to the ship where the doctor took out each little stinger one by one and it hurt like hell. I’ve never gone into the water without reef walkers since. Also on the same theme you might want to bring your own snorkel mask. They are usually included in snorkel tours, but considering the germ factor I always bring my own but use their fins.
  • Chances are you'll be able to grab plenty of beach time, so don't forget the books, magazines or Kindle Paperwhite

After you have your cruise tickets, be sure to log onto the cruise line’s website and check out the dress code on your particular cruise. It is usually spelled out in the itinerary by day — ie, Friday, Jan. 5 at sea, sophisticated elegance; Sat. Jan 6, casual, etc.

Bon voyage! Please leave your own tips below. 

In our series Packing for a Cruise

Patti Pietschmann
I'm the LA Travel Diva and spend time cruising with first mate Richard, traveling the world, reviewing fine restaurants, going to plays, movies and events. It's the good life.