Wondering what to pack for your next cruise holiday?

We’ve got the low down on how to pack for an ocean cruise, a river voyage, an expedition and even a luxury holiday.

How to pack for an ocean ship 

When it’s time to get that suitcase cruise-ready, the first thing to consider is where you are going and which line you are going with. All are fine with casual by day. Shorts, T-shirts, light dresses, bathers, sandals and thongs when deciding what to pack for a cruise. 

Don’t forget a hat, sunnies and suncream, and take a rucksack for swimwear and towels if you’re likely to be heading to a beach. If sailing to cooler climes, you’ll need pants, jumpers, sweatshirts and a light raincoat. Summers in the UK, Alaska and Norwegian fjords aren’t necessarily warm and can be wet. If you’re planning to go walking ashore, take comfy shoes.  

Work-out gear and trainers are needed for the gym or fitness classes. Put cameras, memory cards, chargers, adaptors (most ships have European or US sockets) and any medication needed in hand luggage. Take a change of clothes in your hand carry as it can take a while for luggage to be delivered to cabins on embarkation day on the big ships. 

Remember there’s laundry…

It is tempting to pack as much as possible, but all ships have laundry facilities. Mostly it’s a paid-for service, but quite a few have DIY washers. Either way, it does mean you can row back on how much you take. 

Cunard pack
You better pack your best for a gala evening on Cunard.

Come evening, dress codes kick in and these might be anything from smart casual to formal. It will say which applies on the daily programme.  

For smart casual, think chinos, shirts, dresses – basically what you’d wear to go to a nice restaurant. Jeans are fine with most lines as long as they aren’t ripped or embroidered. Remember, thongs are frowned upon, as are shorts. A jacket or jumper is handy as air-conditioning in ships’ restaurants can be ferocious. 

What the cruise lines say

Virgin Voyages is the exception. As long as you don’t turn up for dinner in bathers and bare feet, you’re good to go. Shorts and thongs are fine; equally if you want to dress up and make an entrance, no worries. There is a Scarlet Night every cruise, so pack something red to go with the flow. 

On the subject of colours, Azamara has a White Night each cruise, when dinner and entertainment move to the top deck, which is also dressed in white. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but it’s nice to have something white to blend in. The rest of the time. “resort casual” does the job on Azamara. Likewise new line Explora Journeys, which simply says “we don’t have a dress code”. 

Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line have formal nights by another name (Cruise Elegant on Carnival Cruise Line). Their websites suggest what to wear, but most are pretty relaxed. In my experience, smart casual always passes muster. 

P&O Australia recommends evening dresses, pantsuits, jackets and ties for its cocktail evenings (one or two per seven-night cruise). On Cunard’s Gala evenings (two on seven-night cruises, three on transatlantic crossings between New York and Southampton), men are urged to channel their inner James Bond with a tux, with women dazzling in ball gowns. 

How to pack for a river ship 

River cruise lines don’t have dress codes. Not even for gala or captain’s dinners. Take what feels comfortable (but shorts and thongs are frowned on in restaurants in the evening). 

There are other factors when deciding what to pack for a cruise, such as where and when you are going and what you plan to do. If cruising the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam or the Ganges in India, it’ll be warm and sunny, which is perfect for shorts, T-shirts and thongs. However, women must usually cover up to enter churches, mosques and temples so take a light dress or pants and have a wrap to hand.  

You’ll need binoculars on wildlife cruises along the Amazon with Uniworld River Cruises or Chobe in AmaWaterways. Also take a pair for Viking’s Upper Mississippi cruises, between St Louis and Minneapolis/St Paul in the US as parts of the river are rife with bald eagles, egrets and other birdlife. 

Most lines include walking tours in the towns and cities they visit, as well as hikes and guided cycle trips. If you plan to do some or all of these, be prepared with comfy shoes or hiking boots. Emerald Cruises, AmaWaterways and others have on-board fitness classes and gyms. If you want to join in, take trainers. Several have pools, so remember your bathers. 

Cameras, memory cards, chargers and adaptors should go in hand luggage, along with any medication. Having a change of clothes and toiletries to hand is also useful, especially if staying in a hotel the night before the cruise. 

Here’s a seasonal round-up of what to pack for a cruise in Europe and on the Mississippi. 

Pack trainers if youre planning to go cycling
Be prepared if you are an active cruiser.


Europe is beautiful in spring, with trees coming into leaf and tulips blooming. With luck it’ll be sunny but could still be chilly, so pack a jumper, hat and gloves; be prepared for rain. 

This is a favourite time of year to cruise the Lower Mississippi (Memphis to New Orleans) as temperatures hover around the low/mid-20C. Pack light clothes and take a rain jacket.  


Europe gets hot in summer in the south. If cruising from Amsterdam to Budapest, it might be in the mid-20Cs in the Netherlands but 35C or more on the Danube. Pack a mix of light pants and shirts, a jumper, shorts and T-shirts, and remember a sunhat and suncream. 

Most lines move to the Upper Mississippi in summer because the lower stretch becomes hot and humid. It’ll still be pleasantly warm but throw in light pants and shirts with the shorts, T-shirts, thongs, sandals and trainers. 


Christmas markets are in full swing in Europe at the end of November and December so it’s a great time to cruise – but it is cold. Pack warm boots, thick socks, jumpers, shirts, pants, woollen hats, gloves and scarves and coats, and take a rain coat. 

River boats move back to the Lower Mississippi in late summer. September and October are still warm, but by November temperatures are likely to fall below 20C so take warm pants, shirts and coats. 

How to pack for an expedition 

Mention expedition cruising and thoughts turn to the Arctic, Antarctica and all those other downright chilly but amazing places at the top and bottom of the world that cruise ships visit. Greenland, Svalbard, the Northwest Passage, South Georgia, the Falkland Islands – they are all in the mix. 

But deciding what to pack for a cruise for the South Pole can be summed up in one word: layers. Start with a loose woollen base layer so a pocket of warm air is trapped between your body and the clothes. Thermal tops and leggings are ideal. Also, take thin woollen socks to wear under a thicker pair to keep your feet toasty. 

What you wear on top of the base layer depends on how susceptible you are to the cold. I feel the cold so when I was in Antarctica I went ashore with a polo-neck shirt on top of the thermals, and then a fleece and coat; others went straight to the fleece and coat and were warm enough. Hiking through thick snow or kayaking will help keep you warm. 

Whatever your body temperature, you’ll need waterproof gloves (aim for thin and thick layers), scarves and a woolly hat that covers the ears. Put in bathers. You’ll need them for the polar plunge­ – yes, it may be mad but, hey, you’ve got to do it – and for dipping in hot tubs, pools or saunas on board. 

Cruise lines provide expedition jackets you can snuggle into (they are yours to take home afterwards) and most have good boots you can borrow instead of carting a pair halfway around the world. These are vital for walking in the snow and wet landings from inflatable Zodiacs, as are waterproof pants. Some lines loan them. If yours doesn’t, buy a pair. 

Other things you need

Other musts include UV-protective sunnies, suncream, lip balm, a waterproof bag to protect cameras and lenses from getting splashed when transferring to and from the ship in Zodiacs. You’ll also need chargers, spare memory cards (you take a lot of pictures in the poles!), adaptors and any medication. 

It sounds a lot but you only need a couple of warm tops and pants for trips ashore (the penguins are on parade, not you), leaving space for what you’ll need on board in the evenings. A jumper or button-down shirt, pants and a jacket will do nicely. 

That covers the bottom of the world. The Arctic is generally not so cold. Plan the same, but you’ll probably get away with wearing less. Waterproof pants are indispensable; likewise good hiking boots.  

Expedition cruising doesn’t have to be cold. There are island-hopping expeditions in the Galápagos, sailings in South Africa and voyages in the Kimberley between Broome and Darwin.

These places veer from warm to hot so pack lightweight pants, shorts, T-shirts and long-sleeved shirt or rashie, a light raincoat, sunnies, a sun hat, hiking shoes, insect repellent and binoculars which will help you to decide what to pack for a cruise.   

Seabourn pack
Take bathers on your Antarctica cruise so you can brave the polar plunge on Seabourn Venture.

How to pack for luxury 

Luxury cruising does not equate with dressy. Sure, the luxury lines ask guests to adhere to a few rules – no shorts, thongs, casual jeans or baseball caps inside after 6pm please – but beyond that their dress codes are pretty relaxed.  

By day, you’re fine with shorts, T-shirts, bathers, vests and thongs or sandals, and jeans, sweatshirts and jumpers if cruising in chilly climates such as Alaska, Norwegian fjords and the UK. 

The same list applies for going ashore, but if planning cycling, hiking, zip-wiring or other activities, take trainers or walking shoes. If excursions take you to churches, temples or mosques, women need to cover knees and shoulders. In colder climates you’ll need warmer clothes and a raincoat, even in summer. 

Don’t forget a sun hat, sunnies, suncream and light wrap if going somewhere hot, and other accessories – cameras, memory cards, chargers, adaptors and medications. Put these in carry-on so they don’t get broken or lost. 

Deciding what to pack for a cruiser evenings depends on which line you’re sailing with. Scenic, for instance, says open-neck shirts, pants and dresses ares all you’ll need. Other luxury lines have an occasional but optional formal night.  

What the cruise lines say

On Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, every evening is elegant casual. This translates to a collared shirt and optional jacket for him, and skirt, pants, blouse and sweater for her. On Regent voyages of 16 nights or more, there are two formal optional evenings (cocktail dresses, dinner jackets, tuxedos and ties). But stick with elegant casual if you prefer. 

Crystal and Seabourn are much the same. Crystal has one formal night on sailings of more than seven days. Again, it’s optional; Seabourn has one or two on cruises between 13 and 20 days, but the dress code only applies in the main restaurant. In other dining venues, elegant casual is fine. 

Silversea suggests similar attire as Regent but spread over the three dress codes: casual, informal and formal. Notably, men are required to wear a tie on formal nights if eating in the main restaurants, Seishin (Silver Spirit) and Kaiseki (Silver Muse, Moon and Dawn). You don’t need formal attire in La Terrazza and The Grill. But after dinner a jacket is required in public spaces. Just to confuse, new ship Silver Nova has just two dress codes: elegant casual and formal optional. Regardless, men are required to wear a jacket in French restaurant La Dame. 

Ponant is relaxed, but French flair demands a few dressy pieces for women and a jacket for men, particularly if you are invited to the captain’s table. 

Rather than taking lots of changes of clothes, accessorising is an easy way for women to ring the changes. Likewise, all luxury ships have a laundry service. Often it’s free for those in the top-level suites, so why not use it!   

Wondering what type of cruiser are you? Click here to find out more