How to dress to impress on a cruise

Dressing for a cruise is fun, but can bring some challenges. Most cruiseline dress codes are smart casual changing to elegant casual in the evening and most cruiselines have a few formal nights. So what to pack so you can dress to impress on a cruise is a question most first time cruisers ask. I thought I’d help decipher what is acceptable and take the guess work out to assist those uninspired to go on a cruise due to the ambiguous dress codes.

Are you confused about what to wear on a cruise?

Knowing what to pack to comply with dress code and not feel self-conscious amongst those you like to dress to impress will make your cruise more comfortable, enjoyable memorable. You can check online before you pack to get an indication of how many formal nights your cruise has, but a general rule of thumb is for a cruise 3-7 nights you will need 1-2 fabulous outfits, cruises 7-13 you can dress to impress at least twice and for cruises over 14 days you get to frock up on a minimum of three occasions.

Daywear Onboard will depend on your activities, it can range from a sun dress, ¾ pants and smart top to bathers and a wrap if you are lounging by the pool. If you are going to the main dining room for lunch or one of the lounges you will need to wear something less casual.

Daywear Shore – Depending on your destination, time of year, activity planned in port and any customs keep to modest and conservative. I suggest you always take a large scarf to use as a cover up in mosques, temples, etc. Pay attention to your footwear, you’ll need comfortable walking shoes as you will be doing lots of walking. A little pain now will be rewarded with one of those amazing desserts with dinner. 

Protect yourself from the weather too. You may want to consider carrying an umbrella or wearing long sleeves, but sunscreen, a large hat and sunglasses are a must.

Unless you pack your gym gear (and use it) or the stairs and you become close friends, you may want to pack trousers with drawstring or elastic waist and tops that aren’t too fitted as desserts are a plenty onboard. Lots of people do pack their gym clothes and take them home again unused. With a port intensive cruise you will do lots of walking and if you use the stairs instead of the elevator onboard you can still enjoy those decadent desserts and not increase your dress size.

Evening wear – You don’t have to attend the formal events onboard, you can always eat at the buffet or order room service. But it is fun to dress up to nines at least once. If you do want to attend the Captain’s Cocktail party or the Main Dining Room on formal night you should comply with the dress code. Men usually wear a tux or suit and tie. We have only been on cruises with Princess and they offer a service to rent a tux for formal night. If you are flying to your embarkation port this is an option you may want to consider. Women wear long dresses or cocktail dresses.

Simple colours that can be dressed up with a statement piece of jewellery and contrasting shoes work well. Pack a nice hair accessory to finish off the outfit or you can always book an appointment onboard to have your hair styled for formal night. You will want to pack a dressy scarf or shawl as the main dining room or theatre can get downright chilly.

But before you go packing too many formal outfits think about how many days in port your cruise has. The logic here is that when you have spent all day on shore excursions, you may want to relax and/or not have time to get all dressed up in time to attend the Captain’s Cocktail Party or formal night. The drinks are delicious and plentiful and all the ships’ photographers are out, so pack at least one fancy dress and pair of nice duds for the hubby to at least see what it’s all about.

On evenings when it’s not formal night elegant casual is the code. Think dressy trousers with a top with a little bling or burst of colour, an elegant frock or flowing maxi dress. Nights on deck watching a movie under the stars or in the theatre can be cool so bring a jacket and long pants.

Footwear is where you can change the look of an outfit you’ve worn a few times onboard. I suggest classic black, a pair with bling and a colourful pair of shoes that match or contrast the colour of dresses you have selected. A pair of flat blingy sandals is great to pack too.

Onboard ladies don’t need a bag, unless by the pool for suncream, book, etc. Some people also like to pack a nice jewelled lanyard to hang their cruise card on. We don’t like wearing our card around our neck and keep them in our phone cover, but each to their own.

I’d suggest a quirky backpack that can be also used for day excursions. A few small evening bags, one colourful to match those shoes, something with some bling for your plain dress and may something fancier will carry you through all your evenings onboard whether at the theatre, formal nights or dinner in the main dining as you always want to keep your cruisecard and camera onhand.

Your destination, time of year and personal style will dictate which outfits you pack, one thing to be mindful when selecting clothing to pack is to try and choose items that are breathable, crease resistant and are quick and easy to handwash.

The items shown in this post are all plus size from RoseGal and will keep you well within your budget. The most expensive item is under AU$50 and most average around AU$20.

We hope you found this guide on what to pack helpful and have everything you need for the best cruise ever. Let us know in the comments clothing items you would include on your cruise packing list.

It gets windy on deck so you may want to pack a light cardigan

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Dressing for a cruise is fun, but can bring some challenges. Most cruise dress codes are smart casual, elegant casual, plus formal nights. So what to pack so you can dress to impress?

* Large photos were sourced by Pixabay, photos of clothes and accessories in the galleries were sourced by RoseGal under the plus size tab. This is not a sponsored post and we were not financially compensated for this post.


5 Responses

  1. Rosalind says:

    Hi Lyn we have been on a few cruises and like you say it’s difficult to know exactly what to take. The cruises we have taken have been from Europe which involves a long flight from our base in Australia and luggage space is often a limiting factor for how much we can pack. These days I tend to dress comfortably and have a few items that can be mixed and matched. I find that a casual dress can soon be transformed with a few accessories and a scarf or two. Thanks for sharing I can see a few ideas that would work.

    • Lyn says:

      Rosalind two of our cruises have also been in Europe so choosing clothes which work with each other is key. As you say accessorising is a great way to get versatility from a dress and change the look of an outfit.

  2. We are about to go on our first cruise. It is a river cruise but I imagine the same sorts of rules apply.
    Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields recently posted…Where can you see penguins in Sth Africa?My Profile

    • Lyn says:

      I am sure you will love it Lyn. We found similar dress code on our river cruise, but there was no formal night. I think if you dress for dinner as you would going to a nice restaurant at home you can’t go wrong.

  1. January 1, 2018

    […] In an attempt to help people decide what to wear on a cruise I wrote a post How to dress to impress on a cruise.  […]

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