Nothing says ‘bucket List’ like a Mediterranean cruise vacation! Blue seas, balmy winds, and Instagram-worthy ports of call. But packing for a luxury cruise in Europe can be a challenge.
European cruising is very different from cruising in an area like the Caribbean. You will have the occasional beach stop in the Mediterranean, but for the most part, your cruise itinerary will feature intensive touring days. Most ports offer historic sites and cultural activities that will keep you going. Upon return to the ship you’ll want to relax, and enjoy the evening but remember, the passengers on luxury cruise ships, especially in Europe, will dress for dinner. Not ‘formal’ necessarily, but t-shirts and flip flops are usually not welcome in the dining room.
So what to pack? Dressy, but hopefully comfortable, outfits for evenings on board ship, appropriate touring outfits for port days, and beach/resort wear for days by the pool. And the shoes to go with all of these outfits. And all having to fit into the usual overseas baggage restrictions! Luckily, after five wonderful cruises in Europe, we’ve learned a thing or two, and will share our tips in this post.
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For many of us, a Mediterranean cruise involves an overseas flight, with all the usual luggage challenges. After the European cruise when my brother’s family’s luggage was lost in transit, (and didn’t catch up with the ship for 5 days!) we have tried to pack carry-on only. Or at least pack one carry-on bag with 2-3 days of outfits, swimwear and basic toiletries. Then if our shared checked bag gets lost, we are comfortable knowing we have clothing to last a few days. (Check with your airline before packing to see what you can check and what can be carried on-board.)
Free printable packing list below
There are as many cruises to take as there are ports of call! Large ships are often more affordable and get you to the top destinations. Small ships may cover less ground (sea!) but allow for stops at out-of-the-way destinations. Whether you choose a budget friendly mega ship or a smaller luxury cruise line, you’ll love this trip of a lifetime!
Research your luxury cruise line before beginning to pack
Actually, research the cruise line before you book your trip. Check out websites like Cruise Critic to ask questions of people who have sailed on the ships. Those reviews can be invaluable in understanding the tone of the cruise line.
Dinner and evening wear: Most cruise lines will have dress requirements listed on their website, but don’t hesitate to call to ask a question. Are there ‘formal’ nights or is every night formal? And, how formal is formal? Cocktail dresses and tuxes? Wedding chic? Alternately, is every night ‘country club casual’ or ‘elegant casual’, but not formal. (all these style names are great for marketing, but can be confusing for new cruisers!)
Regent Cruises – Elegant Casual: Skirt, or slacks (no jeans) with a blouse or sweater, pant suit or dress for ladies; slacks (no jeans) and collared shirt for gentlemen
Seabourn Cruise line: Elegant casual on most nights, after 6 p.m., in all restaurants and public areas. On formal nights, tuxedo or suit and jacket for men; evening gown or cocktail attire for women.
Windstar Cruise lines – evening wear is defined as “casual elegance” – but the dress code in the specialty restaurants requests no t-shirts, shorts, jeans, hats or flip-flops. In our experience, most dress for dinner in Amphora, their general dining room. We have seen people in shorts, etc., but they are the exception.
Note: even if there are no formal dinners, many luxury cruise lines restrict what you can wear in the dining room.
Laundry services: How easy is it to get clothing cleaned? Some ships have self-serve washers and dryers, and some provide overnight delivery for a price. We balked at using the laundry service on our first few cruises, but now happily send out a bag to wash if we’re traveling more than a week. Keep an eye on the daily newsletter, as there are often specials.
Anticipate what activities you’ll be doing in port
Before beginning your packing, think about your anticipated excursions.
Visiting religious or sacred sites? Be respectful and wear culturally appropriate clothing. Women may need to have their shoulders, knees and head covered. Some mosques and churches can issue you a robe and/or head covering, but there is no guarantee of cleanliness of these shared outfits… It’s easier to dress conservatively and carry a scarf.
Hiking or exploring ancient ruins? Good footwear is a must! And wear a hat, the sun is intense in the Mediterranean. Most cruise ships will supply water for your tour, but you might bring a reusuable water bottle to save on waste.
Snorkeling, kayaking or beaching it? Remember sunscreen! You can purchase this on the ship or ashore, but your particular brands might not be available. Again, wear a hat.
Suggestions for packing for a luxury cruise in Europe
This is the trip of a lifetime, so it’s extra important to pack wisely. Bring only items you love and are comfortable in. You can look fabulous, and instagram ready!, in comfortable clothing. As always I try to pack light using a capsule wardrobe. But I do give myself liberty to add a few more colorful, and elegant items. And I always add extra bling (not the real thing though!)
A reminder on how to pack a capsule wardrobe: Choose a base color (I’d go with a light color for a Mediterranean cruise, and maybe black for a central European cruise). Pick a top, bottom, and perhaps a dress in this color. Add print tops, or toppers, that are based on your color, and liven it up with colorful scarves, accessories, and perhaps, a couple of cheerful sundresses. (see our Capsule Wardrobe Guide or check out my list below) Everything should work with everything else! Don’t forget a light sweater or jacket for over air-conditioned dining rooms.
My favorite easy to pack travel clothing for women
Tell Your Men: khakis, shorts, polos, all in quick-dry material, if possible. Dave always packs a sports coat on our Windstar cruise vacations and has NEVER worn it, but this is mandatory on a Seabourn cruise!
Walking Shoes for touring days
All travelers need supportive and comfortable walking shoes. Sneakers will do, but will immediately identify you as a tourist. To blend in better (and not get ripped off by touts!), bring shoes that are more fashionable or subtle.
Three of my favorites (from left) –
- Ecco Damara gladiator sandals are remarkably comfortable with a cushioned footbed, yet are elegant enough for dinner in a specialty restaurant.
- Chaco Outcross is an athletic shoe, but has the advantage of being waterproof. Think hiking or kayaking!
- Teva has a wide range of shoes that work for active traveling. I like the stylish Teva Tirra.
Dave swears by his Tevas.
Note: many ships do not allow men to wear sandals in the dining rooms. Bring a casual shoe just in case.
Exercise gear encouraged. Sneakers, tee shirts, and shorts. There is usually a fitness room with an extraordinary view on every ship! You WILL need to work off that gelato!
Most ships offer laundry services but we carry Woolite packets to do some hand washing just in case. Pack merino wool items whenever possible to cut down on luggage volume, weight and necessary washing! Since our first overseas adventure, we have been investing in quality clothing items. I anticipate our luggage on our next cruise will be much lighter with my favorite merino wool items!
Gear & Gadgets to Pack for Your European Cruise
Don’t underestimate the beauty or the architecture you’ll be seeing on this trip.
- Camera or high quality cell phone – We love photography so each carry a camera. A high quality cellphone will work well if you’re looking to cut down on gear, but make sure you have a way of backing up photos as you travel. Wi-Fi can be spotty onboard the ship.
- Back-up battery for your camera
- Power cell for your tablet or phone. We always download a movie or two for an overseas flight and don’t want to run out of power half way! (most planes have power outlets at each seat, but on one unfortunately flight, our outlets did not work…)
- eReader – for the overseas flight and sea days by the pool. We find eInk much easier to read in sunlight than a cell phone or table.
- [optional] Binoculars – a lightweight pair of binoculars will be great for examining architecture, as well as to enjoy birdwatching.
Extras you’ll want to pack for your travel to Europe
- Packable duffel – you WILL find some wonderful souvenirs to bring home. Pack the duffel with clothing and carry your breakable treasures in your carry-on
- Sunscreen and/or other lotions for your skin type. Most ships will have a store offering toiletries and sun protection products, but if there’s something that works well for you, then include it in your packing.
- Sun hat!!!
What I packed for our luxury Mediterranean cruise
- 1. Darby Mack camera bag, doubled as a cute purse
- 2. two pairs cropped pants. (update: I have been converted to Athleta travel pants. So comfortable and usually have a hidden zipper)
- 3. two scarves, can be used as a swim cover-up, or as a head covering in a sacred spot (update: I LOVE my Diane Kroe chiffon toppers – can be worn as a scarf, cover-up, cape, or flowy jacket)
- 4. two pairs of shorts, (mid to Bermuda length for most over 50 women – good for you if you are still rocking short shorts!)
- 5. workout wear, merino wool tees, shorts, and exercise pants
- 6. two dresses, one short and one a lightweight sundress (update: currently packing a Wool& merino wool dress. Versatile, odor resistant, and lightweight!)
- 7. four dressy blouses (lightweight sleeveless tops are practically weightless, but great for a new look.)
- 8. general tees and tops – those shown in photo are cotton. I love the versatility, but now pack only merino wool tops. Merino wool is quick-drying, lightweight, and odor resistant. We recommend Icebreaker tops.
- 9. one or two lightweight sweaters – we recommend Wool& Landmark Cardigan (#gifted to us in return for an honest review) or Smartwool merino wool sweaters.
Since this post was originally published, I’ve discovered a few more great items for traveling on a European cruise. Some are listed above, but a few I’d like to add:
- Betabrand Skort – perfect knee length skort with zippered pockets. My go-to for city touring now.
- Diane Kroe One-4-All, Mariposa, etc. I love these as they’re lightweight and immediately dress up my capsule wardrobe. Check out the website for lots of innovative travel options.
Do you have a favorite item you pack for luxury cruising? Share in comments below!
Download our printable European Cruise Packing List
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