A mid-winter getaway is a treat for New Englanders like me. Spending a week on a cruise ship sailing among Caribbean islands and you’ve made a snowbird’s dream come true. If you’re looking forward to a week in the Caribbean read on for my packing list for a 7-day cruise in the Caribbean.
So what will you need to bring for your Caribbean getaway? Nice outfits for evenings on board, beach/resort wear for days on the beach or by the pool, and perhaps some hiking gear if you anticipate adventures. And don’t forget the extras you’ll want to have in your cruise cabin and your beach bag. Can you travel light with all of this? Yes, check out these cruise packing tips and you’re on your way.
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What to Wear on a Caribbean Cruise
Research your 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 with the cruise line you’re considering.)
Cruise line’s dress code: Evening dress code requirements are usually listed on each company’s website. Check to see if there are formal nights on a 7-day Caribbean cruise. And if there are, how formal is ‘formal attire’? Cocktail dresses and tuxes? Alternately, is every night ‘country club casual’ or ‘elegant casual’, but not formal. These style names are great for the cruise line’s marketing but can be confusing for cruisers. Call the cruise line to check if you have questions.
Some examples of evening dress codes:
Royal Caribbean – There will be 1 or 2 formal nights on a 7-day cruise. Royal Caribbean asks that passengers dress in their “best black-tie look” – suits, tuxedos, evening gowns, or cocktail dresses. If you don’t want to pack formal wear, you can skip the main dining room on these nights and eat at an alternative restaurant. Note that tank tops are not ever allowed in the main dining room.
Princess Cruise Line – In cruises of 7 nights expect 1-2 formal nights. Women can wear nice pants, a dress, or skirt. Minimum requirements for men is dress slacks, dress shirt, and tie. Many will dress up more than that, but that’s the minimum standard. On most Princess cruises there are alternative restaurants for those who don’t want to pack formal wear.
Windstar Cruises – evening wear is defined as “casual elegance” or country club casual. In the specialty restaurants the dress code specifies no t-shirts, shorts, jeans, hats or flip-flops. In our experience, most dress for dinner in Amphora, the general dining room.
Anticipate what activities you’ll be doing in port
Before beginning your packing, think about your anticipated shore excursions.
Hiking? Good footwear is a must! And wear a hat for sun protection.
Snorkeling or lounging at the beach? Sun protection. The Caribbean sun is intense! You’ll be able to purchase sunscreen on the ship, but if you have sensitive skin and require a particular brand, bring it with you. Pack a rash guard or swim shirt if you’ll be spending a lot of time on the water. This can double as a top if you choose a simple one.
Shopping and enjoying the ports? Make sure to bring a packable duffel bag for the trip home. You can put your dirty clothing in the duffel, check it, and carry your new items in you carry-on.
Suggestions for packing for a cruise in the Caribbean
Packing Tips: carry-on if possible!
For many of us, a Caribbean cruise involves a flight, with all the usual luggage challenges. Pack carry-on only or at least pack one carry-on bag with 2-3 days of clothes (including one of your nicer outfits), and other first day of cruise essentials.
If you’re traveling with a friend or partner and checking bags, cross pack a few items in each bag. That way if one bag is lost, you’ll still have a few items available.
Wear your heaviest items on the plane. Carry, or wear, your lightweight rain jacket, a sweater, and your walking shoes.
Laundry services: Check the cruise website. Some ships have laundry rooms with self-serve washing machines and dryers, and some provide overnight delivery for a price. On our first cruise we hesitated to use the laundry service, but now we send out a bag if we’re traveling more than a week.
- Pack laundry packets to do any necessary sink washes.
- Choose clothing made from natural fibers, especially merino wool whenever possible. Merino wool is naturally odor resistant so you can wear it several times before washing.
Clothing guide for your Caribbean cruise
Caribbean cruises call for whites, pastels, and tropical prints. But you can certainly mix and match your at-home favorites to create your cruise capsule wardrobe. I’ll add a white shirt and capris to my usual navy and pink wardrobe and have lots of nautical looks for the week.
Do NOT pack something you’ve never worn before.. Feel free to add a few more colorful items and a bit of costume jewelry bling. An inexpensive reversible wrap skirt will extend your options too!
Every item in your capsule should coordinate with everything else! And every item on your packing list should be lightweight and easy-care. Don’t forget a light sweater or jacket for over air-conditioned dining rooms.
Exercise gear is always a good idea. Sneakers, tee shirts, and shorts. There is usually a fitness room with an extraordinary view on every ship.
Packing for a Caribbean Cruise: Shoes
Shoes are always a challenge. Try to limit yourself to three pairs of shoes and make sure they all have rubber soles for safety on the ship’s deck. You’ll definitely need sandals (I prefer sports sandals like Tevas over flip flops), a nicer sandal for the main dining room, and perhaps comfortable walking shoes or sneakers. Water shoes may be useful if you’ll be snorkeling or tubing but I get by with my Tevas.
Note: many ships do not allow men to wear sandals in the dining rooms. Bring a casual shoe just in case.
Gear & Gadgets to Pack for Your Caribbean Cruise
- Camera or high-quality cell phone, and a waterproof phone case if you’ll be doing water activities.
- Chargers for all electronics and extra battery if you’re bring a camera.
- Power strip for the cruise cabin
- Portable external charger – great for the flight and on board the ship. (Any item with lithium batteries must be packed in carry-on)
- eReader – for the flight and sea days by the pool. eReaders are easier to read in sunlight than a cell phone or tablet.
- [optional] Binoculars – a lightweight pair of binoculars will be great for enjoying nature and birdwatching.
- [optional] Cruise lanyard for your cruise ID (onboard cruise ships you charge items with your cruise ID rather than to your credit cards)
- [optional] Portable lock box for securing items on the pool deck or at the beach. This small pouch from Loctote will hold your cash, key card, and phone, and attaches to a lounge chair.
More essential items for your cruise vacation
- Passport and/or photo ID
- Travel documents and luggage tags
- Prescription medicines and basic over-the-counter medications
- Miscellaneous personal items- lip balm, cosmetics, toiletries
- Day pack – this might be a tote bag or your airline personal item. Just be sure it’s lightweight but large enough for beach towels.
- Nausea medicine – most modern ships are very stable, and all ships will have seasickness remedies on board. But if you’re concerned, pack an over-the-counter medication like Bonine. If you are particularly susceptible to seasickness, ask your doctor to prescribe a scopolamine patch.
- 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 – And at least one pair of sunglasses.
- Magnetic hooks are great for cruise cabins. Stick it to the door or wall to hang your cover-up or secure the daily bulletin.
- Reusable water bottle – Some cruise ships will supply water bottles for your shore excursion but prevent some plastic waste by bringing your own bottle to fill at a refill station. For more ideas on being an earthy-friendly traveler read: Sustainable Travel
- Lightweight rain jacket (which hopefully isn’t used!)
- Cleansing wipes, face masks, etc.
What I’m packing for my next 7-day cruise in the Caribbean (booked for January!)
This trip I am going to travel carry-on only for two weeks. Over the last few years I’ve invested in merino wool and multifunctional clothing which will help me save a lot of space (and aggravation!)
I am sailing on a Windstar ship so no formal wear required.
I plan on taking two bags, a small rolling carry-on that’ll go in the overhead bin on the flight, and a backpack as a personal item. I’ll pack my at-seat essentials in a small zipped case which I can take out once I’m settled on the plane.
In addition to the items shown in this graphic, I’ll pack an extra sleeveless top, a light sweater, workout wear (including 2 merino tees and bike shorts), pajamas, swim wear, and all the cruise essentials.
On the flight from wintry Massachusetts I’ll wear my Encircled dressy sweatpants, a long sleeve Wool& tunic, and a sweater or wrap.
The scarf and the tie-dye cape (both by Diane Kroe) can be used as swim cover-ups. As you can see from the graphic, the cape can also be worn as a skirt.
The two dresses, both merino wool by Wool&, can be styled in multiple ways but take up little room in my bag.
Packing review: How this capsule worked for our 2 week Caribbean cruise
At the last minute I rebelled against my minimalist rules and added three of my favorite items – a Zuri dress. a Julahas light cape, and a Diane Kroe wrap. Fortunately, the dress fit in my carry-on and I wore the other two on the flights.
Note if you’re interested in purchasing a cape, use the Julahas link for €10 off!
The best way to become an efficient packer is to review your list after your trip. What did you wear and what just didn’t work? What do you wish you’d packed?
Though Windstar’s dress code is country club casual, most travelers dressed for dinner. All three of my dresses got lots of wear. I accessorized with my Kroe chiffon pieces for different looks. The Zuri dress was a great addition as I wore it as a dress, a duster, and a skirt! (Love multi-use items.) The colorway was perfect for the Caribbean. I got lots of compliments!
The Columbia Saturday Trail shorts are cruising winners with their zipped thigh pocket PERFECT for securing a cruise card. We had a lot of rough seas, so having a place to safely stash my card while boarding tenders was ideal.
The cropped leggings which looked so cozy in Boston were never worn. Way too hot for the Caribbean.
The pretty sleeveless print top was also not worn. It’s two layers of cotton just seemed too heavy.
Wish I’d packed
Not much! I could have switched the sleeveless print top (9 oz) for two short sleeve merino tops (4 oz) which would have given me a few more styling options.
By the end of two weeks I was getting a little tired of the same clothes,and thought of several pieces that might have been fun to wear. But ultimately I had what I needed and appreciated not having to haul a big bag on the trip.
For more examples of my capsule wardrobes read: 10 Piece Travel Capsules: what’s really in my bag
Download our printable complete cruise packing list for a 7 day cruise in the Caribbean
Do you have a favorite item you pack for luxury cruising? Share in comments below!