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What to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise

What to pack for a cruise
Photo credit: Pixabay license

What to pack for a Caribbean cruise depends on the size of the cabin, weather forecast, ship restaurant choices, ship activities and shore excursion choices.

It also depends on the time of year and where the cruise is going. For example, passengers are more likely to pack a jacket and long pants for a winter cruise that includes the Bahamas. They lie just north of the Caribbean and have cooler temperatures as a result.

Cabin Size

Less is usually better when deciding what to pack for a Caribbean cruise. Less is better for two reasons.

One is that cruise cabins for most people are small. The more stuff, the less room to move around. One luggage bag is ideal.

Keep in mind as well that people often buy souvenirs when visiting cruise ports. They will add to the feeling of a cramped cabin and make bringing everything home a bigger challenge.

The other is a growing practice in the cruise industry—self-assisted luggage.

With self-assisted luggage, cruisers can carry on and take off their luggage without the involvement of porters. It’s especially useful for cruisers who have a few light bags and want to leave the ship as early or easily as possible.

Weather Forecast

Hot weather is common but not a given on a Caribbean cruise. Itinerary and time of year matter. As stated above, cruisers that visit the Bahamas during the winter may find weather that requires light jackets and long pants. Cruises who visit the southern Caribbean in the summer will rarely need either.

Cruise ships that leave from the northern ports of the U.S. such as Baltimore or New York will usually need pants and jackets during the winter until they reach warmer climates.

Ship Restaurant Choices

Formal nights are common and optional. Anyone who wants to dine with the captain or take part in formal nights will need suits and dresses that require more room in luggage.

Sitdown restaurants often have basic clothing standards such as long pants and nice shirts.

Anyone who plans to eat only in the cafeterias will need only casual clothes and sometimes just swimsuits if they eat by the pool.

Ship Activity Choices

Most ships have pools, spas and fitness centers, so cruisers who use them will need swimsuits or fitness clothes. Sunbathers have yet another reason to bring a swimsuit.

Shore Excursions

Clothing suitable for ship activities is usually suitable for shore excursions. Spare clothing for dirtier excursions is worth considering. For example, my son got covered in mud during a wet and muddy ATV excursion.

That said, anyone who plans to take a volcano mud bath in St. Lucia, for example, may want to think about any special clothing needs.

Swimsuits are a given for anyone who plans to spend time on a beach.

Cruise Packing Checklist

For the first day of the cruise, pack a small carry-on bag with your travel documents, a change of clothes, bathing suit and any medications in case of immediate wants and needs.

That way you don’t have to wait for your checked bags to arrive in your stateroom. That said, checked bags usually arrive quickly. Oftentimes it’s a matter of hours before they show up by the cabin door.

More About Clothing

For the week, think of clothing in four kinds of dining environments depending on the cruise line (some have higher standards than others) and personal preferences:

  • Relaxed
  • Casual
  • Smart casual
  • Formal

Relaxed includes shorts, T-shirts, golf shirts and tennis shoes. This style of dress is common for breakfast and lunch. It is usually acceptable in the buffet dining rooms. It also is acceptable throughout most of the ship. It is usually not acceptable in the full-service restaurants, although staff may tolerate it.

Casual, smart casual and formal are the choices for the full-service restaurants, which are optional for all guests but also popular for the higher-quality foot and even the entertainment.

Casual is the most common dress for most nights. Smart casual and formal are announced in advance.

Casual clothes generally include sport shirts and slacks for men, and sundresses or pants with blouses for women.

Smart casual means jackets for men and dresses or pantsuits for women.

Formal is suits and ties or tuxedos for men and cocktail dresses for women. Whether even to bring formal clothing depends on the cruise line and whether it is low, medium or high end in pricing and clientele.

Some cruisers opt to bring casual clothes but not smart casual or formal for the sake of keeping luggage light and simple.

Quick tip: Pack just two or three pairs of shorts and match them with four to six shirts. This ultra lightweight packing works best for people who spend a lot of time in swimsuits and don’t mind eating dinner in the self-service buffet restaurants.

Other Items to Bring

  • Bathing suit
  • Books
  • Camera or smartphone
  • Personal grooming items
  • Workout clothes (if you are motivated)
  • Hat and sunscreen

The rules vary among the cruise lines when it comes to bringing alcohol on board. Most cruise lines discourage passengers from packing alcohol. Some allow one bottle of wine per passenger.

Ship staff will usually store any alcohol that passengers buy at duty-free areas in ports of call.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
February 24, 2024

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