How to Pack lightly for a 14-day cruise (or any cruise ship tour)

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I found packing for a 14-day cruise a bit tougher than a 7-day cruise. You can apply the same "mix and match" techniques to shorter cruises and get everything into one suitcase (plus one small bag to keep on your last night on board - see Warnings).

We were starting in Portugal where the weather was in the lower 50's...crossing the ocean to the Caribbean where it was in the upper 80's. We had four formal nights and four semi-formal night dinners. Below are steps to help reduce the volumes of clothes you need to take when the weather and dining arrangements seem overwhelming.

Be sure you know how many formal, semi-formal and casual dinners you will have. Check with your cruise line if you are not sure. It's better to be over-dressed, than under-dressed. Some cruise lines do not allow jeans or shorts in the dining rooms even on casual nights (Holland America), so be sure you know the recommendation of your cruise line.

Pack clothes that you can mix and match - even with formal and casual dinners you can take four "dressy tops" that work well with two skirts and two dress pants. You will have 8-10 evenings covered. Pack just one formal dress (which you can wear two nights). Yes you can still take another fancy dress for two nights, and not over pack. By matching colors, you can reduce the number of shoes you need to take as well. Two pairs of dress shoes should be enough.

Remember, there are laundry facilities on board. Some ships have coin-op Laundromats, others you have to pay for them to do the laundry for you. Even though this can be pricey, you will only need to wash a few things along the way. Take eight or nine days of underclothes, and wash them at the half way point. Or less if you plan to wash clothes twice.

Layers, layers and more layers. By packing a sweatshirt or jean shirt, and a lightweight sweater, you can always cover up that short sleeve blouse while in colder temperatures. Leave the bulky jackets and heavy sweaters at home.

Three pairs of long pants (jeans or khakis for example) and three pairs of shorts should be enough. Four or five casual short sleeve shirts/blouses should do the trick. You wear them only during the day, and you can do a load of laundry during your journey. Besides, you are bound to find something to buy along the way!

No more than two swim suits please. And don't forget your cover-up, as you'll want it to walk through the ship or during lunch. No need to pack a beach towel, the ship will provide those by the pool. You may want a small tote bag to carry your suntan lotion, sun glasses, book, cards, and cabin key. Of course, buying one of these at your first port of call is always a nice (flat) souvenir to take home.

Tips & Warnings

  • Jazz up and change the look of your clothes with different jewelry on different nights. Or add a scarf or shawl to change the look.
  • You will only wear your dinner clothes a few hours each night. They don't get dirty that fast, and people really won't care (or notice) that you wore that same outfit just a few days ago.
  • Many ships have a single price for a "bag a laundry" - this is your most economical option - and stuff it full!
  • If you have to take two suitcases, then pack one large, and one much smaller suitcase. Put only your clothes in the larger case. By placing all of your liquids, make-up, hair dryer, shoes and heavier items in the smaller case, they will weigh about the same - and be much easier to tote around.
  • Only bring walking shoes that are already comfortable. If you partake in land excursions, you may be doing a lot of walking. Breaking in new shoes on a cruise is a bad idea.
  • Pack your liquids (shampoo, facial cleaners, etc) in plastic bags that seal.
  • Be sure to buy your film, suntan lotion and mosquito repellent before you leave. The price of these items on board ships and cruise cities are twice what you would pay at home.
  • You can stand in line for two hours to be the "first on board and not miss anything"...or wait a few hours after the first check in time and breeze right on through.
  • Most cruise lines have you pack your suitcases and put them outside your door by midnight on your final night. Therefore, be sure you have a small bag that you will keep in your room to pack up the last of your clothes, medications, and toiletries that next morning.

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