What should women wear on a cruise ship vacation?

One of the most common questions first time cruisers ask is, "What should I pack to wear?" The honest answer is, "It depends." You must factor in the climate of your destination, the type of cruise you're taking and the activities you're most likely to participate in.

Admittedly, women have more options than men, but that doesn't necessarily make it easier to decide what to wear. To further complicate the issue, each cruise line has its own standard dress code. Keeping those thoughts in mind, there are some general guidelines for appropriate cruise clothing for ladies.

Arrival & Departure

On the day of your departure, choose wrinkle-resistant articles suited to the climate of your embarkation port. You'll be trudging along with the crowd, searching for your room and lugging your bags--at least part of the time--while climbing aboard, making this a bad time to break out the new strappy sandals or flirty little sundress. Think business casual and you will blend in well with the majority of your fellow travellers.


For mornings and afternoons spent aboard the ship, pack clothing you find comfortable and which is appropriate for any activities you have planned. In warmer climates swimsuits with cover-ups and sandals are must have items and are worn for the majority of the day, while shore excursions may call for something a bit more durable. If you're planning to disembark for a bit of sightseeing be sure to include conservative length shorts (not all cultures are as liberal as ours), sturdy walking shoes and short-sleeve shirts. Choose two different colours and one neutral for all of your casual pieces so you can mix and match, creating different looks for each day while conserving space in your luggage.


Once the sun sets, the dress code is determined by the dinner menu. Generally, evening meals will fall under one of three categories: casual, informal or formal. Dinner time casual means saying goodbye to the shorts and flip-flops and hello to sun dresses, skirts made from denim or khaki, or sporty trousers or denim jeans. Casual dinners are usually held on the first and last nights of a cruise.

For the record, "Informal Evening" is not the same as "Informal." It is dressier than casual, so denim of any sort is out. But it is not formal, so sequinned gowns and cocktail dresses will seem out of place. You would probably choose the same sort of clothing for church as you would for an Informal Evening, though necklines and hemlines tend to be bit more suggestive. The majority of dinners offered on modern cruises fall into this category.

Formal dinners are held one or two nights a week. As the title suggests, they are dress up events where the men wear dark suits and ties or tuxedos and the ladies wear gowns or little black dresses. Think simple and elegant when choosing a style and be sure to leave a bit of breathing room as most cruises are "all-inclusive" affairs and people do tend to gain a few pounds as the days go by.