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Cruise Wear for Women Over 50: What to Pack

One of my very favorite ways to see the world is via a cruise. I know many AWSL readers share my love for cruising because I’m often asked for ideas of what to pack for a cruise. I’ve learned several new packing tricks since I have a few more cruises under my belt, so let’s get to it.

HOLLAND AMERICA NIEUW STATENDAM WE CRUISED IN THE MARITIMES

If you have an upcoming cruise on your travel calendar, I hope you find this guide helpful! Here are a few more posts you might like:

What to Pack for a Cruise

What to pack for a cruise is, unfortunately, not a one-size-fits-all answer. For example…I’m packing very different items for my upcoming adventure cruise to see the polar bears than I did to cruise the Baltics. The items and the amount of items you’ll need to bring heavily rely on several different factors.

The first thing I look at when I start planning what to bring is the destination and the season. It’s common sense that if you’re boarding a ship that takes you to somewhere sunny and tropical, you’ll need different items than if you were heading to somewhere in a colder or rainier climate. Take a look at the cities and ports you’ll be stopping at, as well as any excursions you choose to participate in.

I also look at the length of the trip, as I’ve taken cruises that last anywhere from three days to three weeks. I seldom check bags when I fly, so I pack versatile pieces that can be worn in multiple ways. I bring fewer items than most do because I wear things several times in different ways, allowing me to piece together outfits that can work for both onboard fun and exploring at ports. For those longer adventures, especially ones stretching past two weeks, you’ll need to get more strategic and pack a bigger variety of clothes.

Understanding the ship’s dress code and level of formality is essential when packing for a cruise. It ensures that you’re appropriately dressed for all onboard activities and events, from formal dinners to poolside lounging. For cruises like luxury liners or those with formal dinners, passengers are expected to dress accordingly, often requiring something formal. In contrast, cruises with a more relaxed atmosphere may have less stringent dress codes, allowing for casual or resort wear throughout the voyage.

My Guide to Packing for a Cruise

Whether you’re a seasoned cruiser or embarking on your maiden voyage, getting your packing list just right can make all the difference in your onboard experience. From navigating the seas to exploring ports, having the proper pieces packed ensures you’re prepared for every adventure that awaits.

Choose a Color Scheme and Proper Fabrics

When it comes to packing for a cruise, sticking to a color scheme can streamline your wardrobe and make outfit planning a breeze. A smart strategy is to choose two main colors for your garments, allowing for easy mixing and matching throughout your journey. Opting for solid colors over bold patterns or vibrant prints not only creates a cohesive look but also ensures versatility in your outfits. Solid hues such as navy, black, white, or khaki serve as excellent base colors, providing a timeless and elegant foundation for your cruise wardrobe.

rolling rack of clothes for river boat cruise on A Well Styled Life
FOR MY VIKING RIVERBOAT CRUISE FROM BUDAPEST TO PASSAU, I CHOSE BLACK, BEIGE, AND GRAY

By keeping your garments primarily in two main colors, you create a harmonious palette that minimizes decision-making and maximizes outfit options. A simple yet stylish capsule wardrobe composed of interchangeable pieces enables effortless coordination, whether you’re lounging by the pool, dining in the evening, or exploring ashore. Additionally, solid colors tend to be less memorable than busy patterns, allowing you to re-wear items without drawing attention to repetition.

Knit fabrics, such as jersey or cotton blends, are ideal due to their stretchiness and wrinkle-resistant properties, making them perfect for long days of exploring or lounging on deck. Crushable fabrics like linen or lightweight cotton are also excellent choices as they pack easily and can withstand the rigors of travel, ensuring you arrive at your destination looking fresh and put-together. These materials not only offer breathability in warm climates but also provide easy care, allowing you to focus more on enjoying your cruise adventure and less on ironing out wrinkles.

My Personal Cruise Packing List

Here is my personal packing list, which includes clothing essentials and must-have accessories.

  • 3-4 bottoms, skirts, or pants: My favorites? I haven’t traveled or packed a suitcase for over fifteen years that hasn’t included two or more pairs of these washable crepe, slim-knit ankle pants.
  • 5-6 tops:
  • 1-2 casual to dressy dresses: The right change of shoes, bag, and jewelry can easily transform a dress from daytime to nighttime wear.
  • A wrap. I also find light cashmere ones like this one invaluable to have in my carry-on bag for flights.
  • Lightweight jacket: A knit jacket or blazer polishes many looks. You can pop one over Bermuda shorts during the day or a dress at night.
  • Several scarves of varying size and weight: I wear scarves more often when I travel because they help me switch up the look of basics, protect my hair from getting trashed on a windy bus ride, and cover my neck when the sun feels too strong.
  • Comfortable walking shoes: These are critical because you’re going to do a lot of walking!
  • Dressy flats or small heels (optional)
  • Swimsuit: Even though I don’t sunbathe, I don’t swim, and I don’t use public hot tubs, I always bring a couple of bathing suits. You can see more of my favorites here.
  • A tote: You’ll want one for shore excursions or trips to the pool aboard the ship. Perfect for holding souvenirs, sunscreen, a small umbrella, etc.
  • Small bag: This bag is invaluable. It switches from a crossbody to a belt bag to a clutch with a quick change of straps.
  • Sun hat: A stylish way to shield your skin from the sun. You can see more of my favorite sun hats here in this post.
  • Sunglasses: I always bring at least one extra pair of prescription glasses and prescription sunglasses. Obviously, they couldn’t be replaced on a cruise and my trip would be ruined if I’d only brought one pair and they broke or were lost. I always opt for polarized sunglasses to cut down on glare and squinting.
  • Costume Jewelry: Having a variety of necklaces, earrings, and scarves helps to add variety to a capsule wardrobe. I always pack nice costume pieces on cruises because I would be devastated if they were stolen or if I were to lose them.
  • Toiletries: You can view my toiletry packing list here.
  • Sunscreen is a constant for me, and I like to bring favorites I know will perform well and be ultra-protective. You can see some of my favorites here.

What to Wear for Excursions

Obviously, this will depend on your cruise destination, but I typically find that excursions call for comfort. Flat shoes, a travel purse or tote, and sunnies are part of my everyday wear for a cruise.

STRETCHY WALKING SHOES WITH ARCH SUPPORT / CONVERTIBLE BELT BAG / NO-IRON SHIRT / STRETCH PANTS /

More Items to Pack for a Cruise:

Do you have any upcoming cruises?

33 Comments

  1. This is great, thank you! I’ve done two recent polar expedition cruises. It is indeed a very different packing list. Mine were both on Quark and were largely very casual. My key recommendations are wool leggings, socks, and tops, plus a good pair of goretex pants if you are on an expedition cruise.

    1. Thanks Jamie. I have them on order.

  2. Yes ! Heading to Amsterdam and then Belgium in May…always try to pack light but do check a bag. Have three more cruises booked, so thanks for the tips. I do basic colors and mix and match. Now in the market for some nice stretch, comfy pants for the flight and tours!

    1. I highly recommend the Eileen Fisher and Athleta stretch pants. Both are very comfy and don’t wrinkle.

      1. I second the Athleta Endless pant! Perfect for travel, super comfy yet polished, with two zipped pockets in front.

      2. Yes!! So nice for travel or any day.

  3. Christi S. says:

    Great cruise packing ideas. We started with carryon bags after Covid. Yes, it can be done! We were quite surprised. Question: is the backdrop in one of the photos above from Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic? Absolutely loved that little town. We stopped there on our Passau to Budapest river cruise.

    1. Yes it is! This was the last time I wore my favorite scarf because I lost it that day. Great little town.

  4. Lorrie Orr says:

    We’re spending 10 days in the Netherlands followed by a cruise around Iceland, with three stops in Scotland on the way back. We have always taken only carry-ons on our European trips, but are planning on one checked piece this trip in order to pack warmer clothes like down jackets. I’ll be curious to see what you take on your Arctic cruise. Do you think you’ll manage with carry-ons?

    1. Your trip sounds awesome!! They’ll be providing the heavy parka and boots so I might be able to. We’re traveling over without airline changes so that makes it more reassuring a checked bag will arrive. I’ll let you know.

  5. Laurie Tillett says:

    Holland America has wonderful laundry service, allowing you to pack less.. It’s free for us because we are almost 5 star, but the $25 “all you can stuff in the bag” special is the best deal around. Roll your items very tightly and cram in. Stuff undies and socks into the corners. Fill out the laundry sheet and tuck a $5 into it. Your laundry will come back next day (sometimes that day!) perfectly cleaned and pressed and on hangers or folded -along with a note from the person who did it. Be sure to leave an ”attaboy” comment on the Navigator app. Workers earn extra time off and other benefits when they get praised by guests.

    1. Thank you for letting us know Laurie! That’s terrific.

  6. We are cruising to Bermuda out of NYC this year. I really enjoy cruising and find it to be a relaxing vacation. However, I do usually check a bag as well as having my lightweight carryon for essentials.

    1. Bermuda is so beautiful. We haven’t been back in many years. Have a great trip. I love cruising too. It’s much more relaxing for me.

  7. barb from Canada says:

    Great info Jennifer, especially the need for more than one pair of prescription glasses. I forgot once and a monkey took them on my face and all I had left was my prescription sunglasses. I would have been left looking like Jackie O, for a month long cruise. Luckily got them back mangled but wearable, so absolutely necessary to pack an extra pair. I never travel without an extra pair of everyday glasses and of course sunglasses!

    1. Wow! But how cool to be that close to a monkey. It sounds like a fun adventure.

  8. suzanstew says:

    I like your advice about extra glasses. A few years ago, we were in a remote part of the Czech Republic. I had my sunglasses on and had my glasses hanging from my top. I bent over and somehow my glasses dropped and I stepped on them. I had a pair of readers with me, too. This was early in the trip and it was a real pain to have to rely on either readers or glasses that no longer were wearable for a lot of days.

    1. I really couldn’t survive with just cheaters. I actually bring two extra pairs of progressives. One rimless pair that I keep in the cabin. They’re small and easy to pack.

  9. These are all great tips for cruising. I’ve only been on warm cruises and I felt I packed pretty well. We had two formal nights and the rest were just casual. Mix and matching outfits helps.

    1. Mixing and matching is the way to go Rosemary.

  10. I don’t see a link for the light blue shawl type wrap that you’re wearing over the long black dress in the top photo. I love it. Where did you get both pieces?

    1. The skirt is 25+ years old and the wrap is a very old piece from Eileen Fisher. She makes very pretty wraps.

  11. Great Post. Can you give some examples of packable dresses that would work for a more “formal” night on a cruise.

    1. Choose knits or soft woven fabrics like rayon that don’t wrinkle. I prefer a dark neutral without prints that you can dress up with accessories. This allows you to wear it several times and make it look different.

    2. Laurie Tillett says:

      I’m a pants girl. One pair of black silky crops, three tops (one black, one white and one glitzy). Same black flats as every night but add a clip-on bow or bling for dressy. Glitzy necklaces and boom! Done!

      1. I love that idea. Great combos Laurie.

  12. Christina says:

    We are doing the Alaska cruise in May, first time. All other cruises were Caribbean so my cruise wear will be very different.

    1. We’ve always wanted to do that Alaska cruise. Maybe next year!

    2. I don’t know if all ships are the same but formal night on our Alaska cruise had men in tuxedo and women in long elegant gowns. Very formal! There was even a photographer taking pictures of all the beautiful couples. I had bought a pair of palazzo pants and and a beautiful flowy top, both in black as I had an injury and had to wear flats. I added gold jewellery to up the up the elegance. My husband wore a dark grey suit. I felt terribly underdressed once I saw all the gorgeous gowns.
      Prepare for rainy days and chilly ones so layers are important.
      Enjoy your Alaska cruise!

      1. Great advice! Palazzo pants are perfect for cruising.

      2. I love to wear formal attire, so I’m curious as to what cruise line you were on. We cruise on Regent Seven Seas, but the dress code is becoming increasingly more casual, which is disappointing to me.

    3. Laurie Tillett says:

      We’re doing our first Alaska cruise in June. Black velvet jeans will be my go-to for regular dinners. Same black silky crops for dressy.

      1. I love that outfit idea!! Brilliant idea.

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