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Cruise Ahead With Smart Packing

The biggest temptation with any cruise vacation is to overpack. I've personally sat despairingly atop an overstuffed suitcase battling to get it zipped closed. What I've learned from personal experience and misery is that there's no one-size-fits-all cruise. What you bring—and how you dress—often depends on what cruise line you pick.

Customs are changing

For many passengers, dressing up in the evenings is one of the big attractions of a cruise. For others, it is a potential nightmare. Nowadays, you don't have to fashion yourself after the cast of Dynasty to enjoy a cruise. Dress codes on ships are becoming less rigid as dining regulations have been relaxed to please the majority of travelers who prefer the casual lifestyle. For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines' (NCL) "Freestyle Cruising" policy calls for resort casual attire, as does Windstar.

However, formal dress standards are enforced on ultra-luxury cruise lines Crystal, Cunard, Seabourn, and Silversea. On Cunard's QE2 trans-Atlantic crossings, formal attire is expected on four evenings out of the six. Even on cruise lines that opt for resort casual, passengers will make bold statements with doled-up attire and accessories. Attend formal night on a Carnival ship, and you'll see passengers decked out in ball gowns and tuxedos alongside those wearing t-shirts and spandex.

AnitaVacation's how to pack tips

As an ex-flight attendant I learned a few tricks of the packing trade. Here are a few:

  • Don't place important papers, documents, expensive jewelry, or medication in checked baggage; bring them in your carry-on luggage. Also, bring photocopies of these items (and written copy of prescriptions) in case you need to replace them.

  • Pack heavy items such as shoes and toiletry kits before the more delicate ones.

  • Use shoe covers to pack shoes, and stuff socks, belts, and other little items inside shoes to save space.

  • To reduce wrinkling, turn jackets inside out and fold them in half in dry cleaning bags. The plastic bags minimize wrinkles, which is why dry cleaners use them.

  • Pack the bottom of your suitcase with trousers, letting the legs hang over the outside edge. Then pack the rest of your travel gear, with lighter materials on top. Wrap trouser legs over the pile—they'll keep their crease.

  • Mark your luggage with bright colored yarn or tags—they'll be easier to spot and less likely to be picked up by mistake.

  • Bring an empty soft bag for souvenirs.
  • What to pack

    Depending upon what cruise line you sail, attire can run the gamut from L.L. Bean to Saks. But don't fret. Prior to your voyage, the cruise company will send you information spelling out their dress policy.

    Kathryn M. of Camarillo, CA, wrote in asking what to pack for long cruises. Because cruise cabins are notoriously small, the key for any cruise of any length is to pack light, but smart. Here are some basic packing tips that will keep you looking fresh throughout your cruise and hopefully out of the Laundromat too:

    Day wear

    For warm weather cruises, make sure you bring quality swimwear, as you're likely to spend a lot of the time in or around the pool. For women, sarongs, cover-ups, or sundresses are very useful for dressing up a bathing suit, making it useful all around the ship, including in dining venues where most cruise lines refuse entry to passengers in swimsuits only.

    If the ship holds an event requiring "smart casual" wear, dress shorts, skirts, or trousers—with a short-sleeved shirt or polo shirt—are safe bets. The rest of the time you can dress as you like (within reason of course). Other useful items include flat shoes with a good grip for wet decks, sunglasses, and a sun hat.

    If you are going on an Alaska cruise or another adventure-type voyage, you'll need to bring hiking boots and/or more rugged clothes for outdoor adventure excursions.

    Evening wear

    Most cruises will have one or two formal evenings a week. Men are expected to wear a dark suit or tuxedo, and women, a long or short evening dress or dressy pantsuit. Men can often rent tuxedos, so they won't have to pack a suit. For evenings that are less dressy, women can get away with a rayon or silk top and trousers. Because of powerful air conditioning onboard new ships, pack a sweater or jacket. I always bring my pashmina wrap—it's very versatile and provides an extra layer in the evening.

    Remember to pack some loose-fitting clothes. Most passengers find that they put on few pounds during a cruise.

    AnitaVacation thoughts

    I am a big advocate of wearing outfits more than once. If it looks good and is appropriate, who cares how many times I wear it? Cruise expert Linda Coffman of Cruise would agree. She says to concentrate on dressing from the waist up and to wear the same slacks, skirts, or shorts throughout the trip. "A simple scarf and jewelry can change the look of a basic outfit." She adds, "New reversible women's clothes offer lots of different looks with minimum packing. You can find these clothes at Travel Smith, Magellans, and Nordstroms."

    Don't worry about running out of clean clothes if you pack too light. Most vessels have self-service Laundromats along with laundry service for a fee. And remember, if you forget to pack something or don't want to do laundry, most ships offer a good selection of clothes, swimwear, and accessories in their onboard shops. What you can't get onboard, you can easily find at any port-of-call you visit.

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