Dressing for (Cruise) Success
When it comes to travel, I tend to agree with Charles Schulz, of Peanuts cartoon fame. Back in 1978, he appeared on the Dick Cavett show and said "I don't mind going someplace just so long as I can be home for lunch." That's really what cruising is all about: going someplace new in your home away from home. You unpack once, return "home" every night after visiting exotic locations, and wake up the next day -- still home -- in a totally new place. As my six-year old son Nicholas says, when sitting on my lap watching cartoons with an ice cream in his hand, "Ah, this is the life."
The down side, of course, is that any kind of travel costs money, sometimes a good deal of money. And while the cruise traveler enjoys the lowest per diems of just about any vacationer, most travelers still must look for ways to economize in booking a trip. How many of you have paid for a full fare First Class air ticket lately? Seems a bit silly, doesn't it, to spend what it costs to book a seven-day cruise for a seven-hour flight. And yet many people virtually double the cost of their first cruise without really needing to. How do they do it? Well, it's not by booking upscale cabins. Go ahead and do that, and you won't be sorry. On our last cruise, my wife and I booked a top deck cabin with a verandah, and she has informed me that it will be a requirement from here out. I've been sputtering, but privately tend to agree with her. A nice cabin is worth it.
So where does all this unnecessary money get spent? On clothing. First-time cruisers browse through the glossy cruise brochures, see all the well-dressed passengers waltzing around the deck in tuxedos and evening gowns, and they often go out and purchase an entire wardrobe for the cruise, sometimes to the tune of several thousand dollars.
If you can afford that, go ahead. But if you've been hesitating to take a cruise because you don't think you can afford a new wardrobe, hear this: your everyday wardrobe is probably completely adequate for the kind of cruise you would be comfortable on. That is, if you own several tuxedos or ball gowns, and purchase tailored clothing, and sport labels like Gucci and Piaget every day, you won't need to buy a darn thing to cruise on Seabourn, and you'll feel right at home in their upscale environment. If you have never worn a tuxedo in your life and don't really care to, there's still a cruise for you -- in fact, almost any mainstream line will do. I would estimate that on lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, only about 20% - 30% of men wear tuxedos on formal nights -- though I would also say that you ladies totally outclass us duffers most of the time, and dress to the nines whenever you get a chance. We know two frequent cruisers (De and George LaPanne) who built their wardrobes incrementally. Every cruise, he purchases a new cummerbund and tie for his tuxedo, and she purchases a new gown. They've now developed an extensive dinner wardrobe from which to pick and choose, and their strategy has kept their per-cruise costs in line.
But you don't even need to go that far, if you don't want to, and the cost of your cruise can be just the cost of your cruise. New clothing is not a necessity. What you already own is probably perfectly fine. To illustrate this, it might help to outline exactly what to expect on a typical seven-day cruise, because even though the environment and atmosphere on the cruises will vary substantially, the basic outline for a cruise is quite similar on all lines.
The general outline for a typical day aboard is (based on a warm climate): casual daywear or shorts or swimwear throughout most of the day, then a change into evening dress which may be casual, semi-formal, or formal (see definitions below), and which is announced in the daily cruise news -- which will typically be left in your cabin the evening before, when your room steward does the nightly turn-down service.
On shore excursion days, one often changes clothing three times: casual, traveling clothes to go ashore; a shower and change after re-embarking (sometimes a swim or Jacuzzi); then a change into evening dress later. Helpful tip: bring extra underclothing and socks. Particularly in warm climates, you'll probably need them.
To help you select your clothing for a typical, seven-day cruise, below is a "fill-in" checklist. It's based on a Royal Caribbean cruise, but it will look very familiar on virtually any line. You might consider printing this out and using it with my previous Packing Tips article.
Embark wearing your traveling clothes, which for me is jeans or sweat pants, loose and usually layered clothing (because I often travel through several climates), sneakers, and often a sport coat on top that doubles on the cruise for semi-formal night wear).
Your traveling clothing:
First day evening dress: casual
Your casual evening clothes [filled-in example for male]:
Gray short-sleeved dress shirt/ navy slacks/ gray dress socks/ briefs/ black dress belt/ black tasseled loafers
Your casual daywear:
Second day evening dress: formal [Captain's welcome aboard dinner!]
Third Day -- In Port
Daywear, casual -- shore excursion [remember sun block, sun glasses, boarding pass -- or it will be a hassle getting back aboard -- credit cards, camera, cash, guide book information if going ashore independently. Wear comfortable footwear!]
Your shore excursion casual wear:
Casual shipboard dress, (or bathing suit). Your casual shipboard dress:
Evening wear: semi-formal or theme clothing (check your daily newsletter for details on theme clothing). Your semi-formal or theme clothing:
Fourth Day -- In Port
Daywear, casual, shore excursion:
Evening wear: casual or theme clothing
Fifth Day -- At Sea
Casual shipboard wear:
Evening wear: semi-formal
Sixth Day -- In Port -- Sailing Home -- Farewell Dinner
Daywear, casual, shore excursion
Evening wear: formal
Seventh Day -- Debarkation
Your debarkation clothing:
Your debarkation clothing will be traveling clothes again -- loose and comfortable.
You will undoubtedly hear a shipboard comedian or one of the cruise staff tell a joke about the passengers who carefully placed their luggage out in the hall before going to bed the night before docking -- and woke up to find they didn't remember to leave out clothes to return home in! That's not so funny when it happens to you, unless you want to extend the toga party theme night and wear a towel home. So don't forget an outfit for return travel!
Now that you've planned your entire wardrobe for the cruise, simply go through the day-by-day list as you pack, crossing off each item after you stow it in your luggage. Don't forget to include a few extra pairs of socks and underclothing -- and consider using my earlier packing list (see above) to complete your packing.
Although I've completely obviated the necessity to purchase clothing for your upcoming cruise, I'm nevertheless going to include a few links that I've found helpful in examining and purchasing clothing -- this is especially effective for those of you who don't like to shop in stores:
Tilley's Endurables, the classic travel clothing provider. Low-care, durable clothing designed expressly for travel, with secret money pockets, wrinkle-free fabrics, and more.
L.L. Bean, the well-established mail-order outfitter and provider of durably-crafted, comfortable clothing.
Lands End, mail-order provider of reasonably priced, quality clothing.
On-line catalogs for major department stores:
And if you still can't find what you're looking for, try a Netscape Net Search and select the "Shopping" link, then look for "Clothing" in the left-hand frames section. This will provide you with about 2,000 links to clothing providers, one of which will undoubtedly have just what you're missing for that upcoming voyage.
Dress Code Definitions for the Dining Room
Casual: Comfortable clothing, but not too comfortable. Jeans are OK, as are slacks or a sundress. Men should wear button-up shirts, as T-shirts and tank tops are usually not allowed in the dining room. Shorts are frowned on as well.
Semi-formal (sometimes called informal): Men should wear sport coats, with ties usually optional; ladies should wear dresses or dress slacks/tops.
Formal: Evening gowns for the ladies. Men should wear a tuxedo (or dinner jacket), although a dark business suit is perfectly acceptable as well.
A Note on Theme Clothing
On semi-formal or casual evenings, passengers are given the option -- and encouraged -- to wear theme clothing.
Theme clothing might be country style, toga party, 50's Night, 60's Night, Caribbean, or any of an endless variety of themes. Your pre-cruise literature should outline what theme evenings you will encounter aboard, and this will allow you to pack accordingly. Theme wear often coordinates with the evening's international cuisine -- or the midnight buffet. For example, on Country and Western Night, the midnight buffet might be a barbecue. My experience is that few passengers participate in theme dress -- but give it a try if you are adventurous!
Helpful Wardrobe Tips
To reduce the amount of clothing you need to bring, try to make sure your wardrobe is color-coordinated. Mix and match clothing works best.
If you do not buy or rent a tuxedo, one business suit should be sufficient for your cruise. Just pack two different dress shirts and ties. One sportcoat for semi-formal evenings should be all you need, particularly if your wardrobe is color-coordinated.
Ladies: obviously, you can't wear the same dress every night -- so you may need to hit the links or the stores if you don't already have evening gowns for formal nights.
Brent Betit is a freelance writer who lives in Vermont with his wife and two young children.
Brent is also the Executive Vice President of Landmark College in Putney Vermont, and we are proud to announce that Landmark College has received a U.S. Department of Education Title III (Strengthening Institutions) Grant. Landmark is one of only 32 institutions selected from among approximately 1,800 applicants for this highly competitive grant program and Brent and his staff worked with Senator James M. Jeffords and his staff at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions who provided substantial support, advice, and guidance during Landmark's two-year quest to gain funding within the grant program. Congratulations, Brent!
Brent has written many SeaLetter columns on such subjects as sea-going language, cruising with kids and cruise etiquette. To find all of Brent's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, visit our SeaLetter COLUMNISTS Index.
Brent is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Brent@sealetter.com.
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