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Cruise Feature Article
Formal Wear Tips for Long Cruises

Therese Ruffing

Regarding our four-month World Cruise I was asked recently: "How many formal nights were there on the World Cruise? On a short cruise, can I carry enough to not duplicate an outfit? How did it work for nearly four months?"

From January through April 1997, my partner John and I sailed with Holland America Lines (HAL) on the 29th and final World Cruise of their flagship, the Rotterdam V. We had never before been on a World Cruise, and thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition, John recently had the chance to join the Rotterdam VI on a one-week cruise and to check out the latest and greatest on the new ship. Here are my thoughts on planning for formal nights (from a woman's perspective) on the HAL World Cruise, and a few of John's thoughts on how my comments relate to the new ship. Many comments also are applicable to any extended cruise.

HAL World Cruise Formal Night Background

The 1997 World Cruise was scheduled to include 24 formal nights, 30 informal nights, and 47 elegantly-casual nights. Of the 24 formal nights, 15 were "theme" nights. (We learned this perhaps four to six weeks before embarkation, from our 32-page HAL booklet, which had fairly complete answers to a wide variety of World Cruise and more general questions.) The booklet listed the dates for each theme night and the nature of each theme. Nine of the 15 theme nights were color themes, such as red and white at Valentine's Day, and black and white at the end of the cruise. Other theme nights included themes such as Bavarian, Ancient Civilization, and Speakeasy.

Range of Approaches I Noticed to Formal Nights on the HAL World Cruise

Virtually everyone made an effort to look formal on formal nights, though the range of women's efforts varied from the female version of the male "luxury-of-getting-away-with-a-single-tuxedo" to a handful of primarily repeat world-cruisers who did, literally, have a different outfit for every single formal night. Most of us fell somewhere between those opposite ends of the spectrum. Let me be more specific about the extremes. The superbly tailored tuxedo that one woman wore throughout the segment on which she joined the Rotterdam made me long for such simplicity. (I might consider having such an outfit made (perhaps in Hong Kong or Bangkok), but including a long skirt as well as pants -- what a solution to the planning problem!) In contrast, some women brought a different gown for each formal night (for example, with a floor-length skirt along with hoop-skirt style petticoats, or entirely beaded, etc. -- your imagination is the limit). I have heard that one such passenger on some world cruises has reserved a full extra cabin for her 40+ trunks. I'd venture that most women who brought a separate outfit for every formal night were indeed segment passengers. I am unaware of anyone looking askance at repeat-performance outfits on formal nights for passengers who took the whole World Cruise. In addition, there seemed to be no serious expectation that everyone would follow the theme designated for a particular night, though all efforts seemed appropriately admired. For example, even the careful planners might simply add an appropriate scarf or hat or pick up at least one of the two colors of the theme. (Although the following is generally of more use to men, the shop on the ship sold pocket squares, cumberbunds, etc. in the colors of the theme nights.)


My Approach

In the FYI category, I'll describe my middle of the road approach. (I'll also note by preface that I much prefer pants to skirts and flat shoes to heels.) I took two pairs of formal pants, one pair black rayon crepe and one royal blue silk; one tailored, below-the-knee black skirt; and one black stand-alone longish evening cocktail dress. I took two pairs of flat shoes that would work for formal nights, one pair black patent and one gold. Focusing on the tops I actually used, I took five different tops, four of which worked well with a black-and-metallic-thread-shawl that I carried to stay warm in the air-conditioning, and almost all of which fit with the pants and skirt. (Two tops were suitable only for formal occasions -- beaded, flashy, and so on; the others were more flexible.) My evening color theme was heavy on black and gold. I used a few nice belts and some evening-type jewelry to help make certain clothes look more formal. I never calculated how many different combinations I could produce with the separates I brought, but I felt comfortable that I did end up looking somewhat different for at least a number of consecutive formal nights. This approach worked fine for me for the four months of the World Cruise. (The acid test was showing my very stylish sister what I had selected to bring. She gave me her seal of approval which I know was genuine because I didn't see that involuntary wincing which I recognize instantly!) Incidentally, my approach to formal clothing was similar to my approach to all clothing for the World Cruise: my goal was a set of clothes that I'd be happy and comfortable with but that would not require much thought or maintenance during the trip. Virtually every piece I brought would go with several different items. My basic colors were black and khaki, accented by various strong colors. Layering allowed me to adjust to a range of weather conditions. A practical and helpful resource for any type of travel is The Packing Book, by Judith Gilford (Ten Speed Press, revised edition, 1996).

Packing, Storage, and Laundry/Dry Cleaning

We took one hard-sided suitcase to protect formal and delicate clothing, and four very large soft-sided bags. Standard inside cabin storage on the Rotterdam V was ample for our needs (although we had to stay "organized" -- no room to spread out!), and John reports that there's even more storage on the Rotterdam VI. Some people arranged to have empty trunks and suitcases stored away from their cabin throughout the World Cruise; we were able to store our bags under the bed, and John says the same will work on the Rotterdam VI. We did much of our laundry in the ship's "laundromat." Most items that required ironing we sent to the ship's laundry/dry cleaning service.

Dancing, Air-Conditioning, and Philosophy

If you like to dance, I think it's important to select formal (and other) clothes that are comfortable for dancing before and after dinner. A couple of things I brought didn't work very well because we ended up enjoying dancing so much. To me, the chance of sitting under an overly ambitious air-conditioning blower is a major factor in selecting clothes, including formal clothes. No reason to be shivering all night. My formal shawl was a godsend. (By the way, John tells me that on the initial cruise of the Rotterdam VI, the AC seemed even cooler than on the Rotterdam V.) HAL's laundry service can work wonders but of course if something becomes permanently stained or unusable, then you can end up spending money you didn't plan to spend in the ship's clothing shop or during shore time when you'd rather be seeing the sights. So, general "resilience" of even formal clothes may be a factor in World Cruise wardrobe planning for those who, like myself, have what I hope is an appreciation of, but limited patience with certain wardrobe technicalities. On the other hand, for those with more flair than I have and who take pleasure in expressing themselves and their talents through their wardrobe, the World Cruise is a great venue where they'll find enthusiastic colleagues as well as an appreciative audience.


Therese Ruffing is a naturalized Texan who enjoys returning to Austin as much as she enjoys setting off on a cruise. Therese can be reached for questions or comments at: 74357.1053@compuserve.com.

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