There is real life, and there is cruise life – which is basically real life, with added pizzazz. Life at sea suggests a sense of theatre that is hard to match on the average landlocked trip. That said, not all cruise ships are created equal. Like humans, some are big and some are small. Some favour the “formal,” others are imbued with a casualness that is so far removed from cruising’s first incarnation in the 1800s as to be unrecognisable.
To some extent, your itinerary will dictate your wardrobe: if you are cruising down the Peruvian Amazon, you’ll need a vastly different set of sartorial requirements than if you are island-hopping in the Caribbean on a ship with multiple dining rooms and a capacity of 3,500.
Whatever your destination, the key to packing successfully when cruising is to consider the versatility of every garment you include, not least if your cruise will include formal evenings, since formal attire cannot only take up room, but tends to travel badly, like a seasick child. If you require a jacket, wear it on the plane to prevent it from getting crushed. Rather than packing a ruffled gown that would make Beyoncé proud, consider a simple cocktail dress, perhaps in velvet, satin, or silk.
Slip dresses being fashionable this season, there should be a splendid array of choice available, and the great advantage is that they can be dressed up for dinner and dancing and dressed down for a trip to the beach. Which brings us, neatly, to jewellery. Let jewellery be your friend: it’s small, light and can transform any outfit with aplomb.
Unless your cruise is very formal, there is no need to pack an array of high heels. If you choose a neutral hue (and by this I include “silver” and “gold”), it should be perfectly possible to pack only one pair: they will go with everything in a way that a coloured or even a black pair would not.
This will leave you free to pack the shoes you’ll find yourself wearing most: pool slides or similar that can be slipped on and off at whim, along with flat, light leather sandals, plimsolls and perhaps a pair of walking shoes, depending on how much activity will be undertaken.
Next to versatility, layering is the second-most important factor to consider, since even in tropical climes it can become cool on deck. A cardigan will probably be more useful than a jumper, but don’t dismiss the maligned pashmina, either – just call it a “wrap” instead. Likewise, a long-sleeved top or shirt would prove a prudent addition to your bag.
Prosaic as it may sound, don’t forget your favourite toiletries. Look for travel-sized versions of your most beloved scents, and toiletries that are versatile: there are many three-in-one products on the market that will leave more room for your clothes.
If I were stranded not on a desert island but on a cruise ship, all at sea? My one essential would be lip balm: nothing plays havoc with the lips like sea air. A moist lip equals a happy ship. Or something.