what to pack for a cruise vacation

Cruise Packing: In All Kinds of Weather

Not too long ago, it seemed cruising was synonymous with sun-drenched islands, sweltering heat and turquoise seas.Nobody worried about what to pack for a cruise vacation. A few pairs of shorts, sleeveless tops, sandals, and swimsuits were all we’d need for daytime sightseeing, beach going, and lazing beside the pool.

Fast forward to 2019: So many of us now realize that some of the most beautiful, charming, or fascinating places on earth that our favorite cruise ships transport us to — Alaska, the Norwegian fjords, Europe’s Christmas markets, Iceland and Greenland, Antarctica — can often be rainy, windy, and downright frigid.

If you’d like to give the tropical cruise the cold shoulder this year, take our suggestions and bundle up!

What to pack for a cruise vacation

The Non-Negotiable Basics: You don’t want to be distracted by chattering teeth and body shakes when the northern lights are putting on their dazzling show across the night sky, so remember what Mom told you and layer! Experts suggest four layers for the coldest environments, with a snug base of thermal underwear in merino wool (silk or synthetic if your skin doesn’t tolerate wool well) to wick away perspiration and keep you dry. A well-fitted sweater or shirt, and pants in a synthetic fabric or wool come next and act to preserve your body heat. The third layer should be a hooded jacket or thigh-length coat thick with down or synthetic insulation (note that synthetics are preferable to down in potentially rainy environments). Top your layers off with a hooded wind shell — waterproof or not, depending upon conditions.

RELATED: Top 7 Things People Always Forget to Pack

The best thing about layering is the ability to remove one or more layers if temperatures increase through the day, so be sure to take along a waterproof backpack to tuck them into!

Footloose: Nothing will ruin your enjoyment of the otherworldly beauty of Iceland’s black pebble–covered Djúpalónssandur beach or the majesty of the massive glaciers on Greenland’s Disko Bay quicker than cold, wet feet squishing in inadequate footwear. Enter: waterproof socks. The best are a merino wool and Artex combo to keep feet both dry and warm. Place your waterproof sock–clad tootsies into waterproof, rugged hiking boots lined with fleece or flannel — or apply waterproofing spray liberally to sheepskin boots — and your feet will be toasty. Now’s not the time for your canvas sneakers and, ladies, don’t even think of a heel!

On Hand: It is generally believed that mittens are warmer than gloves since the fingers encased in the mittens work together to share warmth. For those who refuse to sacrifice dexterity, a pair of down-filled, water-resistant gloves (with some grips at the fingers and palm) that completely cover chill-prone wrists provide the best of both worlds. Wear them at Christmas markets along the Danube and you’ll be able to eat your sausage sandwich and sip your gluhwein without even removing them!

Head Start: A cruise to Antarctica is not the time to concern yourself with mussed hair. While a jacket hood provides some protection, nothing beats a snug-fitting, double-layered merino wool cap to prevent loss of body heat — bonus points if it has a fold-up edge to provide twice the ear warmth. And while that old wives’ tale about losing 70 percent of our body heat through an uncovered head has been completely disproven, if the rest of our body is covered up then our head is the only place where heat can escape. That’s a….

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By Judi Cuervo

Photo: Ingram Image


Judi Cuervo is a New York City native who fell in love with cruising in 1976 during her first sailing aboard Carnival Cruises’ Mardi Gras. Twenty years later, she began her freelance cruise writing gig and, since that time, has covered mass market, ultra-premium, riverboat and expedition ships for regional, national and international publications as well as cruise websites.