What to wear on a cruise: The discerning traveler’s guide to packing & dressing well

formal night portrait
Yes, there are still formal nights on most cruise lines – a gown and a tux will always be right.

There are two questions potential cruisers ask us about their on-board wardrobe:

  1. What should I wear?
  2. How should I pack?

It comes down to three fundamental issues: the cruise line you’re traveling on, where you’re going on the cruise (and of course the time of year goes along with this), and how much luggage you plan to take. Of course, underlying all of this is the discerning travel assumption that you want to dress well: dressing well meaning that you are comfortable, appropriate for your destination, and looking good. Let’s begin with cruise lines.

Cruise lines have dress codes. These dress codes (and their interpretations) vary widely and are largely, but not entirely, dependent upon the “category” of the cruise line you choose – and how cruise lines are categorized varies as well. For example, the cruise blog “All Things Cruise” classifies them into the following categories: contemporary (others call this group “mainstream”, upscale contemporary, premium, ultra-premium and ultra-luxury. [See their complete listing HERE.]. If we were to use their approach to categorization, we travel exclusively on ultra- premium and ultra-luxury cruise lines (Silversea, Regent and Seabourn fall into the ultra-luxury category, Oceania into ultra-premium for example) – but of course there’s also Cunard which transcends the norms because it has the usual dress codes in addition to three classes of service.

There are also those confusing dress code labels: formal, informal, casual, smart casual, country club casual and the list goes on. The cruise lines do provide descriptions even if they are occasionally a bit opaque. And don’t get us started on the extent to which the cruise lines fail to observe their own rules by not turning away inappropriately dressed cruisers from dining venues (there’s always a place to dine if you insist on wearing your baseball cap to dinner – just not in the dining room).

We have noticed that although over the years dress codes have generally become more informal, on some of the cruise lines you can expect people to dress well all the time. In fact, we recently read of cruisers new to Silversea who felt decidedly out of place in their “casual” wear even on casual evenings. Casual to the average Silversea cruiser is a step or two up from the norm. You won’t find T-shirts or ball caps on Silversea casual nights – although it can happen and these are the guests who tend to feel very out of place (and they do get the stink-eye from many fellow guests!).

Coco Chanel once said that being well-dressed is a “beautiful form of politeness” and that suits our personal approach to life. We have our own interpretation of the dress codes, and it has never made us feel the least bit out of place. Our general mantra is: dress up a bit. On a casual evening, go smart casual. On informal evenings, go cocktail. On formal – well, go all out. So, here’s how we do it and some of the travel-friendly clothing brands we love (strictly our own unbiased opinions – we get no freebies from anyone).

First, let’s consider the difference between what we might wear on a Caribbean cruise where every day is in a casual, tropical port, and a Mediterranean cruise where you might well be in a big city every day. For tropical weather, you need casual tropical clothes: the Caribbean is casual and laid-back, but the evening on your cruise ship might be more dressed up.

In European cities, you need to be mindful of the weather at the time of year you cruise, and be prepared to walk long distances among people who are generally dressed for their usual work day whatever that might entail. In some senses, dressing simply amounts to common sense. Be respectful of your surroundings and the people who live there; be respectful of yourself by dressing in a thoughtful and comfortable way. And no big sneakers and fanny packs! But that’s just us. But then, how do you pack for all of these eventualities. [Art in Sienna, Italy on excursion and Patty on board a Regent ship in Europe a few years back…]

For us, that means selecting types of clothing and brands that travel especially well, and taking pieces that can do double duty. Here are some examples from our recent trip to South America…

Art took three or four Columbia shirts with him and an Orvis (below – top right shirt). Believe it or not, each of these shirts is easily hand-washable and over-night dry-able. They look like real clothes rather than “travel wear.” Columbia is well-priced and easily packable – and looks good!

But not to be outdone, Columbia makes some terrific choices for women as well…

But those Columbia shirts Art wears aren’t just for day-time touring. The right one with a jacket in the evening takes him to dinner on a casual night (remember, casual on a Silversea ship is this kind of dressing)…

In addition to Columbia, Art likes Tilley shirts. They’re more expensive than Columbia, but they last for years…

…and unless we’re headed to the Caribbean or the South Pacific, we don’t leave home without a packable jacket — Cole Haan is a favourite…

…then there are the evenings. Finding packable evening wear isn’t as challenging as it might appear. There are several approaches. First, Art has a wonderful new tuxedo which, since it’s Italian wool, actually packs well. But how can he make a tux do double duty? The wonderful sales associate at “Tom’s Place” in Toronto where he bought the new tux last fall, suggested that this shawl-collared jacket would be terrific as a dinner jacket on a more informal night. So, that’s what it became…

 

formaltux

dinner jacket

But what about cocktail dresses and formal gowns? Patty has found that Joseph Ribkoff and Frank Lyman are probably the best for “packability.” And now she has added a Lisa Drader-Murphy (all Canadian designers) to her list.

…and a Lauren Ralph Lauren jersey gown never goes astray…

formal lauren gown

…with the SJP (Sara Jessica Parker) sparkly shoes, anything can look dressed up! Patty has owned a strapless Joseph Ribkoff gown for about ten years. Paired with a variety of little jackets, it looks like a completely different dress each time she wears it on a cruise.

formal ribkoff gown

Let’s finish off with a family portrait from the Queen Mary a few years back when our son joined us. Formal nights on Cunard are true formal nights. Love it!

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Now it’s time to decide what to pack for the upcoming Asian cruise!

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Cruise Ship Tour: The Silver Muse

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The Silver Muse docked at Mallory Square in Key West, our first port before we headed toward the Panama Canal. 

For us, a cruise ship is a home away from home, a hotel, somewhere to hang our clothes – while we explore new places and take in new experiences. Earlier this month we arrived home from a holiday that included both a land-based portion and an 18-day cruise aboard the new Silversea flagship, the Silver Muse. A few weeks from now you can expect our complete review of this 596-passenger ship, but in the meantime, we’ve prepared two brief videos.

The first video is a tour of our “deluxe veranda suite.” Silversea cruises, as you likely know, offers only suite-style accommodation. This means that even the cheapest “stateroom” on the ship is actually a suite. In fact, on this ship apart from the “premium” suites, the rest are all the same. The only difference between a standard veranda, a superior veranda and a deluxe is the location – the deluxe suites are in preferred mid-ships areas. Oh, there is also one other difference: the deluxe are the most expensive of the three, but on a ship this small, it is well worth the extra money.

Here it is…

 

 

Now that you know where we hung our hats, here’s a little tour of the rest of the ship. If you can make it all the way to the end of the video, you’ll get a little taste of what it was like on a few of the rougher days in the Pacific off the west coast of Peru.

 

 

Cruising to Chile: Live Blog #1 (Key West)

Ernest Hemingway loved the place… the conch republic as they call it. Of course today we’re in Key West. And it’s only month post hurricane Irma. The local residents have done a heroic job of clean-up. There’s some evidence of damage, but the hurricane has clearly not dampened the laid-back ambiance that is so characteristic of Key West.

We took ourselves on a walking tour to the southernmost point in the US then down Duval Street for a bit of hat shopping.

Buying a new sun hat at “Hot Hats” on Duval Street with proprietor, Terry Lipsky.

The rain started in earnest, pounding down to the point of mini flooding. It’s not hard to imagine what it must have been like in a hurricane.

We’re truly enjoying the Silver Muse…she’s a beautiful ship and our suite is lovely. Tomorrow we’ll be at sea and on our way to Costa Rica.

Discovering new places: Cruise ships as transportation

Sometimes you get in the car and hit the open road to discover new and exciting places and experiences. Other times you hop a train. There are also times when you can only see the places you want to see by flying (try driving between Tahiti and Fiji in the South Pacific!). In recent years, however, we’ve discovered that a cruise ship might just be one of our favourite ways to move between specific destinations.

Silver Cloud with other (1024x576)
We prefer the one on the right! The Silver Cloud was our first Silversea ship.

Unlike others who love cruises, we are probably not what is truly meant by the term “cruisers.” Or at least that is only a small part of how you could describe us. When we embarked on our first cruise so many years ago, we were traveling with a young child, and we didn’t really know what to expect beyond our plan to have a great vacation. And we did. But we have learned over the years – and 15 cruises later – that we are not those people who believe that the ship is the destination. For us it has become a very comfortable conveyance for getting us from one interesting destination to another.

The truth is that we avoid like the plague those mega-cruise ships that offer everything from wave surfing to rock-wall climbing with wall-to-wall food in between. These days we confine ourselves to a small number of cruise lines and choose our trips by itinerary. And as for loyalty to one line? Like airline loyalty programs, they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.  So we decide where we want to go and search among the cruises on offer from the lines we love: Cunard, Oceania, Seabourn, Regent and Silversea mainly. And now we’ll return to Silversea which captured our attention for our upcoming cruise to check a few things off our bucket list: The Panama Canal, Peru and Chile. In fact, we leave on Tuesday.

The first time we realized that a cruise ship was a wonderful way to discover new places to which we might like to return for a longer visit was our first Mediterranean cruise some ten years ago. The cruise left from Barcelona, so we planned a few days there in advance of the cruise. This is a key feature of a destination-rich cruise; the embarkation and disembarkation points. If all of your cruise experiences leave from the same port (e.g. Port Everglades or Miami), you’ll never be able to have that land-based adventure of a new city. This was the first lesson we learned: even if it’s a Caribbean cruise, if it leaves from, say Saint Martin (so sorry for their recent hurricane issues) or even Barbados, that provides a great opportunity for an add-on.

And the disembarkation point is also important: leaving and arriving at two different places is the best since you have two chances to spend time in new cities. On one cruise we left from Monte Carlo and ended in Venice. On another we sailed from Rome and ended in Istanbul.

That first Med cruise introduced us to cities to which we have returned – sometimes again and again. For example, while we were anchored off Monaco, we visited Eze, a place we thought we might never have a chance to visit again. It turns out we’ve been back several times! On that same cruise, we visited Rome for the first time and have since returned twice to get to know it better.

A few years ago we had another of those “bucket list” places that we had wanted to visit for some time: The South Pacific. But as we began considering how to arrange a tour of the islands, it became clear that flying in and out of those tiny islands would only eat up valuable time with at least a half a day each time devoted to airports and flying – and that’s if there are no delays. A small boat didn’t seem like a good idea at all since the distances are too great. So, what about a cruise ship?cruise map South Pacific

We discovered an Oceania cruise that left from Papeete, Tahiti (a chance to spend a week in Tahiti? Yes, please), visited a range of islands between which it cruised during the night giving each day over to an island, and ending in Sydney, Australia. Perfect!

Next week we begin our cruise with a few days in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It’s not exciting, but it will be fun. After three days of unwinding, we embark the Silver Muse, Silversea’s newest ship which launched earlier this year. We’ll cruise to Key West then onto Costa Rica. Only one day here is fine with us since we spent a wonderful two weeks touring the country some years ago. Then we’ll transit the Panama Canal before making our way down the west coast of South America stopping into Ecuador, Peru, northern Chile ending in the port city of Valparaiso. Once there, we’ll pick up our Tours-by-Locals private guide who has four days of cultural and wine country touring for us while we get to know Santiago. And all because we will use a cruise ship for transportation.

Cruise map

We love to tell stories about our travels – that’s what this blog has always been about. This time, however, we’re going to also do some live blogging and post short pieces and photos along the way. I hope you’ll come along with us. We’ll save the longer stories until we get back home in Toronto.

See you on the high seas!