What to Wear on a Caribbean Cruise (Complete Guide)

For some of us, trying to figure out what to wear to dinner can be daunting. But imagine trying to pack clothes for a Caribbean cruise. While it seems like you’d be just fine wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, there’s a lot more to account for when deciding what to wear.

On a cruise you don’t have the luxury of your complete wardrobe and closet to pick from. Instead, you only can choose from what you’ve brought with you. That means you’ve got to pack for what to wear in a variety of different situations that you’ll find while on the ship.

Packing to Prepare For Lots of Different Activities

Sure, a Caribbean cruise revolves around the pool and the beach, but there are a lot of other scenarios where you’ll want to wear something else other than a swimsuit.

The big issue is that with cruising you can go through more wardrobe changes in a single day than you might see on an entire week at a “regular” vacation.

Take a hypothetical day on a cruise and see how many different situations you need to prepare for:

  • Wake up, put on some shorts, flip-flops, and a shirt to head to breakfast.
  • After breakfast you decide to workout, so you change into gym shorts and trainers.
  • You decide that it’s time to get a little sun poolside, so you change into a swimsuit.
  • An afternoon storm comes, so you head inside. It’s a bit chilly inside the ship, so you put on pants and grab a long-sleeve shirt.
  • It’s formal night, so you get fancied up to go to spend the evening with a drink and a great meal.
  • After dinner they are showing a movie poolside, so change back into a swimsuit to watch while soaking in the hot tub

And this is just one day!

Not to worry. It’s understandable that you might be wondering exactly what to wear when visiting the Caribbean on a cruise.

Below we break down each of the big parts of your cruise, including a number of items of what to wear in each situation…

What to Wear on Embarkation Day

When your boarding the ship, you can keep it casual. We do recommend some comfortable shoes as you’ll have to make your way from the terminal through check-in and to your room.

There’s simply no day like Embarkation Day. The excitement really starts the instant you see the ship in the distance. Then you realize that the day you’ve been looking forward to for months is finally at hand.

If you’re wondering what to wear during embarkation day, you want to take your cue from the weather in port. While ships start letting passengers board around noon on the day of your cruise, the ship won’t actually leave until around 4-5 p.m.

In other words, you need to dress for the weather in the home port.

Depending on where and when you sail, that can mean everything from just shorts and sandals all the way to full winter gear. For instance, sailing from Galveston in February is much different than sailing from Miami in July.

Usually, however, the weather is warm. We like to dress casual and comfortable as there is usually some walking to get to the terminal, through check-in, and to your room. Shorts and a t-shirt are ideal (unless it’s cold outside), along with some sensible shoes. We prefer to wear tennis shoes over sandals due to the walking on the first day.

If you’re wanting to hit the pool after boarding, you can pack swimwear in your carry-on and change once in your room. 

Embarkation Day: Wear casual dress that’s comfortable and appropriate for the weather in the home port.

Since the ship won’t leave until the afternoon, those in cooler ports won’t see the warmth of the Caribbean until the next day. Leaving from a warmer port? Shorts and tennis shoes are perfectly fine. No need to dress up, casual is the order of the day all around the ship.

What to Wear on Sea Days

Pretty much any cruise you sail will have at least one day at sea as it heads from port to port. During these times you have all day and evening to explore the activities on a ship. Depending on which ship you sail, that can mean anything from hanging out poolside to playing in the casino, working out, heading to a show after dinner, dancing in a nightclub, riding in a go-kart, flying down a waterslide and more.

In other words, what you wear is going to vary based on what you want to do.

In general terms, however, the dress on a Caribbean cruise at sea is decidedly casual. Short and tees are acceptable everywhere. Swimsuits are appropriate on the top decks around the pool, and it’s not unusual to see people wearing them around the ship while covered up. You will want to have a shirt/cover up if heading in somewhere to eat for lunch.

During the evenings you are going to want to wear a bit more simply to stay comfortable, but can still dress casual. Despite being in the warm Caribbean, nights can be chilly. Temperatures drop as the sun goes down, and with the ship underway, there is always a constant breeze. 

That’s why we suggest warmer dress, including pants and a long-sleeve shirt or even a light jacket. As well, if you’re headed inside to the theater for an evening show, it’s nice to dress a little warmer as the air conditioning can be chilly.

Day: Casual is the order of the day, with shorts, sandals, and swimsuits found around the ship. It’s polite to cover up swimsuits if headed indoors. Restaurants are all casual during the day, so no need to dress up.

Evening: Wear what makes you comfortable, but keep in mind that evenings on the ship — even in the warm Caribbean — can be cool and breezy outside. The air conditioning inside can be cool as well. We suggest pants and at least a light long-sleeve shirt to stay comfy.

What to Wear to Dinner (Casual Night)

Dining rooms on a cruise are white-tablecloth affairs. Still, if it’s not formal night you don’t have to wear anything too fancy.

Not sure what to wear to dinner? It’s understandable to be confused. Head to the main dining room with the white tablecloths and well-dressed waitstaff and you might think you need to wear a tux to be served.

A trip to the buffet, however, is much more casual and there are a number of other restaurants on a ship that range from casual to fancy.

During a 7-night cruise, there are usually two formal nights, which means that the majority of your nights are considered casual when it comes to what you wear to dinner. That said, there are some guidelines we suggest you adhere to.

If you head to the main dining room or a higher-end restaurant like the steakhouse, then we suggest dressing up a little bit — even if it’s not formal night.

For men, that means wearing pants and closed-toe shoes. A buttoned-down shirt is also ideal. For women, leave the bathing suits for the pool, but sandals are usually fine.

If you just want to grab a bite without worrying about what to wear, then head to the buffet or one of the casual restaurants on board. Here it’s perfectly fine to wear flip-flops, shorts, t-shirts and the like. You won’t be out of place.

Cruise lines do ask that you don’t wear bathing suits into the eating areas without covering up, so if you are headed to or from the pool, be sure that you are wearing a shirt and/or a cover-up.

Dining Rooms and Upscale Restaurants: Dress how you would for any other nice sit-down restaurant, but don’t feel like you have to be too formal.

Buffet or Casual Restaurants: Where whatever is comfortable as there is no (reasonable) dress code for these spots. Sandals and shorts are fine, but cover up if you are wearing a swimsuit.

What to Wear to Dinner (Formal Night)

One of the biggest questions people have is what to wear to formal night. Some people think that anything short of a tuxedo or a formal evening gown is too casual. That’s not the case at all.

While formal night might be intimidating for some, it’s actually not that big of a deal. Yes, you could dress casual to dinner and no one would really pay much mind. However, we suggest dressing it up some.

Formal night is a big deal to some people on the ship, and if it’s not important to you, it’s good to keep the atmosphere nice for others who do enjoy dressing up.

As for what to wear, don’t think you have to go all out. You’ll find that the outfits run the gamut from simply a nice shirt and pants all the way to a tuxedo for some guys. For ladies, a cute blouse is fine, all the way to a full-length formal gown.

Do you have to dress up if you aren’t going to dinner in the dining room? Absolutely not.

Formal night is really just for the main dining room. So while you will see people dressed up around the ship, don’t feel obligated to do so if you’re eating somewhere else.

(For more on what to wear on formal night, see our article here.)

Dining Rooms and Upscale Restaurants: Everything from button up shirts with pants all the way to tuxedos are acceptable for men. Women can wear anything from a blouse to formal gowns. No shorts should be worn, nor should t-shirts or jeans.

Buffet or Casual Restaurants: Feel free to wear whatever you like, including casual wear. Formal night applies to the main dining rooms, but not the casual restaurants or buffets on the ship.

What to Wear in Ports of Call/Excursions

Excursions will likely take you to the water or the beach, so dress accordingly. If doing something adventurous, see what sort of dress codes are required. Some excursions may require closed-toe shoes.

Headed into port? If you’re sailing in the Caribbean then chances are that you’re going to the beach. In that case, wearing your swimsuit with a cover-up or simply wearing something casual into the port is ideal.

Keep in mind that many countries in the Caribbean can be conservative, so it’s best to be respectful and not wear anything too revealing unless you’re at the beach. As well, some countries have laws against civilians wearing camouflage patterns, so leave that at home as well. Finally, rude or offensive clothing (such as shirts with foul language) should be avoided.

If you’re going on an excursion, check to see if they have any requirements for clothing. For instance, many excursions that involve motor vehicles like 4-wheelers or dune buggies require participants to wear closed-toe shoes.

Dress in Ports of Call: For the most part, ports of call are casual dress. The only exception is if you are going on an excursion. They may require special clothing like long pants or closed-toe shoes, depending on what you’re doing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What to wear on a Caribbean cruise isn’t too complicated, but you do need to pack for several different scenarios.

Do I have to dress up for formal night?

Absolutely not. Formal nights are completely optional. Want to spend your cruise wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt? That’s perfectly fine.

That said, if you don’t want to dress up, it’s best to dine somewhere other than the upscale restaurants or the main dining room during formal night. These spots are for formal dining, and you’ll be out of place if you show up wearing sneakers and a t-shirt.

Instead, if you don’t want to dress up, look for somewhere else to dine on formal night. Read our guide to formal night here.

Are there rules about the swimsuits I can wear?

There are no hard rules about swimsuits, and we’ve seen it all on a cruise. Where whatever makes you feel comfortable, but just know that other people will be wearing what makes them feel comfortable too.

These days it’s not unusual to see some skimpier swimsuits on some people. As long as there is no nudity, then it’s ok.

One thing to keep in mind is that you should cover up if you are heading indoors from the pool. Wearing your swimwear around the ship is frowned upon.

How am I supposed to pack so many different clothes for a cruise?

First, while it might seem like you have to pack tons and tons of clothes for all the situations mentioned above. In reality, it’s not that much. That’s because clothes can be worn more than once on your trip.

For a week cruise, we’d suggest bringing 3-4 outfits, two swimsuits, plus something to wear for formal night. That’s plenty to get your through the week. Shorter cruises need fewer clothes.

Second, unlike air travel, cruise lines don’t have hard rules regarding how much luggage you can bring. You can pack a huge suitcase and there’s no charge or weight limit. That offers more flexibility in packing for your cruise.

Have more questions about what to wear? Let us know in the comments below…

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