Cruise ships are like small, self-sustaining worlds that require a particular style of clothing for every single occasion — whether it’s a formal night, a cruise shore expedition or a dip in the pool. And if you’re a newbie, it may be difficult figuring out what to wear on a cruise ship. What’s the difference between the formal night and smart-casual evening? How dressed up will everyone else on board be? Can you walk around in just a bathing suit and flip-flops?

Knowing the essential outfits to pack for your next nautical adventure is key, which is why we’ve come up with a cruise packing list that will guarantee you’re decked out in style from the moment you step on board. Most ships have slight variations on dress codes and your attire will differ depending on activities the ship offers (what to wear on a royal Caribbean cruise, for example, would contrast greatly from what you’d pack for an Alaskan route). But our fashion guidelines below will help get your wardrobe ship-shape, no matter where your seafaring travels take you. With the perfect cruise attire planned, you will no-doubt be able to enjoy your experience and be reminded of why you love to go on cruises.

1. What to Wear on a Cruise During the Day

On sea days when you’re on board the ship 24/7, there’s usually no need to dress up. Daytime activities might include anything from attending a cooking demo to playing a round of mini golf. Your cruise packing list should include relaxed separates and a few on-trend accessories to liven up your look. Think sundresses, bathing suit cover-ups, culottes, sandals and the like. For a more fashion-forward ensemble, style any collared shirts with playfully printed pants or wide-leg trousers that allow plenty of room for movement. Whether you’re setting sail to the Caribbean or the Arctic Circle, a pair of stylish sunglasses is also essential.


2. What to Wear on a Cruise with Shore Excursions

For daytime land excursions, you’ll want an easy-breezy outfit that hits the three Cs: Chic, Convenient and Comfortable. Casual dresses, tank tops and shorts are all great options, but we suggest packing a jumpsuit. This is a one-hit wonder that saves space in your suitcase and doesn’t require too much styling. Maxi dresses will also get the job done. Complete your look with a cross-body purse (everyone’s favorite travel companion) and a wide-brimmed, vacation-ready hat to shade your face from the sun. And finally, bring along a brightly colored accessory to liven up an otherwise understated, neutral palette.


3. What to Wear on a Cruise in the Evening

On a casual evening, stick with the theme of comfort, but add an extra layer or two for warmth. Even if you’re sailing in a tropical locale, high winds can pick up in the evenings. Plus, the ship’s indoor venues are often chilly and air-conditioned so layering pieces will be perfect for the end of the day. A chic denim jacket, especially one in a true-blue hue with soft draping, is a versatile piece that goes well with everything else in your suitcase. Consider other solutions like a thin cardigan, lightweight leather cover-up or luxurious pashmina for staying warm. To keep your look polished and pretty, pack crisply tailored shirts (this season’s trendy tie-front tops fit the bill) and cropped pants with just a hint of stretch.


4. What to Wear on a Cruise for Dinner or for Smart-Casual Nights

Confused about your cruise ship’s “smart casual” dress code? Don’t worry—you’re not the only one. Just think of it as a notch or two above your everyday dinner outfit. Ditch the distressed skinny jeans and flip-flops in favor of a slightly elevated combination. Our recommendation: Experiment with an of-the-moment feminine blouse (a great spring-to-summer transitional piece) and a midi skirt. These two incredibly wearable pieces can also be worn separately for more casual outings throughout your trip. When it’s time for the smart casual night at one of your ship’s dining venues, simply pull these two separates together effortlessly with a punchy clutch and low block heels or strappy sandals. Wear this to your dinner cruise and you will not feel out of place.


5. What to Wear on a Cruise Formal Night

Formal nights in the main dining room are one of the most highly anticipated events on a cruise ship, giving everyone on board an excuse to dress up in a suit and tie or fancy evening dress. Although some cruise lines call for black tie attire for fine dining, you don’t need to arrive decked out in a full-length frock (unless you want to, that is!). Nowadays, a sophisticated, modern cocktail dress is a safe bet.

Look for a cocktail number that still suits the cruise vacation vibe, like a ruffle-adorned dress with an asymmetrical hem, a maxi halter gown, or a one-shoulder style. Accent your cruise formal night look with statement jewelry and your most comfortable heels (you’ll thank us for being able to walk back to your stateroom after all those glasses of champagne).