Put Those Jeans Down: How to Pack for A Cruise Ship Contract
My name is Jennie and I was dance captain/aerialist/dancer for Celebrity Cruises for four years.
One of the biggest questions crewmembers face is what to pack. If a cruise ship veteran hadn’t taken me shopping before my first contact, I would have been a lost little puppy with too many pairs of sweatpants and one dress. And that, my friends, just isn’t going to cut it on a cruise ship.
Formal Night Attire
Most cruise lines have formal nights, usually two on a seven-night cruise and three on longer voyages. If you have guest area privileges (eg. Entertainment department, Spa, Shops) and aren’t required to wear a uniform on formal night, pretend you’re going to a formal wedding or bar mitzvah and pack accordingly. For ladies, this means up to three formal floor or T-length gowns and for gentleman, a well-tailored suit or two with interchangeable shirt/tie combinations. If you own a tux and enjoy wearing it, bring it along. It will undoubtedly come in handy, even if it’s just for a crew party.
Smart Casual Attire
Perfect for a Smart Casual evening.
Many departments have to wear uniforms, but if your position doesn’t have that requirement, then it’s necessary to pack outfits that would be suitable to wear in an office environment, even if an office is the last place you EVER want to work.
Daytime Smart Casual (Before 6pm)
Dress, nice blouse with dress pants/skirt, closed toe shoes (no jeans or sneakers)
Collared Shirt (Polos are acceptable), dress pants, dress shoes (no jeans or sneakers)
Nighttime Smart Casual (After 6pm)
Dress, nice blouse with dress pants/skirt, heels
Collared shirt (No Polos), dress pants, suit jacket or tie (you don’t have to wear a suit but a jacket or tie with your dress shirt is required), dress shoes
Pack more dresses than pants. Dresses are lightweight and easy to fit into your suitcase and minimal closet space. They are also easy to throw on and make yourself look presentable after you’ve changed your clothes fours times that day.
Port Day Clothing
One of the massive benefits of working on a cruise ship is the ability to get off the ship in the various ports you’ll visit during your contract. But the weather is unpredictable, especially these days, and chances are you’ll be changing climates during your 6-10 months onboard. Aside from regular casual clothing, be sure to pack the following to “weather” all the elements:
Bathing Suit and Flip Flops:
What would working on a cruise ship be if not for all the beaches and beautiful weather? While you’re laying on the beach in St. Maarten with a Desperados in your hard or chilling on Bondi Beach in Sydney simply because you can, remember your friends who are sitting in their offices staring at a spreadsheet all day. Yes, yes this is a win for you, but only if you remember to pack your tiny bikini.
Winter Coat and Boots:
Let’s say your contact takes you to Norway or Alaska. Just because you’re there in July, doesn’t mean it’s going to be warm. You’re way up there, kids, and you don’t want to be shivering as you cruise though the fjords or take a dog sled ride through Juneau or Skagway. Don’t go overboard (no pun intended) on these items. One of each should do the trick.
Closed Toed Shoes for Crew Areas
Gone are the days when you could wear flip-flops in crew areas. Legend has it that a crewmember got his toes cut off by a trolley on the I-95 (M1 for the Brits) because his toes were exposed in his flip-flops. I cannot verify this as fact or fiction but pack a cheap pair of closed toed shoes that you’ll ultimately throw out at the end of the contract to wear in crew areas. You’ll get a warning if you wear flip-flops and let’s be real, you want to have something protecting your feet in the crew bar.
For those crewmembers who like to keep in shape, there is a guest gym and a crew gym onboard. So whether you’re into Crossfit, TRX, or just want to run on a treadmill looking over the open ocean, be sure to pack some sweat wicking workout gear to get your daily burn on.
Laptop or Tablet
Considering you’ll be away from friends and family for an extended period of time, be sure to pack a laptop, tablet, mobile device, etc that will allow you to stay connected with your loved ones. WiFi is available for crewmembers onboard at an extremely discounted rate per minute compared to the guest rate (still expensive though) and some cruise ships have crew computer labs for those who don’t have a portable device. If you don’t want to spend money on ship WiFi, you’ll be able to find free WiFi in port so sit down, grab a coffee and Skype with your family. You’ll be glad you took the time to do it.
If you can spare it, bring a few hundred dollars in cash with you when you sign on. While cruise ships are transitioning into paying crewmembers electronically, you’ll still need cash to get around onboard. Want a drink in the staff bar? You’ll need to load up your A-Pass with some money. How about an Internet package? Same goes. And depending on what part of the month you sign on, you might not get paid for up to two weeks. It’s in your best interest to have some cash around even if you don’t spend it and it’s ends up in your safe.
Lock for Safe
Cruise ships will provide you with a safe in your cabin for your valuables but do not provide a lock. Buy a small combination lock that isn’t too thick or it might not fit through the hole in the latch. You don’t want to be that crewmember who gets $10K stolen from their safe because they didn’t have a lock on it.
Something to Remind You of Home
Whether it is a picture of your family, a teddy bear from childhood, or a memento from a friend, make sure you keep it somewhere you can see it every day. It will be a big help on those extra long days when all you want to do is give your mom a hug, but you’re 10,000 miles away from home.
This is my favorite misconception about clothing on cruise ships. You CANNOT wear jeans no matter how nice or expensive they are. It’s not worth having your guest area privileges revoked over a pair of dungarees. Yes, bring two pairs for port days but leave your other 12 pairs at home.
A Million Pairs of Shoes
Ladies: Please don’t pack every pair of shoes you own. Here are the shoes you really need: Work shoes (often supplied with uniform), two pairs of heels (depending on formal night attire), closed toed flats, sneakers/crew area shoes, winter boots and flip-flops. I know limiting the number of shoes you bring feels like a fashion disaster, but remember, shoes are heavy and take up too much space in your already overweight suitcase. You will acquire a ton of stuff during your contract. Don’t let fifteen pairs of shoes be the reason why you pay overweight baggage fees.
I like to use toiletries that can’t be found everywhere in the world. Call me picky, but I like a little consistency in my life, even if it’s in the form of shampoo. Instead of packing six months worth of toiletries, before you sign on, mail a box of your favorite products to a friend onboard or address it to yourself. Cruise ship mail is the epitome of snail mail so make sure you leave enough time for your box to arrive if you’ll need the products immediately. I always packed a month’s worth of products and then sent the rest. You’ll save money because you aren’t converting into a different currency to buy what you need and you’ll safe weight because you aren’t stuffing heavy liquids into your suitcase.
Depending on where you’re from, this might not be economical. If you’re American, working for an American cruise line with a U.S. address, grab a USPS large flat rate box and you’re all set. If shipping to your cruise line’s address isn’t cost effective, but you’ll be porting in your home country or somewhere you can inexpensively send the box, ask for the address of the port agent and send the box there. Make sure it is clearly labeled with your name, title and ship so it gets to the right place.
Every cruise line is different when it comes to electrical outlets See the list of what types of outlets are found on each cruise line. As long as your electronics match up, leave the heavy adaptors at home.