Every week someone in our forums will ask "I am taking a cruise to [fill in the blank]. How should I pack?"
Many people want to know if their cruise is scheduled during the "rainy season" in their destination, and then they will inquire about the average temperature for that time of year. These are both logical questions that we don't mind answering, but once again the reply is always the same.
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Wherever you are going there is always a chance that you will encounter chilly or rainy weather, one or the other, or both, and so we can recommend certain clothes that will accommodate you in those conditions. But we also always have to add, "But we cannot predict what the exact weather will be on your cruise."
So, in the end we always recommend the same thing – that one should prepare for anything because no one can ever fully predict the weather, but that you should check the specific forecast for your destination the day before you leave. When packing you will adjust the mix of certain kinds of clothes depending on your destination; Caribbean or Alaska, or the Mediterranean or the Baltic Sea. But the list of clothes we recommend will remain the same. So here is the answer to "how do I pack for _____ in the month of _____?" The following simple approach will work for almost any kind of travel:
Unless you are going literally to the North or South Pole there is no reason to carry a heavy, hooded jacket. But if you are going to Alaska where the temperature can range between 40 and 80 (f) degrees you might get chilly. Alaska is also a rain forest, so it will probably rain at some point. Rain is also always a possibility throughout Europe.
So, the first essential item you need anywhere is a rain-proof outer garment. We Americans used to call them windbreakers (insert chuckles from our British friends here). A light raincoat – nothing but thin yet durable plastic, can be packed in a suitcase and hardly take up any space at all. That coat will protect you from the worst rain.
To address the chill factor; everyone knows that the wind adds to it, especially in cooler climates, so a "windbreaker" also reduces the wind chill factor, but it isn't enough. If you are going to a cooler climate you should add a sweater as a layer beneath the rain jacket. Warmth in clothing comes from having a cushion of dry air between your body and the elements. A sweater with a windbreaker fits the bill perfectly.
There is always the chance that you will need to layer more clothes if it gets colder, so add a t-shirt underneath. In fact, the interior of ships can often be pretty cool, in the upper 60s, and so having a long sleeve t-shirt or cotton pullover is a good idea anyway. Add that to your regular shirt, sweater and windbreaker and you are starting to feel very cozy.
If you are going to Alaska or the Baltic it won't hurt to take a pair of light, waterproof gloves if you tend to have cold hands – these are optional. Chances are very slim you will get cold enough to need more than a pair of blue jeans (I actually prefer black), but if you do need to layer then a pair of pajama bottoms can always be worn discretely underneath your jeans.
If your rain jacket has a hood that is helpful, but a baseball cap will also keep the sun off of your head in all kinds of weather. Try to find one that is at least water resistant if not water-proof, however you also want it to breathe so it doesn't get too hot.
By the way – in most cruising regions such as the Mediterranean, Caribbean or Alaska, rain storms tend to come and go rather quickly. Of course I have seen storms that last for days, especially during transatlantic cruises, but on such cruises there isn't much reason to be outside unless it's sunny anyway, so the cold rain is not really a factor.
Most rain storms will be short-lived, however, and there is usually protective shelter available anyway. A cruise is not a vacation where you are generally exposed to extreme conditions – you will be on the ship, or possibly on a tour coach or inside an ancient cathedral.
In Alaska you may be out on a deck watching whales, and the wind can cut pretty cold, but you will not be out for hours upon hours. My point is that it doesn't take a lot to have all the protection you are likely to need on an average cruise to almost anywhere.
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In Alaska or the Baltic take a thin, but durable, fully wind and rain-proof "windbreaker." Add a sweater of a bushy but compressible fabric for easy packing. Then include long and short sleeve shirts that can also serve as undergarments should you need to layer up. Add a hat to keep the rain and the sun off and consider light gloves if you tend to have cold hands.
Ship interiors are often cool so a long-sleeved sweater or cotton pullover is good to bring anyway. The same with pants for around the ship, blue jeans are good during the day but you will need slacks at dinner, though I am not addressing cruise ship dress code here; a separate subject entirely.
Most tropical showers In the Caribbean or the Summer Mediterranean are not "rainstorms," they are temporary flourishes that can disappear at a moment's notice. In the winter, however, a Caribbean cruise can be a little chilly on the first and last days when you are still close to the home port – so the long-sleeve shirt or sweater will help, but once you are in the islands you should be plenty warm year round.
The only places where I fully caution you to find and follow very specific instructions for what clothes to bring are Polar cruises. Here you must have clothes that will keep you fully wind and waterproof from head to toe, literally. Water-resistant is not enough for a Polar cruise, your fingers and toes will get cold first so they must remain fully dry. But that is a different topic.
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