She Cruises; He Cruises — Downton Abbey at Sea?

  Pack lighter for a cruise and still look sparkly!

         It was bad luck timing that the New York Times Sunday Travel Section published a major piece on transatlantic cruises or crossings the very week and actual day that the second worst cruise incident in just over a year hit Carnival’s Triumph, drifting without power in the Caribbean with over 4,000 people aboard.

Even though the piece was generally excellent – I have made this “crossing” myself on the exact same ship in the article (Cunard’s Queen Mary 2) – and agreed with most of it, I take major exception when it comes to the included packing list.

For men, there is an abbreviated list including a tuxedo and a suit, two pairs of shoes and so on, allowing for the dress code and several formal nights on this very British ship, (although my husband just takes a dinner jacket and slacks, and one sport coat.)CM5_4804

But for women, the list induces a heart-thumping ‘fear-of-packing’, including three formal dresses and two cocktail dresses; three pairs of heels and pumps for day and evening, plus boots and walking shoes; shawls and scarves of wool and silk at different levels of warmth; three purses (clutch for evening, daytime purse and spa bag); plus assorted skirts (3), blouses, sweaters, tights, socks, underwear, pajamas and a nightgown, two bathing suits, etc. The list calls for taking your best jewelry and “lots of it.”

Well, what are we dressing for here – Downton Abbey at sea? Only a man could have come up with this list; daunting enough to intimidate even the most practiced female packer.

I agree that it is much more challenging to pack lightly for a cruise than most other trips, but I think this author must face the fact that the era of the steamer trunk is over, even on board the Queen Mary 2.

Let’s dissect author Dwight Garner’s packing list for women. First, even given that the atmosphere on board is a bit more formal on a British ship, taking three formals and two cocktail dresses is beyond overkill. My suggestion: two dressier outfits – I get around the various evenings by packing one pair of black silk slacks (a long black silk skirt works too) and two sparkly tops. I wear each outfit twice; or perhaps on another night I wear a black silk blouse with a pretty scarf or shawl. Same silk slacks. I say no skirts, but rather, two-three pair of khaki or black cotton slacks. (If you are a skirt person, make it two casual cotton skirts.) No cocktail or day dresses for me; days on board remain casual. For shoes, I take only two pair – one casual and one for evening, plus I usually wear athletic or tennis shoes for traveling and walking the decks. For jewelry, I say leave your best jewelry AT HOME! For evenings, I wear fake rhinestone earrings and one string of pearls, which can also be fake. Yes, there is a safe in every cabin but why worry? And whom do we need to impress? You don’t know 99 percent of the passengers and chances are you will never see them again. When it comes to shirts,  underwear and socks, be sparing. The ship has laundry service and a dry-cleaning service should disaster strike. You won’t regret these decisions as you lug your luggage to and from the ship, on trains or through airports. Why risk a rotator cuff injury for strangers?

Here’s my shorter version packing list for a 7-night transatlantic crossing:

  • 1 pair silk slacks
  • Two dressy or sparkly tops
  • 3 khaki pants or casual cotton skirts
  • 2 sweaters
  • Scarves or shawl: 1 black Pashmina shawl (they’re warm); 1 silk scarf
  • 2 pair shoes – one casual for day; one for evening
  • Wear 1 pair of athletic or tennis shoes for traveling and deck-walking
  • If you are a swimmer or hot-tubber, perhaps 1 lightweight pair of flip-flops
  • 1 pair earrings, 1 necklace and 1 pair earrings for evening (suggest fake)
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 1 carryon bag (for airport travel)
  • 1 smaller, cross-body purse for day or evening use
  • Skip the spa bag, the ship gives you a logo’ed canvas bag which works
  • 4-5 assorted t-shirts or blouses
  • Socks or tights, underwear and 1 nightgown or PJ’s (plan to do 1 laundry load)
  • 1 warm hat for deck-walking
  • 1 rainproof and fleece-lined jacket with hood

That’s it; enjoy a lighter approach to cruise packing.

(This post originally written as a guest post for http://www.herpackinglist.com.)

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 17, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Dear Merle: LOVE your site, and your comments here especially on packing for transatlantic. My wife and I did a 10-day from San Juan to Lisbon. She has always been a heavy packer, but this time, make it a fun challenge and just about everything in a carry-on sized rolling suitcase. Plus, we spent another 3 weeks in Europe, and she STILL managed to have the needed variety using some of the very methods you described. For me, I found that one navy suit was all I needed. The jacket fits in for warmth, up-scaling other combos (even t-shirt/jeans). For my shoes, I have a pair of Clark’s that are so comfortable, I even did mountain walks with them – no problem. Plus, they’re dressy. anyway, just commenting on how much I like your site. Thanks for the good work!

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