If you’re new to cruising, you’re probably wondering what to wear on embarkation day – the first day of your cruise. Here’s how to plan your embarkation day outfit.
If you’re anything like me, you always want to make sure you have the right outfit for any occasion. There’s nothing worse than showing up to an event and realizing that you’re way underdressed. Or you assume an event is formal, but when you show up everyone’s in shorts!
For many first-time cruisers, figuring out what you should wear on embarkation day can be confusing.
But once you experience your first embarkation day on a cruise, you’ll see that people wear a wide range of casual outfits on the first day—from basic tees and shorts to pretty sundresses or a golf shirt with chinos.
You don’t need to dress up! In fact, I can’t remember ever seeing anyone decked out in formalwear at embarkation. So if you were worried that you needed an elegant outfit to get on the ship, don’t stress. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to break out your dressiest clothes later on in the cruise if you want to.
Embarkation day is all about having fun, so wearing what you’re comfortable in is key. Just think about what you want to do on your first day aboard, and plan your embarkation day outfit with that in mind.
How to plan what to wear on embarkation day
With the wide range of casual clothes that cruisers wear on the first day, you won’t feel out of place wearing whatever feels comfortable to you, within reason of course!
On most cruise lines, attire has become a lot less dressy than it used to be. Of course on very traditional lines like Cunard, or on ultra-luxury ships (think Regent Seven Seas or Seabourn), you might see passengers a bit more dressed up on embarkation day. But even on these cruises, dress will be more “elegant casual” as opposed to formal.
If you’re sailing on a mainstream cruise line, casual resort wear is just fine. Here are some examples of what I usually see cruisers wear when boarding the ship:
- Short sleeve or sleeveless tops
- Golf shirts or polos
- Casual button-up shirts or blouses
- Casual pants
- Casual rubber-soled shoes
- Tennis shoes
So it’s really up to you what end of the resort-casual spectrum you’d like to wear on the first day of your cruise. But if you’ve already researched all the fun things you’d like to see and do soon after you board, you might want to consider your outfit a bit more carefully.
Here are some important questions to ask yourself before you choose what to wear on embarkation day.
What’s the weather going to be like on deck?
If you’re sailing from a tropical destination, odds are you’ll be fine wearing your lightweight summer clothes to board the ship. But cruises that depart from cooler climates (or if there’s nasty weather) call for just a little more planning.
If the weather’s been unpredictable in your cruise port, be sure to dress in layers or pack some warmer clothes in your carry on bag.
For cruises leaving from cooler climates, you’ll probably see people wearing more practical clothes that fit the weather at the port. Depending on the temperature, you might not be spending much time outside on the first day!
Do you have a photo package (or are you planning on taking lots of pics the first day)?
Most mainstream cruise lines (and some luxury ones) employ photographers to take pictures of guests enjoying their vacations. Sometime after you check in and before you embark the ship, you’ll likely be called over by some very enthusiastic crew members! They’ll want to take your group’s embarkation day photo in front of a festive backdrop.
It’s free to pose for any of these pics, and you’ll be able to see them later in the ship’s photo gallery. Then you can decide if you’d like to buy a print of the photo, or even purchase a package with a certain amount of photo prints to remember your cruise.
If you already know that you’ll want to buy a package, consider dressing up a bit more for embarkation day so you’ll have pics you’ll be proud to show to friends or on social media.
Of course, you can always take your own embarkation day photos, or ask another guest to snap a pic of your group. If documenting every day of your cruise vacation is important to you, consider dressing the way you’d like to be seen in these photos.
Are you planning to swim, sunbathe, or relax in the hot tub soon after embarkation?
If you’re dreaming of hitting the Lido deck right away to enjoy the pool, sunbathe on a lounger, or soothe your achy muscles in the hot tub, remember that having your swimsuit when you board is key to having fun on embarkation day!
Staterooms usually aren’t ready to use until mid-afternoon, and your checked luggage might take hours to arrive at your stateroom.
I like to wear my swimsuit under my clothes on embarkation day every time I take a warm-weather cruise. If the urge hits me to take a dip (or if a miracle occurs and there’s an open hot tub), I won’t have to worry about changing in a cramped public restroom stall.
Cruise pro tip: pack a change of underwear in a gallon ziploc bag and put it in your embarkation day carry-on bag. You can swap it out for your wet suit after you enjoy the pool, without getting everything else in your bag damp.
Where are you planning to enjoy your embarkation day lunch?
If you know you just want to have a super-casual lunch on embarkation day, like at the buffet or the outdoor grill on the Lido deck, you can confidently wear your most casual outfit when you board the ship. You’ll be able to walk up and order from the grill in a bikini or swim trunks, then enjoy your meal at your sun lounger or a nearby table.
Visiting the buffet (usually located indoors just steps away from the pool) requires you to cover up a little more than you’d need to at the poolside eatery. Cruise buffets are famously casual, but be sure to put on your shorts and tee (or a cover up) before entering the buffet.
Cruise pro tip: pack a casual swim cover-up if you’ll be eating inside at the buffet—you’ll be turned away if you show up in just your swimsuit! Check my 20+ Cute Swim Coverups for Cruises & Beach Travel for some stylish but inexpensive options for all ages and body types.
Seasoned cruisers know that there’s often one main dining restaurant open on embarkation day. Would you prefer a lovely three-course meal with white tablecloths and personalized service for your embarkation day lunch?
I always do! Although odds are you won’t be turned away from the MDR at lunch for wearing shorts and a casual tee, I like dressing up a tiny bit more for an elegant embarkation day meal.
Are you traveling with a larger family or other group?
Something I’ve noticed over the past few years is the popularity of themed t-shirts for groups of cruisers on embarkation day. Whether you’re doing a huge family reunion or just a small get-together on a cruise vacation, themed tees are definitely a trend.
Wearing custom-printed t-shirts for embarkation day, especially in a bright color, makes it easy to spot other members of your group as you explore the ship.
Do you have plans for an early dinner?
Usually, checked luggage arrives at your stateroom well before dinner time. That will often give you plenty of time to shower, do your hair and makeup, and dress up before your meal.
But if you have plans to dress for a main dining room or specialty dinner on embarkation day, you might not have access to your luggage in time to get ready if you’re not already wearing the right clothes.
If you prefer to start your evening meal between 4:30 and 5:30 PM, this is considered “early dining”. Be aware that there’s a chance your checked luggage won’t make it to your stateroom in time to dress for an early dinner.
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Do you really not feel like changing your clothes later?
Maybe it’s just me, but I really don’t like changing my clothes multiple times a day! OK, I do enjoy the novelty of occasionally dressing for dinner on a cruise that has a formal night or two. But embarkation day is so busy and exciting that I’m rarely in the mood to think about planning more than one ensemble for the day.
Generally, I’d rather wear something that can take me from poolside to an elegant meal, and any situation in between. After that, I might want to enjoy a cocktail in the lounge, try my hand at the casino, see a show—and maybe even dance the night away at the club.
On warm-weather sailings, I always embark wearing a comfortable sundress and flat, neutral sandals. This kind of outfit works well with whatever I want to do on that first day! If I want to dress it up for dinner and post-dinner activities, I’ll change out my jewelry, add a simple pair of heels, and carry a light cardigan or wrap because of the chilly air conditioning indoors.
But do you want to look a little more elegant on embarkation day, and you don’t like wearing dresses? I’ve got you. Consider a short or long romper in an airy, woven material. Or a pair of lightweight cropped pants with your favorite summery top.
Mr. SBC likes his comfort (but also enjoys putting on a suit and tie on formal nights). When we cruise together, he usually wears a golf shirt and shorts or lightweight chinos on embarkation day, with sandals, boat shoes, or slip-on Vans.
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How to dress the kids for embarkation day
If you’re cruising with your kids or grandkids, casual comfy outfits are key. For warm-weather cruises, shorts and tees are just fine for anyone, especially the younger passengers.
Depending on the age of your kids, they might have certain activities they’re most excited about. You might dress them up before boarding for photos or in anticipation of an elegant dinner, but they just want to stay in the kids’ club with their new friends!
Other kids might want nothing more than to swim in the pool. Even if you’ve dressed your whole family in adorable matching outfits for embarkation pics, pack swimsuits and a casual change of clothes in your day bag so everyone can have fun.
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What do you like to wear on embarkation day? Or is your first sailing coming up and you still have questions about what to wear on the first day of a cruise? Let me know in the comments below!
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