Ladies – Packing for a Two Week Cruise: a Capsule Wardrobe for the Caribbean and Central America

What do you bring on a two week cruise? Photograph, Peter Hansen, Unsplash.

There are some times we must pack light. European trips involving frequent train travel — it’s the only way to go. But ladies, when we talk road trips and cruises, we have a lot more latitude. You can bring the BIG suitcase!

This is a Travelpro 25″ spinner. I never travel with suitcases larger than this — because you will definitely exceed bag weight limits on the airlines. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

As I prepare to launch of for a month of travel, starting with two weeks of road-tripping through Florida, then culminating in a two week Celebrity cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, I’ve ditched my carry-on spinner for a full-sized (25 inch) suitcase.

I’ve just replaced my full-sized suitcase with a new Travelpro. I loved my smaller carry-on size Travelpro spinner that I took to Italy in September, so I thought I’d try another bag from this luggage company.

If you’re interested in looking at the Travelpro 25″ Spinner, you’ll find it here on eBags, or here on AmazonTravelpro Platinum Magna 2 25” Expandable Spinner Suiter (Olive,25-inch)

Travel wardrobes still require thought, even when you do have more space. Capsule wardrobes help you get more outfits from of fewer pieces of clothing. Regardless of whether you’re traveling, or simply improving your home wardrobe, they’re a smart way to think.

What is a capsule wardrobe?

The concept originated with Susie Faux in 1973, at her shop Wardrobe in London’s West End.

The idea is to choose neutral, well-made pieces of clothing with the maximum ability to coordinate with one another, giving you as many outfits as possible. Capsule wardrobing is a great concept for anyone paring down their closet at home, but it is also perfectly suited to traveling.

Due to spending time on the beach, in the Caribbean, and in hot climates in Central and South America, I’m certainly going with lighter colors than I would if I were traveling in Europe.

A classic 4 x 4 Capsule wardrobe should have 16 pieces of clothing, not counting accessories, and can broken down as follows:

  • First Core of Four: Four pieces of clothing in a darker neutral (2 bottoms, 1 top, and 2nd top – preferably one cardigan or jacket)
  • Second Core of Four: Four pieces of clothing in a lighter neutral (2 bottoms, 1 top, 2nd top — preferably a cardigan or jacket)
  • Bridge/Expansion Four: Four tops that go with ALL of the Core pieces of clothing. Think either tops with patterns that have both of the core colors in them, or tops in colors that simply complement both of the core colors well.
  • Mileage Four: This might be 4 additional tops, or instead — perhaps 2 tops, an additional bottom, and a dress. For my trip, I added one extra piece here, so it turned out to be the Mileage Five :-).
  • Additional: Accent Accessories: scarves, jewelry, shoes, purses that work with the core pieces. I like scarves that bring pops of color to the basic neutral pieces of the wardrobe.

In addition, I am taking 2 swimsuits, one cover-up, and a pair of flip flops, which are not shown in the image below.

Capsule Travel Wardrobe showing what to pack for a two week cruise Caribbean

A Capsule Travel Wardrobe for a Two-Week Cruise in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

Within the two Core sets of neutrals, I’m taking  one light-weight cardigan in white, and one beige jacket. The white ruffled-front cardigan can hang open or be knotted at the waist. Purses: a soft blue Fossil hobo, as well as a Cole Haan black cross-body bag and a small silver clutch for evenings — giving me some variety and the ability to carry reading glasses, a Sea Pass card, and my iPhone.

What women choose to wear on “formal” nights varies dramatically, and you’ll see everything: cocktail dresses, more elegant maxi-style dresses, cropped pants with glittery tops, and some who have inexplicably chosen dresses that look like high school prom night. Note: on smaller, boutique cruise lines, like Windstar and Star Clippers, there are no formal nights. Every night is smart-casual.

For the dressier evenings on the ship, I have chosen NOT to bring a cocktail dress. I often bring a cocktail dress, but this on this trip I’m giving that a big miss. Since I have a two week road trip before the cruise, I need more versatile pieces of clothing.

Once onboard, my “dress night” garb will my black dress, and the cropped black pants with blue camisole or black tank top with more formal pieces of jewelry. I’ve done this on many cruises, and it’s worked well for me. Ladies, this is one place that we all vary. For my readers wanting dressier options, I’d switch out a couple of pieces within the Mileage category, and simply replace them with more formal options.

For my full four week trip, I’ll certainly be doing laundry — on the Florida road trip, the condo in Miami has a washing machine and dryer, so I’ll board the Celebrity Reflection with everything clean. Once onboard, I plan to send laundry out once. One thing to keep in mind: the industrial laundry on ships isn’t gentle. Hand washing knits or other delicate items in your room may be the smart way to go.

Here are images to give you an idea of just a few of the many combinations you can get from the Travel Capsule Wardrobe shown above.

Set of possible day time wardrobe combinations from the 2 Week Cruise Capsule Wardrobe

Possible combinations, Set 1.

Set 2 of possible wardrobe combinations from the 2 Week Cruise Capsule Wardrobe

Possible Combinations, Set 2.

Set of possible wardrobe combinations from the 2 Week Cruise Capsule Wardrobe

Possible combinations, Set 3.

Set of possible evening wardrobe combinations from the 2 Week Cruise Capsule Wardrobe

Possible evening combinations, Set 4.


 Packing List
    • 5 bottoms, either pants, sorts, skirts, or capris
    • 9 tops
    • 1 dress
    • 2 cardigans
    • 3-5 silk scarves
    • 2 pairs of flat sandals
    • 1 pair strappy evening sandals
    • 7 pairs underwear — you’ll either being sink washing, or sending wash out while onboard
    • 2 bras
    • 2 bathing suits and 1 cover-up *not included in the Capsule wardrobe. I consider these to be a separate category
    • flip-flops
    • tennis shoes
    • water shoes for coral or rocky beaches
    • Hat(s)
    • Sleepwear
    • workout clothes
    • toiletries & makeup
      • Be sure to bring sunscreen & possibly mosquito repellent.
    • medicine
    • 1 tall kitchen garbage bag + 2 large ziploc bags (good for dirty clothes, wet bathing suits, etc.)
    • Beach tote: one that zips up and folds down into nothing!

Packing Folder and Cube System

Packing efficiently: I am a BIG believer in packing folders and packing cubes. Honestly, I’m not sure how I packed before getting the folders and cubes. In the nineties, I had a folding “suiter” case that had a central section for hanging close, then multiple zipping sections and pockets — and back then, that was as good is you could get.

In 2003, when that case wore out, I bought a new 25″ Samsonite case — you know, a standard suitcase with one central black hole of a big space. I bought my first packing folder and a couple of cubes, and I was sold. SO much better than the older suiter case that I’d had. If you haven’t used the folders and cubes, the Pack It video from Eagle Creek demonstrates how the system works.

For this packing list, I used two medium Eagle Creek Pack-It folders: one for bottoms + dress, and the other for tops, cardigan, and jacket. Then I put the undies, bras, sleepwear, and scarves in one cube, and swimsuits and cover-up in a second cube. Toiletries and makeup have separate bags. Everything fit in my 25″ Travelpro Spinner, no problem.

I love the folders, because while no packing method is wrinkle free, they decrease wrinkling better than any other method I’ve tried. I also love that I can pull the folders and cubes out of my suitcase, pop them into drawers, and I’m unpacked in a couple of minutes.

Eagle Creek Medium Pack-It Folder on eBags 
 Eagle Creek Pack It Medium Pack-It Folder on Amazon

Things People often FORGET to Pack for a Cruise

 Things you’ll probably need Things that might come in handy
  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito Repellent – whether you’re in Costa Rica or Alaska, mosquitos get around!
  • Calamine or other bug bite itch cream
  • Spare pair of glasses (sun and/or reading)
  • Dramamine, Bonine, or other medication for being sea sick. Even if you don’t need them on the big ship, you may for an excursion in a smaller boat.
  • Good walking shoes. Many tours require close-toed shoes.
  • OTC meds — yes, you can buy ibuprofen, Tums, etc. on the ship, but they are expensive!
  • Razor
  • Stain wipes
  • Travel magnifying mirror. If you use one at home, you’ll need one here as well.
  • Dry pak case for phone or camera — or at least a Ziploc bag as protection from the unexpected afternoon thunderstorm.
  • Highlighter for daily news letter
  • Power strip for our power hungry life styles
  • Water shoes
  • Beach bag/shopping bag
  • Lanyard – for your Sea Pass card. Or you can pay 3 times more for one on the ship 🙂
  • Sticky notes — for leaving notes for your steward or group members
  • Towel clips – keeps your towel from blowing off pool loungers
  • Suction cup hooks — great for things like hats
  • Shoe bag for bathroom: can hang on the door hook to hold things you don’t want to give shelf space to
  • Traveling with a group? Consider a magnetic door sign — message board. State room doors all look the same – and can be handy for leaving messages.

Bon Voyage!

Wake behind cruise ship.

Happy packing and have a wonderful cruise! Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Notes: clothing shown comes from Chico’s and Eddie Bauer — but you can obviously build wardrobes like this with any brand of clothing. Scarves: Gucci and Missoni from Nordstrom, Tiffany scarf from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Packing lighter for a European trip where you’re hopping on trains?

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