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Mediterranean cruise packing list: What to pack when cruising Europe

Sept. 11, 2022
10 min read
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Packing for a cruise in the Mediterranean has unique challenges. As an American, you’ll definitely be flying rather than driving to your cruise port, so over-packing isn’t a good option (unless you want to pay extra fees). Plus, the Mediterranean region is large and cruise ships regularly call at over a dozen different countries. The weather in the northern Mediterranean city of Venice can differ greatly from that of the cruise ports in the southern Greek islands like Santorini and Crete. Your packing list will have to adjust — especially if you’re on a long cruise that covers lots of ground.

After five Mediterranean cruises, I’ve learned some tips and tricks to pack everything I need for cruising in Europe without needing a second suitcase or paying overweight baggage fees. Here, I share my packing secrets and a handy Mediterranean cruise packing list to streamline your vacation preparation.

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What to pack for a Mediterranean cruise

Dress codes and whether you're flying or driving to your destination will play a pivotal role in what you pack. DOBLE-D/GETTY IMAGES

The dress code of your cruise line and how you expect to spend your time play a big role in what goes into your suitcase. On most cruise lines sailing the Mediterranean, you'll be fine with casual attire. Toss in a few items that allow you to dress up a notch in the evenings, and you'll have your onboard wardrobe all set.

How you expect to spend your time on vacation is also key. Your Mediterranean cruise shore excursions might include anything from hiking volcanoes and ancient ruins to attending cooking classes or wine tastings. You may be touring museums, cathedrals or mosques on some days and taking boat rides, lounging on the beach or doing water sports on others.

I find it useful to organize my packing around the activities I have planned, but throw in a few items that allow for spontaneity. For example, I always pack a swimsuit, even if I don’t have any water activities planned. You never know when the hot tub will start calling your name.

Daytime clothing

Shorts, lightweight shirts, capris and sundresses all work well for most daytime activities on and off the ship throughout the Mediterranean during the warmer summer months. Plan on adding long pants and layers for spring and fall cruises. Hats, caps, visors and sunglasses are a good addition for excursions any time of year, as is a long-sleeve sun protective shirt. If your onshore adventures will take you to a church or mosque, plan to bring clothing that covers the knees and shoulders.

And remember that not all Mediterranean ports of call are touristy. In some cases, you will be walking city streets alongside businesspeople. Couple that with the fact that Europeans tend to dress a bit more conservatively than Americans, and you will find that what would fit in on a port day in Rome is a bit dressier than what you’d wear in The Bahamas.

Evening wear

Mainstream cruise lines in the Mediterranean like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises have casual buffet dining options if you prefer not to dress up for dinner, as does Viking. For most main dining rooms and specialty dining venues, eveningwear consists of slacks or skirts with nice shirts. If there is a dedicated formal night, jazz things up with accessories or a sparkly top, or go all-out with a suit or cocktail dress. Jackets and ties for men would be optional except on formal nights, where they would fit in nicely on most ships.

Related: Best Mediterranean cruises for every type of traveler

Footwear

This is the clothing category that can bust your plan to pack lighter, but it’s important to have the right footwear in Europe. With so many places to explore on foot, the most important shoes to pack for a Mediterranean cruise are comfortable walking shoes.

Beyond that, you'll need flip-flops or water shoes if there's a beach in your cruise plan, and a dressy pair of shoes for the evening. You could get by with a nice pair of deck-style shoes like Sperry's or hiking sandals like Tevas or Keens for almost everything if you can color coordinate with your outfits. I recently managed a nine-day cruise in the Mediterranean with a pair of slip-on hiking shoes, a pair of black Teva sandals and one pair of black heels, which I could have done without (and been more comfortable).

Gear

The number one piece of gear for a Mediterranean cruise is a day bag or backpack. I use a fold-up lightweight nylon backpack that allows me to carry snacks, bottled water, sunscreen and even a beach towel — anything I think I might need on a day in port — but still has plenty of room to stash my souvenirs. It’s designed to zip up into its own built-in pouch the size of a large wallet, so it takes up little packing space or weight.

If you are a snorkeler, pack your own mask and snorkel so you can take advantage of surprise opportunities to see what's beneath those brilliant blue Mediterranean waves at the beaches of Sardinia, Santorini or even in Croatia. If you’re a hiker, consider collapsible hiking poles — which can come in handy on walks to hilltop ruins. Photographers will want their camera gear if their cellphone camera won’t cut it for vacation photos.

Packing tips for a Mediterranean cruise

Cruise sailing to Santorini, Greece. PETER ADAMS/GETTY IMAGES

It's easy to overpack for a Mediterranean cruise. To avoid that, choose a neutral base color like black, navy or tan and plan your outfits to mix and match that color scheme. Pick clothing items you can dress up or down as the event requires. Neutral colors will make you feel more at home throughout most of the Mediterranean, where daytime fashion is rarely flashy.

Keep your materials lightweight for hot summer afternoons, but plan for a possible added layer on board the ship, where air conditioning can be chilly. Lightweight layers also come in handy on cruises in March, April, October and November when daytime temperatures can be in the 50s and 60s.

I can get through a weeklong cruise with a base of two pairs of black shorts, a pair of black capris, a pair of casual black slacks and a black tank dress. I mix those up with lightweight shirts or tanks each day, dressier tops at night, some scarves and a black sheer blouse. Keeping clothes to a minimum leaves me more room for important things like snorkeling and scuba gear.

Related: Best Mediterranean cruise tips to enhance your European vacation

Many travelers check their bags on long flights to Europe. To hedge your bets should your luggage go missing, divide your necessary items among multiple suitcases, including your carry-on bags. That way you'll have a few clothing changes if one bag is lost.

Also, since Mediterranean cruises often begin with a preboarding hotel night, pack what you need for that first night in a packing cube in your carry-on to make it readily accessible, even in your jet-lagged daze. If your airline supplied an amenity kit, be sure to toss that in your carry-on for the first night so you aren't rummaging through your suitcase for a toothbrush. I have been known to make up my own little amenity kit if I'm flying cheap and know I won’t get one from the airline.

Related: Carry-on vs. checked bags: Which is the better choice?

Mediterranean cruise packing list

Here's a handy packing list for your Mediterranean cruise.

  • A casual, lightweight shirt for each day of the cruise.
  • A few pairs of shorts, capris (perfect for days when you need more coverage either due to cooler temperatures or visits to religious sites), leggings or skorts and maybe a casual dress to wear during the day during summer. For spring and fall cruises, swap the shorts for slacks or jeans.
  • Jacket, fleece vest or sweater for early- and late-season sailings.
  • Unless you're a water fiend, one swimsuit is usually enough for the Mediterranean. There are simply too many amazing land-based things to occupy your time. Don't forget clothespins to make it easier to hang it in the bathroom to dry.
  • A cover-up for the beach or onboard pool.
  • Athletic wear and shoes if you plan to walk, jog, hike, cycle, work out in the ship's gym or attend any fitness classes.
  • Jeans, slacks, collared shirts or nice T-shirts, capris, skirts or dresses for evenings on board. Take half of what you think you need, then re-wear evening clothes at least once. Plan to mix and match tops and bottoms to make this work even better.
  • Jewelry, belts and accessories, along with a large scarf or shawl that doubles for warmth and as an appropriate cover-up for bare shoulders.
  • Optional: True eveningwear if you plan to dress for an onboard formal night or just feel like putting on the glitz. This would include suits for men and cocktail-style dresses or pants and tops for women.
  • Pajamas, underwear and socks. Mainstream lines supply robes (but rarely slippers) in suites and for repeat guests at certain loyalty levels. Premium and luxury lines usually have both robes and slippers in the room.
  • A light rain jacket or poncho — with a hood — that fits into your backpack in case it rains.
  • Sweater, dressy jacket, over-shirt or shawl for cold dining rooms and theaters onboard.
  • Waterproof shoes or sandals if you plan on visiting the beach.
  • Walking shoes, sneakers or hiking sandals.
  • Dress shoes for the evening (unless you can coordinate your day shoes or sandals).
  • Hats, caps or visors, plus magnetic hooks to hang them up in your cabin.
  • Prescription medication and a first aid kit with common over-the-counter medicines.
  • Sunscreen and after-sun lotion or gel.
  • Cosmetics, toiletries and hair accessories.
  • Ultra-lightweight tote bag and/or backpack.
  • Re-useable water bottle and a reusable straw to do your part in keeping single-use plastics out of the ocean (and so you aren't stuck sipping your frozen Bellinis through the paper straws many cruise lines now use).
  • Phone, camera, tablet and the associated chargers and spare batteries. Consider a multi-outlet adapter to expand the available USB and electric outlets in your cruise cabin.
  • Sports gear you prefer like snorkeling equipment, hiking poles or your own bicycle helmet.

Bottom line

Packing for a cruise in the Mediterranean isn't that different from packing for any other cruise. Check the weather and the shoreside activities for each port, make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes, then double check your cruise line's recommendations for eveningwear and you'll be all set.

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Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
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