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What to Pack for a Cruise to Alaska: 3 Necessities & Casual Outfit Ideas

what to wear in main dining room mdr smart casual cruise

(Click here for PAGE ONE of What to Pack for a Cruise to Alaska)

Three Absolute Necessities for a Happy Cold-Weather Cruise

Before we get to the "fun" fashion part, here are the 3 absolute, do-not-forget, most important things to bring on an Alaskan cruise:

1. Good tennis shoes: Make sure your sneakers are broken in and comfortable. You will probably be walking on rocks and dirt during your excursions and it will be slippery on the ship’s deck when it’s raining. If you’re super outdoorsy, you might also want to bring some lightweight hiking boots or waterproof jogging shoes.

2. Comfortable jeans or trousers: If you don’t bring jeans, you’ll need something like casual trousers, khakis, and/or jogging pants. You might want a pair of shorts for days when you hit warm weather, but you’ll freeze your tush off if you don’t have some kind of long pants. (It’s easy to encounter cold, cloudy, windy, rainy weather even in August or September. Weather in Alaska is impossibly unpredictable.)

packing for Alaska cruise - boomerinas.com

Fashion Raincoat

3. A waterproof jacket: You will need an all-weather, waterproof jacket with a hood. Check out brands like Patagonia, Columbia, and REI.

A windbreaker shell or a fashion raincoat (like the one in the picture) may not be warm enough when it’s windy and you’re cruising near those beautiful blue icebergs. And... if you’re a wuss like me... you might also want to bring a lightweight down jacket. It can be freaking cold out on the deck in Alaska – or Patagonia or the southern fiords of New Zealand. And, I would pack a fashion raincoat, too, if possible. A lighter mac might come in handy on any excursions that take you away from the chilly waters. However, the all-weather, Patagonia-style jacket is the most important jacket to bring for your Alaskan trip.

There are, of course, other items of clothing you should pack, but you will have a miserable, wretched trip without the three extremely important items I've just mentioned.

Layering for Alaska, New Zealand or Cape Hoorn, South America:

On my honeymoon, we encountered a tropical, freakish, balmy, 80-degree weather streak on my cruise to Alaska (in May 2004). However, I’m from Seattle, so I know that every “summer day” in the Pacific Northwest can be extraordinarily hot and dry – or frightfully cold and rainy – depending on the Gods of Weather.

It won’t be snowing on your trip (well… I wouldn’t bet the farm), but you will be sailing near glaciers (or walking on glaciers if you plunk down some extra cash for a helicopter ride), so the main thing to remember is that you must wear layers in order to stay dry and warm.

The one thing that saved my honeymoon was that I had packed a lavender cashmere sweater (a good one from Bergdorf’s… lightweight, but extremely warm) and that one cashmere sweater kept me warm when I wore it under my husband’s gigantic, blue, all-weather jacket. Without that one sweater I would have stayed inside the ship for the entire trip… and I would have missed a lot of fun stuff.

What I wear for layering:

what to wear on Alaskan cruise - boomerinas.com

Layering for Alaska Cruise

  • Thin cotton T-shirt: I like lightweight tees from Old Navy.
  • Lightweight cashmere sweater: If you don’t have a great cashmere sweater that some ex BF bought for you, you can use something like a hoodie sweatshirt, a thin but warm sweater, or a fleece top or vest.
  • Cashmere Scarf: Any warm wool or poly-blend muffler will work, but it won’t be as good as cashmere.
  • Rain Hat: I like the Seattle Sombrero by Outdoor Research. Mine is from REI, but it’s sold in other stores, too. See photos. Sometimes I wear it up on one side like an Aussie hat. My husband wears his blue version flipped up on both sides like a cowboy hat.
  • Optional Layer – Long Underwear: I like to have the option of wearing a silky, long-underwear top (turtleneck or crewneck) and/or some long-underwear bottoms… just in case. Make sure your long underwear fits under your jeans or jogging pants.

Bring a backpack for excursions: If you have a light backpack or daybag, shove an extra pair of socks and shoes into it for excursions… just in case you hop over a puddle or stream and you don’t quite make it. Other things you might want for excursions:

  • Wool or cashmere hat/beanie
  • Thin knit gloves
  • Waterproof travel poncho or raincoat that folds into a pouch
  • Long-sleeved shirt (for layering or wearing instead of a jacket)

If you bring a pack, you can always take layers off or put them on. Be prepared… like a Girl Scout. See other websites for more ideas.

Cruise Casual on Norwegian Cruise Lines

Okay, now for the fun outfits… First I want to remind you that I have never been on Norwegian Cruise Lines. From what I can tell, it sounds like you can wear jeans and shorts anywhere at any time, including most of the restaurants (including the regular main dining room during the evening meal). The only exception would be in the formal main dining room and in some specialty restaurants. I have read several websites and the main prohibition in the main dining room (other than obvious stuff like swimsuits) is the wearing of torn and ragged jeans.

But, I beg you… there is no reason to sink to the lowest common denominator. Sure, Alaska is grunge. Alaska is casual. Alaska is natural… but we don’t want to see you looking so crappy that we upchuck our food. There is nothing wrong with a woman wearing a skirt or dress or palazzo pants.

I usually wear stretch-jersey travel dresses as “cruise casual” because they are extremely comfortable, and since they have no waistband they allow me to pig out at the buffet, day or night, without looking like a pig. (Don’t tell anyone… it’s our little secret.) Anyway, the better you look, the better the service. Travel tip: You can wear the same simple dress (or colorful T-shirt or dark tunic top) every day and change the look with some el cheapo statement necklaces from hautelook.com.

Smart Casual on Norwegian Cruise Lines (NLC)

It sounds like you can wear just about anything except jeans, shorts, or capris in an NCL venue that requires “smart casual”, but I have a feeling you can sneak in anywhere in jeans. (My husband has done that on another cruise line – Princess, I think – when it was a formal night… but don’t blame me if you don’t follow the rules and you have a fussy maître d’ who makes you walk the plank.) Anyway, the NCL website says that you can wear dresses, (unshredded, normal) jeans, slacks, or skirts and tops in any venue that requires “smart casual” wear.

What I Wear for Smart Casual

What would I wear for “smart casual” on NCL? I would wear the same thing I would wear for “smart casual” on Oceania, Princess, Holland America, or any other cruise line.

I look like crap in khakis and standard polyester pants à la suburban mode, so I would wear something like:

  • A beautifully embroidered Johnny Was tunic top over jeggings or leggings, and a pair of fancy-dancy sandals.
  • A black or navy or dark-colored jersey dress (mini or midi-length), a ton of bangles, a pair of giant statement earrings, a statement necklace (optional), and a pair of fancy dancy sandals. If I wore less jewelry, I would make up for it with a groovy fascinator headband or a fabulous evening cloche.
  • A jewel-colored jersey top (or wrap top) similar in style to those from SWAK or Kiyonna, a pair of dark jeans or a gypsy skirt, a silk obi wrap belt, and a pair of fancy dancy sandals.
  • If I looked good in preppy clothing, I would wear a nautical-style knit pantsuit (or any nice pantsuit) and a pair of fancy dancy sandals.
  • If I were younger and prettier, I would wear a silk blouse or sweater or twinset in my favorite color, a pair of good slacks or dark jeans, some huge chandelier earrings, a few bangles or a watch, and a pair of fancy-dancy sandals.

I don’t care if it’s a cruise to Alaska or a river cruise to Paris. Why wear clothing that makes you look like a slob? Hey... how hard is it to throw on a T-shirt dress and a pair of earrings?

More Fashion Articles for Baby Boomer Women Over 40, 50, 60:

Women's Travel Cruise Wear Online - Chicks Over 40 or 50


What to Wear for Cruise Dinners & Formal Nights


What is Smart Casual for Women on Cruises?


Large Cruise Ship or Small: Which is Better?


Photo Credits: Prshots.com.

  • Main Photo: LaRedoute, Asos, Asos Curve, Asos, Asos Curve.
  • Fashion Raincoat: Asos Curve.
  • Scroll over photos for other credits.

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Tina Boomerina (AKA Christina Gregoire) is a Baby Boomer born at the end of 1952. Her mission is to make the internet a kinder and gentler place for Baby Boomer women around the world. Tina's specialty is fashion for women over 50.

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  1. kay kerns

    My daughter Amber works as a Massage Therapist in the spa on a NCL ship cruising between the Hawaiian Islands so I read this article with interest....I wonder how people dress on that ship? From what she has told me, about like what you said....more dressy casual than swanky. Your advice to pack a jacket and sensible shoes + layers sounds right on for a lot of traveling situations. I am going to pin this on my Seasonless/Snowbird board because I like the outfit ideas at the end of your arrticle. Good work!

  2. Tina-Boomerina


    I took a cruise from LA to HI (roundtrip). It was freezing out in the open waters until we got to the islands, but I think your dot works on the line that goes around Hawaii. You always need to take something that's the opposite of what you think you'll need for any trip (like a sweater for Tahiti or shorts for Norway or a rain poncho for the desert) because weather is unpredictable and you may need that WHATEVER-IT-IS. But, if your dot works on the Hawaiian cruise ship, it won't be too cold. However, you should always have a pair of ballet flats or flat sandals tucked away for any cruise. You might need them for a casual night or a formal night if the sea is bumpy. Walking on crutches is not sexy... well, some women can pull it off, but it's no fun to fall down the stairs in high heels - well, I wear heels in almost all seas.


  3. kay kerns

    You're right the ship Amber works on just cruises between the 4 biggest islands . I remember being out on a boat when I did live in Hawaii and you would definitely need a rain jacket or sweatshirt! At least when it's rainy or windy, or at night. Also atop some of the highest mountains there can be snow. I never wear heels any more so no problem there! hugs, Kay

  4. Tina-Boomerina


    I've read about that cruise line and I think it's called something America... but could have it mixed up with another line.

    Yes, you would definitely want a sweater or sweatshirt or poncho or something... just in case. You know how Hawaii is. One minute rain...next minute intense sun. I hope you go. Heck, I hope I go. I've been around the islands on a different cruise but we spent a zillion days at sea and it wasn't the same. I wish I could afford to move back to HI... maybe at some point. I think I would try the big island (or Maui if I could afford it). Kauai is supposed to be WAY more expensive than other islands... but I finally got to see it on that cruise. Gorgeous. Rainy, but amazing.

  5. holly

    Hey, I love that blue dress above but cant find it anywhere but here. Where is that pretty blue dress from?? Thanks so much:)

    • Tina-Boomerina


      Oh holy heck, I forgot to put the photo credits on this article. If you're talking about the plus size blue dress in the main photo, I'm fairly sure it's an Asos dress. I'll check.

      OK, bummer... I don't see that exact dress, but I see several others that are similar and you might like them. I'll send you a link.


  6. Danial Ward

    Informative post .