X weeks to go until our first cruise since 2019. I'm not daft enough to tell several potential burglars - and one thieving cousin - the dates we're away. Here are some tips for you. They're mostly for the ladies although I should probably say something like "those who identify as wishing to wear a dress sometimes".
I take great pride in the enormous amount of luggage I can take on a cruise and enjoy saying "The airport is that way, Madam" to anyone rude enough to comment on it. However, some planning of what to take avoids a lot of wasted time and - more important - energy. I don't pack early. That would make me unpack and repack several times "to make sure". I put everything on a hanging rail and on the spare bed (evicting the cat) and pack the day before the cruise. We live in Southampton so we only have two miles' of travel and don't have to stay anywhere overnight.
I won't tell you what to wear during the day or ashore. There are only so many times you can read "wear layers and comfortable shoes" without falling asleep. Maybe I should master that. Folk get free cruises for writing that.
Important point to remember: "No-one is looking at you". My husband says that to me all the time.
1) Start now. Actually, start two weeks ago if you can nick a Tardis. It takes longer than you think and it's exhausting so you need to do it bit by bit.
2) Set up a system. You need piles/hanging for
- "Yes, I look fantastic in that, I'll pack it". Small space required for this category.
- Sewing/alterations. Don't leave this too late. I have a background in theatre wardrobe so theoretically I can alter/repair anything but I soon lose interest and/or run out of time and the outfit ends up not being taken. Anywhere. Ever.
- Charity shop
- Maybe next cruise. As in get it out a few weeks before the next cruise and follow this procedure again!
Do not mix these piles up or you will have to start again and then spend ages tidying the bedroom, preferably more than ten minutes before you want to get into bed.
3) Have a colour scheme in mind. I ditch navy and rarely wear jeans anyway so I ditch denim too. Packing black, white and a few bright colours makes life easier. Your "not sure whether that new shirt is navy or black" will drive you mad at sea or on land so throw that out now.
4) Don't forget you need to sort out underwear, shoes, jewellery and the stash of Really Useful Things too.
5) Have a trusty assistant in the house for when you can't unzip yourself. You'll be so proud you were flexible enough to do up that zip but if you can't undo it again you'll have to open the door to the Amazon courier in full evening dress. That's if you can get down the stairs without tripping over it.
6) Have a friend on standby to say, "You always look wonderful, darling" even though he can't see you on the phone. This is not a Facetime opportunity.
7) Remember to tell everyone if you've lost weight and that's now a problem. This will ensure you save money on stamps as there will be no-one left on your Christmas card list.
I love formal nights, especially the black and white night. There's something quite magical about seeing everyone glide down those stairs to the atrium. If you have evening dresses going back to the 1980s and they fit, then wear them. There's no point even trying to buy new ones as some silly designer has decided women look good in voluminous flowery prints tied up in the middle. Bring back the sequins please.
If you don't have an evening dress then smart black trousers and sparkly top is fine and who doesn't have gold or silver sandals that look a bit daft in Bournemouth? Pack them!
Incidentally, don't be afraid to include white on the black and white night - for gentlemen too Spot me wearing this one and I'll buy you a drink. That's if only the usual three people read this blog. Otherwise I'll buy you a coffee from the free coffee station.
Tip for the dress wearers: The tripping factor. Watch the length of those frocks. Formal nights are usually on sea days when the ship is tanking along, not pootling to the next Canaries island. If the dress is the right length with high heels, will it be too long if you have to change shoes? If you fall over can you get up again? No, in my case. A getting-up-again team will be required.
Here's a visual aid for that concept.
Tip for the men: You ALL look good in a DJ, really you do! Look regularly in the sale section in M & S. At various times of year they sell off formal suits at much reduced prices. Take some stand-out bow ties. Don't bother with the cummerbund.
Do we need a little lift in that elegant evening dress? Yes, we do. Do we want to look like a hippo who's just got a job as a magician's assistant? No, we don't. Time to find the push-up bras that might fit. This is tricky as they've been put way never to be seen again. Try that drawer you hope your executors won't blab about. Choose executors carefully.
Yes, it fits. And er, no. When did the boobs get so wrinkly? What is going on there? Do not wear glasses for this project. Find the clothes, take off glasses before looking in mirror. This is definitely a "wish I hadn't gone to Specsavers" moment.
There was once a time when a push-up bra would have been ideal. Not in your twenties, nothing to work on. Possibly in your late thirties. That ship is well and truly over the horizon. You have permission to cry at this point.
Take comfortable bras. If the dress looks wrong with them alter the dress!
Don't even think of trying to break in new shoes on a ship. You'll be in constant pain
Take new shoes to break in on the ship. You'll have nice flat wooden floors to walk on and you can soon get back to your cabin if they're uncomfortable.
Do you wear boots and flip-flops all day? Start tottering about the house in your heels at least two weeks before the cruise or your calf muscles will give out!
You probably won't need as many shoes as you think. I tend to wear flip-flops around the ship and glittery flip-flops in the evening. Easy peasy. I still take loads of shoes. Be careful if you're thinking of taking shoes you've had for many years. I tried on some old ones, walked across the room and thought, "Great. I can wear these". I turned around and saw little piles of black rubber all over the new carpet. The soles and heels had disintegrated!
This section about shoes is probably no help at all.
I'm tempted to write "Let's not even go there" since I've reached the age where I look at the makeup displays in a shop and have no idea what most of it is for (ditto the rest of the shop...). Plus I seem to be allergic to anything I could put on my face, perversely even more so with the hypoallergenic stuff. I make up - pardon the pun - for this can't-be-bothered look with weird and wonderful goings-on with my hair. So there.
Tip 1: Take a magnifying mirror, one with decent magnification that lights up. Lighting in cabins is abysmal. The mirror is also useful for plucking hairs from your chin even though they're grey now anyway. This blog is scarily based on my actual life experiences. Incidentally, if you like to knit or crochet in these dark cabins you can get little fold up craft lights.
Tip 2: Remember the ship is usually moving while you're getting ready for dinner, certainly if you're on second sitting. This is not the time to try out some new makeup technique you found on Pinterest which is probably designed for 14-year-olds anyway. If you're on a two week cruise you soon start to notice the ladies have got tired of trying to do fancy makeup while being thrown across the room in rough seas.
I have loads of jewellery. Drawers and boxes full of it, mostly the big statement stuff. None of it is valuable. I wore a bracelet last week that was much admired and it cost £2.99 in Sainsbury's. I must find the matching necklace. Tip: if you like bracelets pack a crochet hook and practise using it to do the bracelet up by yourself in case cabin-mate goes awol.
I should probably say, "Ladies, sort out the jewellery you want to wear with each outfit and store it in a little bag with that outfit" Nah. Who does that? I pack loads in a roll up thingy so I have the fun of choosing. Admittedly I store goes-with-formal separately from loud tropical colours but I still get to choose. I actually bought a bigger roll up thingy a few weeks ago. I can't find that...
Style tip: Try a big statement necklace with a V neck dress, even if you don't normally wear one. It makes a difference and detracts from the wrinkles.
Well, this is no fun at all. I used to carry dinky little evening bags that contained virtually nothing. I still have one my Dad bought me when I was sixteen. Dinky little ones are now useless. As well as my cruise card I need to carry a phone - for its camera function, I hasten to add - reading glasses, a fan and husband's insulin kit if he doesn't have a jacket. Of course if he is wearing a jacket I can load him up with my stuff! This was the pile of evening bags and make-up bags on my bed a few days ago.
If you ever want to stand out on deck while the ship is moving - or even in port - you'll need a Proper Coat. You're standing on a 10 - 15 storey building. You wouldn't do that without a coat. Not necessarily your Big Coat unless you're going way north. I don't do that. An anorak/thick fleece type thing and a fold up mac to carry about with you will be fine.
All the Really Useful Things
I pack a gazillion useful things, mostly in clear zip up bags or hanging pockets so I can see what's what. You might be at sea and/or it costs an arm and a leg to replace the Thing from the shop so I pack it.
Don't forget: chargers and extra adaptors. Why the extra adaptors? Because you shouldn't take extension leads (surge protectors can sink the ship) and if you take US and European adaptors then you can use all the sockets, not just the UK ones, thereby avoiding charger-related divorce proceedings.
- Strong magnetic hooks. The walls are steel. Hooks mean you can get your hats, bags etc out of the way. Note: these are very strong magnets. I store them in the shed since I don't want half the house magnetised. You can also get magnetic clips to hang the Daily Orders (sorry, Daily News) and other paperwork on the wall.
- Selfie stick. We have dozens of these since no-one follows my advice and we end up buying one on every holiday. People really should listen to my sound advice.
- Sewing kit including shirt buttons
- Pegs of various sizes. To attach your towel to your sunbed on a breezy day (the big ones used to hang duvets are great for this), to fix curtains together when there is light coming through the gap, to hang washing on the bungee line you're also going to bring if it's a longer cruise.
- Craft stuff for the Knit and Natter on sea days. See you there!
- A spare bag for the last morning - for your overnight stuff /stupid souvenirs you bought and don't have room for. I usually keep out the big beach bag I use around the pool.
I'd list more but then you'd just think I was bonkers.
And ...relax! Have a great cruise!