This was one of my first questions (and struggles) when prepping for a contract as a cruise ship dancer. And it's a common question I get from friends who've recently booked work on a cruise line.
I'll start with the fact that I definitely overpacked for my first contract as a dancer with Royal Caribbean (and you probably will too). Now that I'm back for round two, I knew exactly what I'd need (and what I definitely didn't) and I hope it'll be helpful to share what I learned.
So, here it is. An essential packing list for a dancer working on a cruise ship sailing the Caribbean for months at a time. This will outline exactly what you'll need as well as more detailed explanations for exactly what I brought with me.
* This list is best for itineraries in warm climates. If I ever do a ship in colder climates (or multiple climates) I'll most likely be lost once again.
* Also, I realize this list isn't the most helpful to all the gentlemen who might need some insight. Guys, got any tips?
Dance and Workout Clothes
One week’s worth of leggings and breathable tops that you feel comfortable in for rehearsals, tech runs, and workouts.
I brought seven or eight activewear outfits since this is what you'll wear to work every day. We're also required to log five hours in the gym every week so it's important to have enough.
My favorite brand is Lululemon because they last so long and won’t give out on you even after washing them in ship water (you can read a little more about the laundry situation here). And professional dancers are now part of the Sweat Collective at Lululemon where you can get 20% off when you show them your contract. Get on that people.
Formal and Smart Casual Wear
One formal, floor-length dress and five "smart casual" outfits
Dress code is pretty strict for the crew when we're in guest areas on Royal Caribbean. On formal nights, females should be in something floor length and males should be in suits or tuxedos. I brought two floor length dresses on my first contract but this time I knew I’d be fine with just the one. You won’t be out in guest areas, especially on formal nights, as much as you might think.
Smart casual is different than what I originally expected. I thought it was more like business casual (which was drilled into my head after working in the corporate world of PR). Smart casual is much more… trendy. I wear a lot of cocktail dresses (nothing crazy so don't feel like you need to spend a ton and be super fancy) and I have one nice pair of black trousers from Loft that I wear with nice tops (a lot of which I found at Express)
Between my formal and smart casual clothes, I have six or seven outfits in my wardrobe that I can wear in guest areas and that’s more than enough.
Clothes for Exploring the Ports
A few easy-to-pack, light outfits like sundresses, shorts and tanks
It’s hot in the Caribbean (shocker, I know) which makes it easier to dress for. When going out in port, I wear a lot of sundresses (which are easy and don't take up much room) and I brought a couple tank tops and shorts. No need to go overboard in this area either (Oscar Oscar Oscar).
Clothes for the Mess and Crew Areas
Sweatpants,T-shirts, and close-toed shoes
In the messes, you can’t wear shorts or tank tops. And only close-toed shoes are allowed. I bring a couple pairs of sweatpants that act as my designated mess pants and will wear a T-shirt or my cast jacket. And a lot of people wear Toms around the ship since they’re as easy as flip flops but they cover your toes. I just wear Converse that I can slip on easily enough.
I brought one pair of jeans to wear to the crew bar if I feel like it. But other than that, what I wear out in port usually will suffice back deck. Or I go in my sweats. Or I don’t go at all. (I usually don't go at all).
Bathing Suits and Undies
A few bathing suits (one that's teeny tiny since tan lines are frowned upon) and as many undies as you can fit
I completely overpacked bathing suits on my first contract. I brought at least ten. Why? You don’t need more than five (and that’s even a lot) but we do go to the beach almost every day of the week sometimes.
As far as underwear is concerned, this is one area where I actually feel like the more, the better. You’re not always going to want to do laundry (or you won't be able to find a washer and/or dryer), and making sure you have clean underwear is obviously important. I sometimes wear three pairs a day if I worked out or did shows that day. So for me… the more the merrier!
White sneakers, flip flops, heels, flats, dance shoes
Like I mentioned earlier, you’ll need at least one pair of close-toed shoes. On Royal Caribbean, we need white shoes for drills. So I brought white Converse that I can use for my uniform but also can wear in the ports. I have Nikes for the gym too. I brought one pair of flip flops, one pair of sandals, black heels, nude heels, flats, and dance shoes. That’s more than enough.
Makeup, Hair Products, and Toiletries
Stage makeup, false lashes, wig caps, hair pins, and hairspray
Start with travel-sized toiletries and make sure you have a good moisturizer
Share hair dryers, straighteners, and curling irons with your roommate
Unfortunately at Royal Caribbean, no makeup will be provided for you (and I think that’s the way it goes on most ships). So you’ll have to bring everything you’ve got including a few pairs of lashes, a few wig caps, and anything else that makes you feel put-together before a show.
Look out for a future post about my favorite makeup products that I use for our production shows.
I usually start with travel sized toiletries to get me through the first week or two. You don’t want to bring full sizes of anything because it can quickly become very heavy. We all know that every pound counts when it comes to overweight baggage on airlines. Once settled, you’ll be able to go ashore and buy full sizes of what you need.
My eczema got really out of control last contract because of the recycled water and air so I'd suggest getting a really nice moisturizer and intense lotion (especially if you have a history of eczema) to make sure you don't have itchy bum like me.
As for things like hair dryers, straighteners, and curling irons, you'll be in rehearsals in Miami before coming to the ship. Once you figure out who you'll be rooming with on the ship, coordinate who will bring what and you can share.
Laptop, phone, and external hard drive
I have my laptop for blogging and for watching movies and TV shows, an iPad where I store my books, and an iPhone... as my phone.
I’d also suggest getting yourself an external hard drive. There’s no such thing as streaming videos on the ship so you’ll want to download your favorite shows and movies onto a separate hard drive before you come onboard. These files will take up a lot of room so it's good to have the extra storage and it’s also common to get together with friends on the ship and exchange hard drive goodies.
I also want to mention that I recently bought Bluetooth headphones and they've been life-changing on the ship. Since we go to the gym a lot, being able to move freely through your workout while listening to Beyonce is always a challenge with traditional headphones. And when I’m choreographing it makes things a whole lot better. No more worrying about my phone flying out of my pocket during some wicked dance moves.
Passport and visas, contract, medical, letter of employment, etc.
Your boss should let you know exactly what you need as far as important documents are concerned. Just know that you will need some important papers with you. Keep them in your carry-on. Because lost luggage is a thing.
Things You Shouldn't Bring
Multiple jackets and sweaters
Mel made fun of me last contract because I had a leather jacket with me. And fair enough, because why would I do that? I also brought at least three other sweaters and I just never wore them. Because again, why would I? They got sent home when my parents came to cruise. The only outerwear I have are my cast jacket and a Lululemon jacket.
More than two weeks-worth of anything
I won’t go longer than a week and a half without doing laundry. So (besides underwear) you don’t need to bring your entire wardrobe. Remember, your closet will be tiny and you will buy things throughout the contract. As dancers without a real uniform, we need a lot of different kinds of clothes. So try not to overpack because more than two-weeks worth of anything literally won't fit in your cabin.
I must’ve had ten books with me last contract. I brought some from home and bought a few abroad. But when it came time to go home, it was just extra, unnecessary weight that I had to pay for in the form of luggage fees. I love books... real books with real pages. But I’ve succumbed to downloading a lot of them onto my iPad. It just makes sense when you’re a nomad.
Ship life has taught me a lot about minimalism, especially when it comes to physical possessions. Do your best to cut back, pack lightly, and find ways to make your things more multi-use. You might be surprised at how much you can live without, and that it actually feels quite good.