A few weeks ago, I took my very first cruise aboard Le Lyrial, a 122-cabin ship from the France-based line Ponant. I’d never been called to cruise before, but Ponant felt different. The ships are small and elegant, with itineraries that tend toward the curious: a voyage to Antarctica, a sail up the Mediterranean (the one I took). But as a first-timer, I had no clue what to pack. What do you wear to a captain’s dinner? I wondered. And, do I still need an adaptor? Enter Ponant’s COO, Navin Sawhney, who, with 20-plus cruises behind him, knows a thing or two about packing like skipper. Here’s what I learned.

Don’t forget the umbrella: “One thing that I have regretted not packing, twice, was a small, lightweight umbrella," Navin says. "You don't need it on a ship, of course, but you go on a ship to go ashore, where it might rain! And don’t forget that it’s also a great sun shield for warmer climates.” 

…Or the bug oil: They won’t be a bother on the ship, but “for warm-weather destinations, like the coast of Central America, you should definitely bring a bug repellent for when you go ashore,” he says. Navin prefers an organic lemon eucalyptus oil, which is easy to find and “smells much better than other repellents.”

…Or the ginger: I never felt seasick, but there were a few rocky nights when I was relieved to have packed a bottle of ginger capsules, just in case. The ship can provide over-the-counter meds like Dramamine, but Navin recommends stashing a bag of Trader Joe’s ginger candy—portable and delicious.

Don’t overpack*: “Rember, you can always get your laundry done,” Navin says. (It’s true: most ships have a speedy on-board drycleaning/laundry service.) He also recommends packing a very flexible wardrobe—layers are key—comfortable walking shoes, and a light rain jacket for any cool days ashore. I definitely overpacked and regretted it. Fortunately, Ponant’s rooms have space beneath the bed to stow luggage, but I would still pack less and bring a smaller suitcase the next time around. 

Don’t worry about electronics: The ships offer the usual hairdryers, and even outlets geared toward multiple countries (though Navin still suggested bringing an adaptor for long layovers, etc.). And Ponant’s entertainment system was pretty impressive: They have all the new releases, plus local news and music to stream. 

Don’t overthink the captain’s dinner: I wasn’t quite sure how to gauge the dressiness level of the dinner, but Navin recommended smart resort casual: i.e. nothing too fussy. Maybe a dark jacket for men and a nice cocktail dress for women. I wore a black romper and gold jewelry, which felt comfortably glam. And I loved this tip: “Pack fewer clothes but twice the amount of accessories—accessories can work really well for you.” So true.

Don’t worry about the WiFi: “I like to stay off the grid when I cruise—it is a time to connect with yourself,” Navin says. Plus, on a smaller ship, you’ll have more opportunities to connect with your shipmates. “That’s one of my favorite parts about a cruise—I love to have conversations with other people, to learn where they are from, what they enjoy doing, and where they’re heading next.”

* Cruises to Antarctica are a totally different story. Most ships provide parkas and boots, plus an extensive list of warm-weather gear you’ll need to bring.

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