Family Vacation Tips

Family Vacation dress code - What should I pack?

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 7, 2012 2:30:00 PM / by Sally Black

Sally Black

OldnavyvacationfashionThe inspiration for this article comes from a recent airport encounter.  My family was stuck in line behind a very disgruntled couple with several large suitcases in tow. Actually these suitcases were more like steamer trunks. The poor man groaned very time their bags needed slide along as the line progressed.  When they reached the check in counter, the woman was "shocked and appaulled" at the amount of money it was going to cost them to check their over-sized, over weight, collection of suitcases. The husband then mistakenly asked her if she really needed the contents of one of the largest and heaviest bags. She replied, "Of course Dear, I NEED all 35 pairs of the shoes I packed".

At this point my husband, who happens to be the King of carry on, did the math and whispered to me..."If she's going away for a week, how can she possibly need to wear five different pairs of shoes for every day in the week?" Obviously this statement was coming from a man's point of view while this woman was a definitely a real fashionista. Still she rattled on hoping perhaps to gain the sympathy of the airline agent saying this was her first vacation in a number of years, that she had never traveled out of the country before or visited this resort. She confessed that she didn't know what she would need or what to pack... so she simply packed everything in her closet.

So just in case you were wondering what to pack for your family beach resort or cruise vacation, for the sake of muscle, money and the sanity of yourself and everyone behind you at airport check in, please let me clue you in. There are some  vacation dress code rules that will help you NOT to pack everything in your closets.....

Day wear - Beach wear is generally what you'll see most folks wearing during the day while in resort. Bathing suits, shorts, sundresses, T-shirts and flip flops are what you'll see both parents and kids wearing. If you're relaxing by the beach or pool you can take a break for lunch and still wear your bathing suit to the buffet to eat as long as it's dry. Service = shirt + shoes.  A casual cover-up is required which can mean a clean, dry shirt for dad and the kids. A sundress or wrap works for Mom and the girls. Bare feet are not allowed. Generally the attire is the same for family cruises. In addition, you may want to consider outfits for any day trips or excursions. Check ahead to see if there are any specific dress codes for your excursions like sneakers or long sleeve shirts.

Dinner attire - Many hotel, resort and cruise ship restaurants have dress code rules in place for the evening meal. Generally the requested attire will be listed as "Casual Elegance" which confuses many people. Casual elegance basically means you're not allowed to wear your beach or pool clothes into the restaurants at night. The restaurants are requesting that you dress up just a little. Think of how your family dresses at home when you go out for a nice meal. Think along the lines of business casual with a bit of Caribbean flair...

MEN - At night, the dress code for men is casual, long slacks like khakis or dockers. Men are required to have buttoned shirts with a collar and sleeves. This could mean a three button golf shirt or Caribbean short sleeved shirt. Leather shoes are preferred. Some restaurants will allow dress sandals (not the sandy ones you've been kicking around on the beach all day). Be aware some restaurants may not allow dress jeans or T-shirts. Other venues will allow nice Bermuda shorts or Capri pants but not all.  With a casual elegance dress code the guys  are not required to wear jackets and ties unless it is specifically stated.

WOMEN -The evening dress code isn't as specific for women. Think sundress, skirt or nice capris with pretty top or blouse.  Add some costume jewelry for a little sparkle and bling. Never take any valuable jewelry on vacation that would cause you heartbreak if it got lost or stolen. Women are allowed to wear sandals or open toed shoes but again, not the flip flops that you wore to the beach.

KIDS - Think clean, neat, comfortable and practical. Cute sportswear that they haven't worn down to the beach. Restaurants are not too particular when it comes to clothing for young children. Tweens and teens are generally preferred to dress like their adult counterparts with long pants and shoes for boys and nice, casual sports wear for girls.  If last year's clothes still fit and are in good condition, I often suggest to parents  that they pack those outfits and then leave them behind when traveling to the Caribbean or Mexico. Your outgrown clothes will be laundered and given to local needy children while leaving more room in your bags for souvenirs.  

Every family and culture has their own idea of what getting dressed up for dinner means.  You will see some families dressed in very conservative, practical clothing while the family at the very next table may be all decked out like a gypsy wedding.  This could be your one opportunity to actually see your teen ager dressed like a human being. You can blame the dress code on the Maitre d'. Bear in mind most resorts and cruise ships offer do buffets where your family can dine on three meals every day without any dress codes other than a shirt and shoes. (Just maybe don't let your teen ager know). 

Some restaurants may have a dress code in place but their staff may choose not to enforce it.  Be advised, it's much better to know the rules and pack accordingly. You may read one thing on tripadvisor only to arrive on the same day as the new restaurant manager who now intends on enforcing the dress code rules. If you are prepared then there will be NO surprises when it comes to luggage fees and you won't have to go crazy trying to shop for appropriate clothing while on vacation.

Formal attire - Many cruise ships offer "captain's night(s)" which usually means formal attire. For men this means a jacket and tie.  Many men will either pack or rent tuxedos on board. Women will wear cocktail dresses and even full length gowns. Think prom for grown ups.  Children are seen in their Sunday best. If your family has been invited to a resort destination wedding, the bride and groom may also have a requested formal dress code. Many families take these formal nights as photo-ops. Cruise lines and resorts always have professional photographers mulling about. It's a great opportunity for a family portrait or Holiday card picture.  My family just doesn't "do" formal. I can usually get my husband and son into a jacket and tie but that's about it. I'll wear black dress slacks and a sparkeling blouse. The girls like to wear their high heels and cocktail dresses. I can sometimes get them involved for one night. If there are two formal nights to our cruise we're usually eating tacos in our shorts and flip flops or ordering room service on formal night two.

Would you believe.... on our return flight the SAME couple was in line ahead of us at airport check in again.  When my husband noticed he whispered in my ear "Oh PLEASE can I ask her if she wore every pair of her 35 shoes?"  I just gave him a nudge with my elbow as I watched this woman try to balance on her 5 inch stillettos and present her passport all at the same time. No doubt you can imagine where I wanted to plant my right sneaker!

Topics: family resorts, Family Cruises

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Vacationkids.com Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.

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