Ask my husband, my mother, and anyone who has had to endure me whining about improper footwear or outerwear on a winter vacation in Europe - I always put form over function. I convince myself that looking cute is worth the minor inconvenience of suffering in the elements, but I think I've finally figured it out.
You've seen that I am able to pack three weeks into an underseat bag using classic tricks like tossing old socks and underwear along the way, and that using tools like packing cubes or even interchangeable shoes like SolelyJane's can drastically improve packing space. But now, let me share with you a few must-have items to enjoy a Christmas market cruise with family this year - without sacrificing cuteness or suffering in the cold.
Disclaimer - this article is written by a Floridian! If you're from a cold weather spot, be kind. It's tough trying to pack for a cold winter vacation when it's 88 degrees outside! Alright, that said - let's dive in. Practical advice for what to pack for a Christmas Market Cruise in Europe awaits.
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What To Pack For a One Week Christmas Market Cruise in Europe
Dressy boots (optional)
Sea day and evening shoes (double duty)
Packable down jacket
Waterproof jacket with hood
Blazer or sweater
Day time purse
4 Layering Tops
2 Daytime Dresses
1 Pair Blue Jeans
1 Pair Black Jeans
2 Pairs Fleece Lined Leggings
2 Dinner Blouses
2 Formal Dresses
Bathingsuit for ship
Socks and underwear
Always Pack...The Right Footwear
I want to be clear that this is THE most important thing you can pack for your trip. I have made so many mistakes in this department.
One time I went with a girlfriend to see the big New Year's events in Edinburgh, Scotland at an event called Hogmanay. It was awesome, but also downright cold and wet. I of course wanted to wear all things tartan that trip, including some cheap tartan rain boots (with a heel, oh so practical I know).
What I failed to consider was that the cold rain would fall right into my boots (they were shorties) and they got my socks soaking wet. So now I'm freezing and like a deranged animal trying to find a vendor at this festival that sells the warmest socks at the cheapest price. I was such a fool!
That said, the right footwear will make or break your Christmas market cruise vacation. Here is what I recommend:
One pair of waterproof, fur lined boots (at least around the ankle) that tie up tight around the leg. I.e., no ability for the elements to creep in like in my story above.
One pair of dressy knee length boots. These can be flat or with a heel, depending on your itinerary but they MUST be waterproof! No suede. Bonus if they have bendable leg shafts for packing.
One pair of interchangable SolelyJane's (you can pack several pairs in the space of one bundle of socks) OR
One pair of flats/heels/daytime shoes that will do double duty. This extra pair of shoes is specifically for:
Going to the dining room
Going to shows and evening entertainment
Able to go to the pool, spa or hot tub (are you really going to wear your winter boots to the pool?)
In some instances I will even pack a tossable dollar store pair of flip flops for the sea days and pool times. In the case of a Christmas cruise, I really don't anticipate wanting to be swimming much in the rougher waters and cooler temps.
On that - expect that during a winter or Christmas market cruise you will encounter rougher seas, meaning rockier days on the ship. The pool may not be open in the case of rocking waters.
This works out to 2-4 pairs of shoes, depending on how much luggage you have and how much you need to be fashionable!
Always Pack...The Right Outerwear
Like shoes, the right outerwear can make or break your trip. In the winter in Europe expect cold, wet days. Your feet will be warm and cozy, with the above tips, but your body needs to be comfortable too.
My first advice - LAYERS. I know, you hear this all the time - but I've overcompensated for cold weather before time and time again, and it is awful to be warm and cozy outdoors then head into a heated restaurant or building just dying to strip down. No one wants to take their coat off ducking into every store.
So, on that - here's what I recommend for your Christmas market cruise jacket combo:
First Layer: Long-sleeve shirts that wick or have a breathable material
Second Layer: Packable down jacket (doubles as a pillow in a pinch!)
Third Layer: Waterproof outer layer with fur or fleece lining. MUST have a hood!
These days, they even sell 3-in-1 jackets to take care of all of this!
Since we're packing for a cruise, I always pack one extra sweater or layer for dressy nights and sea days, or simply for wearing on the airplane. I like wearing blazers in the Christmas season for this purpose, like the one I got from Loft - a black blazer with leather arms. Festive, warm and cute! This blazer or sweater does not need to be part of your layering strategy, so wear whatever you like!
Always Pack...Cute and Cozy Accessories...But Not Too Many!
This is the fun part - you'll need:
1-2 warm hats that cover your ears
1-2 scarves, depending on space. This Christmas scarf is simple and perfect for this type of trip.
I recommend good old black on black on black for the outerwear and then accessorize for pops of color.
Keep in mind you can also shop for these things abroad, and they can be fun souvenirs, so packing only one of each is perfectly reasonable.
Also keep in mind that your accessories don't need to match everything. They only need to pair well together with your outerwear. The second you go inside, the scarf, hat and gloves are coming off! I used to think my outfits all needed to match my accessories, but that's what jewelry is for!
For jewelry in Christmas market season I keep it simple and follow these general rules:
Will earrings pinch me under my hat if pinned down?
No bracelets - they'll get lost with all the glove removal
No dangle earrings (unless on the cruise for dinner) - they get stuck in your scarf
A few pairs of Christmas or seasonal earrings
A few Christmas or seasonal necklaces
I also personally love to wear headbands. They pack small, so for me I'll pack a few in seasonal colors. They're great for ship wear or warmer days that don't require a hat.
Lastly, I like to bring a practical purse. Last Christmas I carried around a fuzzy olive fanny pack like this sherpa bag and it was cute and functional. Other years I have brought my wool tartan purse, or they even make cute puffer jacket style purses. Any of these are great, but just keep in mind the struggle of having a purse on with load of layers too!
Always Pack...The Right Amount of Re-wearable Tops
Don't go overboard. Consider tops that can be worn 1-3 times each. I prefer air wicking styles so I can breathe under my layers, or one or two sweatery tops. Consider tops that are longer to cover your bottom (for warmth!) or pack a couple of long sleeve daytime dresses for the occasion.
Always Pack...Warm Bottoms
I used to think that fleece-lined leggings were the way to go, but honestly - they're not. The wind rips right through them, you may as well be wearing shorts. I pack 1-2 pairs of these with a fun pattern to pair with dresses, but they are not my main item.
I also saw this cool advertisement for fleece lined leggings that look like pantyhose, and they look tremendous with winter dresses.
In addition to your tights and dresses, I pack one pair of blue and one pair of black. Both versatile, pick your thickest pairs of jeans.
Always Pack...Socks and Underwear That Have Some Gusto
This is not the time to pack your thin cut off socks or lacy netherwear. Pack for the cold.
Always Pack...Something Dressy
For a cruise, part of the fun is dressing up every night for dinner. Do this by simply packing 2 nicer dresses, one pair of dress pants, and then 2 tops dedicated for dinner. There are formal nights and casual days, so mix and match your daywear with your dress pants for easy combos.
I had to...but seriously, Always Pack Tissues. Lots of them. You can get an 8-pack of tissues at the Dollar Tree or stock up on Amazon in advance.