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I went on four cruises and found the best way to protect Black hair on vacation

05 Dec 2023
Calista Kiper

We live in a world that has not always provided the resources or public perception for us to best care for Afro-textured hair.

Because of this inherent bias, it can be hard to begin a natural hair journey. 

Committing to your healthiest natural hair is a life-long process that takes work and requires you to find the resources you need to care for your hair wherever you are. 

As someone who has worn my hair naturally my whole life, I knew that beginning to cruise would mean its own journey of discovering how best to care for my hair.

After having been on my fourth cruise, I’ve been able to explore and experiment with what styles work best for my hair while cruising. 

I’ll start by explaining the main challenges cruising poses for natural hair and then provide the solutions I’ve discovered from my experience.

What are the challenges of caring for natural hair on a cruise?

The elements

Cruises are an amazing way to get up close and personal with nature. On ships, there are pools with water and lovely views of the ocean. 

On ports, you can experience everything, from beaches to mountain hikes to jungle adventures.

Depending on the cruises’ ports-of-call, your hair could face many different climates and elements.

At the very least, you will be exposed to wind, water, and salt—all elements that can challenge your hair-care journey.

The wind can muss up and tangle your hair. Salt is known to be damaging and drying, and you’ll want to hydrate your hair or even wash it out if exposed. And depending on your hairstyle, water can ruin the look!

Time limitations

Taking care of natural hair can be time-consuming. Afro-textured hair is beautiful but often requires a more gentle hand. 

Especially for those with longer hair and women who prefer more complex styles, caring for our natural hair can take up a lot of time.

Natural hair has a tighter, coarser curl pattern that requires more attention and careful detangling.

Moisture retention is also a concern, requiring frequent deep conditioning and moisturizer.

Although it depends on the individual experience, a wash day can take one or more hours. 

Personally, when I wear my thick, natural curls out, doing my hair can add 20-30 minutes to my morning routine.

Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of the hairstyle you choose to wear on your cruise so you don’t cut into any precious vacation time.

Packing space


In addition to taking some extra time, certain products are essential to pack along for your natural hairstyles. Daily, many people use moisturizers, edge control, and detangling tools.

On a wash day, many more products could be required.

It’s best to prevent washing your hair while on a cruise since wash day can take so much time and energy. If you do expect you’ll need one—whether you’re taking a longer cruise or expecting your hair to get dirty—it’s important to bring all your own supplies. 

The provided 3-in-1 body and hair wash on Royal Caribbean ships will only strip your hair, and a good conditioner and leave-in product are always essential for a good wash-and-go. 

To best care for your curls, select a gentle shampoo, a leave-in conditioner, and preferred styling items like gel.

Products also need to be packed securely to prevent leaks.

Satin pillowcases, bonnets, and scarves are also important to protect your hair at night.

Although hair dryers are present in ship bathrooms, you’ll also want to consider packing your own preferred methods of drying your hair, whether you prefer a diffuser, a microfiber towel, or air-drying. 

It’s important to plan ahead and pack carefully to keep your natural hair looking beautiful. However, certain hairstyles can minimize the amount of products you need to bring along.

Read more: 40 essential things to bring on a cruise

I tried different ways of wearing my hair on my four cruises

Calista boarding Wonder of the Seas

I went on my first cruise in August and learned so much from that experience. 

On that cruise, I decided to wear short, natural braids without any braiding hair added. This was a great hairstyle, as it was lightweight, short, and required very little product.

The only downside was that this style is a little less protective since it relies on my natural hair.

While I respect people who always wear their natural hair out and limit protective styles, this hasn’t worked for me on a cruise.

On my second cruise, I wore my natural hair, beginning with a braid-out and wearing it loose for the rest of the cruise.

This was tough. Wearing it out meant I still had to wake up and style my hair every morning, and even when I changed outfits.

In addition to that, my hair got wet, both in the ocean and pool, and I didn’t bring enough hair supplies to wash it while on the ship.

I had to spend two days with dry, tangled hair, keeping it in buns.

Thankfully, my second cruise was a shorter, 3-night sailing, so I could survive the few days without a wash. I just kept adding leave-in conditioner and detangling my hair daily. 

After that cruise, I learned my lesson and concluded that protective styles are the best way for me to protect my hair, save time, and prevent needing a wash day.

For my third cruise, I wore braids again, and they saved me time getting ready in the mornings. 

However, my hair again got soaking wet while I was snorkeling, causing the braids to look frizzy and old. I had to take them out as soon as I got home. 

On my fourth cruise, I once again wore long braids, and this time was careful to keep them dry. This meant that I didn’t do many involved water activities, but my hair stayed looking nice!

Based on my experience, I recommend short and simple protective styles

In the future, I think the best way to keep my hair healthy, maintainable, and looking good throughout the cruise—while still enjoying activities to the fullest—would be to wear a protective style and bring along a swim cap to prevent it from getting too wet. 

Protective styles such as braids allow you to save time, look good, and protect your hair from the elements. 

When I wear braids, I only have to pack a few items: edge control, mousse, and a couple styling tools. If they do get wet, hair dryers are already available in the staterooms. 

On my cruises, I most often see other Black people wearing braids, but there are other protective styles, too!

If you have locs, there is a built-in protective style that needs no extra work to be cruise-ready.

Crochet styles, weaves, or even sew-ins would also work. 

I personally don’t like the heavy, hot feeling of weaves and wigs—especially on tropical or beach vacation cruises. However, I have also seen other Black people wearing them on cruises, so it’s all a matter of preference!

I personally prefer braids, but also want to try other protective styles, such as Bantu knots, twists, and head wraps.

Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one hairstyle.

On my first cruise, I laughed at a friend who took out his cornrows halfway through the 7-night sailing. 

In hindsight, there’s nothing wrong with switching it up!

You could plan multiple different hairstyles, and you even have the option to get braids done at various Caribbean ports where natural hair services are offered.

Calista Kiper graduated from Wheaton College, IL, with a B.A. in English Writing. 

Growing up traveling around the world, she developed a passion for diversity and cross-cultural communication. From her first cruise on Wonder of the Seas, she has delighted in the intersection between travel, diversity, and writing in the cruising world.

Calista spends her free time reading, cooking, and researching the latest human-interest stories. 

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