What to Wear on a Cruise Formal Night: The Ultimate Guide

Updated

by Victoria

For many cruisers, cruise ship formal nights are the elegant highlight of their voyage. And yet, one of the most frequent questions we receive revolves around what to wear on a cruise formal night. You may be wondering what to expect from a cruise ship’s formal night, are they mandatory, and how many formal nights are there?

In general, formal night on a cruise ship require tuxedos or suits and ties for men and evening gowns or cocktail dresses for women. Don’t worry if formal night isn’t your style, it is usually optional and most cruise ships have alternative dining options.

In this post, I’ll explain everything you need to know about formal nights on a cruise, how they work, and what you will need to wear. Each cruise line is different, so I will help break down the dress code of the major cruise lines. 

What is a Formal Night on a Cruise Ship?

Formal nights are precisely what the name suggests: they are special evenings during the cruise where passengers dress up in formal attire. On formal nights, passengers dawn fresh-pressed dress shirts, glittering gowns, stunning jewelry, and polished shoes.

The main dining room will often serve lobster, duck a l’orange, prime rib, and other delicacies worth dressing up for to commemorate the special evenings.

Formal night might also be referred to as Captain’s Night, which will often have photo opportunities with the captain as well as a speech.

Formal nights are unique to the cruise industry, which may be a change for traditional resort vacationers. The tradition is reminiscent of the golden age of transatlantic cruises when guests were required to dress formally during the evening.

Can you Skip Formal Night?

You can absolutely skip formal nights. If you’re tired after a long day of cruising or you’re just not feeling in the mood to dress up, there are always alternatives for passengers, and you won’t be alone.

While the formal night is a fun night of elegant dining, photographs with the captain, and a change of pace from the rest of the cruise, you won’t be alone if you decide to skip the occasion. Rather than dine in the main dining room, you can always eat in the buffet or on your balcony via room service.

Many cruise lines don’t extend the formal dress code to their specialty dining restaurants. If you prefer to be served and want to dress comfortably, consider making a reservation. Keep in mind that many of the specialty restaurants will cost extra.

Tip: If you skip formal dining, you may be able to find lobster and prime rib served in the buffet.

Formal Night Photographs

Cruise ship formal nights are an excellent time to get professional photos taken – when else will you look this good!

Whether you are cruising to celebrate a special occasion or cruising as a family, you won’t find a better time to get your photo taken. The ship’s photographers will set up in public areas, with assorted backdrops or selected backgrounds. Scenes might include an image of the ship, black velvet, or a tropical beach. 

While you will have to pay to bring the photographs home with you, there is no charge to get your pictures taken. If you would like to try each scene or see which photographer captures you best, try them all! The final photos cost less than a professional photographer in most cities would charge, and it’s a lot of fun to be in the spotlight, if only for a moment.

Tip: Photo sessions usually have lineups on formal nights. You can generally get in quick about an hour before the first dinner service when the photographer sets up.

How Many Formal Nights are on a Cruise?

Depending on the length of your cruise, there may be one or more formal nights. Each cruise line will have different guidelines on when formal nights will occur, but they will never be held on the first or last night of a cruise due to luggage handling concerns.

Most cruise lines will have one formal night on sailings of less than six days and two formal nights on cruises of 7 days and more. Keep in mind that this is a general approximation. You should check your cruise itinerary before sailing to see how many formal nights your cruise will have. 

What is Considered Formal Wear?

Now that you know what to expect, we need to talk about what to wear on a formal cruise formal night. The formal dress code is slightly different for each cruise line. Some cruise lines are more relaxed than others, while some do not have formal nights at all. We’ve broken down the formal night requirements of the major cruise lines below. 

Carnival Cruise Line

Dress Code on Carnival Cruise Line: Carnival Cruises’ evening dress code is typically “cruise casual.” Carnival will hold Cruise Elegant evenings with special dress requirements on one or two nights of the voyage. Cruise elegant for men means dress shirt, dress pants, and the optional sport jacket, suit and tie, or tuxedo. Cocktail dresses, elegant skirts, pantsuits, and blouses are acceptable for women, and evening gowns are an option.

Number of Formal Nights on a Carnival Cruise:

  • 1 Day cruise: none
  • 2 Day to 5-day cruise: one Cruise Elegant evening
  • 6 Day or longer cruise: two Cruise Elegant evenings
  • Melbourne Cup cruise: one Cruise Elegant evening

Celebrity Cruises

Dress Code on Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Cruises’ evening dress code is typically “smart casual,” meaning sport shirts and slacks or jeans for men and skirts, pants or jeans, and a casual top for women.

On “Evening Chic” nights, the suggested attire is formalwear. Men should wear pants or designer jeans with a dress shirt, button-down shirt and the optional sport coat or blazer. Suggestions for women include a skirt, pants, cocktail dress, or designer jeans with an elegant top.

Number of Evening Chic Nights on a Celebrity Cruise:

  • Cruise length up to 6 days: one Evening Chic night
  • Cruise length of 7 or more days: two Evening Chic nights

Costa Cruises

Dress Code on Costa Cruises: Most nights aboard Costa Cruises ships are casual and allow “resort appropriate wear.”

On formal nights Costa Cruises dress code allows for a dark suit or tuxedo for men; evening gown or cocktail dress for women

Number of Formal Nights on a Costa Cruise: 

  • Most 3- and 4-night cruises have one formal night
  • Most 7-night cruises have 2 formal nights
  • Most 10-night cruises have 3 formal nights

Crystal Cruises

Dress Code on Crystal Cruises: Crystal Cruises allows casual attire on its oceangoing cruise ships during the day. After 6:00 pm, on every night, casual clothing, including robes, baseball hats, swimsuits, swimsuit cover-ups, and denim shorts, are not appropriate. Crystal Casual attire applies on most evenings, including a collard or button-down shirt paired with dress pants for men, and skirts, blouses, sweaters, and dresses for women. Jeans are also acceptable attire only on these nights.

A Black Tie Optional Evening allows passengers to dress more formally on special evenings. This includes a dark suit and tie or tuxedo for men and a formal cocktail dress or an evening gown for women. It’s requested that men wear a jacket on Black Tie evenings.

Number of Black Tie Optional evenings on a  Crystal Cruise:

  • 7-days cruises (or less): Crystal Casual only, no Black Tie Optional evenings
  • 8– to 10–day cruises: Up to one Black Tie Optional evening
  • 11– to 13–day cruises: Two Black Tie Optional evenings
  • World Cruises, Holiday voyages, and Crossings may be scheduled differently

Cunard Line

Dress Code on Cunard Line: Most nights aboard a Cunard cruise ship request “smart attire.” The dress code goes into effect from 6:00 pm onwards. On these nights, acceptable smart attire simply means a dress shirt and trousers, a skirt and a top, or a cocktail dress.

Gala Evenings aboard Cunard Line cruises are highly anticipated and often themed. When sailing with Cunard, you will find themes such as Roaring 20s, Red and Gold, Black and White, and Masquerade Ball. During Gala Evenings, guests are asked to observe a black-tie dress code. The requested attire is dinner jackets, tuxedos, formal dark suits for men, and cocktail or evening dresses for women.

Number of Gala Evenings on a Cunard Line Cruise:

  • Rule of thumb: One Gala Evening for every three days of sailing

Disney Cruise Line

Dress Code on Disney Cruise Line: Most onboard restaurants are “cruise casual,” so casual cruise attire, such as shorts and T-shirts, is allowed, except for swimwear and tank tops. Most cruises have special theme nights that provide opportunities to dress up for a one-of-a-kind family photo.

On some nights aboard a Disney cruise, the ship will hold a special themed night, including a pirate theme, dress-up night, or semi-formal night. During dress-up night, the cruise line recommends dress pants with a jacket or a suit for men and dress or pantsuit for women during dress-up night.

Number of Formal Nights on a Disney Cruise: 

  • 3-night cruises:
    • One cruise casual night
    • One pirate night themed deck party
    • One optional “dress-up night”
  • 4-night cruises:
    • The first night is cruise casual
    • One pirate night themed deck party
    • One optional dress-up night
    • The final night is cruise casual
  • 7-night cruises:
    • The first night is cruise casual
    • One pirate night or another themed deck party
    • 3 additional cruise casual nights—no swimwear or tank tops
    • One formal and one semi-formal night

Holland America Line

Dress Code on Holland America Line: Most nights aboard a Holland America cruise are “resort casual.” Guests visiting their fine dining restaurants must follow resort casual attire, including a collared shirt and pants for men (jacket and tie preferred) and dresses, shirts, or pants for women. Jeans are allowed on resort casual nights as long as they are not distressed but prohibited on Gala Night.

Gala Night is a time for passengers to dress up and experience fine dining aboard a Holland  America cruise. The formal Gala attire includes dress pants with a jacket or a suit for men and a dress or pantsuit for women

Number of Gala Nights on a Holland America Cruise: 

  • 7-day cruises or less: 1 Gala Night
  • 8 to 13-day cruises: 2 Gala Nights
  • 14 to 20-day cruises: 3 Gala Nights

MSC Cruises

What to Wear on a Cruise Formal Night

Dress Code on MSC Cruises: In general, casual wear is appropriate aboard an MSC Cruise, except for the formal “Gala evening,” which requires a suit or jacket and tie for men, and cocktail dresses for women. The public areas of the ship don’t permit shorts, t-shirts, and swimwear after 6:00 pm. Jeans are acceptable as long as they are not torn, ripped, or otherwise distressed.

Number of Gala Evenings on an MSC Cruise: 

  • 4 to 6-night cruises: 1 Gala Evening
  • 7 to 9-night cruises: 2 Gala Evenings
  • 10 to 14-night cruises: 3 Gala Evenings
  • 15+ night cruises: 4 Gala Evenings 

Norwegian Cruise Line

Dress Code on Norwegian Cruise Line: “Cruise casual” is acceptable most of the time aboard a Norwegian cruise. Cruise casual includes jeans, khakis, shorts, and casual shirts for men and summer and regular or capri pants, casual dresses, skirts, jeans, shorts, and tops for women. For dinner in one of the onboard upscale restaurants or the main dining room, collared shirts and pants or “nice” jeans for men, and pants or jeans, dresses, skirts and tops are standard for women.

Norwegian Cruise Line does not allow passengers to wear tank tops for men, baseball caps, flip-flops, or visors in the main dining room or specialty restaurants.

Number of Formal Nights on a Norwegian Cruise: 

Norwegian Cruise Line does not have an official “formal night;” however, “Norwegian’s Night Out” is the cruise line’s optional version of a ship-wide event. There is no dress code associated with “Norwegians Night Out.”

Princess Cruises

Dress Code on a Princess Cruise: Evening attire aboard Princess Cruises is typically “smart casual” which includes dresses, skirts, or trousers with a t-shirt or blouse for ladies, trousers and shirt, or polo shirt for gentlemen. Similar to many cruise lines on this list, swimwear and shorts are not allowed in the restaurant.

Formal nights on Princess cruises request an evening gown, cocktail dress or pantsuits for ladies, suit, combination, or dinner jackets for gentlemen.

Number of Formal Nights on a Princess Cruise: 

  • 5 to 6-night cruises: 1 formal evening
  • 7 to 13-night cruises: 2 formal evening
  • 14 to 20-night cruises: 3 formal evening
  • 21 to 28-night cruises: 4 formal evening
  • 29-night or more cruises: Minimum of 5 formal evening

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Dress Code on a Regent Seven Seas Cruise: Daytime attire aboard a Regent Seven Seas Cruise is typically casual and consists of resort-style clothing. After 6:00 pm, the dress code is almost always “elegant casual,” except for the final evening of each cruise, which allows passengers to dress in casual attire. Elegant casual requests passengers to wear slacks and collared shirts, blouses, sweaters, pantsuits, skirts, or dresses.

After 6:00 pm, t-shirts, jeans, tennis shoes, and shorts are not permitted in public areas of the ship, except for the pool. 

Longer cruises have optional formal or semi-formal nights where passengers can wear elegant attire or a more formal look (dark suits, tuxedos, gowns, or cocktail dresses.)

Number of Formal Nights on a Regent Seven Seas Cruise: 

  • 16 or more nights: 2 or more formal nights
  • Cruises less than 16 days are always “elegant casual”

Royal Caribbean International

Dress Code on Royal Caribbean: Most nights aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise are smart-casual, including collared shirts and slacks for men (jackets, blazers, and sports coats are recommended but optional) and skirts, dresses, and blouses or pantsuits for women.

On formal nights, formal attire includes suits and ties or tuxedos for men and cocktail dresses and evening gowns for women.

There are no tank tops, caps, or bathing suits permitted in the main dining room or specialty restaurants, and footwear is always required.

Number of Formal Nights on a Royal Caribbean Cruise: 

  • 3-5 night cruises: 1 formal night
  • 6+ night cruises: 2 formal nights

Seabourn Cruise Line

Couple at formal night on a cruise ship

Dress Code on a Seabourn Cruise: The daytime dress code for Seabourn is typically casual attire, and shorts and jeans are acceptable – even in the ship’s restaurants. However, passengers should not wear swimsuits, cover-ups, and gym wear outside the spa, fitness center, and outer decks.

Evenings are typically “elegant casual,” and recommended attire includes slacks with collared dress shirts or sweaters for men, but jackets are optional. Women should choose dresses, pantsuits or skirts or slacks with nice tops.

On formal nights, men are asked to wear a suit, tuxedo, or slacks with a jacket, while women are requested to wear a cocktail dress, evening gown, or pantsuit.

Number of Formal Nights on a Seabourn Cruise: 

  • Cruises up to 13 nights: 1 formal night
  • Cruises of 14 to 20 nights: 2 formal nights
  • Cruises of 21 nights or more: 3 formal nights

Windstar Cruises

Dress Code on a Windstar Cruises: Windstar suggests “casual elegant” attire for dinners and evenings aboard their cruise ships. Slacks and collared shirts for men and slacks, sundresses, and informal cocktail dresses for women are acceptable attire. At no time are flip-flops, shorts, jeans, hats, or T-shirts prohibited throughout the ship during the evening.

Unlike the vast majority of cruise lines, there are no formal nights on a Windstar Cruise.

Number of Formal Nights on a Windstar Cruises: 

  • There are no formal nights on a Windstar Cruise

Viking Ocean Cruises

Dress Code on a Viking Ocean Cruise: Viking’s daytime dress code is casual and comfortable. The daytime attire includes shorts and jeans, while shorts, swimsuits, cover-ups, and exercise attire should be limited to the poolside, the fitness center, and the sports deck.

For evenings, the recommended onboard attire is “elegant casual.” Suggested clothing for men includes trousers and collared shirts (ties and jackets are optional but not required). For women, acceptable attire includes dresses or a skirt or slacks with a blouses or sweater.

Number of Formal Nights on a Viking Ocean Cruise:

  • There are no formal nights on a Viking Ocean Cruise

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Victoria

I love to travel, see new places, and meet new people. I have been lucky enough to travel on multiple continents, as well as several cruise lines. I am passionate about sharing my experience with readers.

2 thoughts on “What to Wear on a Cruise Formal Night: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Cruises are expensive, but we are generally treated like royalty. We should therefore do our best to act like royalty. I like nothing less than two formal evenings per week. By formal, I mean tuxedo or black suit for men and corresponding attire for women. I fear that cruise lines are allowing dress code to deteriorate to the lowest common denominator. Even Cunard’s dress code is under attack since it has been taken over by
    Carnival.

    Reply
    • I agree that the formal nights are what I look forward to most on the cruise. I enjoy being able to dress up and be pampered. This is why I generally choose the cruise lines that offer the most formal nights, such as Cunard Cruise Line. However, for people such as my father, who would prefer to stay in his swim shorts all day everyday I’m glad there is an option for him to choose the relaxing vacation he deserves, such as what you might find with Norwegian Cruise Lines.

      Reply

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