Our posts may contain affiliate links.
The cruise lines would like to have us believe that this is how everyone dresses on formal night. However, if you have gone on at least one cruise on any of the larger commercial lines, you know that formal night isn’t that formal any longer. Let’s look at what people really wear on formal night!
During one of our Alaska cruises a few years ago, I decided to take a few random photos of passengers strolling the corridors of a Princess cruise ship to show what people really wear on formal night. Contrary to the line’s guidelines of evening gowns or cocktail dresses, you’ll notice there was a wide range of dress represented.
Please note that these photos were taken with absolutely zero judgment. When you are on vacation, you should dress in a way that feels appropriate to you and helps you feel confident.
So, what should you wear?
As you can see above, while cruise lines may state that they recommend cocktail dresses or a suit and tie, it doesn’t mean that they will not allow other attire. For the most part, if you dress as if you are going to a nicer restaurant for dinner, you should be allowed into the ship dining rooms.
However, each cruise line has different guidelines around dress code for formal evenings and some cruise lines have eliminated formal or gala evenings. What is acceptable on Princess may not be acceptable on Cunard.
To help you decide what you should pack for a formal night, here are links to the guidelines for different cruise lines. So you can be sure these are up-to-date, the name of the cruise line is linked to their page about dressing guidelines.
CRUISE GUIDELINES | Updated 10/2019
Formal evening wear is not expected nor required in our restaurants. If you prefer to dress more formally, you are welcome to do so.
Men: dress slacks, dress shirts, and we also suggest a sport coat; men may also wish to wear a suit and tie or tuxedo.
Women: Cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts, and blouses; ladies may also wish to wear an evening gown .
Evening Chic means that you can get glamorous and be sophisticated in your own way. If you would like to still wear a tuxedo or formal gown on Evening Chic nights, you absolutely should.
Women should feel comfortable wearing: A cocktail dress; skirt, pants or designer jeans with an elegant top.
Men should feel comfortable wearing: Pants or designer jeans with a dress shirt, button-down shirt or sweater. Optional: sport coat or blazer.
During the cruise you can dress as you wish – the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. Clothing must, however, be suited to the environment, season, destination or occasion: more elegant for gala dinners, more comfortable and informal during the day and for excursions. A jacket or a shawl is always advisable.
A Black Tie Optional evening offers our guests a celebratory opportunity to dress more formally. Women: Formal cocktail dress, evening gown, or dressy evening separates. Men: Dark suit with/without a tie, tuxedo.
Gala Nights (Women): These are the sparkling occasions with a celebratory atmosphere for which you pack your favourite evening dress, that flowing ball gown or a statement cocktail dress. Then again, you may feel more comfortable in a formal combination, such as a jacket, blouse or shirt, and trousers.
Gala Nights (Men): So from 6pm, don your dinner jacket (or tuxedo, if you prefer to call it that) – which you’re more than welcome to wear with a kilt. Many choose to finish the look with a bow tie, perhaps even a cummerbund. A dark two-piece or three-piece suit is perfectly acceptable too, whether with a regular tie or a cravat. Your choice of smart shoes will complete the look.
Optional “dress-up night”—jacket for men, dress or pantsuit for women.
Gala Nights evoke the grand traditions of cruising as guests dress to impress for special events on board, including a five-course gourmet dinner in the Dining Room. For gentlemen, collared shirt and slacks are required in all fine dining restaurants. For ladies, dressy attire is appropriate, dresses skirts and slacks are all acceptable.
Gala Dinners: We advise travellers to pack a range of clothing, from casual wear for relaxing aboard to evening wear for the Gala Dinners that feature on every MSC cruise.
We even have special “Dress-Up or Not Night.” It’s the perfect opportunity to get your portrait taken with your family, that special someone or even with the ship’s Captain.
Our newest event, Norwegian’s Night Out, is the perfect opportunity to get dressed up for an evening of cocktails, fine dining, and great entertainment. You may also want to pack an all-white ensemble for our iconic White Hot Party.
(From the Oceania blog) For those of you who feel that ties and gowns have no place on a relaxing vacation, Oceania Cruises really is “Your World. Your Way.” If the thought of changing clothes in the middle of the day does not excite you, it’s easy to wear day-to-night outfits instead. A sundress or khakis can be dressed up for dinner with evening jewelry and a nice wrap. Gentlemen often need only add a sports jacket to be ready for the Grand Dining Room.
Formal Nights: Evening gowns and cocktail dresses for women; Tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits with a tie for men.
Regent Seven Seas
Formal Optional: While guests are welcome to dress each evening as per the Elegant Casual dress code, during Formal Optional evenings, guests may opt for a more formal choice of clothing including gowns and cocktail dresses for ladies; tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suit with tie for gentlemen.
Formal Nights: Men: Tuxedo, suit or slacks and jacket required. Ladies: evening gown or other formal apparel. Dress in other dining venues is Elegant Casual.
On formal nights, guests may dine in La Terrazza and choose to dress informally; dresses or pantsuits for ladies, jackets for gentlemen (tie optional). This option also applies to Seishin and Stars on board Silver Spirit. Dining at The Grill is optional casual all nights. Please note: On 7-day sailings in the Baltic, Mediterranean, and Alaska, formal night is always optional; guests may choose to dress informal, a jacket is required for gentlemen.
There are no “formal nights” in the evening for either Viking River or Viking Ocean cruises.
The Bottom Line
Read the guidelines and make your own decision. Is it possible you won’t be allowed to enter the dining room if you aren’t following the rules? Of course. However, from my own experience on multiple Princess, Celebrity, and Holland America sailings; the guidelines are extremely flexible. And I highly recommend visiting cruise discussion boards and learn from passengers who have sailed on your line in the recent past.
Excited about formal night and not sure what to wear? Check out What to Wear on Formal Night!