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The cruise lines want us to believe that this below image is how everyone dresses on formal night. However, if you have been on at least one cruise on any of the larger commercial lines, you know that formal night is no longer that formal. Let’s examine what people really wear on formal night!
A few years ago, during one of our Alaska cruises, I took a few random photos of passengers strolling the corridors of a Princess cruise ship to demonstrate what people actually wear on formal night. Despite the line’s guidelines of evening gowns or cocktail dresses, you’ll notice a wide range of attire represented.
Please note that I took these photos without passing any judgment. When you’re on vacation, you should dress in a way that feels appropriate to you and boosts your confidence. So, what should you wear?
So, what should you wear?
As shown above, while cruise lines may recommend cocktail dresses or a suit and tie, it doesn’t mean they won’t allow other clothing. In general, if you dress as if you’re going to a nice restaurant for dinner, you should be permitted into the ship’s dining rooms.
However, each cruise line has different dress code guidelines for formal evenings, and some have even eliminated formal or gala nights. What is deemed acceptable on Princess may not be acceptable on Cunard.
To assist you in deciding what to pack for a formal night, here are links to the dress code guidelines of various cruise lines. To ensure that they are up-to-date, the name of each cruise line is linked to their page about dressing guidelines.
CRUISE GUIDELINES | Updated July 2023
Azamara: No formal night | Formal evening wear is not expected nor required in our restaurants. If you prefer to dress more formally, you are welcome to do so. Please note that tuxedo rentals are not available onboard.
Carnival: Cruise Elegant | Men and boys: dress slacks, dress shirts, and sport coats (suggested); some men may even choose to wear a suit and tie or tuxedo. Women and girls: dresses (party or cocktail), pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses; some women may also wear evening gowns. Kids: Take a cue from the adult dress code, and think school dance or nice party clothes
Celebrity: Evening Chic | Each itinerary features one to two “formal” nights we call Evening Chic. Evening Chic means you dress to impress, glamorous and sophisticated in your own way, with a cocktail dress, skirt, slacks, or designer jean, an elegant dress top or blazer—some guests even pack a tuxedo or gown for onboard photos.
Costa: Gala Dinners | 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.
Crystal: Ship-wide Formal Evening | Suggestions for a Formal Evening look: Women: Cocktail dresses or gowns, Suits, Evening skirts or pants with an elegant top, Evening shoes. Men: Suits or tuxedos, Shirts, Dress shoes, Ties (optional)
Cunard: Gala Evening | At least twice on each seven-night voyage we’ll host a Gala Evening, where we do ask that you observe an elevated dress code. Again, it’s your choice whether to participate in these evenings or not. Many of our guests choose to sail with us specifically because they look forward to these events.
Disney: Optional Dress-Up Night | Optional “dress-up night”—jacket for men, dress or pantsuit for women
Holland America: Dressy Nights | On Dressy Nights we take it up a notch and recommend slacks, skirts, dresses, blouses, collared shirts and jackets.
MSC: Gala Night | On Gala Night, dress to impress! Whether that means a tuxedo, suit and tie, evening gown or cocktail dress, or perhaps it’s your very best jeans and polo shirt, your attire should fit your own level of elegance. The only thing required is your smile.
Norwegian: Norwegian’s Night Out | 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.
Oceania: No formal night | Recommended on board clothing is resort or country club casual. For evening dining, elegant casual resort wear is suggested. We request that casual jeans, shorts, t-shirts, baseball caps, sandals, or tennis shoes not be worn in the restaurants after 6 PM. Baseball caps may be worn in the Terrace Café after 6 PM.
Princess: Formal Night or Dress to Impress | For more formal settings, men should bring a dinner jacket, slacks, or a dark suit and a nice pair of shoes, while women may want to bring an evening gown, cocktail dress, or elegant pant suit. Author’s note: Princess seems to be moving away from formal night toward a “Dress to Impress” theme. Check with Princess or your TA for more info.
Regent Seven Seas: Formal Optional evenings | 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.
Seabourn: Formal night | Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn, Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Encore, Seabourn Ovation
Dining in The Restaurant. Men: Tuxedo, suit or slacks and jacket required (Tie not required.). Ladies: evening gown or other formal apparel.
Silversea: Formal night | Dresses or pantsuits for ladies, jackets for gentlemen (tie optional). This option also applies to Seishin on board Silver Spirit, Kaiseki on board Muse, Moon and Dawn. Dining at The Grill and Spaccanapoli is optional casual all nights. Following dinner, all guests are free to take advantage of any or all public spaces, however, jacket is required.
Viking: No formal night | There are no “formal nights” in the evening; evening dress is “elegant casual” for all dining venues, performances and special events. On these occasions, required attire for ladies includes a dress, skirt or slacks with a sweater or blouse; for gentlemen, trousers and a collared shirt. A tie and jacket are optional; jeans are not permitted.
Virgin: No formal night | Our most important tip is to dress in outfits that make you feel, well, you. You should be comfortable; there’s no such thing as a dress code on board, we just ask that you wear outfits that make you feel amazing.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, read the guidelines and make your own decision. Now that you’ve seen what people truly wear on formal night on a cruise, your packing list should be clearer. Is it possible that you won’t be allowed to enter the dining room if you don’t adhere to the rules? Certainly. However, based on my own experiences on multiple Princess, Celebrity, and Holland America sailings, the guidelines are highly flexible. I strongly recommend visiting cruise discussion boards and learning from passengers who have recently sailed with your chosen cruise line.
Excited about formal night and not sure what to wear? Check out What to Wear on Formal Night!