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Cruises are a very casual way to travel. However, the formal dining room is the one place where rules most certainly apply. Trying to decipher a cruise dress code can be cryptic if you’ve never sailed before.
While guidelines can vary between cruise lines, these general rules apply. Read on to learn what to wear for casual and formal cruise dinner attire, as well as resort wear on board!
Understanding the Cruise Dress Code
Written By: Renée Olson
Packing for a cruise can be confusing and tricky. Perhaps when you learned there would be formal nights onboard, you had nightmarish flashbacks to ill-fitting prom tuxes and figure skater-style sequin dresses.
Don’t worry–being ultra-casual won’t be a hindrance on your cruise, and you can fit in with the formal dining nights with ease. While people certainly rock formal wear, my goal is to pack carryon only for the flights to and from the cruise terminals and to make sure my clothes in my travel capsule wardrobe are as versatile as possible.
Start by reading these general tips for packing for a cruise:
- 10-Step Guide to Packing for Any Trip
- What to Pack for a Cruise Vacation
- What’s in My Carry-on Bag for a 2-Week Cruise
- What to Pack on a Cruise: 7 Things to Bring and What to Leave Behind
- Understanding the Cruise Dress Code
- 10 Unexpected Things You’ll Experience on a Cruise
Yes, you’re on vacation – but the cruise dress code of “no shoes, no shirt” still applies when you aren’t by the pool. Make sure you’re dressed when shopping onboard, playing in the casino, or having lunch at the buffet.
- Bring a skirt that you can easily wear with two tops, or a peplum top to wear over a dress to maximize your dinner options.
- Bring sundresses that you can wear to dinner one night and then worn as a cover up the next day.
- Choose sandals that are elegant and can be worn from beach to dinner. Faux leather are a great choice.
- Bring one pair of heels that match everything and one clutch for dinner to avoid over packing.
- Check with your cruise line’s policy on denim in the dining room and shorts for men.
- Error on the side of “over dressed” if you’re unsure how formal your ship is.
The key to packing light is to use packing cubes to compress your clothing as shown in this video!
outfit 1 | outfit 2 | outfit 3 | outfit 4 | outfit 5 | outfit 6
On Board Attire
Tank tops, sundresses, sandals, shorts and the like are all fair game. Just make sure you have a pair of shoes and cover-up over your bikini. Bring at least two bathing suits – you won’t want to wear a suit that is still wet from yesterday’s swim!
Take a look at these stylish swimwear options for more ideas!
Cruise ships tend to have more casual nights in the dining room, but according to the cruise dress code this doesn’t mean sloppy.
Choose pretty sundresses, flowy skirts, or lightweight pants for these evenings. Sophisticated sandals are appropriate, if you’d prefer, in lieu of heels. Leave the beach flip-flops with your bathing suit.
Take a look at some of our favorite summer dresses for travel abroad!
Men should wear casual slacks, khakis and open collared shirts are perfect for these nights. Boat shoes or other loafers are the shoe of choice for most male cruisers. Flip-flops for men in the dining room generally aren’t allowed.
Although less common these days, some cruises have business casual nights as well. These nights should be one step up from casual. Add a jacket for men, heels for the ladies.
Business casual doesn’t mean office attire, but it does mean slightly nicer attire in terms of a cruise dress code. Glam up your more casual outfits with statement jewelry or a beautiful scarf.
We love Nadri fine jewelry! It takes up no room, sparkles, and dazzles an outfit!
The cruise dress code for formal or elegant attire is cocktail or black tie on these nights. Keep in mind; if you don’t feel like packing dressier clothing, you can also have dinner in the casual dining room. But we say have fun with it. How often are you able to dress up?
This is your night to shine in cocktail dresses or floor length gowns. Choose fabrics that are special and appear high end, such as silk, sequins, or chiffon. Imagine you’re going to a formal wedding and want to look your best. Avoid cotton dresses or casual pants on these evenings.
If you’re not a fan of dresses, opt for a sleek and chic pantsuit instead!
As for men, don’t leave your beautiful girl without a dashing escort! Pack your suit and tie (and don’t forget the charm).
Maxi Skirt | Off-the-Shoulder | V Neck | Cover-Up | Tunic | Sandal
With these guidelines, you’ll never be turned away from the dining room or feel out of place with other cruisers. Packing smart leads to smooth sailing on board.
How do you work your travel wardrobe around a cruise dress code? Please comment below!
For more cruise packing tips, please read:
- What to Pack for the Bahamas
- What to Pack for a Mediterranean Cruise
- What to Pack for Alaska Cruise
- What to Wear on a Cruise to the South Pacific
- Caribbean Cruise Wear Essentials
- What to Pack for a Transatlantic Cruise
Hope you liked this post on decoding a cruise dress code. Please share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Thanks for reading!
Author Bio: Renée Olson is a freelance producer who spends her free time traveling with her husband, Matt. She loves great coffee, wine, and anywhere with a sandy beach. Follow her travel adventures on her blog, Avec Amour, or on Instagram or Twitter.
We were well and truly ‘caught’ with a recent Alaska cruise on one of the prestigious cruise lines…..We had pre-booked a dinner in one of the special restaurants where you pay for that dinner, before we left home, on a specific night.We were not intending to attend any of the formal events.
Unfortunately, we were not told at any time before cruising that the night we had chosen was a ‘Formal’ night and my husband and I went to dinner in our best (casual) travelling clothes,only to be told that we would not be allowed in as my husband was not wearing a jacket!
We explained our dilemma (we were on a 10 week trip through North America & Scandinavia-no need for formal clothes!!!) and the maitre d’ thought for a moment before giving my husband a dark jacket he had handy, telling him to hang it over his arm as he walked in and out. SO gracious a solution,BUT, it would have been averted if we had been told what the formal nights were when booking our special dinner night.Full marks to the staff member (and we had a really wonderful dinner!!).
Wow that sounds horrible! You should have been told in advance especially with a super strict dress code. Always a good idea to pack a versatile dress and some costume jewelry – it’s amazing how a little sparkle goes a long way!