Formal or Informal – Cruise Ship Attire

There are very few issues in the cruising world that create so much confusion or contention than what to wear. 


This concern not only lends itself to what to wear yourself but what others may be wearing. 


As such we hope this guide helps narrow things down for you and make planning for your cruise much easier. 


Cruises have become much more diverse over the years and as such so have the dress codes on bored. 


Every cruise line provides some sort of dress code guide, some more stringent than others but nevertheless there is always some sort of direction. 


Traditionally cruising was far more formal than in the modern day.  Although formal dress codes still apply on board many cruises, the style in which it is enforced has altered and become more relaxed over the years. 


This has often been to ensure all guests feel like they are on holiday.  After all a cruise is designed to be a luxury holiday experience not a chore and the last thing cruise lines want to do is make you feel uncomfortable or as if you are being forced into something you do not want to do. 


It is for this reason that dress code options and cruise lines themselves have become so diverse over the years, with many different options available for passengers to choose the right cruise for them.


Dress Code Formats


We’ll start with the traditional dress code formats, the formats that still remain aboard many cruise lines today. 


These are Elegant Casual, Semi-Formal and Formal. 


Even though such styles are universal throughout many cruise operators, you will still find that certain cruise lines have their own take on these specific formats.  


Cunard are one prime example of this.  Elegant Casual dress aboard Cunard is different to that aboard P&O Cruises or Royal Caribbean for example. 


Aboard Cunard Elegant Casual requires a jacket but not tie for gentlemen and a dress, skirt or trousers for women. 


On board a P&O Cruise this dress code would not require a jacket, simply a collared shirt of some form and trousers for gentlemen with the same dress code for women. 


Semi-Formal dress usually means jacket and tie for the men and cocktail dress or trouser suit for women. 


Formal attire includes black tie or a formal dark suit for men and evening dresses for women. 


These dress codes apply to the public areas on board during the evening.  There is however, an escape route should you not wish to participate in the formal dress code. 


Often cruise lines such as P&O Cruises offer the 24 hour buffet restaurant as an alternative dining venue for the evening that does not apply such strict dress codes and this can be an alternative option than wearing formal dress to attend the main dining rooms. 


It is important to note though that many of the public areas throughout the evening will still require formal dress on these evenings. 


Sound complicated so far?  We understand.  Once upon a time, it was not so difficult or complicated to plan for a cruise. 


Formal dress was simply required each and every night once the clock had past 6pm.  It was not until more recent times that the advent of modern cruising began to really take shape and therefore remould the dress codes on board. 


Different Ships, Different Requirements


Major ships began designating different evenings for formal, semi-formal and casual nights to give passengers a varied cruise and once the 2000’s arrived, cruise lines loosened dress codes a little more, making the rules only applicable to the main dining room and certain public areas rather than all areas on board. 


Norwegian Cruise Line were one of the first cruise operators to pioneer a new style of cruising, known as Freestyle Cruising.  It was this initiative that offered passengers something different and a more relaxed approach to cruising. 


The concept was all about simply doing as you please and designed to offer complete relaxation on board for a full escape from the day to day grind.  Formal evenings were made optional with the cruise line promoting the message that if you wish to dress up then great but if not, then do not worry as it is not a must on board. 


Only simple dress codes applied like no shorts or t-shirts in the main dining rooms and public areas after a certain time, other than this, that was it.  It certainly created a new landscape for the cruising world and a huge increase in the dress codes variation. 


This original movement made other cruise lines weary as to whether they should follow suit or stick with their original codes.   Passengers were a little more confused on what was ok and what wasn’t. 


It took time to settle down again but since then cruise lines have now made a clear point of ensuring all passengers are aware of the dress codes that will apply on board. 


P&O Cruises along with many other cruise lines now, advise guests prior to the sailing how many formal nights there will be on the cruise as well as when they will be and if any specific theme nights will be on board during their time. 


This has helped tremendously by allowing passengers to plan effectively for what they wish to wear.  Cruise lines now also feature guides to each individual dress code in their pre-cruise information documents to again assist guests. 


The diversity in dress codes was then applied to certain luxury cruise lines. Seabourn, Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises are three perfect examples of this. 


While still enforcing certain restrictions, especially during the evenings, these cruise lines have emphasised the importance of being able to relax and unwind on holiday. 


They provide luxury, six star experience to passengers but without the obligation of formal dress codes, something that has been extremely successful over the years. 


Cruise fashion has dramatically changed over time.  What was once a factor dictated by the cruise line, it has now become much more open to interpretation and allows passengers to have more fun with deciding what to wear. 


It may seem confusing now but the fact is it shouldn’t be.  As long as you take in the pre-cruise information that all cruise lines now provide or take advantage of the advice our cruise experts will provide at the time of booking, we can find the right cruise for what you are looking for. 


If you love the formal occasions then fear not, there still out there and waiting for you, if not then again there’s no need for concern as there are plenty of other options for you to enjoy. 


It’s all about finding the right cruise for you and ensuring that you’re comfortable and happy, able to just focus on having a great time, visiting some wonderful destinations and enjoying exquisite cuisine. 


Below we show an example guide taken from P&O Cruises to show you a cruise lines method of describing their dress codes, we hope you find this helpful. 


For more information on specific dress codes and advice on what to pack, see our FAQ pages by clicking here.


Black tie


All ships


For a typical two week cruise there are normally four black tie evenings on board. However, when it is very hot, the number may be reduced. 


Black tie nights on board are an opportunity for ladies to wear glamorous evening wear including cocktail dresses, ball gown or even a smart trouser suit. For men, a dinner jacket or tuxedo are the norm, but a dark lounge or business suit and tie can be worn as an alternative.


You can also wear formal national dress or military uniform. Attire for Black tie nights can be purchased or hired on board. Further details on hiring formal wear facility can be found by clicking here.


Appropriate attire is essential for entry to many of the ship’s bars and restaurants.

Smart -Jacket Required


Arcadia, Aurora, Adonia, Azura, Oceana and Oriana


For a typical two week cruise there are normally four Smart evenings.
Smart evenings give you the opportunity to wear a variety of stylish outfits.


On Smart evenings ladies typically wear tailored trousers and separates or even a stylish dress, while men are in a shirt and trousers with a jacket, such as a blazer or sports jacket – or a suit and tie if they wish to.


Appropriate attire is essential for entry to the ship’s bars and restaurants


Evening Casual


For a typical two week cruise on Ventura there are normally ten Evening Casual nights. On Arcadia, Aurora, Adonia, Azura, Oceana and Oriana there are normally six Evening Casual nights.


Stylish resort or leisurewear is ideal for Evening Casual nights, for example casual separates or dresses for ladies and open-neck polo shirts and casual trousers (not shorts) for men.


A jacket and smart trousers can be worn but are not compulsory. Smart dark denim is also fine, but not trainers, football shirts or tracksuits.



The dress code is applicable to all passengers of 18 years and over and we request that on Black tie or Smart evenings children wear, as a minimum, Smart Casual dress, however on these occasions dark denim is not permitted.

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