Packing for a cruise is often considered to be most stressful part of the holiday but it doesn’t have to be! Each cruise line advertises different dress codes with different descriptions so it can be difficult to determine what is, and what isn’t, acceptable. Ranging from ‘resort casual’ to ‘elegant formal’ and from ‘smart casual evening’ to ‘gala night’, it’s really not surprising that so many passengers are unsure of what to pack. The important thing to remember is that despite the numerous different names and titles for these dress codes, the majority of them actually adhere to the same guidelines. The difference in the names is just the cruise line stamping their own mark on a cruise holiday. To make it easier, here is all you need to know about dressing appropriately for life at sea:
We recommend dressing comfortably during the day; the most important thing for you to think of is your comfort. This is a holiday after all and during the day, nobody is expecting you to be dressed to the nines in your tuxedo’s and evening gowns whilst the sun is soaring down across the open decks, which would be ridiculous. Casual shirts, shorts, trousers and beachwear are ideal. The only strong stipulations most cruise lines have is that when heading indoors and in particularly into dining areas, sanitation and appropriate clothing are a must. Cruise lines will ask passengers to ensure they are covered up appropriately, especially if coming from the pool areas, making sure they are fully dry.
On days when you’re docked or tendered and plan to be out and about on your feet for most of the day exploring the port, it’s important to dress comfortably. Flat shoes are a must if you anticipate doing a lot of walking! If you’re visiting a cooler region, such as Northern Europe or Alaska, we wholeheartedly recommend layers as the weather in these regions can be rather unpredictable. If you’re visiting warmer destinations in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, cool clothing, such as shorts and t-shirts, can help regulate your temperature, but be sure to wear sun cream. An exception would be when visiting some religious sites. For example, if you plan to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, you will need to cover your legs and shoulders.
Dressing for days at sea should really be determined by what you plan to do, and where you’re cruising. Appropriate swimwear is fine around the ship but as in the aforementioned intro, guests must be covered up in certain areas on board. You will see a lot of this in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, where passengers wear swim short and swimsuits most of the time for comfort and of course to try and build up a tan. Typically, dressing in smart yet comfortable clothing is recommended, especially if you plan on visiting the dining room for lunch, or sitting in one of the bars. However, if you’re heading to the gym, completing laps on the prom deck, or trying out a dance class, for example, dress appropriately for your activity.
Evening dress codes…you either love them or hate them but most passengers love them. Dress codes help set the tone for each night on board and often create a real buzz about the ship that can make a cruise holiday so special.
Smart Casual / Evening Casual / Resort Casual
The amount of these evenings throughout your cruise will depend on the cruise line you are sailing with but they are usually the most common. For a 7 night cruise, you can usually expect 4 or 5 casual nights. We understand that the word “casual” can often be very vague or even misleading for passengers, especially guests booking their first cruise. Evening Casual attire revolves around stylish leisurewear. Open neck shirts, polo’s and casual trousers for men are absolutely fine. For women, this dress code revolves around dresses or casual separates. Certain cruise lines do permit smart denim to be worn during the evening but this is always worth checking prior to departure. The only restrictions strongly in force is that passengers will not be permitted in the restaurants or certain areas of the ship after 6pm if wearing football shirts, shorts, trainers and tracksuits.
Formal Evenings / Black Tie / Gala Nights
The majority of cruise lines have these evenings and they are often the highlight of many passengers holiday. The ambiance created by such occasions creates great memories so the main thing to do is embrace it rather than worry about what to pack. Typically per week on board, there will be 2 formal evenings. These evenings provide the opportunity for women to wear glamorous evening gowns, ball gowns, cocktail dresses or even smart trouser suits whilst men have the chance to dress to impress in a dinner jacket or tuxedo. For some of you reading this, that last sentence may have just frightened the life out of you but don’t let it. There’s no need to rush out to purchase a tuxedo, a dark lounge suit will also be just fine. Passengers wishing to wear attire relevant of their formal national dress or perhaps military uniform are welcome to do so. Many cruise lines, including P&O Cruises, offer passengers the option to hire formal wear pre cruise or even when on board should you wish, a nice option to have available just in case.
Can I Opt to Wear Non-Formal Wear on Formal Nights, and Vice Versa?
YES! Regardless of the dress codes your cruise line has in place, you will not be forced into dressing in any particular way. However, do keep in mind that the concept of cruising for many passengers is built around the notion that sea travel is luxurious and elegant, so it’s important to respect the tradition. On formal nights, many cruise lines will allow entry to the main dining rooms, bars, theatres, and casinos only to those dressed appropriately after 6pm. There are, however, alternative drinking and dining options available for those who wish to dress more casually. If you wish to dress formally on casual nights, then go ahead! You may feel a bit over-dressed, but who cares! You’re on holiday, there’s no reason why you can’t look spectacular!
Do My Children Need to Adhere to the Dress Code?
If you’re taking children on board with you, don’t worry! No cruise line expects little ones to be dressed to the nines. Teenagers are expected to dress appropriately, but toddlers and babies are fine in comfortable outfits. Of course, it is nice to dress the kids up in nice outfits, but if they don’t want to wear them, don’t force them. The dress codes usually apply to 18 plus years of age.
Exceptions by Cruise Line
Cruises are becoming a much more cost effective way to travel, and are therefore becoming more accessible. Fly-cruising has also really taken off in the past few years with and more and more travelers choosing to combine air and sea travel. This presents two issues relating to cruise ship dress codes. While cruising is becoming more cost effective, formalwear is not, and airline baggage restrictions make it difficult to transport heavy tuxedos and delicate gowns. For these reasons, some cruise lines are starting to alter their dress codes to become more accommodating. Another reason for this is the realisation and understanding that not everyone is happy to adhere to specific dress codes. Many travelers may be looking to just escape and getaway, perhaps going to work in a suit everyday meaning the last thing they want is to head off on holiday to be required to dress up. The need to understand this demand has become increasingly clear and many cruise lines continue to cater for this requirement extremely well.
Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises describe their dress code as ‘resort casual’, meaning trousers, polo shirts, and nice tops. They state that ‘formal evening wear is not expected nor required in our restaurants. If you prefer to dress more formally, you are welcome to do so’.
Norwegian Cruise Line
NCL pioneered the concept of ‘freestyle cruising’ which gives more leeway with regard to what can and what cannot, be worn in the restaurants on board. It’s also a brilliantly created ambiance of complete relaxation. The cruise line states that ‘you’re pretty much welcome to wear whatever, whenever’ and they are one of the only lines that allow for swimwear to be worn in some of the more casual restaurants.
Oceania are another line that state ‘resort casual’ as their dress code, with no dedicated formal nights. All they ask is that ‘casual jeans, shorts, t-shirts or tennis shoes’ are not worn in the main dining rooms.
If dressing up isn’t your thing, and this is something that has been putting you off booking a cruise holiday, then don’t worry! Formal nights are a minority, and there are plenty of alternative drinking and dining choices if you choose not to dress formally – you could even book a voyage on one of the increasing number of cruise lines that are beginning to shun the notion of formal nights. If, however, you love any excuse to don your most spectacular garments, the concept of the formal night is still alive and well on many cruise lines!