Few issues create as much confusion or contention among cruisers as what to wear to dinner -- and, more importantly, what others wear to dinner. As cruises and cruisers have become more diverse, so has dress -- both what cruise lines ask us to wear, and what we actually wear.
Just about every cruise line has a dress code of some type. (Except for the occasional nudist charter, they all at least agree that clothing is required!) But, from there on, dress codes range from those where dressing for dinner means putting on a clean T-shirt to those where any male passenger not in a tuxedo might as well be wearing nothing at all.
And for every dress code, there are those who try to bend the rules. Those who follow the dress code to the letter often complain of lax enforcement, and truth be told, many cruise lines do seem loath to turn people away, especially for minor infractions. There are plenty of stories of people in shorts and T-shirts when at least a suit and tie is supposed to be required, but lax enforcement isn't universal; at least on some ships, people do get turned away from the dining room.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to predict just how much you'll get away with on a particular night on a particular ship, or exactly what your fellow passengers will actually be wearing. Enforcement really comes down to the whim of whoever is standing at the door at that moment, and as for others' dress, it depends on the passenger mix on your particular cruise. What we can tell you is what each cruise line says you should wear.
Azamara Club Cruises
The Code: Azamara's dress code is "resort casual"; acceptable attire includes sportswear, golf shirts, shorts, pants and jackets (if desired, but not required) for men and sportswear, shorts, casual dresses, skirts and pants for women.
Number of Formal Nights: The line says "Formal evening wear is not expected nor required. If you prefer to dress more formally, you are welcome to do so," but there are no formal nights. Also, tuxedo rentals are not available onboard.
Nightly Casual Option: All restaurants are "resort casual," but Windows Cafe (the buffet option) allows for an even more relaxed option.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: No bare feet, tank tops, caps, bathing suits, shorts or jeans are allowed in the dining room or specialty restaurants. It's in writing. No jeans in the dining room or specialty restaurants, but jeans are OK in the buffet.
Carnival Cruise Line
The Code: Carnival's evening dress code is typically "cruise casual," but on one or two nights during the voyage, "cruise elegant" eveningwear is suggested. On "cruise casual" nights, the line recommends sport slacks, khakis, jeans (no cut-offs), long dress shorts and collared sport shirts for men, and casual dresses, casual skirts or pants and blouses, summer dresses, capri pants, dress shorts and jeans (no cut-offs) for women. Cruise elegant dress means dress slacks, dress shirts and sport coats (optional) for men and cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses for women. On elegant nights, passengers may choose to dress more formally in suits and ties, tuxedos or evening gowns, but that level of dress is not required.
Number of Formal Nights: There are two elegant nights per seven-night cruise, and there's one on shorter cruises.
Nightly Casual Option: For those not wanting to dress up, the Lido restaurants are open nightly and have a casual dress code.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Shorts (including gym and basketball shorts), beach flip-flops, bathing suit attire, cut-off jeans, caps and sleeveless shirts for men are the only items of clothing never permitted in the dining room during dinner.
The Code: Celebrity's website states that you'll need two types of evening clothes for a cruise. Most nights are "Smart Casual and Above," meaning sport shirts and slacks for men, while women will be comfortable in skirts or pants and blouses, or casual dresses. On "evening chic" nights, both men and women may prefer more dressy attire, though it is not required. Nor are jackets and ties required for men.
Number of Evening Chic nights: Cruises of four to six nights have one evening chic night, those of seven- to 11-night cruises have two, and those with 12 or more nights have three.
Nightly Casual Option: Casual dining is offered most nights on every cruise, depending upon the itinerary, and it's served in the International Marketplace, outdoor grill, the AquaSpa Cafe and Cafe al Bacio & Gelateria.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: T-shirts, swimsuits, robes, tank tops, caps and poolwear are not allowed in the main or specialty restaurants. Shorts and flip-flops are not allowed during evening hours. As long as jeans don't have holes, rips or tears, they are permitted in the main dining room any night of the cruise.
The Code: The atmosphere onboard is casual. Most nights are informal, with "resort wear" appropriate. A jacket or shawl, though not required, is recommended.
Number of Formal Nights: There are two gala evenings per Caribbean cruise and one or two per European sailing, depending on length. Suits for men and cocktail dresses for women are recommended.
Nightly Casual Option: For diners wishing for an even more relaxed vibe, a nightly buffet is offered.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: In restaurants, the cruise line asks passengers to not wear beach clothes (shorts, sarongs or flip-flops); shoes are required. Though Costa does not reference jeans directly in its written policy, denim is allowed in the dining room, according to a spokesperson.
The Code: Crystal has formal, informal and casual dress codes. After 6 p.m., casual daytime attire is not appropriate. Shorts and baseball caps are not permitted for men or women. Black Tie Optional evenings offer passengers the opportunity to dress formally: jackets are required for men (dark suits with ties or tuxedos are recommended), and formal cocktail dresses, evening gowns or dressy evening separates are recommended for women. Informal attire is known onboard as Crystal Casual and applies to most evenings. Requirements are collared or button-down shirts for men (sport coats optional) with dress pants or smart trousers, and blouses, sweaters, skirts, dresses or dressy slacks for women.
Number of Formal Nights: Crystal cruisers can expect one Black Tie Optional evening on seven- to 10-night sailings (based on itinerary) and two formal evenings on 11- to 13-night cruises. Check with Crystal for the numbers of formal nights on world cruises, holiday sailings or ocean crossings, as these can vary.
Nightly Casual Option: The Lido Cafe is only open for breakfast and lunch, and the casual Trident Grill closes each evening at 6 p.m. Unless passengers like to dine early, it is possible room service will be the only choice for a truly casual option (especially on formal night).
Written Restrictions and Jeans: With the exception of Tastes, jeans may not be worn in any venue or lounge, including the casino.
The Code: Cunard has formal, semiformal and elegant casual dress codes. Formal attire means black ties or formal dark suits for men and evening dresses for women. Semiformal attire includes jackets and ties for men and cocktail dresses or pantsuits for women. Elegant casual attire means jackets (no ties required) for men and dresses, skirts or trousers for women. The dress code applies throughout the public areas in the evening.
Number of Formal Nights: A typical seven-night cruise features three formal, two semiformal and two elegant casual evenings.
Nightly Casual Option: Casual clothing is permitted each evening in the Kings Court on Queen Mary 2 and in the Lido Restaurant on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Shorts and swimsuits may not be worn in the ships' main restaurants.
Disney Cruise Line
The Code: Disney has formal, semiformal, "dress-up" and casual nights; "dress-up" nights are found on three- and four-night cruises, and formal and semiformal on longer cruises. Formal requires tuxedos or suits for men and gowns or dresses for women. Semiformal entails suits or jackets for men and dresses or pantsuits for women. "Dress-up" means dress shirts for men (jackets optional) and dresses or pantsuits for women. Most cruises also include one or more theme nights, such as pirate or tropical.
The dress code applies to the main dining rooms at dinner. For Palo (specialty restaurant), dress shirts or jackets for men and dresses or pantsuits for women are appropriate, regardless of night. Remy, the other adults-only specialty restaurant (only on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy) requires pants and jackets for men (ties optional), and cocktail dresses, pantsuits or skirts with blouses for women.
Number of Formal Nights: Three- and four-night cruises each feature one "dress-up" night. A seven-night cruise features one formal and one semiformal night.
Nightly Casual Option: Disney's "cruise casual" dress code prohibits tank tops and swimwear, but all other casual wear is permitted in all family dining venues (not just quick-service locations like Goofy's Galley, Pluto's Dog House or Pinocchio's Pizzeria).
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Casual dress is unspecified, but swimwear and tank tops are prohibited in the dining room.
Holland America Line
The Code: Holland America has formal optional and smart casual evenings. The line calls its formal nights "Gala Nights" and its formal dress "Gala Attire." This attire includes collared shirts and slacks for men in all fine dining restaurants, and dresses, skirts or slacks for women. Smart casual is a slightly more laid-back version of the same dress code and applies throughout the ship in the evening.
Number of Formal Nights: There's one Gala Night per seven-day cruise, two on cruises up to 13 days and three Gala Nights on cruises up to 20 days.
Nightly Casual Option: The casual buffet option and room service are available for passengers not wishing to change out of yoga pants.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: T-shirts, swimsuits, tank tops and shorts are not allowed in the restaurants or public areas during the evening hours. Jeans are not expressly mentioned.
The Code: "Casual resort wear" is appropriate, except for formal evenings when men are required to put on suits or jackets and ties, and women cocktail dresses. In addition, passengers who would like to participate in theme nights are encouraged to dress according to a specific theme. Examples include White Night, Tropical Night or 60s/70s/80s Night.
Number of Formal Nights: There's one formal night on four- to six-night cruises, two on seven- to nine-night cruises, three on 10- to 14-night cruises and four on cruises of 15 nights or longer.
Nightly Casual Option: The standard Lido buffet (and room service) will serve passengers seeking a more low-key dining experience.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: After 6 p.m., jeans, T-shirts and shorts are not permitted in the ships' public areas. No swimwear is allowed in main dining rooms. Jeans are allowed on casual resort wear nights, as long as they aren't torn or ripped.
Norwegian Cruise Line
The Code: Norwegian has no formal dress code. Cruise casual is acceptable most of the time and includes summer and casual dresses, skirts, regular or capri pants, shorts, jeans and tops for women, and khakis, jeans, shorts and casual shirts for men. For dinner, collared shirts and pants or "nice" jeans are suggested for men, and slacks or jeans, dresses, skirts, and tops are standard for women. Suggested dress applies to dinner in all restaurants, although upscale specialty restaurants like Cagney's and Le Bistro do require passengers to dress a bit more formally. Referred to as smart casual, this includes slacks or jeans, dresses, skirts and tops for women, and jeans or slacks with collared shirts and closed-toed shoes for men.
Number of Formal Nights: There are no official formal nights, but "Norwegian's Night Out" is the line's freestyle (and optional) version of a formal night. Cruisers might also want to pack an all-white ensemble for the line's signature White Hot or Glow parties.
Nightly Casual Option: It's all casual, save for fancier specialty dining venues (specified above).
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Swimwear is fine at the buffet and outdoor restaurant -- so long as you put on a cover-up. Jeans in the main dining room and specialty restaurants are acceptable as long as they aren't overly faded, with holes or tears, or worn below the hips. Tank tops for men, flip-flops, baseball caps and visors are not permitted in the main dining room or any of the specialty restaurants.
The Code: Oceania keeps its policy simple and casual. Country club and resort-style attire are generally appropriate for both men and women. In all evening dining venues, passengers are requested to adhere to the country club casual dress code. (Think elegant casual, although some passengers choose to get dressier.) Shorts, casual jeans, t-shirts, athletic footwear and sandals are not permitted in the Grand Dining Room, Jacques, Red Ginger, Polo Grill, Toscana or Tuscan Steak.
Number of Formal Nights: None.
Nightly Casual Option: The ship maintains a more casual dress code than most upscale lines, so, theoretically, evening casual wear is appropriate throughout the ship. Dressy shorts and casual shirts are allowed in Terrace Cafe during the evening. Room service is an option for the sweatpants and T-shirt crowd.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Jeans, shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes should not be worn at dinner or in any public areas after 6 p.m. Tank tops and swimsuits are not appropriate attire for any of the onboard restaurants at any time.
Paul Gauguin Cruises
The Code: Country club casual or elegant resort wear is appropriate dress for all evenings and consists of dresses, or skirts or slacks with blouses or sweaters for women, and slacks and collared shirts for men. No ties are required at any time, although men may opt to wear jackets to the Captain's Welcome Reception.
Number of Formal Nights: There are no formal nights. However, there is a Polynesian Night once every sailing, when passengers are encouraged to wear Polynesian-style attire: tropical shirts and slacks for men and tropical dresses or shirts and slacks or skirts for women.
Nightly Casual Option: Le Grill is the most casual dinner option onboard for cruisers seeking a laidback meal.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Casual wear, such as shorts, T-shirts, casual jeans (frayed and/or with holes), baseball caps, flip-flops and Crocs are not considered appropriate after 6 p.m. in all restaurants and lounges. Bathrobes and bathing suits are not appropriate in the ship's restaurants and lounges, and shirts and shoes are required in all public areas at all times.
The Code: Princess has formal and smart casual nights. Formal attire is tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits for men and evening gowns, cocktail dresses or elegant pantsuits for women. Smart casual attire includes pants and open-neck shirts for men and skirts or dresses, slacks and sweaters for women.
Number of Formal Nights: Four- to six-night cruises have one formal evening; seven- to 13-night cruises have two; 14- to 20-night cruises have three; 21- to 28-night cruises have four; cruises of 29 nights or more have a minimum of five. Short voyages (three to six days) have a "Dress to Impress" night -- not technically a formal night, but a notch above day wear.
Nightly Casual Option: Passengers wishing to avoid the dressy evenings and still eat dinner can head to the casual buffet venue.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: In the dining room, items such as cutoff T-shirts, shorts and halter tops are not permitted; shoes must be worn at all times. Jeans are permitted as long as they aren't fraying and don't have holes.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
The Code: Attire ranges from casual to formal. Casual wear is appropriate for daytime, and it consists of resort-style attire. The dress code is almost always elegant casual after 6 p.m., with the exception of the final evening of each cruise. Skirts or slacks paired with blouses or sweaters, pantsuits or dresses are acceptable for women, and men should wear slacks and collared shirts. Sport jackets are optional. Longer cruises might have optional formal or semiformal nights; on these evenings, passengers can either wear elegant casual attire or opt for a more formal look (gowns, cocktail dresses, dark suits or tuxedos).
Number of Formal Nights: Voyages of 16 nights or longer have two or more formal or semiformal nights, but these are optional. Shorter cruises are always elegant casual. World Cruise or Grand Voyage passengers should check their cruise documents for specific dress codes.
Nightly Casual Option: All of Regent's public areas subscribe to the elegant casual dress code in the evening. If shorts and a T-shirt are a must, there's always room service.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, shorts and tennis shoes are not allowed in any public area after 6 p.m.
Royal Caribbean International
The Code: Royal Caribbean has formal, smart casual and casual nights. Formal attire includes suits and ties or tuxedos for men and cocktail dresses for women. Smart casual attire includes jackets and ties for men and dresses or pantsuits for women. Casual attire includes sport shirts and slacks for men and sundresses or pantsuits for women.
Number of Formal Nights: Three-, four- and five-night cruises have one formal night; six- to 11- and 13-night cruises have two formal nights; and 12-night, 14-night and longer cruises have three formal nights.
Nightly Casual Option: The Windjammer cafe is the laid-back evening choice -- though tank tops and caps are not allowed during dinner.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: No caps, tank tops or bathing suits are permitted in the dining room. Shorts are not allowed during dinner. "Tasteful" jeans (with no blemishes, tears or mis-sizing) are permissible, according to a Royal Caribbean spokesperson.
Seabourn Cruise Line
The Code: During the daytime, casual resort-style attire, including shorts and jeans, is welcome in all lounges and dining venues. Swimsuits, brief shorts, cover-ups and exercise attire should be reserved for poolside, on deck or in the spa and fitness center.
Seabourn has elegant casual and formal evenings. Formal attire includes tuxedos, suits or slacks (jackets required) for men and evening gowns or other formal attire for women. Elegant casual attire includes slacks with collared dress shirts or sweaters (jackets optional) for men and skirts or slacks with blouses, pantsuits or dresses for women. The evening dress code begins at 6 p.m.
Number of Formal Nights: There is one formal optional evening on cruises of up to 13 nights, two on 14- to 20-night cruises, and three for cruises of 21 nights or more.
Nightly Casual Option: The ships' buffet venues transform in the evenings into casual dining options.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Jeans are welcome in all dining venues during the day, but they're not appropriate in any public venues after 6 p.m.
The Code: Evenings rotate among casual, informal and formal dress codes. On casual nights, open-neck shirts and slacks are appropriate for men, while women wear casual dresses, blouses and skirts or pantsuits. On informal nights, dresses or trouser suits for women and jackets (ties optional) for men are recommended. Gowns or cocktail dresses for women and tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits for men are suggested for formal nights.
Number of Formal Nights: Voyages of eight nights or fewer usually feature two formal nights, while longer voyages usually have three or four.
Nightly Casual Option: On formal nights, passengers dining in La Terrazza can dress in casually elegant attire (dresses or trouser suits for women, slacks and jackets for men). For truly casual dining, the options are limited to in-room dining.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Jeans and baseball caps are never allowed in the restaurants.
The Code: Windstar suggests a "casual elegance" dress code for dinners and evenings -- slacks and collared shirts or button-downs for men and sundresses, slacks and informal cocktail dresses for women.
Number of Formal Nights: There are no formal nights.
Nightly Casual Option: While there is no requirement to wear suits and ties, Windstar cruisers tend to dress resort casual.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Shorts, jeans and T-shirts are prohibited in the Restaurant, Degrees (specialty eatery) and the public rooms during the evening.
Viking Ocean Cruises
The Code: During the day, onboard dress is casual and comfortable, including shorts, jeans, and sturdy shoes for walking tours. Swimsuits, shorts, cover-ups and exercise attire should be reserved for poolside, in the fitness center and on the sports deck. For evenings, the recommended onboard dress is "elegant casual" for most restaurants, performances or other special events. Suggested attire for women includes dresses, skirts or slacks with sweaters or blouses; for men, trousers and collared shirts are recommended. Ties and jackets are optional but not required.
Number of Formal Nights: There are no formal nights.
Nightly Casual Option: Dinner in The World Cafe remains comfortable and casual, with daytime dress deemed appropriate.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: There are no written restrictions beyond suggested attire, and jeans are considered suitable.
--Updated by Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor