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. And the more diverse our dress is, the more we argue about it! Just take a look at the dress code-related discussions on our message boards, but be forewarned: anything involving dress codes is likely to have its fair share of vitriol!
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. If a tuxedo is required, you'll find those who want to get by with just a suit; if all the cruise line asks it that you don't wear shorts, you can count on someone trying to wear them anyway. 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.
Once upon a time, it wasn't so complicated. On cruise ships and in first class on ocean liners, formal dress was absolutely required after 6 p.m. -- not just in the dining room, but in all the public rooms as well. Until the 1920's, men invariably wore white tie, and ladies evening gowns. When things gradually became less formal, it meant a switch in the post-war years from white tie to black.
But, with the advent of modern cruising in the 1960's, things began to change radically. New budget cruise lines appealed to a new type of passenger that didn't own formal dress. Meanwhile, major ships began designating formal and informal evenings. But it wasn't until the late 1990's and early 2000's that big cruise lines began to loosen their dress codes. Many made it apply only to the main dining room -- not the other public rooms at night -- while Norwegian Cruise Line, as part of its Freestyle Cruising initiative, was the first to make formal nights "optional." As different lines tried to find their way in this new landscape, it certainly created a huge increase in the dress codes variation, and placed shipboard staff in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with ever more violations from passengers who were confused or just didn't want to comply. ("It's my vacation and nobody is going to tell me how to dress!")
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 whomever 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 jacket (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 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 coat (suggested not required) 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 this level of dress is not required.
Number of Formal Nights: There are two elegant nights per seven-night cruise, 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, sleeveless shirts for men and caps are the only items of clothing never permitted in the dining room during dinner.
Celebrity Cruises The Code: Celebrity's Web site states that you'll need two types of evening clothes for a cruise. Most nights are "Smart Casual and Above," meaning a sport shirt and slacks for men, while women will be comfortable in a skirt or pants and blouse, or casual dress. On "Formal" nights, both men and women may prefer more dressy attire, such as an evening gown for women and a tuxedo or dress suit for men.
Number of Formal Nights: Cruises of four to six nights have one formal night; seven- to 11-night cruises have two, and 12 or more nights have three.
Nightly Casual Option: Casual dining is offered most nights on every cruise, depending upon the itinerary, and is 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 on "Smart Casual and Above" nights.
Costa Cruises The Code: Most nights are informal, with "resort wear" appropriate; jackets are not required.
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: The standard buffet option is available for diners wishing for an even more relaxed vibe.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: The cruise line suggests passengers not wear beach clothes and shoes (shorts, sarongs or flip-flops) in restaurants. Though Costa does not reference jeans directly in its written policy, denim is allowed in the dining room, according to a spokesperson.
Cruise & Maritime Voyages The Code: Cruise & Maritime Voyages has formal, informal and casual dress codes. Formal attire includes a dinner jacket or lounge suit and an evening or cocktail dress for women. Informal attire, which applies to most evenings, means a suit or smart jacket for men (tie optional) and cocktail dress, trouser suit or stylish co-ordinates for women. On casual nights, the choice of dress is left entirely to the passenger. Casual nights usually fall on evenings in port or during special events like deck parties.
Number of Formal Nights: Typically, six- to 15-night cruises have two formal nights, but with longer sailings, the number of formal nights can increase to five.
Nightly Casual Option: The buffet restaurants are open from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. for casual dining.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Shorts and swimsuits may not be worn in the ships' main restaurants. There is no specific policy addressing jeans.
Crystal Cruises The Code: Crystal has formal, informal and casual dress codes. Formal attire includes a tuxedo, dinner jacket or dark suit and tie for men and an evening dress or gown for women. Informal attire, which applies to most evenings, means a suit or jacket for men (tie optional) and cocktail dress or pantsuit for women. Casual attire includes sport shirts and slacks for men and casual dress or pantsuit for women.
Number of Formal Nights: Typically, 10- to 14-night cruises have three formal nights, but with such a wide range of sailings, the number of formal nights can be quite variable (depending on number of sea days, among other things).
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 they like to dine early, it is possible that passengers will have to rely on room service for a truly casual option (especially on formal night).
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Jeans, shorts, casual slacks, sport shirts and caps are not permitted in the dining room or specialty restaurants after 6 p.m.
Cunard Line The Code: Cunard has formal, semiformal and elegant casual dress codes. Formal attire means black tie or a formal dark suit for men and evening dress for women. Semiformal attire includes jacket and tie for men and cocktail dress or pantsuit for women. Elegant casual attire means jacket (no tie required) for men and dress, skirt 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 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" applies to three- and four-night cruises, and formal and semiformal to longer cruises. Formal means tuxedo or suit for men and gown or dress for women. Semiformal means suit or jacket for men and dress or pantsuit for women. "Dress-up" means jacket for men and dress or pantsuit for women. Most cruises 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), a dress shirt or jacket for men and dress or pantsuit for women is appropriate, regardless of night.
Number of Formal Nights: Three- and four-night cruises feature one "dress-up" night. A seven-night cruise features one formal and one semiformal night.
Nightly Casual Option: On Disney's family-friendly vessels, there is no shortage of casual options, including Goofy's Galley, Pluto's Dog House and Pinocchio's Pizzeria. So if little Tina refuses to get dressed up, the laid-back buffet will be there for her.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: Casual dress is unspecified, except that shorts, swimwear and tank tops are prohibited in the dining room.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Line The Code: From July 1, 2013, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines simplified its dress code to just two: Formal nights (tuxedos or dark suits for men, evening dresses for women) and smart casual nights (slacks and shirts with open-neck collars for men, casual dresses for women). The dress code applies to the restaurants at dinner.
Number of Formal Nights: As a guideline, there are usually three formal nights on a two-week cruise. On Caribbean cruises, the dress code usually comprises three formal nights, two themed nights (such as tropical or rock 'n' roll) and the rest smart casual nights.
Nightly Casual Option: From a Fred. Olsen spokeswoman: "Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has announced that, with effect from 1st July 2013, it will be streamlining the various dress codes for its cruise guests in the evenings across its fleet of four ships. Fred. Olsen will continue with its traditional ‘Black Tie Formal Nights', but the dress code for the remainder of the evenings on board will be simplified to ‘Smart Casual', allowing a more relaxed feel, whilst maintaining the high standards embraced and enjoyed by guests. The previous dress code of ‘Informal' is being removed."
With the new ‘Smart Casual' dress code, gentleman are at liberty to wear a jacket and tie, or equally they may prefer to opt for an open-necked shirt, with Chinos or smart, dark-coloured jeans. For ladies, the choice could be an elegant dress or casual separates.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: No swimwear is ever allowed in the dining room.
Holland America The Code: Holland America has formal and smart casual evenings. Formal dress includes a tuxedo or dark suit and tie for men, and smart casual means collared shirt and slacks for men and casual dresses or trousers and blouse for women. The dress code applies throughout the ship in the evening.
Number of Formal Nights: There are approximately two formal nights per week.
Nightly Casual Option: The casual buffet option and room service are available for passengers not wishing to get dolled up.
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.
MSC Cruises The Code: "Casual resort wear" is appropriate, except for formal evenings when men should wear a suit or jacket and tie, and women a cocktail dress.
Number of Formal Nights: There's one on four- to six-night cruises, two on seven- to 11-night cruises, three on 11- to 14-night cruises and four on cruises 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.
Norwegian Cruise Line The Code: Norwegian has no formal dress code. For dinner, collared shirts and pants or "nice" jeans are suggested for men, and slacks or jeans, dresses, skirts, and tops for women. Suggested dress applies to dinner in all restaurants.
Number of Formal Nights: There are no official formal nights. One restaurant each night is reserved for those who want to "dress up," but no dress code is specified.
Nightly Casual Option: It's all casual, save for the one restaurant that's been reserved as a spot for potentially dressing up.
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.
Oceania Cruises The Code: Oceania keeps its policy simple and casual. Recommended eveningwear is elegant casual, though some passengers choose to get dressier.
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. 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.
P&O Cruises The Code: P&O has black-tie, smart and evening casual nights. Black-tie attire includes a dinner jacket or tuxedo (or, alternatively, dark suit or kilt and jacket) for men and a ball gown, trouser suit or cocktail dress for women. Smart attire includes jacket and tie for men and anything from tailored trousers to smart separates or an elegant dress for women. Casual attire includes open-neck or polo shirts and trousers or smart jeans for men and casual separates, dresses or smart jeans for women.
Number of Formal Nights: Typical 14-night cruises average four.
Nightly Casual Option: If you're not inclined to dress up for formal evening, P&O has you covered with casual dining venues on its ships, including the buffet and deck bars.
Written Restrictions and Jeans: On casual nights, sneakers, shorts, football shirts and tracksuits are not permitted; smart jeans, as noted above, are acceptable. The evenings, the dress code applies to all restaurants and bars. In addition, swimwear is never permitted in the lounges, indoor bars, restaurants or reception area. A shirt and footwear is always required inside the ship and at the buffets.
Princess Cruises The Code: Princess has formal and smart casual nights. Formal attire is a tuxedo, dinner jacket or dark suit for men and evening gown, cocktail dress or elegant pantsuit 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.
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: The dress code is almost always elegant casual after 6 p.m. 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 may 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 nights. 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, sneakers and bathrobes 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-, 14-night cruises and longer 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: Seabourn has elegant casual and formal evenings. Formal attire includes a tuxedo, suit or slacks (jacket required) for men and evening gown or other formal attire for women. Elegant casual attire includes slacks with a collared dress shirt or sweater (jacket optional) for men and skirt or slacks with a blouse, a pant suit or dress 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 not appropriate in any public venues after 6 p.m.
Silversea Cruises 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 (tie 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.
Windstar Cruises The Code: Windstar suggests a "casual elegance" dress code for dinners and evenings -- slacks and collared shirts or polos 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 a suit and tie, 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.
--Updated by Elissa Leibowitz Poma, Cruise Critic Contributor