Cruising once was a truly formal affair, where guests packed multiple suitcases overflowing with clothing for every occasion, and dressing to the nines for dinner was a must. As cruising has evolved, most cruise lines have done away with that formality, leaving passengers to approach apparel more casually. (One-off formal nights still are popular on many cruise brands, though.)
The outlier has been Cunard Line, which still maintains more formality harkening back to the classic days of ocean travel. The Cunard dress code is a notch above what you'll find on most other big cruise ships, and, yes, it's enforced in public spaces in the evening.
Because many of us barely managed pants for video meetings during the pandemic, Cruise Critic wondered if passengers still had an appetite for gussying up. To find out, we joined a transatlantic sailing to find out more about the Cunard Queen Mary 2 dress code and what guests thought about it.
When it comes to the Cunard dress code, it's best to think about it in terms of daywear and evening wear. During the day, casual is totally fine, meaning jeans or shorts and T-shirts, athleisure-wear, swimsuits and the like are acceptable, though swimsuits can't be worn for indoor dining.
In the evening, Cunard requires "smart attire", which translates to dress shirts and trousers for men, and cocktail dressers or skirts with tops for women.
At least twice a cruise on a seven-night sailing, Cunard holds gala nights. These are formal nights requiring black-tie dress in most public spaces. (The daily program spells out which public spaces those who don't follow the dress code can visit in the evening.) Men wear suits or tuxedos, or trousers with a dinner jacket. Ties and jackets are required. Women wear gowns or formal pants suits.
Cunard does offer menswear rentals onboard, if you elect not to pack a full suit or tux.
Yes, crew do enforce Cunard's dress code. You will be turned away from venues if you aren't wearing appropriate attire.
In the main dining room, passengers do comply with the dress code. In fact, we often saw men wearing jackets, even when they weren't required, in the Britannia dining room on our Queen Mary 2 sailing.
Outside of the main dining room, guests tend to take more liberties with the dress code; we saw people in T-shirts in some lounges, and jeans were fairly common most nights. If you opt to go more casual, you might turn a few heads, as guests book Cunard in part because they like to dress up and see other people do the same.
Each gala night aboard Queen Mary 2 has a theme, and Cunard communicates that theme before sailing so you can pack appropriately. On our sailing, one theme was "red and gold" and the other was "the roaring 20s." Other theme nights might include "black and white" or "masquerade ball."
Participation was mixed on our sailing; virtually all guests dressed in formal wear, but a smaller portion wore the requisite colors or "flapper wear." The shops offered accessories for those who wanted to take part in the festivities but didn't pack them.
You won't feel like you're missing out if you don't adhere to the theme and simply wear black tie instead.
While not everyone wants to dress for dinner, guests on Cunard generally embrace the experience, looking forward to donning their very best each night. (In fact, you'll notice many people on embarkation day arrive with multiple large suitcases.)
Based on the sheer number of people we saw lined up for portraits on gala night, you can tell the formal requirements gave guests a chance to really get dolled up -- it was special.
We spoke with a few people who said they love Cunard but didn't enjoy the formalwear requirements. In the evening, they stuck with dinner either in the Kings Court Buffet or ordered in room service. On QM2, guests who didn't want to participate in the gala evening events were limited to the buffet, the Golden Lion Pub, casino, Carinthia Lounge and G32 dance club.
Updated June 13, 2022