Decoding the Newest Dress Codes as Cruise Lines Go Ever More Casual

America–Photo by Wallace Immen

Dressing up for dinner is something that’s special about cruising. Ships are their own floating worlds and every night can be a party where people are dressed in their best.

While the glamour remains, the formality has faded on many ships, as generations who have grown up in jeans take to cruising. And with airlines charging for checked baggage and cracking down on luggage weight, there’s more incentive than ever to leave gala outfits and dancing shoes off of the packing lists.

That’s led even the staunchest upholders of the formal tradition to loosen their ties, and many lines have now declared all their evenings casual, or they define their gala evenings as some version of “elegant casual” or “formal optional.” But that still means thinking of evenings on a cruise as special events and dressing accordingly.

However, the baffling array of current dress-code euphemisms: “Smart casual” “country club”, “evening” or “resort casual” can leave even the most fashion-savvy at a loss for what to pack for non-formal nights.

The easy answer: ladies can lift up their casual look with interesting jewelry, higher heels, glittering sandals or an evening handbag and a bit of attitude. Gentlemen can never go wrong with a sports jacket or blazer over an open-collared shirt or polo. Generally speaking, save the T-shirts, shorts, and beachwear for daytime.

Here’s a guide to decoding the new cruise line dress codes: THE FORMAL SET

Crystal Serenity dining room on a Black Tie evening –Photo by Wallace Immen

Crystal Cruises
The line which in the past often featured three formal nights on two-week cruises recently relaxed its dress code: Most evenings are now Crystal Casual, which for women means a dress, or a blouse or sweater and skirt or dressy slacks. Men’s Crystal Casual attire can include a sport coat, dress shirt, button-down shirt, open-collar or collared polo shirt and dress pants or trousers. The code adds: “No tie required; no jeans please.” There are still Black Tie Optional evenings and the suggested dress for men is a tuxedo or dark suit with tie; for women, the choices are a formal cocktail dress, evening gown or dressy evening separates.

Cunard Line
The classic line remains the head of the fashion class. “The glamor of dressing to the nines is a hallmark of travelling with Cunard, and distinguishes us from the mass of cruise operators where dressing up has become a thing of the past,” says Peter Shanks, president of Cunard Line. As many as three Formal Evenings a week require “an evening or cocktail dress or smart trouser suit for ladies. A tuxedo, dinner jacket or dark suit with appropriate neckwear for men or you may wear formal national dress and military uniform.” However, in response to growing travel trends, Cunard recently adjusted its advice on dress codes for other nights: On Informal Evenings, jackets are required, but ties are optional. The sole exception is on Queen Victoria’s embarkation days in the Mediterranean, where a jacket is optional for men.

Holland America Line
The line still has formal nights but has relaxed is recommendations. Tuxedos and gowns are still welcome, but jacket and tie for men and dresses for ladies is the new norm. Other nights are Smart Casual, and the suggestion is a collared shirt and slacks for men and dresses or trousers and a blouse for women. Passengers not in the mood to get fancy on gala nights can opt for the buffet or room service.

P&O Cruises
Upholding the British black-tie tradition, P&O schedules four Gala Evenings on a two-week cruise in which ladies are encouraged to wear “glamorous evening wear including cocktail dresses, ball gowns or even smart trouser suits.” Dinner jackets or tuxedos are the norm for men, but a dark business suit or “formal national dress” are also considered appropriate. Other nights are Evening Casual, meaning resort wear such as casual separates or dresses for ladies and open-neck polo shirts and long trousers (not shorts or 3/4 length trousers) for men. A jacket can be worn but it’s not compulsory. Smart dark denim is also fine, but not trainers, football shirts or tracksuits, the line advises.

Seabourn Cruise Line
There were two formal evenings on a recent two-week cruise on Seabourn Sojourn along the coast of Norway. Even though dark suits were an option of Formal Nights for men, many still opted for tuxedos or dinner jackets. And the women had brought cocktail dresses, sequined tops and their showiest jewelry. Even evenings described as Elegant Casual were dressier—at least for men–than any dinner party I’ve seen ashore in a long time. However, most evenings are described as elegantly casual, which means men wear a jacket, with or without tie and women wear skirt or slacks with a blouse. For my recent trip, I packed a blazer and sport jacket as well as my tuxedo.

Dressed up on deck–Courtesy Silversea Cruises

Silversea Cruises
One of the most dressy cruise lines, Silversea had experimented with less formality for those dining in its casual restaurants on formal evenings. But all guests are now being asked to follow the fleet-wide traditional dress code—one formal night on eight- or nine-night sailings, two Formal Nights on sailings from 10 to 14 nights, and three on sailings of 15 nights or longer. Formal night requires evening gowns or cocktail dresses for women and tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits with ties for men. The standard for Informal Evenings is dresses or trouser suits for women and jackets with tie optional for men. On casual evenings, open-neck shirts, slacks, and sports outfits are appropriate. For Silversea Expeditions guests, casual resort wear is appropriate at all times when on board, but there are two informal evenings that for men require a jacket, with tie optional.

Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity recently changed the name of its one or two formal evenings per cruise to Evening Chic. While dressier than other evenings that are Smart Casual, it means ladies can wear cocktail dresses or skirt, pants or designer jeans with an elegant top. Gentlemen can choose to wear a suit or sport coat, but slacks or designer jeans with a dress shirt, button-down shirt or sweater are also acceptable.

Costa Cruises
Two gala Formal Nights are standard on seven-night cruises and ladies are advised to wear evening gowns or cocktail dresses and men are encouraged to wear tuxedos or dark suits with ties. All other evenings are Resort Casual, with Costa saying “gentlemen generally wear sport coats and slacks, while ladies wear resort attire.”

Disney Cruise Line
Three- and four-night cruises feature one Dress-up Night. A seven-night cruise features one Formal and one Semi-formal Night.“Dress-up” means jacket for men and dress or pantsuit for women. The semi-formal recommendation is a jacket for men and dress or pantsuit for women. Formal is the dressiest evening and can include a tuxedo for men or a gown for women, but an option is an outfit similar to semi-formal wear, dressed up with a tie for men. Other nights are Cruise Casual, with the only limits being no swimwear or tank tops.

MSC Cruises
There’s one formal Gala Night on cruises up to six days and two on cruises up to 11 nights in which men are requested to wear a suit or jacket and tie and women a cocktail dress. “Casual resort wear” applies on other evenings. There are also theme parties, for instance: “bring your finest 60s and 70s floral gear to step back in time at the Flower Glory Party and pack white clothing to join the White Party, as well as something green, white and red to celebrate in true Italian style during the MSC Little Italy entertainment.”

Royal Caribbean International
There was a great deal of confusion in the spring of 2017 when Royal Caribbean eased its dress restrictions and seemed to say shorts were acceptable for dinner on casual evenings. The line did a turnaround after guest protests and the new rules set more elegant standards. For Formal Night, usually one a week, the line recommends “suits and ties, tuxedos, cocktail dresses or evening gowns.” For Smart Casual nights, “think of this as a step up from your typical dinner wear and wear collared shirts, dresses, skirts and blouses, or pantsuits.” For Casual Nights, “jeans, polos, sundresses, and blouses” are fine, but guests are asked to “keep swimwear to the Pool Deck. Shorts and tanks will be accepted for breakfast and lunch, but not in the main dining rooms at dinner.”

Princess Cruises
You should dress for a cruise with Princess the same way you would for any stylish land-based resort, the line recommends. There’s one Formal Evening per week and men have a choice of tuxedo or dark suit; ladies a cocktail dress or gown or elegant pant suit. There are tuxedo rental shops on board the ships. For Casual Evenings, skirts, dresses, slacks, and sweaters for ladies; pants and open-neck shirts for men. “Inappropriate dinner wear such as pool or beach attire, shorts, ball caps and casual jeans (with fraying and/or holes) are not permitted in the dining rooms. Shoes must be worn.”


Fun with evening dress-up–Regent Seven Seas Voyager cruise director Ray Solaire–Photo by Wallace Immen

Azamara Club Cruises
There are no formal nights set, but “In keeping with our friendly yet sophisticated onboard environment, we encourage guests to follow a Resort Casual dress code, the line recommends. For women that means: “sportswear, casual dresses, skirts, pants and capris, blouses and knit tops. Light fabrics such as linen, cotton, silk, and wool gabardine are always appropriate.” For men:” sportswear, collared golf and polo shirts, shorts, pants, and a sport coat if desired (not required). Light fabrics such as linen, cotton, silk, and wool gabardine are best.”

Carnival Cruise Lines
It’s Cruise Casual most nights, but two nights a week are described as Cruise Elegant. Elegant attire for guys is described as sport shirts and collared polo shirts, khakis or sport slacks. For ladies, it’s cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses. You’ll find many couples get very dressy, tuxedos and gowns are not unheard of, particularly on evenings when photographers set up for portraits. For casual nights suggested wear for ladies are summer dresses, casual skirts pants, capris, dress shorts or jeans. For men sport slacks, khakis, full length jeans or Bermudas and collared shirts. Cut-offs, tee-shirts, gym shorts, baseball hats or bathing attire are not permitted.

Norwegian Cruise Line
The Freestyle cruise line is casual all the time, but still has some recommendations for what’s appropriate at dinner time in its specialty restaurants. “Dress Smart Casual in our more formal dining room or in our more upscale specialty restaurants. For women, it includes slacks or jeans, dresses, skirts and tops. For men, it’s jeans or slacks with a collared shirt and closed-toed shoes.” A new event is an optional dress up Norwegian’s Night Out. Cruisers might also want to pack an all-white ensemble for the line’s signature White Hot or Glow parties.

Oceania Cruises
Recommended on-board clothing is resort or Country Club Casual day or night. For evening dining, “elegant casual resort wear is suggested.” Passengers tend to be dressy after 6 in the evening; no jacket is required although many men wear them, sans tie, for captain’s receptions, and in the alternative restaurants. Jeans, shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes are not appropriate in the evening.

Paul Gauguin Cruises
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. There’s one Polynesian Theme night where tropical wear is encouraged.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises
There’s only one dress code every evening: Elegant Casual. On longer cruises of more than two weeks there are two Formal Optionalevenings. Men tend to wear sport jackets and collared shirts in the evening and women dresses, skirts or slacks and blouses or sweaters. You’ll want to get dressy in the alternative Chartreuse and Prime 7 restaurants.
Star Clippers. It’s all casual all the time, but the folks who book these sailing ships also like to clean up after a day of play ashore. No shorts or t-shirts is the evening dress code and it makes sense since the dining rooms are aair-conditioned Evening wardrobes tend to be long pants and collared shirts for men and sweaters or blouses for women.

Sea Dream Yacht Club
Yacht Casual is the dress code around the ship after 6, meaning no shorts or jeans. “Evening dress for gentlemen includes slacks or pants, closed-toe shoes, pressed collared shirt, jacket (if desired). For ladies, dress or skirt, blouse or casually elegant top, and pants are appropriate.”

Viking Ocean Cruises
Evening dress is “elegant casual” for all dining venues after 6:00 p.m., performances and special events. Required attire for ladies includes a dress, skirt or slacks with a sweater or blouse; for gentlemen, trousers and a collared shirt. A tie and jacket are optional. A jacket but no tie is the best option for the specialty restaurants. The World Café is casual at all times.

Windstar Cruises
The evening attire onboard Windstar is specified as Casual Elegance— with the emphasis weighted heavily on the casual. However, the line adds “please note the dinner dress code in AmphorA and Stella Bistro requests no t-shirts, shorts, jeans, hats or flip-flops.” The line suggests men pack slacks and collared shirts or polos and women sundresses, slacks or informal cocktail dresses for evenings.

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