Cruise Line Dress Codes: Do You Love Them or Hate Them?


Cruise line dress codes can be a bit of a thorny issue for cruisers. Either you love to get dressed up in the evenings and enjoy the pomp that surrounds formal dining and ballroom dancing, or you’d much rather throw on some loafers and not have to worry about getting your glad rags ironed every day.

Whatever the sartorial selections cruisers make when they’re on the water, the topic divides like a well-parted sea. With the help of some of our favourite cruise bloggers, we’ll delve deep into their water-based wardrobes to see if they prefer turning heads or they’re more dressed to chill.

But before we size up, a few bloggers got in touch to give us some last-minute dress code pointers, which might be reassuring to anyone who finds the idea of formal wear a bit too buttoned up.

cruise hiveFirstly, dress codes are entirely dependent on the cruise line, with some being more relaxed than others. Emrys from Cruise Hive offers the following tips:

“Formal nights on a cruise are a major part of the experience. The last thing you want to see is fellow guests in the dining room in flip-flops and shorts, especially when others have made such an effort to look smart.

“When on a Caribbean cruise, many travellers will often pack clothing for hot sunny weather. A part of cruising which is not usually expected is clothing needed for inside the ship. With air conditioning, it can be chilly at times so always pack a sweater and long pants too. It can also be windy on the decks, so some thicker clothing can come in useful.

“Always check the cruise line dress codes and, if going on shore excursions, you might need special clothing for that, too. Many tours will require water shoes too so make sure you plan first.”

cruising isn't just for old peopleLikewise, Emma from Cruising Isn’t Just for Old People, offered “it’s worth noting that different cruise lines will have varying degrees of dress codes. Some will simply require men to wear a shirt with a collar whereas others will require a bow tie to be worn. Some dress codes apply only in the dining room and some are ship-wide. For this reason, it is important to do your research before your cruise, it really is possible to find the perfect match for any potential cruiser.”

royal caribbean blogMatt from the Royal Caribbean blog says: “While Royal Caribbean does have dress codes, they are not nearly as complex or stringent as you might think.

In reality, Royal Caribbean’s dress codes tend to be more of a suggestion than a requirement.

“Similarly, whether it’s formal or casual dress code, it only applies to what you wear to the main dining room, and not elsewhere onboard the ship.

Other restaurants (like specialty restaurants) have their own dress code, which supersedes the main dining room dress code.

“Despite the name, formal night is not nearly as fancy as you might think. Evening wear for formal night will vary, and you will see some guests wearing tuxedoes and gowns. It is our observation that most guests tend to dress a bit less fancy than that, with men wearing suits or sports coats and women wearing cocktail dresses. Essentially, it is clothing that is a bit nicer than you might wear on other nights of the cruise.”

The case for cruise line dress codes

A lot of our bloggers loved the formal aspect that dress codes afford, especially since there’s an element of occasion to dressing up in the evening.

tips for travellersGary, from Tips for Travellers, said: “I like more formal dress codes when cruising, including jackets for dinner. Getting ready and dressed for dinner is something I really enjoy and makes the cruise different to everyday life back on land. On Cunard cruises, the ship is transformed; men walk taller and more distinguished in black tie and women swish beautifully and glowing in their fine dresses. It’s like stepping into another dimension. I love that.” For more cruise tips from Gary, head to his YouTube page here.

justin plus laurenLauren, of Justin Plus Lauren, also loved the ambience of formal nights, noting: “I enjoy the formal nights where everyone gets all dolled up, it becomes an event on some cruise ships, whether it’s a fancy dinner in the dining room, a Champagne waterfall, or attending a show. After exciting days at sea or in port, wear your fanciest cocktail dress or classiest suit. Snap a picture or two for wonderful memories of your cruise vacation where you’re looking your finest.”

Emma is also a fan of the formal dress code, as it provides the perfect photo op, saying: “Most cruise ships have professional photographers, and cruise ships make for incredible backdrops! Many people love dress codes on cruise ships because it can turn dinner from simply a way to eat, into quite an event. Dinner becomes the highlight of the evening for many.”

For Katie at Do You Cruise, meanwhile, dressed-up attire gives her the chance to do something different: “I rarely get the opportunity to really dress up, apart from when I’m on a cruise. So, it’s really nice to relax and be less formal during the day and then be able to go all out in the evenings.”

reason to cruiseLikewise, David of Reasons to Cruise enjoys the suited and booted approach for much the same reason: “I relish the opportunity to dress up in my suit for dinner on a cruise ship, as it is not something I tend to do at home (where jeans and t-shirts are usually the norm). There is something so special about seeing a ship full of smartly-dressed passengers who have all made an effort to glam up in their finery.”


The case against cruise line dress codes

The negative opinions on the other hand, ranged from mild distaste to outright hatred. For these rule-breakers, cruising is about freedom. Tucked up in the starched suits and pressed dresses isn’t cutting it for them.

cruise miss blogDanielle from Cruise Miss was split on the idea, saying: “I loathe them because I’m not a dress-up kind of girl, so formal nights always make me wear a scowl on my face. Granted I don’t have to adhere to the dress code, and usually I don’t, but there always comes a time when one must get the trusted black gown from the wardrobe and put it on. I’ll admit that sometimes, I’ll go formal if the menu in the restaurant is more interesting than unusual, but after dinner I’m right back to trousers and sandals. We do what we have to do, right?”

However, she continued: “I love them because it means I can dine (usually) in the main restaurant and not have to sit looking at someone who is wearing shorts and trainers. I say ‘usually’ because it does happen on some ships even with a dress code in place, but I’ve never actually seen it myself.” The agony of choice, eh Danielle?

Although David himself was largely positive about dress codes, even he found them a tad restrictive at times: “I have my limits. In particular, I hate being forced to don my suit for dinner after spending a busy day exploring a hot and sunny port of call. When I’m tired and sweaty, the thought of having to dress up in formalwear is enough to make me run straight towards the buffet to join all those passengers with a similar mindset!”

travel bloggerTravel blogger Emily Luxton prefers the dress down look and the freedom it affords: “I don’t like it if a dress code is imposed across a whole ship. The whole point of a holiday is to relax, and too many rules can take away from that! There needs to be at least one casual restaurant where you don’t have to get dressed up for dinner, in case you’re not in the mood. And during the day, at least by the pool for example, I don’t think any kind of dress code is necessary.”

And finally, Heather from Heather On Her Travels likes things more dialled down:

heather on her travels“I personally prefer the relaxed and casual approach to cruising and don’t want to pack too many outfits that I’ll only wear once. Although dressing up for a formal evening event can sometimes be fun, I’m often travelling light so it’s annoying to have to take a larger suitcase to accommodate the suits, evening dresses and extra shoes that may be required.” Looking for some outfit inspiration? Head over to her blog and check out her Mediterranean what-to-wear guide if you’re in need of holiday ideas.

Whatever you wear on holiday, we hope this article has got the travel bug going! Why not head over to our homepage for all the latest cruise deals and offers, or give our friendly customer care team a call on 0808 2746 777


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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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