What to Wear on a Cruise

14 Sep 2017 | by Ian McAleavy

What to Wear On a Cruise

Updated 9/8/2019

What to wear on a cruise is one of the most commonly asked questions we get at Planet Cruise. Whether you’re a first time cruiser or a seasoned veteran of the seas maybe looking for a different experience with another cruise line, what to pack for all the different events and dress codes can be a bit of a minefield.

Some people love the sense of occasion and getting their tux out for a posh dinner, others want to don their favourite Hawaiian shirt and flip flops by the pool- or both! The dress code and level of formality on a cruise varies not only by line but also what that night’s event is and what venue you are in. Therefore, what to wear during your cruise is definitely something you should take into consideration before picking which cruise line to sail with.

We know there is a lot of information to take onboard with this and it can get a bit overwhelming as you research for the best cruise for you. This is why we’ve compiled this simple but informative guide of everyone’s favourite cruise lines so you can choose the one for you and have the perfect onboard experience- from chilled-out family fun to luxury cruises.

But first, here are some useful general tips for what to wear on a cruise…

Attention Fashion Police!

Things like socks with sandals and garish ties are totally your choice but here are the cruising fashion faux pas you have to remember whatever cruise line you sail with.

  • Never wear shorts, vests or flip flops in the dining room after 6pm.
  • Never go inside sopping wet from the pool and without a shirt or cover-up dress.
  • Dress according to the cruise destination's weather and season- even if you’re in the Caribbean, take a cardigan as it can get chilly in the evenings and the aircon could be on max.
  • Think about what to wear for days you’ll go ashore when in conservative countries like Dubai or Egypt. Remember head scarves and to cover your arms as appropriate.
  • Pack sensible, comfy shoes- you might not need hiking boots to climb Everest and you might not be in danger of slipping on a wet, rocking deck in your stilettos but something in the middle like comfy trainers or tennis shoes do the trick. At least have them packed and ready should you need them- better to have a fall back than fall over!
  • Make sure to check what theme nights will be taking place on your cruise. These events are always loads of fun and a chance to let your hair down and meet like-minded people. These could be anything from Tropical or colour themes to 80’s nights, Pirates and Cowboys or Best of British.
What to wear on a cruise

What to wear on a Cunard cruise

Cunard Cruises' Formality Rating: 5 Stars

Cunard are seen throughout the cruising world as the pinnacle of sophistication and setting the standards when it comes to traditional luxury cruising. With their famous Gala nights, Grills Suites and famed White Star service, a cruise on a Cunard ship paints pictures of grand dances in Queen Mary 2’s ballroom, penguin suits and sequined gowns.

Gala Evenings

For Cunard fans, Cunard’s formal nights are the real highlight and invite you to dress to impress. These nights typically consist of a pre-dinner drink then a glamorous multi-course meal in the main restaurant before dancing in the ballroom. You’ll be told well in advance what night is formal or not and which venues observe which dress code beforehand and if you don’t feel like it that evening, there’s always a relaxed bite in the buffet. If you do have a wardrobe issue or forgot to pack something, don’t worry- you can rent suits onboard and there is a resident seamstress for any emergencies!

On Gala nights gents should wear a tuxedo, dinner jacket or dark suit complete with waistcoat, bow or tie. If you like channelling your inner James Bond or Gatsby, you’ll love Gala Night. Meanwhile, the ladies usually don a cocktail dress or evening gown or alternatively an elegant trouser suit. Gala nights are also a great occasion to dust down your traditional national dress for the special occasion. Just bear in mind they mean formal ceremonial dress such as kilts, military uniforms or sherwanis - not flat caps!

Did you know? Ed Sheeran wasn't allowed to dine anywhere but the buffet on a Cunard Transatlantic Voyage on Queen Mary 2 as he only packed checked shirts, converse and scruffy jeans!?

Smart Attire

This is the standard dress code on a majority of evenings aboard Cunard ships. It’s substantially more relaxed in comparison to Gala Nights but still keeps the classiness and sense of occasion that make Cunard so special for many.

Typically worn after 6pm in the dining venues, cocktail bars and entertainment venues, men are expected to wear smart shoes, chinos or trousers, a shirt and blazer. For the ladies a classy jumpsuit or dress with elegant shoes is fine.

Relaxed Evenings

If you’ve had a tough day sightseeing one of the world’s most sought-after destinations, you can rest assured knowing you will still have a good time onboard a Cunard ship without making much of an effort. Some nights are assigned as ‘relaxed evenings’ but you’ll find venues such as the buffet, the Golden Lion pub and nightclub. All cruise lines ask that you don’t wear ripped jeans, sleeveless shirts, shorts or sandals.

Daytime Wear

During the day you’re free to wear what’s comfortable as long as a certain level of taste is observed. For those of you cruising the hot and humid Caribbean especially, you’ll be pleased to hear casual shorts, shirts shoes, sandals and sun hats are all welcome, as well as comfy trainers being recommended for shore excursions.

What to wear on a cruise

What to wear on a P&O cruise

P&O Cruises' Formality Rating: 3 Stars

P&O Cruises are a traditionally British cruise line, not as old-school and formal as Cunard but still catering to all tastes and occasions on their cruises. During the day P&O are very laid back but the approach designated evening attire is to be observed from 6pm.

Formal Nights

Referred to as Gala Evenings or Black Tie, P&O’s formal nights are the same as Cunard’s with classy drinks and the glamour of a sit-down dinner. However, you won’t find the dedicated ballrooms on P&O’s fleet.

On formal nights men are to wear tuxedos or dinner jackets with waistcoat, bow or tie while women can choose between smart pant suit or elegant dress. Again, guests are welcome to wear formal national or traditional costume if they wish.

Evening Casual

To get an idea of what to wear on a casual evening, the level of formality is about the same as if you were going out to celebrate a birthday or anniversary in a restaurant. Smart denim trousers, polo or buttoned shirts and tops are welcome for both genders- or a nice dress if you prefer. A smart blazer or cardigan is perfect for chilly nights too- just leave the football shirts, trainers, trackies and vests in the wardrobe!

Theme Nights and Fancy Dress

P&O’s theme nights are extremely popular a great way to let your hair down with some 70’s, 80’s, Tropical or Black and White fun. If not wanting to join in the theme, just follow that nights’ standard dress code as written in the program.

For the 70’s and 80’s nights, get your permed wig on, your flairs and neon jumpsuits- no old-school rollerblades though! For Tropical night your most horrendous Hawaiian shirt, a grass skirt and flower necklaces. Meanwhile, black and white night is actually formal with clothes the same as gala nights but with the colour-based theme making you look like a classic black and white film.

Please note though that aside from these dedicated theme nights, and special events like Halloween and Christmas, P&O do not permit fancy dress costumes such as clown outfits or novelty outfits for stag or hen parties with crass personalised messages on them. This only applies to adults though so if your child has a favourite superhero costume, go for it!

Daytime and Ashore

With P&O, cruising is destination focused and so the aim is to be comfy and sensibly dressed for the weather depending on your destination with cosy coats and rugged shoes for the Norwegian fjords, and summer dresses and shorts for the Caribbean sun. One of the most important things to bear in mind is sensible shoes whether chilling round the decks on a sea day or sightseeing ashore. The only thing to remember when talking a dip in the pool is to always wear footwear indoors and don’t go dripping everywhere in soggy trunks inside- take a towel and dry off before charging to the buffet or bar.

Did you know? P&O Cruises have both adult-only and child-friendly ships so you can pick the perfect cruise experience depending on you and your group’s needs.

What to wear on a cruise

What to wear on a Cruise and Maritime Voyages cruise

Cruise and Maritime Voyages' Formality Rating: 3 Stars

Cruise and Maritime are quite relaxed despite their cruises being child-free unless specified otherwise. Due to the medium size of their cruise ships, you don’t have quite as much choice when it comes to venues in the evenings as the behemoths of the waves other cruise lines have.

Formal

As a result, they usually host 2 formal nights every six days on average but it’s your choice exactly how much you push the boat out. You won’t have to worry about not being allowed in for dinner without putting on sequins or a dickie bow but make sure no ‘pool wear’ such as flip flops and vests find their way into the restaurants.

Country Club Casual

Cruise and Maritime aim for a country club feel during the day, meaning smart but comfy such as polo shirts, chinos and nice tops and jeans. However, the focus in the daytime onboard and ashore on comfort so just dress for the weather conditions and pack some sensible shoes.

What to wear for a Royal Caribbean cruise

Royal Caribbean Cruises' Formality Rating: 2 Stars

Like all American-style cruise lines, Royal Caribbean are more relaxed that British cruise lines with their history of tradition. If you’re looking to totally relax without raising any eyebrows but still have a sense of occasion when it suits you, this cruise line is the best option.

With Royal you can lounge by the pool and have all the fun you want in the sun during the day and stay in the same clothes in the evening and it’s fine. Alternatively, due the sheer size and array of venue option onboard, there’s always a speciality restaurant where you can get dressed up and celebrate a special occasion.

Formal

RCL usually host a formal night on the second evening once you’re all settled in and then on the 5th or 6th evening before the end of a typical cruise itinerary. Here, your standard dark suit and tie or tux with bow or cocktail dresses or evening gowns are fine but no one will raise any eyebrows if you just wear a nice buttoned shirt, dress or suit with a jacket.

Did you know? You can rent a tuxedo once onboard!

Smart Casual

The bane of everyone who receives a wedding or birthday invite and doesn’t know what to wear. Luckily, Royal Caribbean provide some guidelines to avoid this minefield, saying shirts and blazers are typical for guys and skirts, dresses and pantsuits for the ladies.

Casual

It’s your holiday so whatever you like! T-shirts, vests, tops, jeans and shirts are all good. Just remember not to go inside while soaking wet in trunks, and no sandals or vests in the restaurants for dinner with the exception of the buffet.

Theme Nights

Royal have a wide range of theme nights to enjoy such as black and white night, country and western, masquerade ball or toga parties. However, the most popular have to be the music era themes such as 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

The highlight of Royal Caribbean’s themed events are the Floating Festivals and a perfect holiday for a group of like-minded mates. These are especially dedicated cruise itineraries with the atmosphere of a music festival at sea, focussed on the themes of the either 80’s Disco or West End/Broadway show musicals. At these events you can dress up and see the live shows and other events throughout the day, such as meet and greets with your favourite stars!

What to wear on a cruise

What to wear for a Celebrity cruise

Celebrity Cruises' Formality Rating: 4 Stars

Celebrity are a more modern in their approach that most British cruise lines but more formal and sophisticated than the other American lines. This happy medium should strike a nice balance for couples who want modern life with all the trimmings with doses of glamour on their cruise holiday. Celebrity Cruises don’t go full on formal with dinner and the lounges often looking like the set of a James Bond film but they don’t have a super relaxed attitude around the pool either.

Evening Chic

Their formal nights have been revamped as ‘evening chic’, held once on short cruises and twice on ones over 6 nights. This evening Chic lies in the middle of formal and smart casual. Here they advise a cocktail dress or designer jeans and a top for women and shirt and blazer for the guys. However, if you want to tux it up, you still can and you’re sure to see a few of your fellow cruisers go for the Casino Royale look on chic nights.

Did you know? Evening Chic may be a new take on formal nights with Celebrity Cruises but you are still welcome to wear a tuxedo or ball gown if you wish.

Smart Casual

The rest of the time, as designated in the program, Celebrity recommend smart casual day or night attire with jeans, polo shirts, blouses and cardigans all being welcome. The only strict rules to follow are no t-shirts, swimming outfits, bare feet, vests or caps in the dining venues and no shorts or flip flops in the evenings.


What to wear for a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise

Norwegian Cruise Line's Formality Rating: 1 Star

NCL cruises are all about kids and families having fun thanks to their freestyle approach to cruising. Here, the focus is on relaxing and having a good time and that means feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Formal

Officially, there is none! Norwegian prefer to see this as a ‘theme night’ with their popular ‘Dress Up or Not’ evenings.

Smart Casual

Recommended when dining in the evening in the speciality dining venues or main restaurant. Labelled as ‘all decked out’, men are welcome to wear smart jeans and a collared shirt and women a nice dress or top. For kids, nice shorts are fine too. If you don’t fancy it, just head to the buffet.

Did you know? There’s no stress dressing your kids with Norwegian- shorts and a nice top are fine even for ‘formal’ occasions and venues.

Theme Nights

Norwegian don’t have a strict formal night or dress code but there is a Dress Up or Not night to give those who want a sense of occasion to get their glad rags on – or not. Meanwhile, another popular theme night is the White Hot Party where everyone is encouraged to put on whatever they have that’s white. It doesn’t really matter exactly what- so you have no excuse to draw a blank!

Rules

Of course, Norwegian Cruise lines may have a very relaxed attitude when it comes to what to wear but they do have to draw the line somewhere. When it comes to what to avoid they say no vests, shorts flip flops, caps or swimwear in the main dining venue or speciality restaurants- apart from that, it’s up to you!


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