Cruise Chat: What To Wear On Formal Night


From all of my cruises, I have found these things to be true:

  1. You don’t need as many clothes as you think you do.
  2. You will be happy bringing casual clothes for sea days.
  3. You don’t have to wear a super formal ballgown on a formal night.


When we went on our first cruise, we were under the impression that formal night meant ballgowns and tuxedos. I wore a long black dress and my husband wore a suit. Everywhere I looked, I saw glittery prom dresses,  dresses with feathers, sparkles, and deep slits up the sides. Formal equaled over the top and very fancy. Men mostly wore tuxedos.

Through the years of cruising, however, I have seen outfits like shorts and a tee shirt on a formal night to gowns suited to a red carpet affair. The truth is you should’t wear shorts and you don’t need to wear a ballgown.


So what does one wear on a formal night?

You don’t have to run out and spend hundreds of dollars on a dress!

Every cruise line has their own standards for dressing up for the dining room but from my experience of over thirty cruises, it’s important to dress up on the formal nights.  This is the night there are designated spots set up with photographers and backdrops to have portraits done too.


You will see the following in your cruise information:


Smart Casual means a dress shirt and nice pants for men, skirts/dress pants and a top for women. Think slightly dressy attire. The equivalent to dressing up for a somewhat fancy restaurant.

Formal is cocktail dresses for the females and a tuxedo or suit for men.

Casual is something other than shorts or jeans, but nothing too complicated or fancy. I would not wear a swimsuit top and cut off shorts though I have seen people wear this in the main dining room. I will wear a skirt or pants with an elegant top, I have worn nice jeans with no holes, and sandals. My husband wears a polo shirt and dress pants.


The dress code for Royal Caribbean is:


  • For formal nights, the cruise 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, Royal suggests “jeans, polos, sundresses, and blouses” but asks guests to “keep swimwear to the Pool Deck.” Shorts and tanks will be accepted for breakfast and lunch, but not in the main dining room at dinner. (source)

For formal night, I will wear a dress and heels. There are two formal nights on a seven-day cruise. You can easily wear the same dress (or suit) on the two formal nights. I typically bring two dresses, and for the other nights, I wear skirts and tops or a more casual sundress. Only on formal nights do I wear heels,

Dinner on these evenings is kicked up a notch. You will see lobster and/or prime rib, with more exotic appetizers and special desserts. Formal nights are when you know the menu is going to be amazing. There are always some special dishes this night.


The dining room is an elegant setting that offers personalized service, it will take at least one full hour to have appetizers, salad, main course and coffee/dessert and maybe even longer on a formal night.

If you want a quicker and more casual meal, there is always a buffet. On a Royal Carribean line, they have the Windjammer cafe which is open almost all day and into the evening. You can wear whatever you want here with the exception of bathing suits, bare feet, cut offs etc.

I wear dresses similar to these on formal nights:





Because I am over forty, I prefer dresses to be knee length and not clingy. I have found these dresses on I wear heels on formal nights and nice sandals, similar to these, on other evenings.

What do you wear on a formal night?

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