Trying to decide what outfits work best for an upcoming cruise? After many years of cruising, and seeing many style trends come and go, I can attest that your cruise wardrobe comes down to just three things: Your cruise line, your itinerary and your fashion mood.
You should know that many cruise ships assign a designated evening dress code each day — casual, informal, formal — that takes effect in public rooms and restaurants from 6 pm onward. Daytime, thankfully, is always an easy-breezy casual look.
Don't think that the Fashionista Police are on the lookout for violators at every turn — you're on vacation, after all! And some ships are more rigorous about enforcing the dress guidelines than others. But nobody wants to be tapped on the shoulder by a maître d' with a gentle suggestion to slip on a more appropriate sport coat.
The "Before You Go" section, available on cruise lines' websites after you've booked your cruise, usually provides details along with fashion suggestions. Typically on a seven-night ocean cruise you can count on two formal nights, a couple of casual evenings and one or three or four semi-formal occasions. Mediterranean cruises generally prove dressier than Caribbean, Mexican Riviera or French Polynesia journeys.
For river cruises, the vibe is more casual, given that there's one lounge on board and no one is expecting you to slip on an evening gown or three-piece suit.
Remember, you can always skip out of formal nights on ocean ships by dining at one of the casual eateries on board or ordering in — a choice we've made several times in our balcony staterooms with sumptuous views of the sunset.
What ‘look’ to expect on the major cruise lines
Here's our take on how to match your Fashion IQ with the following cruise lines. We'd love to hear what your experience has been, so please weigh in below in the comments!
Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival's dress code is all about casual. You'll see T-shirts, sandals and tank tops around the ship by day, while at dinnertime you can't go wrong with slacks or jeans and a short-sleeve shirt for the guys and a nice blouse, skirt or pants and flat shoes for the women. The rule is no cut-offs or swimwear during dinner, thankfully.
Casual by day, resort chic at night. The line also has formal nights but leaves the option up to the passengers if they want to wear a tuxedo or not. Many women like to doll up a bit and some men will do the same. Almost all cruise lines that offer formal nights no longer make it mandatory to wear a tux, of course.
Casual by day, not overly dressy at night.
Stylish resort wear by day, elegant by night. Men can get away with a dark suit, though you'll spot lots of tuxedos on formal occasions.
Dress codes on Cunard tend to be a little stuffier than most.. The look is still informal in the day in public rooms and casual on deck, slightly formal at restaurants at lunch and more dressy at dinner.
Casual by day and resort casual by night.
Holland America Line
Casual by day as is the case of most ships. Evenings are smart resort wear. The line does a casual elegance theme on some nights when some guys will don a tuxedo, but more opt for a sport coat, dress shirt and dress slacks or a business suit (with and without neckties). Women are asked to wear cocktail attire, evening gowns, elegant skirts, pantsuits and blouses — but can pretty much go as they choose. Personally I like to get dressed up on those nights; it just feels good.
Casual by day, chic resort wear in evenings to dressy duds on formal nights.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Casual by day, typical cruise wear at night, maybe a little dressy at Cagney's but not overly so.
Country club casual is the theme night and day, no tuxedos ever required.
Paul Gauguin Cruises
All you need by day on Tahitian cruises are bathing suites, shorts, sarongs and jeans. By night the women often opt for chic tropical outfits (think French Riviera casual chic) while the guys slip on aloha shirts and slacks. For shore excursion or touring on your own, you'll see lots of shorts, T-shirts and even bathing suits.
At Princess, the style is casual by day, smart resort wear at night. About half the men don tuxedos on formal nights, others wear suits or jackets and ties. About half the women I’ve seen on more than three dozen cruises dressed up, while too many others donned muumuus or silly frocks. (Come on, ladies, up your game!)
Regent Seven Seas
Country club casual is what this uptown cruise line is all about. You can wear jeans, shorts and the like during the day, but no denim at night. You will feel right at home with nice slacks and shirts or blouses, cocktail dresses or pantsuits at night. Some folks do doll up but it's up to you just how dressy you want to be. I like to dress for dinner, it just feels right.
With thousands of guests on all sorts of large ships, the general rule of thumb is casual by day, a mixed bag at night, leaning more to suits than tuxedoes on formal night.
Casual chic by day, tres chic by night. More than half the men will wear tuxedos and every woman will dress to the nines either in a cocktail number or long gown.
Casual chic by day; striking and stunning at night. Lots of tuxedos and gorgeous gowns plus plenty of bling on display, especially on formal nights.
Yuppie, Gen-Xer, Armani, Gap — nary a tuxedo or suit in sight. You’re OK with Dockers, jeans, Aloha shirts, sundresses, preppie pants for men at night and linens or casual silks for women.
What has been your experience? Any different?
Updated from an earlier post.