What To Wear on a Cruise Vacation (day, evening & formal night)

What to Wear on a Cruise - The Ultimate Guide

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What to Wear on a Cruise – The Ultimate Guide

Planning a cruise is so exciting! You might be wondering what to pack and what to wear on a cruise, during the day, evening and even on formal nights.

In this post, we’ll go over the basics of cruise line dress codes, as well as ideas for cruise wear for sea days, shore excursions and dinners on a cruise ship. I’ve also included cruise packing checklists to help you plan your cruise outfits.

What to Wear on a Cruise Vacation

What to Wear on a Cruise – Cruise Line Dress Codes (2021 & Beyond)

You may imagine, or even remember, the days of dressing to the nines on a cruise. The reality is, as times have changed, so have the cruise line dress codes and expectations.

My first cruise was on the Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas. Can you guess what we wore on formal night?

My husband wore a black tuxedo and I wore a floor champagne evening gown with gorgeous beading at the top.

True story – My brother got married just a month before, and these were our bride’s maid and groomsmen outfits. I was so thankful to be able to have a place to wear them again!

Yet, we weren’t out of place and certainly at that time, most men were either in a dark suit or tuxedo. Most women wore long gowns or cocktail dresses on formal nights on a cruise.

While you definitely can still wear an evening gown and tuxedo, most popular cruise lines have relaxed their dress codes over the last few years. You can still expect to dress up on a cruise, but there are more opportunities to dress less formally if you prefer this as well.

What to Wear on a Cruise Formal Night
Cruise “Evening Chic” on Celebrity Cruise

Read more: 

Norwegian Cruise Line Dress Code: What to Wear on a Freestyle Cruise

What to Wear on a Celebrity Cruise (evening chic explained)

What to Wear on a Cruise Formal Night

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click and buy that I may make a commission, at no cost to you. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

What to Wear on a Cruise Yes, dress Codes Are Changing
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Cruise Line Dress Codes – What to Expect

Each cruise line has it’s own dress code, however most have a version of casual, smart casual, and formal nights. The terminology that cruise lines are using reflect subtle changes to the dress code.

Casual

A casual dress code means includes casual pants or nice jeans for men (no holes), along with a nice shirt or polo. For ladies, capri pants, nice jeans and a cute top, or a sundress are all great. Most of the time, first and last evenings of your cruise, will be a casual dress suggestion.

Cruise tip: Most cruise lines don’t allow shorts in the dining room, so men, make sure you pack at least a pair or two of pants.

Smart Casual

Casual Cruise Wear evening

The smart casual dress code may also be called resort casual. A good guideline is to dress as you would at a nice restaurant at home. For men, this can include dress pants or khakis and a nice polo, short or long sleeve buttoned shirt. For ladies, a casual dress or pants with a pretty top is perfect. 

Cruise tip:  The ship’s air conditioning may be quite cool in the dining room. Bring a light shawl, scarf or cardigan to cover your shoulders.

Formal Night

Dressing up for formal night remains a tradition on a cruise vacation. These days, the formal night dress code may be called a gala evening, evening chic or dress your best, but it is a night where people tend to put on their best cruise attire. You’ll usually have 2 formal nights during a 7 day cruise.

How formal is formal night?

How formal is formal night on a cruise? This does depend on the cruise line. However, in most cases men can feel comfortable wearing a suit or dress pants and a dress shirt. For ladies, an evening gown, cocktail dress, pant suit or “little black dress” are all appropriate. 

Keep in mind, that if you’re not feeling like dressing up, you can always eat in more casual clothes in the buffet and most casual restaurants on the ship.

Read more: What to Wear on a Cruise Formal Night (Q & A)

Read more about specific cruise line dress codes:

Celebrity Cruises – What to Wear on Chic Night (including photos)

Norwegian Cruise Line – What to Wear on a Freestyle Cruise

What to Wear on a Cruise During the Day

What to Wear Boarding a Cruise Ship

What to Wear on a Cruise Vacation Boarding

When boarding your cruise ship, it’s a good idea to wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Cruise boarding procedures can take an hour or more.

Make sure to dress for the weather and wear warmer clothing if you’re going on a cool weather cruise. You may want to explore the cruise ship soon after you board.

On a Caribbean or other warm weather cruise, dress lightly and casually for the first day of your cruise. A light sundress or cute shorts and a top are perfect outfits for the first day of your cruise vacation. Men can wear a tshirt or polo style shirt and shorts.

If you’re cruising with kids, you can have them put a bathing suit on under their clothing. This way they can hit the pool and water slides as soon as you finish lunch on embarkation day.

It’s a good idea to bring an embarkation day bag. Here’s a list of 23 essential items to pack in your cruise carry on that will be helpful.

Cruise tip: Don’t forget to take an embarkation day photo. It will be a great memory of your amazing cruise vacation!

Cruise Day Wear for Sea Days

Cruise ship outfit
I love an easy sundress when I cruise!

Most cruise lines are quite casual during the day. In our experience, family oriented cruise lines are understandably much more “casual” than “higher-end” cruise lines. Cruise casual, resort wear or country club casual are all terms used by the cruise lines as a recommendation.

Shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, sundresses are all appropriate day wear for sea days. If you’re by the pool, it’s important to know that bathing suits are not permitted in the buffet or inside the cruise ship, so make sure to pack a cover up.

Read more: What Not to Wear on a Cruise; Rules and Guidelines

What to Wear on a Cruise day and evening
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What to Wear on Shore Excursions

Beach and Water Activities

Deciding what to wear on a cruise port day, will depend on your plans and excursions. If you’re going to the beach, you can wear a bathing suit under a light sundress or cover up. Bring some water shoes or flip flops too.

You may want to pack a change of clothing in your beach bag, along with your other beach day essentials.

Tours and Sightseeing

If you’re going on a tour or sightseeing shore excursion, there will likely be a lot of walking involved. Dress comfortably for the weather and make sure to wear comfortable shoes. A casual summer dress or shorts and a t-shirt is great.

Cruise tip: Keep in mind that if you are visiting religious buildings, such as a church or synagogue, it’s often suggested to cover your shoulders. I usually throw a very light cardigan or scarf in my handbag for these occasions.

Read more: Cruise Wear for Ladies over 40 (flattering & affordable)

What to Wear in the Evening on a Cruise

Non-formal nights

What to Wear on a Cruise Evening
Ilana’s Outfit of the Day – Smart Casual Evening

Most evenings on a cruise will be casual, smart casual or resort casual dress code. Many cruise lines now allow wearing nice jeans to the main dining room on a cruise, a change from the past.

A casual dress for ladies, or a nice pair of pants and a stylish top is perfect. A good suggestion for men is a polo style shirt and pants or a pair of dark jeans.

Related post: 50 Useful Items to Pack for your Cruise

cruise evening wear frank and Ilana
Evening Chic Night on Celebrity Summit, Bermuda Cruise

What to Wear on a Cruise Formal Night

Many first time cruisers are concerned about what to wear on formal nights on a cruise. It’s understandable, as this is quite different from a typical land vacation.

Generally, formal nights, sometimes called gala evenings or chic evenings, call for a tuxedo, suit or dress pants and a sports jacket for men. However, in our experience in recent years, this has relaxed quite a bit and tuxedos in particular are far less common. Suits and dress pants, with or without a jacket and tie, have become the norm.

For ladies, dressing in an evening gown, cocktail dress, or fancy outfit is perfect. I like to think of it as “wedding guest” attire.

Something to remember is to dress in what you enjoy. If you love the glamour of a long gown and tuxedo, go for it! If you prefer a little black dress, that works well too (plus you can wear it for years!)

Cruise tip: Check your cruise line dress code and judge accordingly, however you can also check your cruise line roll call or Facebook group to get a better idea of how people are really dressing on a cruise. In some cases, in practice, things are more or less in keeping with the dress code.

what to wear on a cruise
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Cruise Line Dress Code Exceptions to Note

There are a couple of exceptions out of the mainstream cruise lines, that fall on either end of the cruise dress code spectrum.

Norwegian Cruise Line: NCL has a Freestyle concept and therefore does not impose a dress code in it’s dining rooms (however rules of decorum* are in place). You can feel comfortable either dressing up or dressing down. Think of it as “You do you”.

Cunard: On the other end of the pendulum is Cunard, which prides itself on tradition and a more formal dining experience. Therefore, jackets are required nightly by men and it is quite common to see tuxes and gowns on Formal nights. For more information on what to expect on a Cunard Cruise, you may enjoy this post (Queen Mary 2 Cunard Cruise) that details it.

What to Wear on a Cruise
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Luxury Cruise Line Dress Codes

Luxury cruise line dress codes vary from one cruise line to the other, however it may surprise you to know that many luxury cruise lines don’t have formal nights, and instead are Country Club Casual.

Oceania and Azamara are elegant, but not formal, however Silverseas does have formal nights. Check with your cruise line for details.

Cruise Outfit Packing List for Women

What to Bring on a 7 Day Cruise

Here’s a list of clothing to bring on a 7 day warm weather cruise. Please adjust the to your personal preferences and style.

Full disclosure – I like to shop, I over-pack and I bring too many shoes. 

My own cruise outfit list is larger than this, but based on feedback in my Life Well Cruised Facebook community, I think this is a sufficient base. Adjust to your own preferences, style and luggage allowance.

what to wear on a cruise
Can anyone pack too many cute shoes? I don’t think so 😉

Cruise Clothing Packing List for Ladies

  • Shorts and t-shirts
  • 2-3 bathing suits
  • 1-2 cover ups
  • undergarments and sleepwear
  • pool flip flops
  • sundresses for day
  • gym clothes and sports shoes
  • Capri pants and/or nice jeans
  • Cute flowy tops to pair with pants or jeans
  • casual dresses
  • 1-2 fancy dresses (maybe one Little Black Dress)
  • shawl or light sweater
  • sweatshirt or sweater
  • evening bag or clutch (optional)
  • 1-2 evening dress shoes
  • 1-2 comfortable day shoes or wedges
  • Sunhat
  • Sunglasses

Related posts:

What to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise

Cruise Wear over 40: Flattering Cruise Outfits for Women 

What Shoes to Bring for a Cruise (for day, evening & shore excursions)

15 Best Beach & Tote Bags for a Cruise

15 Best Beauty Essentials to Pack for a Cruise

Cruise Outfit Packing List for Men

  • shorts and t-shirts
  • 2-3 bathing suits
  • undergarments and sleepwear
  • work-out clothes
  • 1-2 pairs jeans
  • 1-2 khakis
  • 3-4 polos
  • 1-2 buttoned shirts
  • 1 suit
  • 2 dress shirts
  • sweater or sweatshirt
  • pool shoes
  • running or walking shoes
  • dress shoes
  • casual shoes 
  • basecall cap or hat
  • sunglasses

What to wear on a cruise

What Should Children Wear on a Cruise

If you’re going on a family cruise, you might be wondering how dress codes apply to children. Generally, dress codes are quite relaxed for kids. Most cruise lines are fine with children wearing nice shorts in the dining room and restaurants for evening dinners.

That being said, it’s not uncommon for families with children to get dressed up on formal nights. It does make a great time to take family photos and have memories that will last a lifetime.

20 Cruise Packing Tips all Cruisers Need

21 Essential Things to Pack in Your Cruise Carry-On

Cruise Outfit Tips

What to Wear on a Cruise During the Day

If you’re trying to pack light for a cruise, or even carry on only, here are a few tips:

  • Rather than bringing several dresses, you can repurpose the same one or two by changing accessories from one evening to the other.
  • Scarves, belts and jewelry can make an outfit feel new again. The reality is, no one cares or even notices if you wear the same outfit more than once.
  • You can also bring one pair of white pants or dark jeans, and bring a couple stylish tops to go with them.
  • A useful tip when planning your cruise outfits of the day is to wear your tighter dresses early on and save the looser styles for the last few days. It might sound like I’m joking, but I’m not 😉
  • I personally love shoes and have to restrain myself from bringing too many. However, you can do with 3-4 pairs of shoes on a cruise and be just fine. 

Read more: How to Pack Light for a Cruise

What to Wear on a Cruise 2020
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How to Pack your Cruise Outfits

Garment Bag

If you’re bring formal wear, a garment bag (like this one on Amazon) for suits and dresses keeps things nice and neat and easy to put away when you get to your cabin.

Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are great when packing for a cruise. They’re also a helpful items to keep your cruise cabin organized.

You may also want to pack your clothing in packing cubes. The benefit to this is keeping organized, which makes unpacking so much easier, on the first day of your cruise.

I like these packing cubes, which come with a laundry bag and get 5 * reviews on Amazon.

 

Click to verify price on Amazon

Video: What to Wear on a Cruise

Recap: What to Wear on a Cruise (Day, Evening and Formal Nights)

We’ve gone over what to wear on a cruise during the day, evening and on formal nights. I hope this post has given you some ideas of what to wear on the first day of your cruise and shore excursions as well.

Whether you prefer to dress up on a cruise or be more casual, there is something for everyone. Please keep in mind that if you would rather not eat in the main dining room on formal night, you always have great casual options on a cruise.

Do you enjoy dressing up when on a cruise or do you prefer to keep it casual? Please let me know in the comments below.

Happy cruising!

Ilana xoxo

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10 Comments

  1. July 21, 2019 / 3:22 pm

    very Impressive! good job and thanks for sharing such a unique post.

    • July 22, 2019 / 11:40 pm

      Hi Kym,

      Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      Happy cruising!

      Ilana

  2. Adrian | AdriansCrazyLife.com
    September 16, 2019 / 2:43 am

    Great advice. I’m cruising to Aruba on Friday, so I’m right in the midst of packing our suitcases right now. The formal nights completely annoy me. I feel like it’s just an income opportunity for the cruise line. I do like to dress up, but trying to fit everything into one big suitcase and a carry-on is tough. I am bringing those vacuum bags to try and squeeze in everything for our ship days, our excursions, and our dress-up dinners. It’s definitely going to take some squeezing, but I am kind of glad they’ve toned down the formal nights. I’m just bringing a maxi-skirt with a nice top and we’ll probably opt-out of the second one.

    • September 16, 2019 / 1:16 pm

      Hi Adrian,

      I’m so excited for you! Love Aruba! You’re right about the packing. I’m really trying to bring less these days (but I’m an over packer).I also wear items on “formal nights” that are dressy but comfortable, and ideally pack well.

      Have a great cruise!

      Ilana

  3. October 28, 2019 / 5:48 pm

    That’s a good idea to bring some more formal clothes. I would think that would be nice to have if you are on a fancier trip. I’ll have to make sure to pack a suit and that my wife packs a nice dress if we go on a cruise.

    • October 28, 2019 / 7:14 pm

      Hi Tyler,

      If you enjoy dressing up a couple of nights, you’ll adore formal or chic nights on a cruise. It definitely feels elegant.

      Do check the cruise line dress code before you book, just to make sure that you choose a cruise ship where you’ll have this experience.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment,

      Ilana

  4. August 7, 2020 / 12:45 pm

    I do like to dress up, but trying to fit everything into one big suitcase and a carry-on is tough. I am bringing those vacuum bags to try and squeeze in everything for our ship days, our excursions, and our dress-up dinners. It’s definitely going to take some squeezing, but I am kind of glad they’ve toned down the formal nights.

    • August 9, 2020 / 10:36 pm

      I’m a little bit like you. I love that it’s just a little less formal than years ago, but dressing up makes the evenings special. Great idea to pack with vacuum packed bags!

      Love that!

      Ilana

      • Lori Riesenberg
        January 29, 2021 / 8:14 pm

        I have also found that gowns are downright odd on Princess formal nights now. There are always a few of us that wear them, but to-the-floor is gawked at. Not that I mind. And, Club Class Dining people seem to dress up more than others. On our Feb 2020 Hawaii cruise there were several white tie dinner jackets. On the opposite end, if you DON’T dress on formal nights, you are gawked at and should stay out of the main dining rooms.

        • February 2, 2021 / 11:52 pm

          Hi Lori,

          Thanks for sharing your experience and what things have really been like onboard. When we’ve done holiday sailings we have found people dressed a little more (more suits and even tuxes) and other sailings less. Interesting about Club Class though.

          Thanks again for your comments,

          Ilana

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