When and Where is “Cruise Formal” Optional

An Editors Note: This article was written in 2009 and many of the cruise lines have relaxed their overall dress code even further. Please refer to our Cruise Line Dress Codes page for more up to date information.

We have a had a tremendous response to our “Optional Formal” survey running on our site. We’ve been running the survey since October 19th, and as of today, here are our results:

What do your think of “Optional” formal nights.

* I prefer the ambiance when everyone is dressed up (33%, 22 Votes)
* Its Great! Now I don’t have to pack formal clothes! (23%, 15 Votes)
* It is fine as long as the minimum is enforced: ie no jeans, tank tops, shorts (20%, 13 Votes)
* It is fine as long as they have a formal requirement for certain venues (9%, 6 Votes)
* It really doesn’t change anything because the dress codes were never enforced (8%, 5 Votes)
* I’ll still dress up, but it doesn’t affect me at all if others are casual (5%, 3 Votes)
* I hate it because it makes me seem pretentious for going through the trouble of dressing up (2%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 66

We plan to run the survey for a few more weeks, but currently you can see that we’ve gotten a wide variety of responses. As cruise lines have been seeking to appeal to wider spectrum of perspective cruises most cruise lines have been seeking to appeal to both those who like to dress up for formal nights and people who don’t want to dress up. Regent recently announced that on their voyages which do include formal nights, the formal dress code will be “optional”.

While this change made news, the fact is that almost all cruise lines have had some version of “optional formal” for some time. For some lines this has meant a formal dress code only for certain dining and entertainment venues, and for others it has meant a reduction in the minimum definition of formal.

I thought it would be interesting to explore the “official” options on various lines for those who do not wish to wear an outfit that would by traditional standards be considered cruise formal. The traditional cruise formal attire for a man would be a tuxedo or dark business suit. For a woman it would be an evening gown, cocktail dress, or evening pants suit. The one caveat is that some cruise lines are more strict about enforcing their dress codes than others. This article seeks to report, for the most part, what is officially sanctioned by the line as acceptable. Actual enforcement can vary from ship to ship and cruise to cruise.

Carnival is one of the lines that has relaxed the formal requirements. They really don’t even call it formal but have changed their language to “Cruise Elegant.” Tuxedos and Suits are options, but the minimum requirement for all areas of the ship is dress shirts and dress slacks For the ladies cocktail dresses and gowns are still options, but the minimum is dress slack and dressy blouse. For those who wish to remain ultra casual the buffet area permits shorts and jeans.


Celebrity ships used to request that if passengers weren’t dressed formally, that they remain only in the dedicated casual areas of the ship. They recently revised this policy to allow for “smart casual and above” through-out the ship, and only require formal wear for the main and specialty dining venues. For those guests wishing to remain super casual, Celebrity does offer a casual dining venue on most ships. This casual dining consists of either a sit down restaurant with separate dinner menu, or a partial buffet dining stations with items like sushi, international cuisine, pasta, pizza and salad. On the Solstice class ships Celebrity offers several casual dining venues.


For sometime now Costa has permitted passengers to dress in “elegant resort wear” even on their formal nights.


Crystal still has a three tiered dress code that states the following: “Each evening on a Crystal cruise has a specific dress code for dining areas that also applies to all public areas of the ship after 6 pm (except for alfresco dining on deck when available). If you choose to change your attire following the evening dinner and other festivities, please maintain a minimum style of dress in keeping with the dress code for Casual Evening Attire. Guests find that the occasional formal nights create a special atmosphere in contrast to the other more informal or casual nights on board.” So in general formal is not considered optional on Crystal. If cruiser do not wish to participate in the formal dress code, the only official dining option is room service.


Cunard is still pretty formal, and like Crystal has a three tiered dress code. Officially there is not an alternative casual dining venue, but cruisers have reported seeing casual attired in dedicated buffet area of the King’s Court.

Fred Olsen:

Fred Olsen is also one of the more formal cruise lines, but they do have an evening buffet area or themed food area on their ships. Palms Café on Balmoral and Braemar, The Secret Garden Café on Boudicca and The Garden Café on Black Watch. They all have specific times that they are open but they offer a more relaxed option for dinner with open seating and do not require formal wear for dinning.

Holland America:

For diners not wishing to participate in the formal evenings Holland America offers casual dining in the Lido buffet. However, though you can dine more casually, their website states the following “In order to complement your fellow guests, Holland America Line asks that you observe the suggested dress code throughout the entire evening.” So while the more casual attire may be welcomed at the Lido, guest may get more than a glaring look if they try to attend other evening events in shorts and t-shirts.


Formal is completely optional, with only one section of one venue of the ship reserved for formal attire. The rest of the ship is resort casual.

On MSC the evening dress codes are requested or suggested, but in reality enforcement is really relaxed, so smart causal is generally OK for formal nights in all areas of the ship.

No formal evenings ever on Oceania


While Princess still has traditional formal nights in the main dining venues, the 24-hour buffet at the Horizon Court, the pizzeria, burger & hot dog grill, or 24-hour room service all offer Princess cruisers a casual dining environment. Also Bayou Café & Steakhouse has a casual dress code where cruisers can experience the first New Orleans-style restaurant at sea, and enjoy fabulous Creole and Cajun traditional cuisine, such as jambalaya, etouffee and crawfish gumbo. Even on formal evenings casual attire is acceptable in most of the ship.

While Regent has always had variations in the requirement of formal attire from itinerary to itinerary, Starting with the 2009/2010 New Years Eve Cruise, formal attire will be optional when the cruise includes formal nights. The ships will now have a Day Time and Evening Dress Code minimum standard, but will not require formal. Elegant Casual: Skirt, or slacks (no jeans) with blouse or sweater, pant suit
or dress for ladies; slacks (no jeans) and collared shirt for gentlemen. Sport jackets are optional. So cruisers are not required to wear formal wear, but they must maintain a minimum dress standard.

Royal Caribbean:
The Windjammer Cafe offers a casual dining buffet every night. The dress codes only apply to the main dining venue and upscale specialty dining, so guest not wishing to dress up can dine at the buffet or on some ships the larger ships, other casual dining venues.

We invite our readers to add their comments to let us know their own experience with optional formal or required dress code enforcement.