Cruise Ship Formal Nights

Happy Couple in Formal Wear
Many couples enjoy formal night.

For many passengers, cruise ship formal nights are an elegant highlight of the voyage. On formal nights, the true splendor of the sea glitters along with the polished shoes, gleaming jewelry, and fabulous gowns of fellow cruisers, and the evening's dining and entertainment are exemplary even above other nights. However, to truly enjoy the best of cruise ship formal nights, it is vital that vacationers be prepared for the event.

What is Formal Night?

Formal night is exactly that: an evening aboard the ship when passengers have the opportunity to dress in their finest attire, try the most sumptuous dishes the ship's gourmet chefs can devise, and pose for innumerable photographs to commemorate their vacation. Formal nights are unique to the cruise industry, because while a land-based resort or restaurant may require a particular standard of dress, they will not offer photography and elite activities as well. For many passengers, formal night is reminiscent of the golden age of transatlantic cruises, when patrons were required to dress formally each evening.

When to Expect on Cruise Ship Formal Nights

Different cruise lines have different guidelines for placing formal night during each voyage, but the event will never be held on either the first or last evening of the cruise because of luggage handling concerns. Some cruise lines schedule formal nights to occur while the ship has been at sea all day, guaranteeing that passengers have ample time to prepare for the gala event. On other lines, it is a set evening such as the second night of the voyage.

Depending on the length of the cruise, there may be more than one formal night. Most seven-day cruises offer two formal nights, but the first is usually the most elaborate event. For the exact formal night date(s) on a particular cruise, contact the cruise line or ask at the beginning of the voyage.

Proper Dress for Formal Night

"Formal" dress is slightly different for each cruise line. The more relaxed the line, the less restrictive the attire guidelines will be. On most mainstream cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, men's formal attire requires at least a shirt, tie and a suit jacket. Ladies are expected to wear dress slacks, cocktail dresses, or skirt suits. While the most formal attire is not required, many passengers choose to indulge in elegance with suits, tuxedos, and ball gowns. More reserved cruise lines, such as Cunard and Celebrity, have stricter requirements for dress, and the maitre d' of the dining room can offer suggestions and advice if passengers have any doubt about the proper attire. All cruiselines have rules that forbid svimwear, casual shorts, t-shirts and jeans in the restuarants.

The "Formal" dresscode for children and teens is the same as it is for adults. If your child or teen has worries about being alone wearing formal clothes calm him/her down and explain that everyone else is wearing the same thing.

For passengers who forget their formalwear or want to rent appropriate clothing, larger ships are equipped with a tuxedo rental shop offering elegant tuxedos and classic formal options for both men and women. Styles and sizes may be limited, however, and in order to insure the best selection, passengers who choose this option should visit the shop early in the cruise to make proper arrangements.

Many guests also choose to arrange spa treatments such as facials, manicures, and hairstyling during the day of formal night in order to look their best that evening. Many cruise ships arrange special discounts or packages during that day, particularly if the ship is in port.

Dining on Cruise Ship Formal Night

Formal night dinners are typically among the best of the voyage. This is the night when luxurious entrees such as lobster, prime rib, duck a l'orange, and other delicacies are likely to be served, as well as tantalizing appetizers and exotic desserts. While every night on a cruise ship offers sumptuous fare, formal nights are known for going a step beyond normal dining.

A note of caution for passengers who wish to forgo formalwear and dress casually on this night: while the buffet-style casual restaurants may offer similar dishes, the more elaborate choices may be conspicuously missing or lacking the same refinement as the selections in the main dining rooms.

Formal Night Activities

Every night on a cruise is filled with activities and entertainment, and formal night is no different. Casinos will still be open, movies will still be shown, and lounges will still be bustling with revelry. In addition to those nightly events, however, formal nights also offer several additional activities.



Photographs are a mainstay of formal nights. After all, how many passengers want to take the time to dress elaborately without pictures to commemorate the event? In public areas, photographers will set up assorted backdrops for individual, couple, and group photos. Scenes may include a stock image of the ship, a tropical beach, underwater reef, plain neutral backgrounds, or some picturesque area of the ship itself such as a grand staircase or archway. Black-and-white photos may be offered as well.While it takes only a minute or two for each individual or group to pose for several shots, passengers must be aware that there will be several photo opportunities on formal night and many more passengers than normal partaking of them. Photo sessions typically start up to an hour before the first dinner seating, and if you would like to try each scene, you should plan on being prepared for dinner early in order to accommodate lines. Other photo sessions may be offered throughout the cruise, but formal night is naturally the most photogenic event and a good number of the scenes will not be available at other times. As with any of the photos taken aboard the ship, there is never a charge to simply view the selection, even if you choose not to [[Cruise Price Inclusions| purchase any of the images]].


On formal night, scheduled shows and performances will continue as they have on other nights. The times may be adjusted slightly to accommodate photography sessions and the performances may be slightly more elaborate, but the entertainment is just as enjoyable as during other nights. Despite the fact that it is formal night, passengers do not typically need to be dressed formally to enjoy the shows.

Special Events

Many cruise ships opt to schedule elite special events on formal night, such as the captain's welcoming speech when passengers can meet and mingle with the ship's officers. Other special events may include past passenger receptions, group events, or newlywed cocktail parties. Because of the limited amount of time available for such events (they are often located in lounges or other areas that will be needed for evening entertainment), interested passengers may have to forgo some photographs or smaller events in order to attend these special celebrations.

For Passengers Who Don't Want to be Formal

The most important thing to remember about formal night is that like any event on a cruise, it is entirely optional. Even if the most formal thing in your vacation wardrobe is a new pair of sandals with the souvenir t-shirt you bought at the last port of call, you will still be welcome to see the show, attend most special events, and pose for portraits. The only restriction most ships employ is that formal dress is required that evening to enter main dining rooms, though there are plenty of casual dining options available.

Formal nights on cruise ships epitomize the grandeur of the ocean blended with the glitterati of the passengers. From spectacular wardrobes and exquisite dinners to elite events and portraits to capture every moment, formal night is one occasion that most cruise passengers will never forget.

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Cruise Ship Formal Nights