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What to wear on a luxury cruise: Dress codes decoded

Cruise Advice

Cruise line dress codes are a fabulous exercise in making something that should be quite simple into an unnecessarily complex affair.

In reality, it is simple. There are casual clothes that you wear out and about during the daytime (and sometimes during the evening), and those that you wear to dinner in the evening. The only caveat is that some ships have formal nights (so pack formal wear) and some ships have nice pools (so pack swimwear). Simple, right?

Windstar Cruises - Wind Surf pool

But what does 'casual' actually mean?

Ah, yes: that is the question. The main problem is that cruise lines think (sometimes with some justification) that their clientele can't be trusted to understand what the word 'casual' means, and so they have introduced all sorts of adjectives to qualify what they mean. The result of this has been an almost comic collection of parallel dress codes: can anyone tell me, for instance, the difference between Smart Casual, Country Club Casual, Resort Casual, and Elegant Casual (all of them genuine cruise line terms)?

So, bearing all of that in mind, let us introduce you to the shortest and the only dress code guide you will ever need...

Formal dress

If your cruise has formal nights, you may want to check how many evenings this will involve. It is a time for the ladies to wear their most glamorous dresses (long is great but not absolutely essential) and their most fabulous jewellery. For gents, black tie (although if you absolutely object to this, a dark suit is fine). And don't do what I once did, and forget your cufflinks - not every ship sells them!

Formal night in the Champagne Bar on the Queen Mary 2

Informal dress

For gents this normally means jacket, shirt and can sometimes mean a tie as well. The issue of trousers is a thornier area: as a rule, cruise lines maintain that jeans are too informal. But if you look smart (rather than casual) then that's the main requirement. For ladies, it's simply dressy, but not formally so. (I'm sure you know exactly what we mean - not ballgowns!).

Informal dining on Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Casual dress

Here, the meaning of the word is dependent on whether or not it's accompanied by an adjective. If it's just 'casual', then it means things like a sport shirt and slacks for men and casual dress or separates for women. Loafing about wear. Different people have different views on what constitutes casual, and a few eyebrows may be raised if you turn up in a tracksuit or a football shirt..

If on the other hand it's "XXXX casual" (e.g. Smart Casual, Country Club Casual, Resort Casual, Elegant Casual etc.) then it means the sort of clothes that won't get you thrown out of a nice restaurant at night. That could mean jackets for the men (or a shirt with a collar), and stylish but not necessarily glamorous outfits for the ladies.

And, as always, be careful of jeans. Some cruise lines, like Harrods, think they are too casual.

Couple in casual dress at Regent's Sette Mari restaurant
What not to wear on a luxury cruise...

Most cruise dining rooms will frown on you if you attempt to have dinner in the evening (and maybe at other times) wearing shorts, sports shirts or baseball caps. And in the daytime, beachwear is not acceptable attire for indoor dining. It's not that complex at all; it's a matter of courtesy to other diners, and we are fully confident that you know exactly what we mean.

The only other big no-no concerns port wear. Again, we trust in your taste and discretion, but it's worth noting that in certain countries a more conservative style (generally, but not exclusively, for the ladies) may well be required. This is especially true at religious sites such as temples, mosques and churches. Do make sure therefore that you do your research (which could be as simple as ringing us for a chat) if you are in any doubt.

The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem - Photo by John T, Unsplash
In conclusion...

Don't be thrown by cruise line dress codes. It's mostly just a matter of common sense, which has been confused by the industry's daft vocabulary. And if you're in any doubt, at any time, then give us a call. As long as you don't ask us to explain the difference between Smart Casual and Elegant Casual...

Matthew Lonsdale
Meet the author

Director at Mundy Cruising

More about Matthew

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