What To Wear on a Cruise: Guide to Cruise Line Dress Codes

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One of the best cruise lines is Norwegian which offers mega ships like the Joy
Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

If you’re thinking about booking a cruise vacation or have one coming up, then you might be wondering, “what should I wear on a cruise?”

Did you know cruise lines have their own dress codes? They sure do! So it’s important to make sure you have your cruise packing list planned.

This guide will provide an overview of the major cruise lines and their dress codes. Also, I’ll deep dive into the differences between the common dress codes and provide outfit recommendations to help prepare you for any cruise dress code.

Overview: Cruise Ship Dress Codes

Don’t let dress codes intimidate you. If anything, they should be helpful because they are literally guidelines to help us gauge what is appropriate to wear. There are dress codes for weddings, workplace settings and dining at restaurants. They’re all around us!

Luckily, most cruises have casual dress codes which make them pretty straightforward. Each cruise line also outlines its dress codes on its website.

During the day, you can expect to wear casual outfits like shorts and t-shirts. And if you plan to hit the pool, a bathing suit and coverup is completely acceptable.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Before booking a cruise, research different cruise lines to make sure their dress code is right for you.

Photo courtesy of Mimi Slawoff

Formal Isn’t So Formal Anymore

Most cruise lines typically have at least one formal night where guests are expected to dress up. Don’t let the word ‘formal’ scare you! Acceptable formal outfits for women can range from a cocktail dress to tailored pants with a blouse. And for men, khaki pants or shorts with collared shirts. Obviously, the more luxury cruise lines have a slightly dressier vibe for their formal nights.

Typically, cruise chic or smart casual is standard formal attire for formal nights that take place in the main dining room. Bottom line, research different cruise lines and once you select one, make sure you check the itinerary so you can pack accordingly.

Read More: Best Time of the Year to Go on a Cruise? Here’s How to Plan.

Tall boots are needed to go bushwhacking on an Uncruise in Alaska. Photo by Jamie Bartosch

Consider Destination & Seasonality

Another thing to consider is your ship’s itinerary.

A warm weather cruise is going to be relatively straightforward — shorts, tank tops, sundresses, sandals, etc.

If you’re going to Alaska or the Mediterranean you want to pack clothes for their respective climates.

Alaska cruises can be chilly, even in the height of summer. So you’ll want to pack a light jacket and, just to be on the safe side, a rain jacket.

European cruises tend to have a more elevated casual feel. And, chances are good that the port visits will include a stop at one or more beautiful, ornate churches. If you plan to visit religious sites, pack a lightweight sweater or wrap to cover your shoulders and longer shorts, skirts or a maxi dress to cover your knees.

Common Cruise Line Dress Codes

If you’ve started your research for what to wear on a cruise, then you might be familiar with phrases like “cruise casual,” “smart casual” and even “formal.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the different cruise line dress codes.

Luckily, I’ve taken the guesswork out of it for you.

To help you navigate how to properly dress for the evening, below are the major cruise lines and formal dress code policies:

  • Carnival Cruise: Largely casual atmosphere during the day and smart casual during the evening. Carnival cruise ships have ‘cruise elegant’ nights where attire can range from cocktail dresses to evening gowns for women. And for men it’s acceptable to wear slacks with a button down shirt or a suit.
  • Norwegian: Like Carnival, during the day it’s cruise casual and at night smart casual. The company has recently introduced “Norwegians Night Out” which is “an evening of cocktails, fine dining and great entertainment.” So consider this a night to swap smart casual for something dressier.
  • Disney Cruise: Considering Disney cruises appeal to families, cruise casual is the core dress code during the day. During the evening, expect theme and formal nights. These are optional, but if you want to get into the full spirit of a Disney cruise, you’ll want to pack something fun and theme-appropriate for you and the kids.
  • Celebrity Cruise: Formal nights have been rebooted to “evening chic.” This is intended to be less dressy than formal attire. Women can wear a skirt, dressy pants/designer jeans or a cocktail dress. Men should feel comfortable in designer jeans, khakis, dress shirt.
  • Royal Caribbean: during the day casual and during the evening smart casual, with the exception of designated formal nights.

Caribbean: Relaxed Casual

Just about every cruise includes one or more ‘sea days’ where you’ll stay on the ship as you travel to the next port. On sea days, you’ll want to wear something casual and laid-back.

During the day, this includes options like shorts, tank tops, short sleeves, bathing suits and coverups.

Here are a few options if you’re hanging outside on the Lido Deck of the ship or lounging on the pool deck:


Bathing Suits & Coverups

Caribbean: Resort Casual

Think of resort casual as your classic vacation ‘resort wear’ — bright colors, bold patterns.

It’s basically a more elevated look that people wear on vacation, while still being laid back. It sits in the middle of “casual” and “smart casual.” For women, resort casual can be a stylish pair of shorts, a sundress or coverup. For men, khaki shorts and a polo.

Personally, I think linen fabrics and bold colors are the epitome of resort casual. They are cruise wear wardrobe staples.

Effortless Resort Casual Look

Bold Dresses

Accessories: Laidback Sandal & Beach Hat

Caribbean: Smart Casual

Last but not least is smart casual. Less conservative than business attire, smart casual combines the casual, laid back feel of streetwear with ‘smart’ business attire.

  • Bottoms: skirts, tailored trousers, capris, ‘smart’ shorts.
  • Tops: Blouses, solid colored t-shirts, lightweight sweater or blazer.
  • Maxi dress or jumpsuit

Colorful apricot set:

Pastel pant & bodysuit:


Budget friendly:

Mule Heel:

Formalwear on a Cruise: No Evening Gown Needed

Unless you are going on a super luxe cruise, you typically won’t need to pack an evening gown.

Most cruise lines have a smart casual or classy casual dress code for dinner. And some. like Disney and Carnival, allow you to wear jeans and a nice shirt in the main dining room.

While some cruisers like to dress up on formal nights, extremely formal nights aren’t as common, so no need to panic. Below are a few great options for the days you need to dress up.

Classic Little Black Dresses

Bold, Bright Dresses:

Shore Excursions

The types of shore excursions offered depends on your cruise itinerary. For example, you can expect excursions like snorkeling or scuba diving in warm weather destinations like the Caribbean.

European cruises will typically have excursions to historic sites or even cities that require a lot of walking over ancient cobblestone streets. It’s important to research the excursions offered to make sure you are prepared for a day off the boat.

For a Caribbean cruise, a day off the boat is a fantastic opportunity to explore the local culture. If you plan to stay on land, wear a comfortable outfit and walking shoes. (Check out our list of the most comfortable walking shoes for travel.)

Packing Tips

For a day at the port, make sure you are prepared with any day trip essentials. For example, pack things like sunscreen, a sun hat, extra bathing suit, coverup and comfortable shoes. 

Cute Tote Bags


Cruise Packing List

  • 3 pairs casual shorts (like jean shorts or linen shorts)
  • 1 pair tailored ‘dress shorts
  • 1 pair trousers ‘smart casual’ pants
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 casual dress, like a sundress or maxi dress
  • 1 smart casual or ‘cruise chic’ dress
  • 2 t-shirts, 1-2 tank tops
  • 1 bodysuit (optional)
  • 1-2 button down shirts
  • 1 sweater or jean jacket
  • 2 pairs of sandals
  • 1 pair flip flops
  • 1 pair of dressier shoes, like a wedge sandal or block heel.
  • 1 pair sneakers
  • 1 tote bag
  • 1 sunhat
  • 2 pairs sunglasses


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