Cruise ships have always been synonymous with luxury and elegance, and for many passengers that’s due to the famous formal night events. A cruise ship formal night consists of well polished shoes, fabulous gowns, delicious cuisine and exemplary entertainment. These nights are a notch above any other events taking place onboard and are sure to be a classy affair.

If you haven’t been to a formal night on a cruise ship before it’s natural you would feel a little uncertain. What are the requirements? How are you meant to dress and what activities will be taking place? Let us put your mind at rest and keep reading to discover exactly how you need to prepare for your cruise ship’s formal night.

What to wear

Suits on hangers

‘Formal’ dress can differ from cruise liner to cruise liner. More relaxed lines may have less restrictive guidelines, while on mainstream cruise lines, like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, the attire will be more formal. For mainstream ships the cruise formal night dress code means men will need to wear a shirt and tie and usually a suit jacket, jeans are not allowed. Women will be required to wear a cocktail dress, skirt suit or dress slacks. Many cruise passengers choose to go all out with cruise formal wear and either wear suits, tuxedos or classic ball gowns. After all, if you’re going to go to a formal night on a cruise ship you might as well make it a black tie affair.

What food to expect

A formal night dinner is usually the best cuisine on the ship. Dishes tend to be on the more extravagant side, with lobster, prime rib, duck a l’orange, and a range of mouthwatering appetizers and flavourful desserts. Formal night dinners are known for going above and beyond the normal type of cruise ship cuisine and will definitely surpass that of the buffet.

The service on a formal night is of a 5* quality, and you’ll be served by white gloved waiters dressed to the nines. Usually this meal is brought to your table, and drinks are refilled by the ready and waiting service staff. You’ll be treated like royalty during this dining experience.

formal dining table

What entertainment to expect

Entertainment can vary from cruise ship to cruise ship, but generally a formal night will have some sort of music associated with it. Elsewhere on the ship casinos will still be open, films will be playing and the lounges will be full. Theatrical performances will still be going on, though the times may be adjusted slightly.

Getting your picture taken is an essential part of the formal night’s activities. Photographers will be set up in the public areas with assorted backdrops for couple and group shots. These backdrops may be the image of the ship, a tropical beach, underwater reef or some other cruise-esque photo. Photo sessions generally start an hour before the dinner seating and you should arrive early as there usually is a line. You can purchase your photos at the end of the cruise.

How formal do you need to be?

One thing to remember is that formal nights are not mandatory, and if you’d rather dine in the buffet and join in with the other ship activities that is perfectly fine. Casual outfits are allowed everywhere else during this evening apart from the dining room. But if you’d like to be transported to the golden age of transatlantic cruises then fashion that frock, straighten that tie and get ready for a night to remember. Some passengers even choose to book time in the spa before hand, so they can have their hair or nails done before the evening commences.

woman having a massage in a spa

Which ships do formal nights?

There are some ships that don’t partake in the formal night tradition, but most of the traditional cruise liners do. Cruise and Maritime Voyages has two formal or gala nights on every cruise. Cunard has four formal nights on a typical eight-night transatlantic crossing, usually two black tie and two themed nights. Fred. Olsen Cruise Linehas three formal nights on a two week cruise, P&O Cruises has four black tie nights on a 14-night cruise and Marella Cruises has one formal night per seven-night cruise.

Preparing for a cruise ship formal night doesn’t need to be stressful. Choose a fancy frock or classic shirt and tie and enjoy an elegant night out on the seas.

Images used under CC0 license.

* Terms & Conditions apply

We are acting as an agent on behalf of travel suppliers and your booking will be subject to the supplier’s terms and conditions. Prices may be subject to very limited availability and are correct as at the date and time of writing. Prices may go up or down from time to time. Prices quoted are for the dates, accommodation, board basis, departure points and number of persons sharing specified only and cannot be combined with any other offer. We reserve the right to amend any quotes given if there is a genuine error as soon as we become aware of it. We reserve the right to withdraw any offers without notice.