What to Wear on Formal Night

Filed under: Lifestyle, Planning

Alright, I’m going to take my chances and sail into rough waters here by talking about the ever contentious topic of…FORMAL NIGHT!

If you’re into cruising you know this is a HOT topic. I live in North Carolina and I can tell you the only topic I see more heatedly debated than what people should wear on formal night is whether Duke or UNC is the better team. Duh, we all know it’s UNC (how many readers will I lose with that one?)

So, let’s talk about formal night.

I think we can all acknowledge that the days of truly needing to pack your tux and gown for formal night on major cruise lines is a thing of the past. But what do you wear when formal night is not enforced? It’s simply “suggested.” There is a suggested dress code of anywhere from smart casual to “dress your best” (and what the heck does that mean anyway?). Additionally, with many of the large ships offering a wide range of unique at sea activities, many passengers just don’t want to spend their evening in formal wear when they could be ice skating, playing bumper cars, or any other fun offerings on today’s mega ships. There is just so much to do!

When I went on my first cruise I had no idea what to pack. I had grown up watching parents of my friends head off on cruises with gowns and tuxedos packed and ready to go. So, I did what anyone (who always likes to be prepared with the right thing to wear) would do. I googled, “what to wear on formal night on a cruise ship.” I bet y’all can imagine how helpful that was. Spoiler alert, not helpful at all. So I packed a dress that could be dressed up or down and hoped I’d be allowed to dine above deck.

What I have learned over many cruises, and what I tell new cruisers is, wear what you want. Wear what YOU feel good in.

If you stay home with kids all year and this is your chance to get dolled up, then by all means, send those kids to Adventure Ocean, throw on your glitzy gown, head to Rising Tide and then go bust a move at Dazzles. I’ll be right there with ya!

If you wear a suit to work every day and the last thing you want to do on vacation is put on a tie- that’s ok, too!

The beauty of formal night, and what I love about cruise culture in general, is the “you do you” attitude cruisers have. One thing I adore about cruisers is how accepting and encouraging they are of FUN! We are on that ship to have FUN and if that means you want to wear your hot pink flamingo tux and shake your tail feather in the middle of the promenade then we’re gonna be right there cheering you on. Formal night is a great night to SEE and BE SEEN so if you’re a people watcher, pull up a chair at one of the venues on the main promenade and watch for some awesome outfits!

I WANT to participate in Formal Night. What should I wear?

The quick answer: what ever you feel good in!

You absolutely won’t be out of place if you want to wear a gown and tux, and people love getting pictures taken infront of the various backdrops (there will be plenty on formal night!). If a gown isn’t your style I suggest a cocktail dress or maxi dress that you can fancy up with accessories. I think of it more as a Caribbean formal. Lighter, more flowy fabrics and beautiful colors. This way you’re dressed for whatever the night brings- a glass of wine at Vintages or a late showing of Love and Marriage. My personal opinion is to leave the little black dresses at home and bring out the COLOR! We’re in the Caribbean after all! One of my favorite places to shop for cruise dresses is Lilly Pulitzer and I’ll definitely be sporting this one on our next cruise!

I DON’T want to participate in formal night. What should I do?

Not participating in formal night is ok, too! I have definitely been known to skip out on some formal nights. That lady with the plate full of Sorrentos headed up to the lido deck in shorts and a cruise casual shirt? That’s been me on more than one occasion. That’s right folks, yours truly has been a Formal Night Offender. Formal night is a great opportunity to have the hot tub to yourself or to take advantage of activities that typically have a line. Another option for many- dress up for dinner then go and change afterwards for evening activities!

I think I’m somewhere in the middle.

Many cruisers that have “been there, done that” just don’t want to get gussied up EVERY. TIME. THEY. CRUISE. So you’ll see many of these cruisers simply acknowledging, or giving a “nod” to formal night. They remember how fun it was to get dressed up for their first cruises and appreciate that for many this may be their only cruise of the year or ever! They think it’s fun, but they just want to watch. You’re likely to see the majority of passengers falling into this category. As longtime family cruiser Gail Dickerson Epps says, “[for]those of us who do not do red carpet or diners drive in and dives. Suit/jacket or nice dress or pants and dressy top.” And she is right! My favorite place to shop for versatile ladies formal night wear is Chico’s! Lot’s of great colors and fabrics to take to the tropics!

What should my kids wear?

Put the kids in something they will be comfortable in. Most of the major cruiselines are accustomed to families and fully understand that kids don’t always like to dress up. Many parents dress kids in slacks and a tucked in shirt or little sundresses. Don’t stress! Some families don’t participate in formal night at all while others use it as an opportunity to get some family portraits.

And finally…Menswear

If a tux or suit isn’t your thing, you can surely get by with some khakis or linen pants with a collard shirt. Want to make it a little more casual after dinner, just roll your sleeves!

Here’s the deal.

Formal night is what you make of it. If you have dreamt of having your Cary Grant meets Deborah Kerr moment, then go for it! For those that have never cruised before, formal night can be so much fun and I HIGHLY suggest doing it at least once! If you prefer to take in the sights in your casual wear, that’s just fine also.

HAVE FUN! Soak in spirit of cruising. Enjoy yourself! Make some friends and don’t worry about what the person next to you is wearing. We’re all having a different vacation and todays mega ships are the ultimate real life choose your own adventure.