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How Formal are Royal Caribbean’s Formal Nights?

The words ‘formal night’ strike fear into many. The formal dress codes conjure up images of traditional cruising, set dining and table sharing but this is not the case onboard Royal Caribbean cruises.

Formal nights are still a part of many cruises. However, the requirements of the dress code vary a lot from cruise line to cruise line.

Emma cruises and Spectrum of the Seas in Asia

For a full guide to Royal Caribbean dress codes (with lots of photo examples) check out this post: 

Royal Caribbean Dress Code and Photo Guide With Examples.

My experiences with Formal Nights

Norwegian Cruise Lines

It’s no secret that NCL is one of my favourite cruise lines. They are famous for having no formal nights and no real dress codes in the main dining room.

Some people do choose to get dressed up, and passengers certainly won’t look out of place if they do, but there is no requirement to do so.

I do like to wear a dress to dinner on occasion but also am quite happy to eat in my jeans. Below is a photo of something that would be perfectly acceptable for dinner onboard a Norwegian Cruise Ship.

NCL Dress code dinner formal night


On the other end of the spectrum is Cunard. Cunard has very strict formal dress rules and they are applied to the whole ship after 6 pm.

The dress code is not only applied in the main dining room but also all public areas like bars and lounges. The only exception to this rule is the buffet.

Sheltered Balcony Queen Mary 2 Formal night
Sheltered Balcony Queen Mary 2, Pre-dinner drinks on Formal Night.

You can read more about their dress codes here if you want to know just how strict it is:

Cunard dress code

I was lucky enough to sail on the last Ocean Liner at sea, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. Find out how I got on with the formality here:

How Did Royal Caribbean Compare?

I usually cruise with Royal Caribbean for a week and would expect there to be two formal nights during the cruise.

I do like formal nights as I have the opportunity to get dressed up and have photos taken – but I don’t want to have them every day or for any great length of time.

That requires far too much packing and washing for my liking! Below is a photo of what I wore for a formal night onboard Royal Caribbean.

royal caribbean formal night dress code women red dress balcony cruise ship

Royal Caribbean’s Dress Code – Formal nights

The actual definition of formal night onboard Royal Caribbean ships is as follows:

Think of our formal dress code as a night out in your best black-tie look — suits and ties, tuxedos, cocktail dresses or evening gowns are all acceptable options. There can be 1-3 formal nights during a sailing and is at the ship’s discretion. Our Chef’s Table dining experience also enforces a formal dress code policy.

Royal Caribbean International

It suggests that you wear a tuxedo or evening gown but this definition seems to describe Cunard more to me than Royal Caribbean.

The dress code isn’t strict nor strictly enforced, as long as men are wearing a smart shirt and women are wearing a dress/smart trousers then it seems to be acceptable.

Some people do go all out with the dress code, I’ve seen some people who have really made an effort, which is nice to see.

On Royal Caribbean, I don’t feel pressured into dressing formally and I don’t feel like I am being watched by the other passengers – unlike cruising with Cunard where I am in constant fear I might ruin somebody’s holiday by not being formal enough….

There are plenty of options for eating out in other places for those not wanting to dress up on Formal nights.

Emma Cruises eating at Johnny Rockets onboard Symphony of the Seas
Johnny Rockets onboard Symphony of the Seas

How Many Formal Nights Are There?

The maximum amount of formal nights on any Royal Caribbean cruise is 3 (which suits me perfectly!)

  • 1-5 days has 1 formal night
  • 6-13 has 2 formal nights
  • 14+ has 3 formal nights.

The number of formal nights is at the discretion of the captain – but this seems to be the general rule of thumb.

What About Informal/Casual nights?

Royal Caribbean do have “Smart Casual” nights and “Casual Nights.”

Casual: You’re on vacation – relax! Jeans, polos, sundresses and blouses are all the right amount of laid back. Please keep swimwear to the Pool Deck. Shorts are welcomed for breakfast and lunch.
Smart Casual: Think of this as a step up from your typical dinner wear. Dress to impress with collared shirts, dresses, skirts and blouses, or pantsuits. Jackets, sports coats and blazers are snazzy and welcomed. 

Royal Caribbean International

What Did I Wear/Think?

I like having one or two formal nights on a cruise – this is about ideal for me.

There isn’t any pressure to dress up – but I do enjoy having my picture taken on the odd occasion that we do dress up.

I would definitely recommend a cruise with Royal Caribbean even if you are not a big fan of formal nights and formal dress.

Dress codes onboard seem to me like a bit of lighthearted fun – which really isn’t taken very seriously.

Find out about the cruise I took on one of Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships, Symphony of the Seas, here:

Themed Nights

Royal Caribbean also have “themed nights” which you can take part in if you want to. It is completely up to you, nothing is obligatory.

After all, it is your holiday, if taking extra clothes to suit a theme isn’t for you – that is completely fine.

Theme nights are offered onboard Royal Caribbean Cruises of four nights or longer. Because these events vary by ship and itinerary, dates and times will not be available until you board the ship and this can be found in the Cruise Compass*. Some common themes we may offer include Black and White Night, 50’s/60’s/70’s/80’s, Country Western, Masquerade Ball, Toga Parties.

Royal Caribbean International

*The Cruise Compass is Royal Caribbean’s daily schedule that is delivered to your cabin daily. Details of events going on can also be found in the cruise ship’s App.

You don’t have to buy Wi-Fi to use the cruise ship’s App, find out why here:

You Don’t Need to Pay For Wi-Fi To Use a Cruise Line App – Here’s Why

I took a cruise on Spectrum of the Seas – an American ship designed for the Asian market. To find out how it differed from your normal Royal Caribbean cruise, watch the video below:

Before You Go

White Night is a common theme, found on many Cruiselines. Find out what real cruisers wear on White Night here:

What Do People Actually Wear On White Night? Real Photos, Examples and Suggestions

Find out about other themed nights, and see what others choose to wear here:

Theme Nights On Cruise Ships (Everything You Need to Know) – Examples

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.

Emma Le Teace

Monday 27th of August 2018

Hey Claire! Thanks for commenting :)

I enjoy the dressing up experience too. Bleh! Snails aren't for me either ha ha...

That sounds amazing! A Baltic/Mediterranean cruise would be perfect, so easy to get off and 'do your own thing'.

Michael Davis

Sunday 26th of November 2017

Thought I’d chime in here as this was a topic of discussion for me just this week. I think Royal’s written dress code is outdated and not followed much. We were very hesitant about sailing with them because of what it says they expect. What we found this week is that A LOT of people on Royal Caribbean do dress up on formal nights. But the comforting thing is that nowhere near everyone does. I’m also a Norwegian Fan and don’t wish to dress up at all. Sure we dress up compared to the shorts and T-shirt’s we wear throughout the day, but I haven’t taken a jacket in 15years probably. There were shorts and suits and everything in between. And that’s the way it should be in my opinion.