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You Can Skip Formal Nights on a Cruise – Here’s How

If you are considering taking a cruise you may be wondering if you are able to skip the formal nights on board. I’ve been on 32 cruises to date and have cruised on lines where the formal nights vary greatly. I am personally not a huge fan of formal nights and in this post, we will discuss how I often avoid them so that you can do the same if you’d like to.

What is a Formal Night on a Cruise?

A formal night is an element of traditional cruising where guests wear their finest clothes and enjoy dinner. Many people love having the opportunity to dress up and many have photos taken with the captain. There may be a special formal night menu in the main dining room and there may be additional entertainment.

Can You Skip Formal Nights on a Cruise?

Formal nights on a cruise are not mandatory and it is almost always possible to skip formal night if you don’t want to attend. Skipping formal night may mean dining in a different restaurant, the buffet, or having room service delivered. 

It’s important to remember that the type and frequency of formal nights vary by cruise line dramatically. The best thing that you can do is pick a cruise line that aligns with your requirements. There are many cruise lines which have very relaxed or no formal nights at all if you don’t want to take part in formal nights and are able to choose the cruise line that you’re cruising with, consider one of the following:

Formal Night Dress Code What to Wear

If you are new to cruising and would like to learn which cruise line is the best fit for you, including how to book for the cheapest price, start here: How to Cruise For Less

Other Names For Formal Nights:

In recent years a number of cruise lines have started to reduce the dress codes and formality of formal nights. On very few cruise lines will you see a night called a ‘formal’ night anymore.

On other cruise lines, these may be called ‘gala’ nights, ‘elegant’ nights, or ‘dress to impress’ nights. For the purposes of this article when talking about formal nights this means the most formal night of the cruise where many guests choose to dress nicely and some have photos taken with the captain.

On the majority of cruise lines wearing a shirt and trousers for men, and a dress or top/trousers combination for women is almost always enough for the formal night as dress codes have been increasingly relaxed.

Formal Night Dining Alternatives

The formal night dress codes usually only apply to the main dining room. There are some cruise lines such as Cunard where the dress code is applied ship-wide but generally speaking, the formal night dress code is usually only applied to the main dining room.

Even if you don’t want to take part in the formal night you’ll probably still want to take part in dinner but fear not, there are other options where you can have dinner instead of in the main dining room.


The buffet is the most popular and probably most obvious choice when it comes to avoiding formal nights on a cruise. On every night of a cruise, you’ll find the buffet busy, and formal nights are no exception.

Cruise ship buffets usually have VERY relaxed dress codes and you definitely won’t find the same type of atmosphere as you would in the main dining room on formal nights.

On most cruise lines the dress requirements for the buffet are that you are not wearing swimwear and are wearing shoes. Generally speaking, as long as you are dressed you’ll be allowed to dine in the buffet. Some more upscale luxury lines do have dress code requirements such as no jeans or sneakers.

It’s often the case that you’ll find the exact same food being served in the main dining room and the buffet so you may not miss out on the formal night food. On a lot of cruise lines, you’ll find that on a formal night there is a special menu, many of which were created in collaboration with celebrity chefs.

buffet britannia

Alternative Dining Venues – Included Dining

The number of dining venues onboard a cruise ship really does vary but on many lines, you’ll have more included dining options than just the buffet and the main dining room. You may find that there is a pizza restaurant onboard, a grab and go section or a more relaxed pub/bar where you can eat.

If you are cruising with Norwegian Cruise Line one of my favorite places to eat is a bar called The Local. The Local serves things like hot dogs, burgers, and chicken wings and is usually open 24 hours a day. It’s a very easy place to dine and food is usually fast.

Before you cruise make sure that you do your research into the ship and find out what food is included. Below are our cruise guides to what food is included on the following lines:

Do Disney Cruises Include Food?

Do Princess Cruises Include Gratuities?

Do Cunard Cruises Include Meals?

Are Costa Cruises All Inclusive?

Do Norwegian Cruise Line Cruises Include Meals?

Do MSC Cruises Include Meals? 

Alternative Dining Venues – Speciality Dining

On most cruise ships you’ll find restaurants which are called speciality restaurants. These cost extra and are, in theory, meant to be of higher quality than the food in the main dining room. I have been to a number of speciality restaurants, all of which were very good but I still normally just eat the included food that I’ve already paid for.

Speciality restaurants will often have a different dress code to that of the main dining room so if you didn’t want to partake in the main dining room dress code on formal night speciality dining is a good option.

Some speciality restaurants will have more relaxed dress codes whereas some will have more strictly enforced codes, it’s important to research this before you go.

Q Texas Smokehouse Norwegian Encore Speciality Restaurant BBQ Signs

Room Service

A few years ago I took a cruise with Cunard who have the most strictly enforced dress codes of any cruise line. Formal night dress codes are enforced ship-wide after 6 pm and Cunard cruisers tend to take the dress codes very seriously.

I didn’t want to take part in every formal night so what I did on occasion was stay in my cabin and have room service delivered to me. There is a charge for room service on some cruise lines but with Cunard it is free. Sitting on the balcony while eating dinner was FANTASTIC and I’d strongly recommend it.

To Conclude:

If you do want to go on a cruise and skip formal night this is completely fine. Guests who don’t want to attend formal night are able to eat in the buffet, other restaurants or have room service delivered. On some cruise lines, the formal night dress codes are applied ship-wide but on the majority, you’ll be able to explore and enjoy the ship without dressing formally.


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