Dress Code & Cruising – live and let live (within the CONTRACTUAL rules)

Cruising is about dressing up for most people, but you can dress down, it’s all about choosing the right area of a ship or the right ship and understanding the contract. Those who do dress up to enter dress code areas, expect the cruise operator to enforce the contractual terms they were promised. Those who do not wish to dress up and cruise regularly, know which areas they can enjoy and there is no problem (number 8 see below confuses things). Live and let live, this blog is not for people who understand how to use a ship without the need to dress, it is to help those wishing to understand the dress code. Enjoy.

Casual Dress ship – wow – this is some ship

This blog is to explain to those who enjoy dressing, that the large ships allow dressing down in certain areas ONLY, but sometimes more areas than you might think. And there are ships that allow jeans in the restaurant with a collared shirt. (see NCL). Dress codes areas are clearly labelled in the terms of booking, referring you to the web site for full information, and the areas have clear information signs up at night. Moreover, this blog is aimed at those who have cruise never or little and are looking for some guidance on this simple issue made complicated by unnecessary anger and moaning, and occasionally those who break the rules, but that is very rare. Cunard is more conservative in dress than P&O with is more conservative in dress than NCL.

Did you know that SAGA on their fabulous new ships, serve the same meal in the buffet, so those who do not wish to dress do not miss out?click SAGA DRESS CODE webpage explanation “Experience on Board”, down the page a little

To those who have never cruised and do not normally dress or like to step out of their jeans… may wish to look at NCL and Disney and maybe avoid considering a Cunard ship or a Regent Seven Seas ship, or a Fred Olsen ship, or even a smaller P&O ship. All ships do have a dress code, they are CONTRACTUAL rules, and ships can have fashion police on duty! Security can be called to assist in order to prevent escalation of incidents. Ships are not held to the same land-based laws or rights and the Captain is in charge.

Those who do not want to dress up normally know their way around the ship. They do not normally expect to get lucky by creeping into a ‘dress code venue’. If someone is in jeans in a dress code area, and seats run out, those who have the correct dress code may ask security for those not in the correct dress to be removed. Being asked to leave can spoil an evening or a holiday. It is all about the rules of the ship and the contract between the cruiser and the ship. Disney ships can be the most relaxed …. read on.

So if you want to wear jeans for dinner, look at the Norwegian Epic, what a great ship with full-on nightlife, top shows and so much more than small ships can offer. You may never want to try another ship after the White Hot party! However, you are still asked to wear a collared shirt with jeans. Shorts, blue jeans or ripped jeans can be worn in less formal areas. They have water parks, climbing walls, adult-only beach areas with their own nightlife entertainment.We now have a Norwegian Cruises chat site for our Doris Visits cruisers, let us all know your experiences

From big ships to ferries there is something for every cruiser! Live and let live. So, how and where does it go wrong? By understanding the cruise ship we hope to help you can avoid these issues and fully enjoy your holiday.

Each BRAND like Carnival Cruise Line Corp, Royal Caribbean etc, own many shipping lines and each has a style. This is to ensure that the paying customer can find what they want, or gets what they expected when cruising. The newer larger ships are like cities with different areas, this is so customers can find what they like and be comfortable. However, these large ships cause the most dress code problems and unease, even anger. We will suggest where issues may arise in a few scenarios, and try to help you consider how to approach your cruise holiday. Here are some scenarios that could happen…..

  1. When guests who have not packed a collared shirt or dress, see areas they would like to enter that are contractually restricted by dress code rules. Those guests may begin to resent those areas being restricted or purchase clothes in the shop onboard which does a super roaring trade.
  2. Worse, a couple decides partway into the holiday, that they would like to enjoy the ship fully after all, but only one of the couple has packed dress to cope. The other is no not happy.
  3. We all pay the same to go on a cruise ship, but those who have clothes to adhere to dress code can use far more of the ship, have far more of a holiday, get better value for money.
  4. Those without the ability to meet the dress code may consider they have a reduced cruise holiday for the same money as those who adhere to dress code and enjoy the whole ship and all facilities.
  5. A certain relaxed view of dress code may be allowed in the ‘extra payment premium restaurants’, but you will then pay extra to eat in those when the main waiter service restaurant is almost always free.
  6. A cruise operator with huge ships and areas to suit everyone may shock cruisers not wishing to dress up should they go with the very same operator on a smaller ship.
  7. The ‘catch me out ships’ – some ships say they have a relaxed attitude to dress, but they mean you don’t have to wear a tie with your shirt and jacket. Read the terms of your booking carefully.
  8. If any of the above seem like they could be a problem, consider another reason (World Cup football on ship is extreme, but Match of the Day can do the same) when the dress free pub is full of well-dressed cruisers and there is no room for those not dressed to go elsewhere.

These are some of the reasons to look at the dress code and understand what you might expect on what ship. Very few people will be in jeans in the evening, and they will happily enjoy the buffet and pub areas when not over full, but there’s a lot more to a cruise ship. To explain further… Each guest contractually agrees to adhere to dress code rules just as they contractually agree to take out a minimum of £2m cruise travel insurance (varies company to company). A contract is classed as agreed the moment you step on the ship, book the holiday or pay. Any of those three alone would be deemed to entering a contract. Our advice is always to take the dress to go to all areas of the ship or choose the ship that fits. To explain, Two blogs to read – CRUISE TRAVEL INSURANCETRUE COST OF CRUISING

You may feel we are pro dressing up, but we are trying to save your hiring and buying in the cruise shops on board who sell and often hire clothes in the shed load when people do not take note. We are trying to help you save money and enjoy the whole ship. The cruise operator offers a brand style or standard, so most guests booking expect that standard. The guest contractually agrees to the dress code and other rules when making the booking. It is perhaps not a good idea to book a ship that has a strictly enforced dress code if you want to wear shorts in the restaurant. For an extreme example, Regent Seven Seas might not be your bag if you are ultra-casual, but at up to £10,000 a night you might not be looking there. Cunard has a strict no jeans anywhere on the ship after 6 pm. So, where are the no dress code cruises? This may help.

You might have kids and want to stay real informal – in which case take a look at Disney which has a semi-informal dress code; casual attire, such as shorts and T-shirts, is permitted, with the exception of swimwear and tank tops. That is as relaxed as it ever gets! They do have dress-up nights, but it is casual.

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Or Norwegian Cruise Lines which has almost no formal dress code. Choose the brand to suit you, not change the brand for the thousands of others because the brand has rules it has to upkeep for the returning thousands that expect it. Norwegian Cruise Lines do suggest it can be casual all the time, this could be the line for you to feel most comfortable in. But, they do have nights when you can dress and suggest the Norwegian’s Night Out, is the perfect opportunity to get dressed up for an evening of cocktails, fine dining and great entertainment. You may also want to pack an all-white ensemble for our iconic White Hot Party. Click to check. If NCL is too much of a dress code you are on best on the ferry.


Do not discount the P&O Ferries. They have small ships doing short cruises with some of the best deals. They have the buffet, bars, dancing and cabin to crash out in. A ferry to Bruges is great fun and a good first trip.

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At Carnival Cruise Line Corp they have a lot of different brands; P&O, Costa, Cunard, and Princess brands have dress codes. The actual Carnival ships are far more relaxed, or ‘fun’ ships as some might say where you can wear your shorts, but maybe not everywhere every night. But, if you want to be casual and wear jeans in the brand that owns P&O, look at Carnival. However, even Carnival have rules in the steak house and restaurants, they are just different rules, a little more relaxed. Not permitted: cut-off Jeans, men’s sleeveless shirts, tee-shirts, gym or basketball shorts, baseball hats, flip-flops and bathing suit attire

Royal Caribbean, like Carnival, is a mainly American ship, far less restrained and more casual that most of the British ships. The Oasis and Freedom class megaships have fun features that may include carousels, waterparks, ice skating rinks, surf simulators and loads more. The new Quantum-class ships may have iFly skydiving tunnels, bumper cars, roller-skates and the solarium ‘adult hangout’. These are more casual cruises having areas where you do not need to dress to impress, but like most cruise ships there is an enforced dress code in other areas. But, they are casual because they have casual areas. The ships are just big enough to allow both. Look at the rules.

When you’re on board Royal Caribbean, the right look will vary by venue. But here are a few types of suggested attire you’ll see, grouped by item.

  • 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. 
  • Formal: Make it a night out in your best black-tie look – suits and ties, tuxedos, cocktail dresses or evening gowns. There can be 1-3 formal nights during a sailing and is at the ship’s discretion.

This brings us to P&O. Sure they have a pub where you can wear jeans. There are more casual areas on the three large ships because the ship is large enough to have areas with strict dress code and less dress code. Think of it as a town. If you want to go into the golf club in most towns or villages you cannot wear jeans and must have a collar and shirt tucked in. (I have never understood those rules in golf, which really needs a high-viz-jacket and tin hat – HSE regulations on objects falling from a height). So if you go from the Britannia to a smaller ship at P&O, the casual areas may be fewer or very limited after 6 pm. P&O Dress code rules here. Below the film showing the areas of the Britannia.

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MSC CRUISES – these are the kings of the sea, huge fleet, most container ships. But they have a huge number of cruise ships. This is a new fleet of huge ships, and again huge is the answer. Within these huge cities, and they are luxury liners, there are areas where you can avoid a dress code, but most of the great areas and great entertainment will have almost all guests dressed. They suggest “Casual resort wear” is appropriate, except for formal evenings when men are required to put on suits or jackets and ties, and women cocktail dresses. In addition, passengers who would like to participate in theme nights are encouraged to dress according to a specific theme. Examples include White Night, Tropical Night or 60s/70s/80s Night. So – jackets and ties. Children’s cruise cards can have spend limit put on them which you may find useful.

Marella Dress Code   Fred Olsen Dress Code   P&O Dress Code

In short – a ship is a town. Larger ships have more areas, like a town. You have more non-dress areas on larger ships, but if you only pack your jeans you may end up being angry at yourself for restricting your own entrance to areas that have a dress code. You may be asked to leave those areas, security can and are called, you may also be asked to leave the ship if your behaviour falls outside the expected rules. 

Disney and Norwegian Cruise lines are the least dress up all the time ships and even then, we would suggest that packing a collared shirt and a pair of trousers will mean you have so many more options.

Doris Visits tries to make looking for a cruise easy. Like this – see our one page Cruise Deals.