Women packing for an unfamiliar ship need to know what to pack for evenings. While all cruise liners have different rules, here is an overview for popular lines like Princess and Holland America.

Cruise Dinner

New cruisers often fret about what to wear to dinner on a ship. Here’s a general guideline, though Disney cruises are going to be different from high-end luxe liners.

  • Main Diningroom: Most women wear a casual dress, a nice pantsuit, or a cute top with slacks or a skirt. The dress code for the main diningroom (of most ships) is flexible, but many people dress exactly like they would for an upscale restaurant back home. On the other hand, some partiers wear something fun like a flowered halter dress or a sleeveless maxi dress if they feel like it, especially if they have just left behind winter snows in Minnesota or Alaska.

Formal Night

Quite a few cruise lines have a formal night (or two) and a Captain’s Reception where women will be dressed up a bit more than at regular dinners. Women can be seen wearing anything from casual frocks and cheap polyester pantsuits to sequined cocktail dresses and full-on full-length gowns. (Long formal gowns are much less common.) Talk to a travel agent or, better yet, post a question on cruisecritic.com for accurate answers, from real-life people, about specific cruise lines and ships.

  • Formal night or captain’s reception: Most women wear something black on formal night, and black is always classic and appropriate. However, women who are, in general, more casual or playful can stand out by wearing fuchsia, turquoise, silver, or anything other than black. One imaginative idea for party chicks is to add a cocktail hat or a headband fascinator (maybe with a feather). Cruises are meant to be fun. That’s why people cruise.

On formal nights, there are often photographers set up around the main decks, and part of the fun is to try to get a good photo to use for the next season’s Christmas cards or for a cool trip album. No one is obligated to buy these photos. So, click away.


Sandals are always good, but remember that it is sometimes tricky to wear heels while a ship is rolling on the high seas, so pack some back-up flats. High heels are fine for females who have good balance.

  • Cruise buffet: Cruisers who are too maxed out from a grueling day in paradise can eat at the buffet. Some folks are seen wearing shorts and tees, though shorts are frowned upon for inside dining (in the evening) on some ships. It’s better to wear something more than shorts, though there is no bouncer who will throw a woman overboard for impropriety.
  • Room Service: Most ships have free room service, though it is off a more limited menu. On large ships, some kind of food is available 24 hours a day. No one has ever starved to death on a cruise ship.

Evening Activities

There are usually several options for after-dinner (or pre-dinner) shipboard activities. Here are a few:

  • Vegas-style shows: While seeing a show, most women wear whatever they wore to dinner in the main dining room. Wearing shorts or very casual “buffet-wear” would look out of place in the theater.
  • Cocktail lounges: Women dress up in the same styles they would wear to a similar lounge in Las Vegas. Some gals are sparkly and some are sedate. Consider several types of shoes while packing for shipboard evenings. Bigger ships have ballroom dancing, free-style rock-and-roll dancing, line dancing (complete with a few gals in cowboy boots), cocktail lounge music and piano bars, as well as tables for drinks out on the pool deck.
  • Casinos: The only requirements are clothing, shoes, and a ship card / cabin key (used in place of money).


No matter what weather is predicted, always pack a windbreaker, sweater, shawl or something for warmth. The interior of a ship is not a problem, but walking around the promenade deck can be cold no matter what the temperature (especially at night).

While it is easy to bring a ton of outfits for a cruise, it is not necessary. The same dress can be worn with different faux beads and baubles for a different look every night. The same pantsuit can be worn with a nautical scarf or with pearls. Most of the time, guests are fairly relaxed about what others wear. Just go. Just have fun.