by Harry Pope
Every time I cruise I have no idea how many formal nights there will be. I can guess, but until on the ship don’t know. So I take a couple of white shirts if it’s going to be for a couple of weeks, my tuxedo, and some decent black shoes. Socks, that doesn’t matter, they can be fluorescent, and have been known to be.
When you look at various cruising web sites, one of the most frequent questions from first time travellers is what to wear in the evenings, and what is the form for formal nights. Let me start by saying that there are no hard and fast rules, it really does depend on what line you are with, which ship, where you are in the world and what your fellow passengers will be wearing. But I can suggest some areas for guidance. Let us start with the ship’s daily newspaper. This details all the events occurring that day, but more relevant is at the top, usually under the banner, where it tells you if it is smart casual, or formal.
What do you want out of your cruise? Is dressing up an important part? Your age is relevant, because those under 50 tend to wish less formality as part of their holiday than those older. If you are on one of the super-sized ships catering for younger families it is less likely there will be formal nights. You can expect the norm to be smart casual, and in warmer places during the heat of summer this can include smart shorts for men to wear. My personal choice is for men to have their feet covered, in say deck shoes, because I think it’s not that pleasant to see men in a formal dining room wearing sandals. But this is my own opinion, down to age again. Ladies tend to be more careful with their choice of clothing., they want to look their best when appreciating a decent meal, it’s a good night out for them, and they don’t want to appear dowdy in front of the other female passengers.
Formal nights only occur when the ship is at sea that day, never when it has been in port. Smart casual means you have sufficient time to enjoy your day ashore, return, refresh, and prepare yourself for the evening’s meal and entertainment. Let’s face it, you feel good when you have taken care with your style of clothing, and it’s a pleasure to sit in the bar with whatever your choice of tipple and maybe nibbles before a decent four or five course meal. Formal nights are not strictly adhered to these days. I recently was on a Saga cruise ship, which is getting on for 5*. There is one restaurant on deck 12, called The Grill, and there were quite a few men who were not even wearing a tie and jacket, let alone a dinner suit, or d.j. as known in various parts of the world. The main restaurant staff do not seem to adhere to the dress code. They don’t ask the passenger to return to their cabin and dress suitably, which is a recent development of the past few years. Ten years ago you would be asked very politely to change. Not now.
Ladies tend to dress up more, but interchange their dresses with smart tops and trousers. I met one lady on a cruise last year who was on a 23 night holiday, and had brought 26 dresses with her, and boy did she look glamorous every night. She spent some time in the beauty salon as well, was a lovely tan, and had no travel partner. Mind you, there was no shortage of other singles ready and willing to dine with her. Smart casual for ladies can mean such a lot of different definitions, and there are no guidelines, only what you are comfortable with. I would suggest that bare legs are unusual, unless the ship is somewhere really warm, and you are eating in a restaurant situated on deck. Whatever you feel comfortable with, really.
Another question is how often do formal nights occur. If it is a 7 day cruise, with 5 days in port, then there will only be one. 14 nights with 4 sea days, then likely three, or possibly two. Ask your cruise operator, they will know.
Medals. Some men like to wear their military and other decorations, but this is becoming increasingly rare. This was more prevalent when you had Captain’s night. This meant you stood round looking like a tailor’s dummy balancing a glass of warm inferior drink with bubbles in one hand, and feeding indeterminate canapes that were either fishy or some strange meat. Ladies had a greater problem because they usually had a clutch bag. Men often had a camera, making the food consumption even more of a balancing act more akin to those with magic skills. You were not allowed to take photos of yourself with the Captain, this was the prerogative of the ship’s official photographer, who was also on a small commission. All this changed with Covid, suspect it won’t return any time soon.
So, to summarise. Ring your cruise operator, the travel agent might have some idea but not specifics, look at the ship’s paper, and if really unsure then have a chat with either reception, or other passengers. They will be only to pleased to share their knowledge with a new sailor. On my first cruise some years ago some of us newbies had an expression to describe those who had cruised many times before. ‘whenwes.’ When we were on our last cruise……….