Formal Nights on Carnival Cruise Ships: What is The Dress Code Onboard?

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One night that always stands out from the rest on any cruise is Formal Night. On Formal Night, you’re invited to dress in your best attire, raising the bar from the usual cruise-casual vibe.  And of course, Carnival Cruise Formal Night is no different, even though the cruise line has a more laid-back vibe than most.

So as you plan your packing list, consider this occasion as your opportunity to shine. Men often opt for suits, dinner jackets, or tuxedos, while cocktail dresses or elegant evening gowns are the go-to choices for women.

The key is to strike a balance between comfort and sophistication, ensuring that you not only look the part but you can also relax and enjoy it as well. Whether you’re mingling with the captain or enjoying a gourmet meal, Formal Night is all about feeling special.

But of course not everyone likes getting all fancy and dressing up, so today’s modern cruising is all about finding the right balance and should I also say encouraging each other to “live and let live”. 

Over the past 30 years of cruising, I’ve seen huge changes to the attitudes towards a Carnival Cruise Line formal night, so I’ll make sure you know exactly what to expect so that whatever you decide to do, you’ll still feel comfortable.

What to Expect on Formal Night Onboard a Carnival Cruise

Alan Hutchison and Morag Hutchison photographed on cruise ship formal night
Your Truly With Alan Wearing His Kilt

Carnival Cruise Line’s “Cruise Elegant” evening is usually the highlight of your cruise, offering an opportunity for you to dress to impress. 

But one person’s elegant wear can be quite different from another’s, but before we get into what people actually wear on cruise elegant night, let’s discuss how they are structured and when they will take place on your cruise.

Cruise Elegant nights on a Carnival cruise are usually timed with special entertainment events and the “Gala Dinner” menu when out comes everyone’s favorite the Broiled Lobster Tail.

The main dining areas and other venues onboard are usually decorated a bit more than normal, staff members swap their day-to-day uniforms for their most formal dress uniforms and attire, and the ship’s photographers will have set up more backdrop opportunities than you will ever think possible LOL 

What to Wear on Carnival Cruise Formal Night or “Cruise Elegant” Night

Now here’s the million-dollar question. What should you wear to a Carnival cruise formal night? 

Well before we talk about what’s right for you, here are some guidelines based on what normally passes for Cruise Elegant (more on that later).

Cruise guest wearing red cocktail dress holding a glass of champage and admiring the sea view
The Classic Cocktail Dress is Always a Winner on Cruise Elegant Night

Carnival Cruise elegant night dress code

Carnival’s “official” guidance is as follows:-

For Men:

  • Suit and Tie or Tuxedo: A classic choice for looking sharp and sophisticated. A dark-colored suit works well for the evening. 
  • Dress Trousers / Dress Slacks, Sports Coat / Blazer and Dress Shirt: For a slightly less formal approach, pair a sports coat with a nice dress shirt. Men may also wish to wear a Tie.

For Women:

  • Cocktail Dress or Evening Gown: The go-to for a chic look. Add some heels and perhaps a shimmery clutch to complete your ensemble.
  • Elegant Skirts and Blouses or Trousers: If dresses and gowns aren’t your preference, opt for an elegant blouse paired with a skirt or dressy trousers / pantsuits for a polished outfit.

Ultimately Wear What Feels Cruise Elegant To You

Couple of cruise ship balcony admiring sea view
You Don’t Have To Be All Glitz and Glam To Feel Good

Remember Everyone Is Different – Different Strokes, Different Folks, and Different Cultures.

I stress above that this is the guidance that normally constitutes cruise formal wear. However, it is ultimately down to what you are comfortable with.  If you think you look great, and it doesn’t come across as a slap in the face to the restaurant staff and those round about you, then go for it.

I’ll give you an example. On our last Carnival cruise formal night I was speaking to a very fine-looking elderly gentleman. He looked incredibly sharp. But do you what he was wearing?  A pair of denim work dungarees. 

Now at this point, some of you reading may be heading for the comments box to respond, but let me put what he was wearing into context. 

This gentleman had worked on a farm all his life. He had never worn a suit and never will.  He also wore a sharp white shirt and a dress cowboy hat. and that pair of denim dungarees had been pressed with the sharpest creases I’ve ever seen on a pair of denims. He looked good. Most importantly he felt good. This was his type of formal night.

A Black and White Image Alan Hutchison in the Red Frog on Carnival Pride Formal Night
A Black and White Image I Took of Alan in the Red Frog on Carnival Pride Formal Night

In terms of what “officially” is not allowed in the Main Dining Room, Carnival states that the following are not allowed:-

  • Cut-off jeans, men’s sleeveless shirts, shorts, t-shirts, sportswear, baseball hats, flip-flops and bathing suit attire.

However, I have seen many men wearing dress shorts on formal nights. So they aren’t as strict as they indicate.

Ultimately Cruise Elegant nowadays is all about us as individuals. We are all different and we all have different ideas. So wear what you want to wear. If you feel good no one will take that away from you.

What To Do If You Don’t Like Taking Part in Formal Night?

If you don’t like dressing up, or just hate the whole idea of formal night, then don’t worry about it. Thirty years ago, you may have looked out of place and perhaps felt a bit awkward. Not now however as cruising is much more laid back and almost anything goes.  

As long as you respect the right of those who want to dress up and engage with everything that formal night has to offer, then they’ll equally respect your wishes to just be who you are as well.

So chill relax and just be your casual self. Just don’t be heading straight to dinner from the hot tub though 😉 

When to Plan for Formal Night

Alan wearing a caribbean shirt in the main dining room
Alan Wearing a Not-so-formal Outfit

Preparing for Formal Night on your Carnival Cruise means knowing when to get dolled up and how to synchronize your elegant attire with your travel plans.

Your cruise will feature one or two Cruise Elegant evenings. Depending on the length of the cruise and schedules permitting the first cruise elegant evening is scheduled normally on the second day of the cruise.

Any subsequent event is then spaced out later in the cruise to give you plenty of time to prepare. Keep an eye on the Carnival Hub App to ensure you stay informed of when Elegant Night is and any other themed nights.

If your cruise is longer than 5 days, you will also most likely have a second Cruise Elegant evening nearer the end of the cruise as well – usually it is the second night from last.

Carnival Pride docked in the Norwegian Fjords
Our Last Cruise On Carnival Pride Had Two Formal Nights

Dining experiences on these nights are usually the highlight of the week. Cue the Lobster Tail I mentioned earlier. 

This is usually the night I always suggest people dine in the Main Dining Room instead of the other dining options on the ship.  You’ll get your best experience of what the main dining room has to offer and the dining staff usually put a bit of a show on for you as well.  It’s fun!

Formal night is also when you want to take advantage of the ship’s photographers’ many backdrops – it’s time to get formal photo-ready! Let’s face it, we all get older every single day, so you’ll never look as good as this again. Strike the pose and get as many pictures taken as you can. 

Remember the great thing about shipboard photography is that you only pay for the photographs you like! So take advantage – hopefully, you’ll end up with something that will be a great memory from the cruise.

It’s Down To You!

Ultimately Carnival Cruise formal night is what you make of it. If you love dressing up in a formal outfit you will have a ball. If you don’t then so be it. Just treat it as any other cruise night. 

Remember nothing is mandatory, so bear that in mind when packing for a cruise and planning your outfits – it’s down to you what to take.

So let’s put this out to you the reader.

What does Carnival Cruise Formal Night mean to you? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

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Morag is our Food, Fashion and Fun expert at Cruise Nonstop. On a typical cruise, you'll find Morag either studying the fine dining menus or dancing on the dance floor, having a ball!

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