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Packing light for a cruise vacation has always been a challenge. With most cruise lines now offering a greater mix of formal, informal and casual evenings at sea, it has become that much harder to choose the right clothes for a voyage.

What exactly does "resort casual" mean? How formal is "formal" dress? Does one really have to bring an evening gown or tuxedo on a cruise? Is there any place on board where one can dine wearing shorts, t-shirts and bathing suits?

It varies from ship-to-ship.

Here as a guide are some of the dress codes and suggestions for a few of the bigger cruise lines:

You will need three types of clothing on your Celebrity cruise: casual shipboard attire or day wear, conservative port wear and eveningwear. Daywear includes slacks or pants, blouses or shirts, knit tops or polo shirts. Port wear for women includes a casual dress, skirt and blouse, or pants outfit; for men, casual pants or walking shorts, and polo-type shirts. Formal night attire includes a tuxedo, dinner or dark suit for men and evening gown or fancy dress for ladies.

Each evening on a Crystal cruise has a specific dress code for dining areas that also applies to all public areas of the ship after 6pm (except for alfresco dining on deck when available). The three codes of attire are formal, informal and casual. Typically, 10- to 14-day cruises have three formal nights. The number of informal nights is usually based on the number of days at sea, and casual nights are based on days in port or the time of departure.

Casual resort wear is appropriate at any time on MSC Cruises but after 6pm jeans, t-shirts, shorts, and bare feet are not permitted in the ships' public areas. A cocktail dress for women and a suit or coat and tie for men are appropriate on formal evenings (one on 4- to 6-night cruises, two on 7- to 11-night cruises, and four on cruises 15 nights or longer).

The general atmosphere onboard Cunard’s ships is elegant, but relaxed. Although shorts and swimsuits may not be worn in the ships’ main restaurants, casual attire (including shorts) is welcome during the day at the Kings Court on Queen Mary 2 and at the Lido Café on Queen Elizabeth 2. Black tie or formal dark suit for gentlemen and evening dress or other formal attire for ladies is required for the ship’s main restaurants in the evening. On semiformal evenings jacket and tie for gentlemen and cocktail dress or trouser suit for ladies. No jeans. Elegant Casual means jacket, no tie required for gentlemen; dress, skirt or trousers for ladies. No shorts or jeans.

During "smart casual" dining evenings on Princess, guests should dress as they would for a fine restaurant at home. This includes pants and open-neck shirts for men, and skirts/dresses, slacks and sweaters for ladies. T-shirts, shorts, halter tops and jeans are not permitted in the dining room and shoes must be worn at all times. Formal evenings in the dining room require a tuxedo, slacks with dinner jacket, or suit for men. Women should wear evening gowns and cocktail dresses.

The guidelines for the three different evenings on Royal Caribbean are Casual – sport shirts and slacks for men, sundresses or pants for women; Smart Casual – jackets and ties for men, dresses or pantsuits for women; and Formal – suits and ties or tuxedos for men, cocktail dresses for women

Evening dress on Holland America falls into two distinct categories: Formal or Smart Casual. Smart Casual can be defined as slacks and sports shirt or sweater for men and skirt or trousers and sweater or blouse for women. T-shirts, swimsuits, tank tops and shorts are not allowed in the restaurants or public areas during the evening hours. On festive Formal evenings, ladies usually wear a cocktail dress or gown and gentlemen usually wear a suit and tie or tuxedo. There are approximately two formal nights per week.

Guests aboard the luxury ships of Seabourn experience the special atmosphere of formal evenings and the more informal ambiance of other nights. On formal nights, tuxedos and dark suits are appropriate for men; evening gowns or other formal attire are recommended for women. Elegant casual evenings feature slacks with a jacket over a sweater or shirt for men; sundresses, skirts or pants with a sweater or blouse for women. Casual wear is welcomed in the Veranda Café on evenings when dinner is served there. This includes slacks and a sweater or shirt for gentlemen; skirts or slacks with a sweater or blouse for women.

Casual attire is the order of the day on Carnival Cruises – shorts, sundresses, tank tops, etc. for the ladies, and for men; shorts, polo shirts, T-shirts, etc. will do. For dining you may want to dress up a bit and/or bring along a light sports jacket or cardigan. Most evenings Carnival have a Cruise Casual dress code, but there are those Cruise Elegant evenings where men are asked to wear dress slacks and dress shirts, an a sport coat. Ladies are asked to wear cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses. For those who want casual attire for dinner time, the Seaview Bistro on the Lido Deck is open nightly.

Shipboard attire on Regent Seven Seas ranges from informal wear to "Country Club" casual to formal attire. Country club casual (resort-style attire) is fine for daytime on board the ship and ashore, but shorts are not appropriate after 6pm in any of the public rooms or lounges. Depending on the itinerary, evening attire also can be country club casual, informal (sport coat and tie recommended for men), or formal (black tie optional). The dress code for Alaska, Bermuda and Tahiti sailings is always country club casual. Bathing suits and beachwear is not allowed in the restaurants at any time.

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