Sometimes it really depends on the Cruiseline you booked with. Some strictly enforce dress codes while others are lax. I would check tho with the Cruiseline you booked with. They usually have good guidelines on their websites on what is acceptable if you opt not to do the black tie option. If black tie is optional, a nice suit and tie would do. I know from my own past experiences on cruises, my husband wears a nice suit and tie w/a shirt that allows cuff links. Its the little touches like that, that makes the suit dressed up a bit without getting too stuffy like a tux does. Besides, who nowadays has a tux in their wardrobe for such occasions?
The one time I've gone with Disney cruise line, formal night was anything from what I would gauge as "business casual" to full formal gowns on the women. I don't remember seeing tuxes, but some guys wore suits.
So basically, they're encouraging dress-up, and discouraging jeans and shorts, that kind of thing.
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Typically it depends on the length of the cruise. It seems the longer the cruise, the more formal people are dressed. On our 10-night Meditteranean, it seems a LOT of the people (including us) were in black tie. After that cruise and a few other longer ones, we went on a 3-night for the first time, and we were overdressed - and I was in just a blazer in slacks!
As for the 7-night, I would say you should dress somewhere in between. If you want to go black tie, you certainly won't be the only one - but perhaps a suit or evening wear would be more the norm. But I think the men in the party could also get away with just a jacket and slacks, or even just a nice sweater and slacks. And then there are some people who skip formal night entirely, and just eat at Topsider's on Deck 9 and spend the night at the pool. It really just depends on how you'd like to approach it.
On the 15 day Disney Magic Panama Canal cruise in 2008 we had 2 formal nights. Most of us thought it was a great opportunity to really dress up. Here is a pic of part of our group with two of our servers on the first formal night.
And here's a pic of hubby and me on formal night #2.
I would say most didn't dress this fancy, but there were plenty that did so we didn't feel out of place. Hope this gives you some ideas. Enjoy your cruise!
I've done a number of cruises from 3 to 7 nights. Celebrity cruises did enforce their dress code. At the formal dinner, a man in jeans was to asked politely to go change. Everyone else was in black tie. The upper deck, namely the buffet, did not have the dress code for those who didn't want to dress up.
Carnival and Royal Caribbean were very laid back. They allowed jeans and many people did dress down for formal night. There were very few people wearing tuxs with most men wearing a suit.
Princess Cruises did not a enforce a dress code. However, the cruisers did dress up with several people in tuxs and gowns.
A 3/4 night cruise only has one formal night and is not taken to seriously. The 7 day cruises have at least 2 formal nights. Celebrity had 2 formal nights and several semi-formal nights were men were expected to wear a collard shirt and slacks, women a pant suit or dress.
So if you want to dress up, a 7 day on Celebrity or Princess will give you more of that classic cruise feel. If you want a laid back experience, stick with the party boats of Carnival and Royal.
Just did a 7 day Holland America - Most people just wore Sunday best. But there were several that took the opportunity to really do it up. they said that they really don't have anywear else to wear really fancy clothes, so this was their opportunity. I had my two boys with me and just dressed them in khaki pants and polo shirts.
We just got back from a 7 night DCL cruise. On formal night, there were a few couples in tuxes and floor length gowns. Most men were in suits or jacket and tie with their ladies in short cocktail dresses. Some wore just a nice shirt and tie or jacket with no tie with the women in normal dresses. A few dressed in casual clothes with jeans and t-shirts.
On semi-formal night, people were just a little more dressed up than normal dinner attire.
There was no enforcement of the dress code, and I think guests felt comfortable regardless of how they chose to dress for the evening.
I haven't done a Disney Cruise (yet), but on all the other cruises, I love formal night as it's one of those rare times I get to wear my formal kilt outfit, known as a Prince Charlie tux. Here's a pic of me in it at work, they let us wear costumes at the airport on Halloween so I take advantage and wear my kilt :-) This past Halloween I could barely walk from gate to gate cause passengers kept wanting to take my picture.