Avoid Wearing This Common Type Of Clothing To Dinner On A Cruise

While you might spend most of your time on a cruise lounging on the ship pool deck in your swimsuit, different rules apply in other areas of the vessel. There's perhaps no place where dress codes apply more than the onboard restaurants and dining halls.

Take a look at most cruise lines' list of rules — often found on the company's website — and you'll find some dos and don'ts for dining attire, particularly at dinner. Traditionally, dinnertime on a cruise is a somewhat elegant affair where you wouldn't dare think to don the same bikini or swim trunks you wore earlier in the day. However, some cruise guests may be surprised to learn that another common piece of clothing is also off-limits in many ships' dining facilities: shorts.

Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival are a few popular lines that may turn away evening diners who are caught wearing shorts, although the latter does allow "dress shorts" at dinner (think longer, tailored shorts in black or another neutral color). Even if you're sailing in the middle of summer, be prepared to swap your go-to shorts for another garment before heading to the restaurants.

When are shorts okay to wear on a cruise?

Assuming you're not embarking on a cold winter cruise, shorts are still A-OK to wear on many cruises — at least during the day. For example, Carnival recommends that cruisers pack multiple pairs of shorts when heading to warm destinations so they'll have comfy options for excursions, hanging out on deck, and other casual activities. Similarly, Royal Caribbean welcomes shorts in restaurants during breakfast and lunch, and Celebrity Cruises states that shorts are permitted during lunchtime at casual eateries and the pool deck snack bar.

In some rare instances, casual shorts may be allowed during evening meals. Specifically, Valerie Dorsey, a travel adviser at Cruise Planners, told USA Today that dinner buffet bars and some casual establishments on cruise ships may allow shorts no matter the time of day. When in doubt, check your cruise line's guidelines or ask a restaurant staff member.

What to wear for a nice dinner on a cruise

On many cruises, you'll want to dress smart for dinner, but if we're honest, it's not always clear what "smart" even means. Often, what would work in a business-casual setting or during a nice dinner back home will work on your ship, too. For women, this can include pieces like long dresses (not quite ball-gown level, but not as short or flashy as what you might wear to a nightclub either), skirts, dress pants, and blouses. For men, try sticking to dress pants, dark jeans, button-down shirts, polos, and sweaters. For shoes, leave the flip-flops in your cabin and sport some nice strappy sandals, ballet flats, or dress shoes instead.

Formal wear isn't as necessary on cruises as it once was, but there are some dinners and evening events where you'll want to look extra sharp. Look out for planned formal nights (some cruises have none, while others have one or two during each trip) and meals at fine-dining restaurants. In these cases, opt for evening gowns, sparkly cocktail dresses, suits, ties, and your nicest pair of dress shoes or heels. When packing for your cruise vacation, also consider some accessories to elevate your look, such as elegant jewelry, a wrap or scarf for chilly nights, cufflinks, and an elegant bag.