When someone says "formal night" everyone just knows you're talking about a cruise. Whether you look forward to donning a three piece suit, or you try as best as you can to avoid wearing shoes, you'll want to plan for whatever the more "dressed up" evenings are on your next cruise.
There is no maritime law for formal night schedules - such laws are usually reserved for safety concerns and how to handle an emotionally distraught cruise blogger that's been on stuck on shore for months. Let's look at a few ways you can try and figure out exactly when you'll need to break out the nice clothes, or as is often the case for me, what night you'll be heading to the buffet instead of the dining room.
Is There a Formal Night?
Before worrying about when formal night is, make sure there is one. Norwegian Cruise Line doesn't have formal evenings with their "Freestyle" cruising. This is also true of a number of luxury lines, some of which may have a strict dress code most evenings, and others, like Oceania, which are more relaxed throughout the whole cruise. Before checking your cruise line website, you should also know that many lines have moved toward different names (and levels of dress) for these special evenings. This includes Celebrity's Evening Chic, Carnival's Cruise Elegant Nights, and Holland America Line's Gala Nights. Interestingly, Royal Caribbean has, in addition to formal nights, "Wear Your Best" nights on sailings of five nights or less - which is essentially "formal night light", and their ship Empress of the Seas has no formal nights at all.
How Many Formal Nights Are There?
This varies by cruise line, but even more, by cruise length. Here are some common guidelines - but of course, there are always exceptions.
- Unusually short cruises, like the two-nighter we recently enjoyed on Celebrity Infinity often have no formal nights.
- Sailings of ten or fewer nights usually have two formal nights.
- Most lines have three formal nights on sailings of 14 nights or more, though Royal Caribbean often features three formal evenings on sailings of 11 nights or more.
- If you're on a back-to-back sailing, where you're staying on for two cruises of seven nights (for example), keep in mind the points above are based on the ship's scheduled itinerary - not yours.
When Isn't Formal Night?
This may seem a strange way of wording things, but it's often easier to work out this way. It's very uncommon to have a formal night on the first or last night of the cruise. Beyond folks often just wanting to take it easy these nights, it's also because on the first night you may not have your luggage in time - or you may want things pressed. Similarly, on the last night of the cruise many folks pack up all but the bare essentials before going to dinner. Unless you're my maternal grandfather, a tie is probably not on your essentials list.
Common Formal Evening Schedules
Many of the larger lines will, for cruises of around a week in length, make formal nights the second and next-to-last evenings. If however one of those nights you're scheduled to be in port until after 6:00 or 7:00pm, they'll likely not schedule formal night for that day of your trip, and instead, move it to another day. On Royal Caribbean it is a bit more predictable, with Oasis class ships' formal nights on days two and five on Western Caribbean itineraries and days two and six on Eastern Caribbean itineraries.
How to Find Exactly When Your Formal Nights Will Be
You can't. Cruise lines don't even know for sure, as while they often have plans, plans change. Itineraries can change, so can schedules, and those in charge might make a change at any time. You can however get a good idea of what they're planning. In addition to those tips noted above, if you can find a recent daily program from a cruise on the same ship and itinerary that you're sailing, you can find out what nights were formal, what activities and entertainment were available, and more. Again - it's not a guarantee, but it can help you figure out what to expect. We have a growing collection of daily programs from cruises, and you might want to check here for a giant collection of Royal Caribbean Cruise Compasses.
How You Can Help Others Figure It Out
Simple! Report back on our message boards (or share anything you'd like about cruising while there), and if you have past daily programs from any cruise line, contact us and include the file in a DropBox or other link, or just ask and we'll help you email them or even send them by post.