The Cunard Dress Code – from casual to glamorous, what to wear on your Cunard Cruise

Take the stress out of packing for your cruise with my guide to the Cunard dress code with suggestions on what to wear onboard.

Packing for a cruise is not always as straightforward as you might think. As well as having to take into account your destination and any activities you plan to do you also need to think about the cruise line’s dress code.

Cunard cruise ships in particular are known for being traditional and elegant harking back to a bygone era of ocean travel. The Cunard dress code has a reputation for being quite formal and although it has been relaxed recently, it can still be difficult to know what to pack so you dress accordingly for each occasion.

I know I was quite worried before my cruise. I thought it would be a bit stuffy, formal and I wouldn’t fit in having packed all the wrong clothes! Thankfully, it wasn’t quite like that.

So, if the dress code on Cunard ships is making you a little apprehensive about taking a voyage with them, read on for some tips on what to wear based on my experience of cruising on the Queen Mary 2.

Cruising with Cunard

I was keen to take a voyage with Cunard but the one thing that worried me was the dress code issue. Having spent some time in various Facebook groups and reading people’s comments I feared I would be frowned upon if I didn’t have a ball gown or cocktail dress for the evening or even if I wore my jeans during the day.

Thankfully, it wasn’t like that at all. Yes, it was a little more smart and less casual than some other cruise lines I’ve travelled with but it wasn’t black tie every night. I was worrying for nothing really.

Cunard Dress Code   

The dress code on Cunard ships varies depending on the time of day. It also varies in the different restaurants and venues onboard so you’ll need to pack a variety of clothes to cover all eventualities.

How do I know what the dress code is each night?

There are a couple of ways you can check the dress code for each night of your cruise. Before you travel you’ll find details in Cunard’s cruise planner. This is a very handy guide and I recommend checking before you travel as it will help you pack. It should also tell you the theme of the Gala Night for your cruise 

Once onboard, you’ll find details in the Daily Programme, Cunard’s daily planner that is left by your door or in your cabin at the end of each day. You’ll find details of the dress code for the following evening at the top of the front page. 

Read more | A Luxurious Escape Aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2

What to wear on a Cunard cruise

Sea Days

During the day, the dress code is fairly relaxed. More relaxed than I was expecting it to be actually. My jeans and trainers were fine!

If you think along the lines of comfortable holiday wear you won’t go too far wrong. So for men trousers or jeans and a shirt or a t-shirt and shorts are fine. For women, dresses, trousers, blouses, and t-shirts all work well for daywear.

Although you do want to keep mind the climate where you are cruising. You probably wouldn’t want to be wearing your summer wear in winter destinations and vice versa.

Don’t forget though that it can be chilly on deck with the sea breeze so it is also worth packing some light jackets or cardigans for those walks around the promenade deck or playing deck games. When I cruised with Cunard I was fortunate to have some very warm weather so it wasn’t too cold on deck but I was still glad I some layers just in case.

Obviously, if you plan to spend the day by the pool or relax in the spa or a whirlpool, you’ll need your swimwear. A shawl, sarong or cover-up is also useful to have handy. One thing to note is that as you might expect, swimwear is not permitted in the restaurants so if you want to take a break from the pool for lunch you’ll need to change.

So, it’s best to either take something with you that you can change into or plan to go back to your cabin to change. Room service is complimentary on Cunard so if you don’t fancy the hassle of getting changed just to change back in to your swimwear again you can order lunch to your cabin.  

If you want to use the gym facilities, make sure you pack your gym kit and definitely don’t forget your trainers (easily done that!). Even if you are not a gym goer it is still a good idea to bring some active wear as there are plenty of other ways to get some exercise on Cunard ships. A few laps around the promenade deck enjoying the sea views and you’ll have got some exercise in before you know it.

One must-have when packing is comfortable shoes as you’ll do a lot of walking around the ship. There is nothing worse than spending long days in uncomfortable shoes with your feet hurting. So, make sure the first thing you pack are your comfy shoes.

Port Days

When you are in port, you are likely to be spending the day off the ship exploring. What you wear these days depends on your destination a little but the overriding rule should be to go for comfort, both in clothing and footwear. 

Whether you take a shore excursion or explore independently, you may find yourself doing a fair bit of walking so you’ll need those comfy shoes again. Clothing-wise, it is much the same. Casual and comfortable should fit the bill. However, you do need to keep your destination in mind. 

If you are cruising around the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or any warm climate you’ll want light comfortable clothing to help keep you cool. Think along the lines of loose-fitting clothing and cotton and linen fabrics. Don’t forget your beachwear as well as in both these region you are likely to end up on a beach at some point.

While if you cruise around the Norwegian Fjords or Alaska, where the weather can be quite changeable, you’ll need some warmer clothes just in case. Items you can layer up or down depending on the weather and temperature are good options here. As is a waterproof jacket and umbrella as you might see a lot of rain in these regions. 

If you are visiting any cultural or religious sites you may find these have strict dress codes. You will likely have to cover your shoulders, arms and legs. Even your hair and head in some places. Failure to comply with this will probably result in not being able to access the site. Check your itinerary and any locations you want to visit while in port to make sure you are aware of any dress rules so you can pack accordingly.

Whatever your destination, you’ll also want a good day bag that fits your essentials such as wallet or purse, phone, water bottle or beach wear. Don’t forget to pack your phone or camera, whatever you use to take photos, along with some spare batteries. You don’t want to miss any photo opportunities because your battery is flat. Trust me, I’ve been there and its disappointing.

Evening wear

As I mentioned at the start of this post, the evenings on the Queen Mary 2 were what I was most worried about. Most nights on a cruise are smart casual, with an emphasis on smart when cruising with Cunard. However, Gala Evening (their name for formal nights) are well known for being spectacular and glamorous. 

All things I’m not.

Traveling solo can make it a little awkward at times too, where you can feel a bit all dressed up with nowhere to go. However, I was worrying for nothing really. Yes, many people dressed up and looked fabulous, but it wasn’t full on black tie every night and I didn’t stand out on my own.

Smart Casual Nights

Most nights onboard Cunard ships have a smart attire dress code. The dress code changes around 6pm in the venues it applies to. It applies to most venues and public spaces including the Main Dining Rooms and the Commodore Club.

The dress code on these nights is not as formal as the gala nights. It’s more like what you would wear if you were going out for the night to a restaurant or theatre. For women that means a dress or a skirt or trousers with a nice top or blouse while for men a jacket or blazer with a shirt is fine.

If you don’t want to dress up that is not a problem, you won’t have to spend all night in your cabin. There are plenty of casual dining venues including the buffet (Kings Court or Lido), Carinthia Lounge and G32.

My last night on board the QM2 I actually spent in jeans. I had dinner in Kings Court and then spent some time on deck for the sailaway and watching the sunset. There was no issues, or funny looks, that I could see.

Cunard Gala Nights

Gala evenings on Cunard have a real sense of occasion. These nights are your chance to dress up to nines. You’ll find many people take part and enjoy them. It is a big part of a Cunard cruise.

Depending on the length of your cruise, you can expect to have one or two of these nights. Cunard asks that guests observe an elevated dress code. Whatever that means? In practice, it is basically a black tie dress code.

Women wear elegant evening wear such as ball gowns, cocktail or stylish dresses, trouser suits or formal separates. Men also get a chance to dress up with many wearing tuxedos.  If you don’t have one of those you can wear a dinner jacket or a dark suit.

Cunard Theme Nights

Gala nights often have a theme. It was Red and Gold for the cruise I was on. Other themes you may get on your cruise include

  • Black and White night 
  • Masquerade night
  • Roaring 20s

As I didn’t have a red or gold dress and didn’t want to buy one for just one night, I decided to accessories with red and gold instead. I took one of my black evening dresses and jazzed it up with a red scarf and a red and gold handbag and rose gold shoes. I think I got away with it.

Other people on board were doing similar, the men too with red ties, bow ties and hankies which stood out against their dark suites. So, if you don’t have a dress or outfit that quite meets the theme there are ways you can still join in.

If dressing up is not your thing don’t worry, there is no obligation to join in. As mentioned above there are a number of venues on board where the dress code is casual whatever the night including the buffet, the Golden Lion and G32.

The Last Word

In my experience, the dress code for Cunard cruises was less intimidating than I thought it was going to be. It certainly wasn’t a steam of tuxedos and ball gowns. So, if the fear of feeling like you have to dress up all the time is putting you off taking a voyage with them, don’t let it.

During the day the dress code was comfortably relaxed with a focus on exploring the ship and port of call. While the smart attire for the evenings was just like going out for a special occasion at home.

Despite my initial reservations, the Gala Night did add a bit of fun to the cruise and by accessorising I could join in without a fully themed outfit. Even if Gala Nights are not your cup of tea there are plenty of casual venues so you can still have a nice evening onboard without having to adhere to the strict dress code. 

So, whatever your style or comfort, you have plenty of options to enjoy a memorable voyage with Cunard.

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