Back in the day, say 30 years ago, you never showed up for dinner dressed in anything but your finest: jackets for men; dresses or a nice pantsuit for women. On formal nights – on a seven night cruise there were usually two – men wore tuxes and woman donned formalwear. There weren’t choices: if you weren’t appropriately dressed; you were politely asked to leave the dining room.
There were no 24-hour pizzerias. There was no alternate dining room. If you missed dinner, you might get a sandwich from room service, or wait for the midnight buffet. Since a big selling point was the food, you didn’t want to miss a single meal so you dressed the way they wanted you to dress and quite honestly, everyone enjoyed it. Cruising was an expensive proposition and people expected a higher level of service, especially when it came to dining. That all by defines my first cruising experience on the former NCL Skyward.
Then Carnival came along and popularized mass market cruising. Carnival made cruising affordable. There was more food than one could ever expect to eat, but not the gourmet meals found on earlier cruises. You got two forks, a knife and a spoon, not the fork, spoon and knife selection that only royalty would understand. While mass market cruising gave everyone the ability to cruise, not everyone liked the idea of dressing for dinner. Over and over women would complain that their husbands wouldn’t cruise again because they a: didn’t own a tux or b: didn’t want to wear a jacket and tie.
Then change came. Carnival added areas where you could dine more casually and other cruise lines followed. Today you can choose to cruise on lines where all dining is casual; where some options are casual; or where more formal dining duplicates that of yesteryear.
That said, if you love playing dress-up, look for cruises where formalwear is the standard. If you want everything to be casual, take a cruise on a line where jackets are not required. Regardless of your choice, if you elect not to dress up on a mandatory formal night, you can always opt for a great meal at several onboard locations, all while wearing shorts and flip flops.