11 Things To Know About Formal Night On A Carnival Cruise

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Formal nights have long been a part of cruise tradition, and despite waning interest from some guests, they do endure on Carnival.

Pretty much every Carnival cruise will have at least one formal night, but it’s good to understand exactly what’s expected – how strict are the rules, what kind of atmosphere should you expect, and what kind of outfit should you make sure you have packed in your suitcase before you travel?

The grandiose main dining room of the Carnival Dream cruise ship, elegantly set for dinner with a symmetrical design, rich wooden accents, and a striking red chandelier as the centerpiece.
Main Dining Room on Carnival Dream

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about ‘Formal’ night on a Carnival cruise, starting with…

1. They Aren’t Called Formal Nights

Carnival’s formal nights were renamed over 10 years ago to become “Elegant Night”.

It’s the same idea in concept – guests are encouraged to get dressed up, and the night is meant to feel more special. But a lot of guests believe it was given a new name to try to relax the pressure around formal nights so that guests who didn’t want to dress up wouldn’t feel excluded from the celebrations.

So, when you see the nights listed on your cruise schedule as Elegant Night, you know that that’s the formal night(s) for your cruise.

2. There Are 1 or 2 Per Cruise

The only Carnival cruises which don’t have an Elegant Night are 1-day cruises. As long as you’re on the ship for two nights or more, you’ll get to experience one.

There’s one Cruise Elegant evening for any cruise from 2 days to 5 days, while cruises that are 6 days or longer have two Cruise Elegant evenings.

As for when they take place, it will vary. Usually, it’s on the second or third day of your cruise, and then 1-2 days before the final day of your cruise.

On a 4-day cruise, you should expect Elegant Night to be held on the second or third nights, and for a 7-day cruise, it’ll likely be the second night and the fifth or sixth night.

While some cruise lines will try to put their formal nights on sea days, so that guests have more time to get ready, Carnival’s shorter cruises with fewer sea days negate this as an option, so your Elegant Night could happen on a day when the ship is in port.

A Carnival cruise ship with its distinctive funnel docked at a tropical port, flanked by bright blue skies and calm sea waters, with a row of yachts and a colorful building to the left.

3. Elegant Night Is Not Mandatory

You absolutely do not have to take part in Elegant Night if you don’t want to. If you’re someone who hates the idea of getting dressed up, then you can just avoid the whole Elegant Night experience. It’s not like there’s a dress code that applies to the whole ship.

If you want to really relax and enjoy your typical casual attire, then the best place to go is the buffet restaurant, where you will find that the night feels just like the rest of your cruise. Don’t panic about what to wear if you would rather just keep it casual.

The Lido Marketplace on Carnival Vista, presenting a bright and airy buffet area with wooden tables, an array of fresh fruits on display, and elegant pendant lighting, offering a casual dining atmosphere.
Lido Marketplace on Carnival Vista

4. Speciality Restaurants Are Cruise Casual

For the most part, the speciality restaurants onboard your Carnival ship will remain as Cruise Casual even during the Elegant Night celebrations. The Main Dining Room is where most people will be donning their formal wear, so you could book a speciality restaurant meal if you’d rather stick to your usual attire.

Some restaurants may have a couple of additional rules around not wearing shorts, but you’ll be told these when you make your booking and it’s still a very simple dress code that is easy to abide by.

Evening ambiance at Cucina del Capitano on Carnival Mardi Gras, featuring an outdoor dining area with red checkered tablecloths, wooden chairs, and a serene ocean view framed by large windows under a dusky sky.
Cucina del Capitano on Mardi Gras

5. You Should Avoid Anything Too Casual

The recommended dress code for your formal dinner on Elegant Night is for men to wear dress slacks with a shirt and sports coat, or women to wear cocktail dresses, pantsuits, or a skirt and blouse. 

This is the recommended dress code only though, so if you want to wear jeans and a polo shirt then you should be fine. You might get judged by some of your other cruise guests, but most of them won’t bat an eyelid or even notice what you’re wearing.

Family on cruise casual dress

6. Not Everyone Dresses Up – But Some Make a Real Effort

There’s a real mix of people on Carnival’s Elegant Nights – some people who follow the dress code, some who take it to another level by donning a suit with tie, tuxedo or full evening gown, and some who don’t stick to the recommended dress code but will at least put on a full-length pair of trousers and a collared polo shirt.

If you’re one of those who really wants to make an effort then by all means go for it, but you’ll likely be in the minority. Most people will be in the recommended dress code, or a slight step down. The black-tie and evening gown crowd is shrinking all the time.

“Pretty much as long as you have pants on you are good but some go big on formal night and dress to the nines.”
Source: CruiseCritic

7. You Could Be Refused Service… But It’s Very Unlikely

There are technically some tighter rules on the dress code for Carnival’s Elegant Nights, and if you flaunt these then you might be refused service in the Main Dining Room, and asked to eat elsewhere. You should definitely avoid wearing cut-off jeans, sleeveless shirts, t-shirts, baseball hats, bathing suits and flip-flops.

You don’t have to quite go all-out with the formal dining wear, but as long as you avoid these banned items, you won’t have any issues.

“I've been wearing jeans, a polo and tennis shoes to the 2 elegant nights for years. We're not "dress up" people.”
Source: CruiseCritic

Even if you did turn up wearing tailored shorts and a simple t-shirt without a slogan, it’s unlikely the crew will turn you away. But the other guests may be less impressed with you.

8. You’ll Enjoy an Enhanced Menu

The menu for Elegant Night on a Carnival cruise will offer a selection of different options compared to a regular evening, with slightly higher quality dishes available.

Some of the entrees that you might be able to enjoy, that wouldn’t normally be available, include:

  • Filet Mignon
  • Lobster Tail
  • Slow-Cooked Prime Rib
  • Teriyaki Salmon

However, not everything is included – there will still be a Steakhouse Selection of dishes that have an additional charge associated with them, just like at regular dinners.

And the appetizers and desserts may only include one or two special options, with the rest being similar to those in rotation with regular dinner menus too.

An elegantly plated crab cake served on a white plate with a dollop of sauce, accompanied by a freshly baked roll on a side plate and a glass of water, ready for a fine dining experience on a Carnival cruise ship's main dining room.

9. The Atmosphere Is Sophisticated But Relaxed Too

The idea of Carnival’s Elegant Nights is to enjoy a night of sophistication. However, it’s not supposed to be super-formal, the kind of night where you’re always worrying about etiquette or anything like that.

There will be a lot of guests who view it just as another night in the Main Dining Room, and nothing particularly special. So there’s still a relaxed atmosphere that you can enjoy. It’s not a night where you’re performing, and the crew are still looking to make sure you enjoy yourself.

A vibrant scene in the main dining room on Carnival Vista, where a waitress is serving a family. The warm lighting and the restaurant's modern decor create a welcoming atmosphere for guests enjoying their meal.

It’s not a stuffy vibe at all. Some guests might have a little bit of an attitude over others who are ‘flaunting’ the dress code, but there are now enough people who aim for a more smart/casual style that you’re unlikely to hear any snide remarks or anything like that, since those who care are in a tiny minority.

10. There Are No Hard Rules On Kids’ Attire

The dress codes for Carnival’s Elegant Nights only dictate what the recommended attire is for men and women. If you’re planning on dining with your kids during the Elegant Night celebrations, don’t worry too much about finding a really formal outfit for them.

Most children and teenagers will enjoy getting a little bit dressed up alongside their parents, so feel free to put them in dresses or trousers. But don’t fret over what kind of shoes they’re wearing – trainers will be fine.

A young girl engaging in conversation at a family dinner in the main dining room on Carnival Vista, with waitstaff attending to guests and wine glasses on the table, capturing a moment of elegance.

And if they want to wear a t-shirt and shorts, nobody is going to complain. Stick to the main basic rules of no swimwear and no flip-flops and you won’t have an issue.

Alternatively, sometimes the kids can go and dine in the buffet with their friends as part of the kids’ club, in their own special area, while the adults enjoy Elegant Night – one to ask about, if you think they’d prefer that.

11. You May Get Your Photo With The Captain

Carnival’s website reminds guests to say cheese when they get their photo taken with the Captain on Elegant Night. It doesn’t always happen though, and it’s becoming more of a rarity. So, make sure you snap up (geddit?) the chance to get your photo taken with the Captain while you’re in your Elegant Night attire, as you might not get that opportunity again.

Suggested read: What is the Captain’s Dinner on a Carnival Cruise?

The captain greeting guests on a cruise

Final Word

Elegant Nights on Carnival are generally very relaxed affairs, and you don’t need to panic about putting on your very best outfits if you’d rather leave them at home. Avoid the absolute no-nos, like swimwear and shorts, but even if you wear smart-looking jeans you’ll be absolutely fine.

And if the whole concept of formal dining makes you uncomfortable, just head to another venue on the ship for your dinner and your evening’s entertainment. There will be plenty of others doing exactly the same, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out.


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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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