If you don't care to get dressed up, select a less formal cruise, such as those offered by many of the small ships, or larger ships such as those of Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises, which do not have official formal nights. If, on the other hand, having the chance to put on your finery appeals to you, select Celebrity, Cunard, or Holland America (and, to a lesser extent, mass-market lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival) or posh lines like Crystal and Silversea. These ships will have casual and formal nights over the course of a week, when women can show off everything from a sundress to an evening gown (though on formal nights, most show up in cocktail dresses), and men will go from shirtsleeves to jacket and tie. You can wear a tuxedo on formal night if you like, but many men are now opting for dark suits. Most lines also now have an option for those who do not want to dress up on formal nights you can skip the dining room and eat casually at the buffet, or order room service in your cabin, where the dress code is pretty much whatever you feel like wearing.
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What Are the Other Passengers Like?
Each ship attracts a fairly predictable type of passenger. On small ships, you'll find a more physically active bunch that's highly interested in nature, but you'll find fewer families and single travelers. Larger ships cater to a more diverse group singles, newlyweds, families, and couples over 55. A good general rule to follow: the longer the itinerary, the older the crowd.
For nightlife seekers, big ships are the way to go. The nightlife aboard Carnival, MSC, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean ships is plentiful and varied, and goes on well into the night. Princess cruise ships tend to quiet down around 11pm, while Holland America guests typically turn in even earlier.