The dress code for warm-weather resorts and cruises might be unspoken, or guests may receive specific guidance on what to pack. Resort casual tends to be the norm for most tropical vacation destinations in the daytime, with some higher-end resorts upping the formality a touch in the evenings to “resort chic.” Feel free to use a tropical vacation as an opportunity to wear a flowing maxi dress or a shirt with a bold print that might not work as well at home.
Resort Casual in the Daytime
What to wear at a resort can be easily deciphered. Most resorts and cruise ships have a “resort casual attire” or a “smart beach casual” dress code, if any dress code at all, in the daytime. Guests at hotels with a resort casual dress code should avoid wearing T-shirts with advertising or slogans on them and restrict athletic clothing to the gym. Otherwise, there's lots of flexibility in resort attire.
A bathing suit is perfectly fine for the beach. When walking around the resort, or, for daytime meals at resort restaurants, women should toss a cover-up or sundress over their swimwear. Men should wear a shirt, and, if their bathing suit is small, add a pair of shorts. Restaurants require shoes for health and safety reasons, and flip-flops meet the definition of resort casual for daywear. For resorts that prefer a closed-toe shoe when not at the poolside, try a comfortable pair of boat shoes.
Swimwear with a swimsuit cover-up is also fine for leaving the resort for water excursions. It’s exactly what to wear on the ride to a swim with whale sharks in La Paz or to snorkel in Grenada's Underwater Sculpture Park.
What does Resort Casual Mean?
Resort casual means ditching the swimsuit for land-based excursions, though. For one thing, it’s likely too hot. Shorts, capris and T-shirts are OK for shopping on the spice isle of Grenada or visiting the marketplace at Fisherman’s Village at Resorts World Bimini in the Bahamas. Dressing up a little, perhaps with a skirt, linen pants, or polo shirt, is welcome when you're exploring the capitals of the Caribbean islands, as many islanders tend to dress a touch more formally.
When packing resort casual wear for your holiday, remember to pack clothes that breathe, especially if you’re not used to the heat and humidity. Natural fibers like cotton and linen and loose-fitting clothing are best. People who wear tight-fitting clothing soon realize how sweaty they get in the heat while they explore Barbados, Honduras or Costa Rica.
Resort Casual at Night
Resort evening wear usually means no jeans, tennis shoes or T-shirts (especially with ads or slogans). Fashion shorts might be OK (think Bermudas), but sportswear shorts are not. Some resorts may restrict access to their dinner restaurants or nightclubs if more casual clothing is worn.
Sometimes, evening dress codes are called “resort chic,” “elegant casual,” “party casual” or “casual chic,” and are not dissimilar to what you might find at a country club. There’s no need to wear a suit and dress shoes or a sequined cocktail dress.
- Men will be comfortable and blend in when wearing trousers, a collared shirt, and loafers.
- Women will fit in with trousers, a skirt or dress.
While some cruise ships still have formal nights, other cruise lines are aiming for the casual elegance that many upscale guests prefer. Viking Cruises and Windstar, for example, have designated their voyages as resort casual. In the evenings, resort dress code requests that guests not wear shorts or jeans for most dining rooms.
The Definition of Resort Casual Can Vary
The degree of casualness of a dress code labeled “resort casual” can vary depending on where you’re staying, both for the type of hotel and the destination.
Stays at family resorts, such as the Hilton Puerto Vallarta and Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort and Spa, tend to be more casual than resorts aimed at couples, such as the TRS Coral Hotel or Privilege Aluxes Isla Mujeres. Guests also tend to dress up more at design hotels like Live Aqua Urban Resort San Miguel de Allende and Grand Residences Riviera Cancun.
City hotels in tropical locations, like the Bristol Panama in Panama City’s downtown business district, tend to be more formal than golf resorts in the same area, such as The Santa Maria, which is 10 minutes from Panama City’s main airport.
Packing for Resorts in Buddhist and Muslim Countries
Generally, people who live in countries composed of a population that is primarily Buddhist or Muslim dress more conservatively than people who live in the United States, Australia or Canada. Many Cambodians, for example, would be embarrassed by a tourist wearing a tank-top and short shorts walking down the street in Phnom Penh. When exploring Cambodia's Angkor Archeological Park, visitors are required to dress with their shoulders and knees covered. Adjust your definition of resort casual to be more conservative for these destinations.
Guests visiting private island resorts in Muslim countries, such as Bawah Reserve in Indonesia or Coco Privé in the Maldives, can wear the same type of resort wear as they would in Mexico or the Caribbean.
Packing Light for a Resort Casual Vacation
Depending on planned activities, you might spend most of your vacation in your bathing suit. Plus, there’s no need to be a fashion plate if you don’t want to be. You’re not required to stuff your suitcase with a different resort casual outfit for each day of your trip.
Ideally, you can pack light, breathable fabrics that you can wash while you're away, and wear them again.
Doing so makes it easier to stay in a place that has laundry facilities, even better when they’re free.
- Guests with Viking Cruises, for example, have access to laundry machines that are free to use.
- Condo-type resorts like Vivo Resorts near the Mexican surf town Puerto Escondido and Ocean Club Resorts in Turks and Caicos have in-suite laundry facilities.