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Your Cruise Vacation: Shopping
It's Your Duty To Shop, But It Won't Be Free

Disney Cruise Line Shopping
Get started "pin trading" by shopping first on Disney Cruise Line Ships

Nearly everyone who goes on vacation, and especially a cruise vacation, does a bit of shopping. It's the law. My motto is that there's no such thing as a "bad" souvenir if it brings you pleasure and reminds you of an enjoyable trip.

Plan Before You Shop Ashore
You know you're going to shop, so before leaving home it's a good idea to pre-plan your shopping forays to insure the best retail therapy experience. Whether souvenirs, bargains, or high end goods are the object of your quest, set a budget (then stick with it) and check prices before you set sail. The Caribbean was once a shopper's paradise due to its duty-free status and visitors found bargains galore. Much of that luster has diminished, but it's still possible to find deals. Even if you pay the same amount for a bottle of imported perfume in St. Thomas as you would have paid at your hometown Macy's, you'll save the sales tax and that can be considerable in some states.

However, if you are buying electronics (cameras are a good example) or watches, you may find the warranties on those purchases aren't the same as similar items purchased in the U.S. Jewelry is trickier yet. Even the most reputable jewelry stores in other countries may overstate the quality and value of that diamond ring you simply had to have. By sticking to brand names you may fare better. For instance, I found a retailer in Nassau that sells David Yurman jewelry at the same prices (which are set by the designer) as my favorite jeweler at home. By buying the item I had my eye on in the Bahamas, I could save 7% sales tax.

Some cruise lines schedule "shopping seminars" for passengers before arriving in each port of call. While they are informative, you should be aware that merchants pay a fee to be touted on board and to have their location listed on the "shopping maps" distributed at the gangway. Recommended merchants are vetted by the cruise lines and offer a guarantee should your purchase fail to live up to expectations (the diamond in that ring was glass!), but nothing will protect you from buyer's remorse.

The Shops Onboard
Don't overlook your cruise ship's shops as shop-portunities. Modern ships are a shopper's heaven offering such duty-free favorites as liquor, tobacco products, perfume, and jewelry, as well as the cruise line's own logo merchandise. If your luggage is delayed, you can usually pick up a casual outfit or two and even formal wear in some ship boutiques.

You'll also usually find a section in one of your ship's shops that is devoted to things you may have forgotten to pack. Be prepared to NOT pay duty free prices for a tube of toothpaste, though. Toiletries and other sundries can cost much more than your local Wal-Mart.

And then there are the sales! Be prepared to find tables set up outside the shopping corridor where impulse shoppers can buy "designer" watches one day, logo tee-shirts the next, and gold-by-the-inch nearly every day. I highly recommend buying your tee-shirts at these sales as they can be half the price of the ones displayed in the shops, but you may want to be wary of the super cheap jewelry. Don't get me wrong, just so long as you realize that a $10 watch won't last as long as a real Rolex (and you need a watch because you forgot yours), you'll be fine. And don't expect gold-by-the-inch to wear as well as real gold. The by-the-inch stuff is gold plated.

Shopping aboard Celebrity Solstice
Turf for your toes from The Lawn Club shop aboard Celebrity Solstice

Cruise Ship Shopping At Its Finest
Who doesn't like Mickey Mouse? Just like at the theme parks, you'll find great Disney merchandise on the Disney Cruise Line ships. Our favorite items are the adorable enamel pins depicting Disney characters and even the Disney ships. The ship pin pictured above is designed to cleverly "float" from side to side. With a lanyard and a few pins attached, you're ready to dive into the pin trading frenzy you'll encounter on board. Adults and children alike trade pins with fellow passengers, crewmembers, and even the ships' Captains.

The ultimate in shipboard shopping, however, is located on Celebrity Cruises' Solstice-class ships. With no fewer than 19 shops to browse, the ships are retail nirvana. Their "Shops On The Boulevard" feature the chic (men's and women's clothing), the stylish (purses, watches, and sunglasses), the fashionable (private-label apparel), and the ultra-luxe in upscale (shop by appointment only) merchandise you'd expect in a Beverly Hills boutique-style atmosphere. Want some body butter? They've got that, in addition to eclectic merchandise reflecting the character of the ships' destinations. To take home the feel of the Lawn Club's real grass between my toes, I stopped at the Lawn Club Shop aboard Celebrity Solstice during its maiden season for a pair of "grass"-soled flip-flops.

Don't worry if you go overboard on your shopping excursions. You can always pick up a tote or duffel bag to carry your purchases home. I recommend that anyway, especially if you are flying. You don't want to subject your fragile purchases to the not-so-tender mercies of airline baggage handlers. 

Where you'll find the best shopping on board or ashore really depends on your taste. Like many passengers, I'm a collector. While not obsessive, I buy caps, tee-shirts, and cat figurines during my travels. Those items have to really appeal to me, though. I don't buy a cat figurine from every place I visit simply to say, "This cat is from XYZ." However, even the tackiest cat in my collection captured my attention and I just had to have it.

Before you shop 'til you drop, get the information you need from U.S. Customs: The Traveler's Standard Duty-Free Exemption.


A (Cruising) Pirate's Cache, Some passengers gloat over winning in the casino. That’s only money. I’d rather have something that cash can’t buy. Use Cruise Diva's strategies for returning home with free souvenirs.

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