1. Pack your suitcase.
I know this seems like a DUH suggestion, but you really do have to plan (and maybe shop) for items prior to departure. You’ll need a few nicer outfits (a gown/tux if you are seriously into Formal Night, but otherwise at least a sundress/polo and khakis), clothes and shoes for touring/walking, and (depending on your destination) a bathing suit. Don’t wait until the last minute to buy these items because you may end up paying a premium for something that isn’t exactly what you want. Side note: don’t go TOO matchy-matchy with your swimsuits and cover-ups to avoid looking geriatric.
2. Stick to a budget.
Head into your shopping expedition with a budget. Prior to setting sail, research the ports of call and make a list of what to buy where. Use the power of the internet to become a savvy shopper with a base knowledge of what’s a good deal and what’s a rip-off. There are tons of websites out there with reviews of the ports of call. (I recommend TripAdvisor and CruiseCritic.) I have also had a lot of success negotiating prices with sellers. For example, if you see a street vendor with gorgeous necklaces for $25 apiece, ask if you can have two for $40. You can try this tactic in the larger stores too, but I haven’t had much luck with it.
3. Plan your attack.
I’d venture to guess that every ship has an information session for port and on-board shopping. I’ve attended a few of these sessions, and they can be very useful. If the presenter is doing his/her job, you’ll walk out of there with coupons for a ton of freebies and discounts. Just keep in mind that the retailers being presented have paid the cruise lines to promote their stores, the markup is significant, and the quality of the freebies really isn’t anything to write home about. I’d recommend going to look in several different stores first, then buy on your way back to the ship. Don’t let yourself get pressured into buying the first item you see. Also, don’t wait until the last second to do your shopping while you’re at a port of call – if it’s 5:30 and your ship departs at 6… that’s a bad time to start a purchase.
4. Buy light. (or, if needed, buy another bag!)
This applies more to cruisers who have to fly home after arriving back at port. If your luggage is over the weight limit, you *will* get slapped with hefty fees from the airlines. If you find that your suitcase is becoming overwhelmed with souvenirs, it is not a bad idea to buy another bag to carry your purchases. By the end of the cruise, the on-board stores start to mark down prices, so that’s a good time to snag a tote or duffel bag for your trip home.
5. Know the rules.
You should always be aware of what you can and cannot bring back on board or into your home country and what you need to declare on arrival. If you don’t know, ask! In my experience, cruise customer service reps are among the best, most knowledgeable (not to mention friendliest) in the world.
And one last tip…
6. ENJOY YOURSELF!
Don’t get so caught up shopping for the perfect outfit to wear, getting the best deal, or finding the perfect souvenir that you forget to look around and soak in the scenery! Just relax and read a book, go to a show, or take some pictures. In my opinion, there’s nothing better about a vacation than being able to capture a great moment or a beautiful scene in a photo (and they can be great for framing and giving as gifts, too!)
Erin took all photos in this post on a Royal Caribbean cruise on the Explorer of the Seas with ports of call in Portland, Maine; Bar Harbor, Maine; St. John, New Brunswick; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Boston, Massachusetts.
Do you have any other suggestions for cruise shopping? Do you totally disagree with something I’ve said? Let me know in the comments!