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Tips for Shopping In-Port While on a Cruise

Posted on June 07 2019

Cruises are the epitome of luxury and relaxation in some of the most beautiful places on earth. From adventures on shore during the day to retiring to your cabin and all the amazing activities and restaurants on-board at night, there isn’t a moment to be bored. Enjoy swimming, sight-seeing, world-class entertainment, delicious exotic cuisine and sights and experiences you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Of course, what cruise would be complete without a souvenir to remember it by? If you’re headed on a big cruise anytime soon, this is something you won’t want to forget.

Souvenirs come in all shapes and sizes. It can be as simple as a shell on the beach or a postcard from the cruise ship itself. For the most memorable experience, why not shop for your souvenirs from some of the many stores, boutiques and markets you’ll visit while in different ports?

Here's a look at what to expect when shopping in-port and cruise tips for finding that perfect souvenir. Follow these tips, and you won’t go wrong.

Your Guide to Port Shopping on a Cruise

Shopping on a cruise ship can be a little nerve-wracking, especially if you’ve never done it before. There’s no need to be nervous, however. By making yourself aware of the pitfalls to avoid and learning what to expect once you get there, you can approach your cruise-shopping excursions with confidence and excitement as you hunt for the perfect souvenirs to help you remember this trip for years to come.

With this in mind, here are the top tips for how to shop while on a cruise ship.

1. Talk to Your Bank Ahead of Time

Your bank’s job is to keep you — and by extension, your bank accounts — safe. That means if you start accruing charges from places across the country and around the world from where your bank knows you live, they're going to think something strange is going on. In some cases, they may give you a phone call to ask you if you’ve lost your debit/credit card. In other cases, they may not bother with this step. They’ll assume your debit/credit card and information has been stolen, and place a hold on your account so that no more money can be withdrawn.

This is a wonderful countermeasure to have in place in the event that someone actually does steal your card. It’s less wonderful when you’re traveling and you try to make a purchase, only to find that your account is frozen. Prevent this from happening by talking to your bank and or credit card company before you leave. Let them know where you’ll be traveling, and they will know not to freeze your money.

2. Understand Duty-Free Pricing

When shopping at a Caribbean port, one phrase you’ll likely hear repeated again and again is “duty-free pricing.” What does this mean? It’s very straightforward. Any time you buy something in the United States, you’re paying any number of additional taxes and fees, meaning your final price point is ultimately a good deal more than the item is worth. Many products in the Caribbean, however, are sold duty-free, which means they are exempt from any local taxes. They’re being sold with no additional taxes or fees attached.

The best way to protect yourself against paying higher prices under the guise of “duty-free” pricing is to educate yourself on what an item would cost back home. This can be easy if you head to the Caribbean with a specific item in mind and can do some preliminary research, but it’s more difficult if you pick up an item on a whim with no idea what it should cost. Still, by doing your best to arm yourself with a clear idea of average prices, you can easily take advantage of duty-free pricing without falling for any higher-than-necessary costs.

3. You Can Haggle — Sometimes

One of the most common things you may have heard about the Caribbean is that you’re expected to haggle over the prices. For example, if someone quotes you a price of $50, you may have been advised to turn around and offer $40. This is true sometimes, but it’s important to realize it isn’t a universal rule. Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to recognize where haggling is acceptable and where it isn’t.

An open market full of stalls selling handcrafted items, for instance, is a place where you might expect to haggle over prices. A luxury designer sunglasses shop, even if it’s located in the Caribbean, will not allow you to haggle, no matter what you may have heard. If you keep this distinction in your mind, you should have no trouble telling the two apart.

4. Beware of Extremely Cheap Items

In your travels, you may see t-shirts, flip-flops and swimming trunks advertised for as little as a dollar or two apiece. We recommend avoiding making purchases like these unless they’re absolutely necessary. These items will likely be of poor quality. They may last the day, but as soon as you throw them in the washing machine, they’re likely to fall apart at the seams.

When you’re on a cruise in paradise, sometimes needs arise — and a quick purchase can help you in that moment of need. However, price points often correspond to the quality level of an item, and therefore, a cheap purchase may not serve you for very long.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Try Unfamiliar Stores

Visiting port is an exciting time to have new adventures and try out things you might normally not have the opportunity to experience. And while this applies to every aspect of your port experience, it's especially applicable when it comes to shopping. So why not let yourself take a walk on the wild side as you head out for a fun day of shopping and sight-seeing?

As you browse the port, you'll likely see plenty of stores you recognize from home, ones you've heard mention of during your trip or local chains that appear in every port you've visited thus far. These stores are certainly worth visiting, and you might even find some new items specific to that port destination at great bargains. However, don’t feel you need to limit yourself to stores that look and sound familiar. Browse other stores you haven’t heard of — you might find unique items at a perfect price, or what turns out to be your favorite souvenir of the trip or the perfect gift for someone back home.

One "pro" shopping tip: Stay in the main shopping area of the port so as to make sure you're back to the boat in time for departure. You won't feel rushed to make any purchases, and therefore give yourself plenty of time to wander comfortably.

6. Ask About Shipping Policies

Maybe you’re just shopping for a new watch or a sparkly ring, but it’s also possible that you’re shopping for something much bigger and bulkier. If you find yourself making a purchase like this, you’re not going to want to carry it around with you all day, and you certainly aren’t going to want to be bothered with it when you eventually disembark at the end of your trip.

The solution to this is simple. If you’re making any of these large purchases, ask the shop in question what their policy is on shipping. They may be willing to ship the item directly to your home. While this will almost certainly be an extra fee, it may be worth it for the convenience alone. This may not apply to a simple shop of local handicrafts, but may be a possibility for a luxury retailer. Every store will have different policies, though, so be sure to ask instead of simply assuming every store offers this option.

7. Think About the Local Currency

If your cruise is taking you to the Caribbean, you will usually be able to shop with your U.S. dollars. Different parts of the world will have different rules and common practices, but the Caribbean is widely known for accepting U.S. dollars as a common currency across the islands.

Although you can technically shop in the Caribbean with your U.S. money, it may be smarter not to. You are likely to get more for your money if you shop in local currency, due to the more favorable conversion rates. This may not be true every single time, but it’s a general trend worth noting.

Additionally, be aware that even if you do choose to shop with your American money, any change you receive will be in the local currency. This may be fine, as you might then turn around and spend this money at a different store in the same port. However, it’s also possible you don’t end up spending this money — meaning you’ll arrive back home with cash you can’t use. While this might make an interesting souvenir if this is just a dollar or two, it can be quite frustrating if it’s a large sum.

For this reason, we recommend using small U.S. bills to shop instead of trying to break large bills that will result in lots of spare change.

8. Consider Cash vs. Card

If you’re stopping at an upscale or luxury store, they will almost certainly accept credit cards. They expect you to be making larger purchases and know you won’t be carrying around that amount in cash. They need to accept credit cards.

Market stalls and local vendors are different. They may accept cards, but more often they will only take cash. For this reason, it's best to go into these places with cash on hand so that you will be able to make your purchase no matter what their policy ends up being.

9. Understand the Basics of Customs Fees

You may have heard the term “customs fees” being thrown around in conjunction with bringing back goods from overseas. If you aren’t sure what this term means, it can sound extremely intimidating and off-putting. The good news is that it’s very easy to understand, and there’s a good chance it won’t affect you at all.

A customs fee is a price that may be imposed on goods purchased in a foreign country that someone is trying to bring into the United States. This is a way of preventing people from simply traveling abroad, buying everything they could ever need at wildly cheap prices, and then bringing them back with no consequences. There are rules in place, and the rules state that if you’re bringing back goods purchased for more than a certain dollar amount, you’ll need to pay a fee to U.S. Customs.

This precise dollar amount varies depending on where you’re returning home from. To be certain what this limit is for the countries you may be traveling to, do your research ahead of time. Once you know this dollar amount, you can either be aware of it and keep your purchases under that amount, or be prepared to pay the specified fee.

10. Know What You Can’t Bring Back

You may have heard that Cuban cigars and Cuban rum cannot be imported into the United States, whether through an online transaction or through purchasing them while on a trip to another country. But did you know there are other items you aren’t allowed to bring into the country, either?

Most meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and plants are prohibited and cannot be brought into the country. While nothing is stopping you from enjoying local fruit or cheese while you’re in port, these things can’t be brought home. This may seem arbitrary on the surface, but it is to prevent the spread of invasive species by introducing non-native plants as well as diseases that may be incubating in imported food.

Visit Little Switzerland on Your Next Caribbean Cruise

Are you headed for a Caribbean cruise in the near future? Is your perfect souvenir something with a little bit of sparkle and shine? Then view our locator tool and find the Little Switzerland location that will be near one of your cruise stops.

Here at Little Switzerland, we’re proud to be the defining name in luxury jewelry stores in the Caribbean. From classic name-brand jewelry items to the most elegant watches in the business, our stock includes something for everything. And because of our exotic locations across the Caribbean, a purchase at Little Switzerland is more than just another jewelry piece. It’s a souvenir of a special trip and a special occasion that you’ll get to remember every time you wear it. And with a variety of financing plans to suit everyone’s needs, it has never been this easy to get that sparkly something you’ve been imagining.

Start your shopping experience today by browsing our online catalog as you plan for your next Caribbean adventure.


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