A cruise is a great way for shoppers to practice some retail therapy. The biggest, newest ships have what amounts to shopping malls on board. For example, Royal Caribbean's new 5,400-passenger Allure and Oasis of Seas each have a Coach boutique as well as shops selling watches, jewelry, clothing, toys, booze, perfume, electronics, and more.
The QM2 and new QE2 both have a Harrods on board stocked with the famous Teddy Bears, bags and other stuff. And you can buy diamond-encrusted watches and huge gem stone jewelry costing tens of thousands of dollars aboard high-end lines like Crystal (www.crystalcruises.com), Silversea (www.silversea.com) and Seabourn (www.seabourn.com).
In general, though ships tout their duty-free status, don't expect a great bargain on a cruise ship (passengers are a captive audience after all). Just revel in the convenience of browsing for stuff steps from your cabin. Keep in mind ship shops are closed while the ship is in port (local governments want all the shopping dollars for themselves). But not to worry, there are endless shopping opportunities in ports all around the world.
Here's what to look for when shopping your way across the high seas in Asia, Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
Where to Shop in Asia
Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City is the place to pick up beautiful hand-made lacquer trays and coasters, while in Beijing, you can grab everything from knockoff designer duds to jade. Do your homework -- if the price is too good to be true, it's probably fake.
In Bali, pick up wood carvings and furniture (have it shipped), and check out the chic beach clothes. Browse the high-tech cameras and gadgets in Tokyo, or the traditional Japanese handicrafts, such as kites, paper lanterns, bamboo baskets, swords, pottery, chopsticks, fans, or silk and cotton kimonos.
If India is on the itinerary, gold and silver jewelry will tempt you. You'll also find plenty of colorful textiles, carpets, and wood carvings. In French Polynesia, it's all about black pearls (which are actually a luminescent gray color) strung on necklaces and made into earrings and other jewelry.
Where to Shop in Europe
In Europe, it's all about hand-blown Murano glass in bright colors and creative shapes in Venice. In Florence, follow your nose to the leather shops for quality shoes, bags, belts, and jackets. If cruising Germany's Rhine River, Cologne and Rudesheim are the top spots for festive Christmas markets where you'll find ornaments, nutcrackers, angels, Santa Clauses, and thousands of items related to Christmas.
If you're heading into Paris from the port of Le Havre, wander the streets for art, fashion, and perfumes. For a great setting while you shop, go to the 2nd arrondissement's Passage de Grand Cerf, one of the few remaining 19th-century glass-enclosed shopping streets. There's also the Viaduc des Arts in the 4th Arrondissement, a cluster of stores tucked into narrow vaulted niches under a defunct railroad bed. In the 3rd Arrondissement, the Marais is a medieval warren of winding streets lined with the latest designers and their fashion trends.
If Egypt is on your Mediterranean itinerary, look for gold cartouche pendants that spell out your name in hieroglyphics. Or pick up a traditional painting on papyrus paper, a traditional handmade paper.
Where to Shop in North America
If your ship takes you to Bar Harbor, Maine, head to the LL Bean Factory Outlet store in nearby Freeport for well-made sensible clothes and footwear.
In New York City, stock up on knock-off bags, sunglasses, and watches from Canal Street vendors. Hit SoHo, the Meatpacking District, and the East Village for the trendy boutiques. Swing by Fifth Avenue for brand stores like Apple, NBA, Tiffany's, H&M, and Disney.
If bound for Alaska, Juneau is the place for native arts and crafts, from carvings to masks and silver jewelry, paintings and photography.
Where to Shop in the Caribbean & Mexico
Heading south to the Caribbean, St. Thomas is a duty-free paradise given that Americans can take home a whopping $1,600 worth of tax-free stuff. Compared to shopping on the U.S. mainland, you'll typically save in the neighborhood of 25 percent on jewelry (especially emeralds), watches, porcelain, crystal, perfumes, and clothing from chain stores, such as Diamonds International, Little Switzerland and others.
The focus is on silver jewelry all along the Mexican Riviera and in Cozumel on the Caribbean side.
Wherever you shop, just remember to leave enough room in your suitcase.
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