Activities: The best shopping at sea


Even in the middle of the ocean, you can give your credit card a workout thanks to an array of duty-free luxury boutiques on board cruise ships. Aboard every large cruise ship is a glitzy piazza or shopping gallery featuring marbled walkways and modern boutiques. Thought you’d escaped those designer brands? Think again. Stand by to shop until you drop in the middle of the sea. Watches, perfume, handbags and jewels are all available duty free at these ocean emporiums. Surprisingly, it’s Australian men who are spending up big, according to a survey byPrincess Cruises. One in four males said they spent more than $500 buying clothes, shoes and electronics. Not only are men bigger spenders than women, they are also more likely to buy something for their spouse while cruising. The majority of women said they shopped for themselves and only seven per cent said they bought something for their husband.

The Princess Cruises Holiday Shopping Study surveyed 1,000 people late last year and found that 60 per cent indulged in retail therapy at least three times a trip with a further 15 per cent shopping every day. Commenting on the survey, Princess Cruises public relations manager, Melissa Circosta said: “It’s interesting to see how being on holiday can alter people’s behaviour, with something like shopping together as a couple – often a no-go zone back home – becoming much more appealing during the relaxed confines of a cruise holiday.” Since Diamond Princess upgraded its shopping gallery with a watch boutique anchored by Omega, a fragrance shop and a luxury accessories store selling designer labels, sales of items such as Coach and Ralph Lauren handbags have been very popular, the line said.

Prices on cruise lines such as Princess Cruises, P&O and Seabourn are comparable to those of duty-free stores. The biggest selling items onboard P&O ships are Pandora, chocolate, fragrance, Billabong products, P&O logo items and fashion accessories. P&O and Princess have special offers on a daily basis with additional discounts. On the luxury line Seabourn, guests tend to look for value items and will purchase a memento of their cruise rather than snap up a bargain. Some passengers purchase fine jewels, quality watches, premium alcohol or designer clothing, according to a spokesperson for the line..

“When people go on cruise holidays they are a reward for all the hard work done during the year,” said a Royal Caribbean spokesperson. “It is natural that people will also want to treat themselves by buying themselves or loved ones something nice. “This is one of the main reasons why shopping during a cruise is so popular. They buy make-up, perfume, jewellery, fine liqueurs, accessories and souvenirs.” Royal Caribbean scours the world to offer guests a variety of items and to make the shopping ambience as enjoyable as possible. On the line’s Voyager class of ships, the main shopping strip, the Promenade, is a buzzing place with shops, cafes and pubs. To entice passengers to spend more, there are daily specials, especially on sea days. Last year the line introduced the first Tiffany’s boutique at sea onboard Ovation of the Seas and many other high-end brands, like Coach, Kate Spade and Guess, feature across the fleet.

Celebrity Cruises has onboard boutiques such as Bvlgari, Breitling, Omega and Michael Kors, as well as an extensive range of designer labels available, including TAG Heuer, Armani, Calvin Klein, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Kate Spade, Cole Haan and Barbara Rihl fine leather goods. On Azamara Club Cruises, there are four onboard boutiques selling a collection of designer jewellery and watches including Le Boutique, which offers personalised shopping for high-end jewellery with one-to-one assistance from the sales staff.

MSC Cruises has a shopping piazza with shops selling luxury brand watches, cosmetics, 600 fragrances, alcohol, cigarettes and handbags at duty-free prices comparable to those found in tax-free shops on shore. The boutiques specialise in high-end designer clothes and handcrafted Antica Murrina glass jewellery. On sea days, special shopping days are held with market stalls on the pool deck selling various goods from MSC-branded sun visors to Polo Ralph Lauren t-shirts, all with an additional discount thrown in.

Of course onboard shops make money for the cruise line, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find some bargains. The rule of thumb is that liquor, make-up, designer sunglasses and jewellery are sold on American cruise lines without sales tax and are duty free. With these tax reductions, prices are generally much cheaper. However, before you go too crazy, do some research on prices of jewellery, designer watches and perfume sold at dutyfree shops on shore. You should also familiarise yourself with the customs and excise regulations of the country where you will disembark your ship, and double check airline rules and allowances for carrying liquor. There’s no point in bagging a bargain only to find you can’t carry it home.