Sale or Bail: Is Shopping in Port a Rip-Off?

August 16, 2011 | By | 117 Comments

In Helsinki the other day, I was shopping at a boutique when a staffer off of Holland America’s Rotterdam came in to chat up the sales ladies.
“How’s business today?” he asked.

The query was not a matter of idle curiosity. That’s because this shop in Europe’s Baltic — along with better known port-of-call retail meccas like St. Thomas’ A.H. Riise, Cozumel’s Cinco Los Soles, Turkish carpet bazaars in Kusadasi, and Diamonds International stores and Hard Rock Cafes nearly everywhere — pays cruise lines to funnel passengers its way.
More specifically, what these in-port businesses pay for is a blatant “recommendation” by the port and shopping “experts” who work on cruise ships. They mention them in shopping talks and feature them in port information leaflets that ships hand out to passengers. And they extol the value of these proprietors’ “satisfaction-guaranteed” pledges.
What frosts me (first) about these arrangements: Cruise lines sometimes deceive their passengers by not revealing that these so-called recommendations are bought and paid for. A simple disclaimer — “These restaurants and shops have paid the cruise line a fee to be included in our port shopping guide” –- would do the trick as far as I’m concerned.
What disgusts me (next) is the so-called “satisfaction-guaranteed” pledge, which is not taken — by retailers and cruise lines alike — as seriously as it should be. According to Cruise Critic members who feistily debated this issue recently on our Facebook page, retailers who do follow the pledge to the spirit of the law are out there … but sadly few in number.
Writes Vanessa Pellegrino: “Years ago I bought jewelry at a recommended store in St. Thomas and the item turned out not even close to the carat weight the store indicated. I found this out after I had it appraised back in the states. It took me almost two years to get all my money back … The cruise line did not back up the purchase as they originally said on the cruise, but I fought it tooth and nail.”
Beyond that, though, if you love to explore ports of call via shopping and dining (a great way to get a feel for a place), and you’re not really in the market for diamonds or perfume, don’t you want to discover places with more of a local feel?
Heather Morrissey put it into perspective. “Do a little homework. Recommend something with a little more local color … than the same things you can get at any duty-free shop. And try to come up with a restaurant other than the Hard Rock Cafe.”
Now my husband, a devotee of the Hard Rock, may balk at the last suggestion, but I’m with Heather. Look for color where you can. And if you really do need advice on where to shop or eat in port, there’s a much better source of information than the so-called onboard port guide. Ask crew members. They’ll know the best places in town.
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    117 Responses to “Sale or Bail: Is Shopping in Port a Rip-Off?”

    1. Larry
      August 16th, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

      I so agree, port shopping is way over hyped. It would be nice if there was disclosure before a shop is featured. And then what about all of the supposedly “free” gifts at the various shops. What a JOKE!!!!!!!!!!

    2. Suzanne Smith
      August 16th, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

      I have stopped shopping on cruises. With globalization, I saw first had what this did to port of call shopping. Most items are made in China! I now look for art galleries featuring local artists. If I do decide to purchase something, I’d rather it be something very unusual and local.

      As for bringing much back these days, the airlines and baggage fees have certainly taken care of that. Travel is no longer for picking up items – it is about the experience and local food.

    3. Joy Coll
      August 16th, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

      After a couple cruises, it’s obvious that the so-called shopping experts onboard are puppets of the stores. Their bodies are dripping with expensive watches, diamonds, gold…it was obvious to me from the beginning that they are paid off in free merchandise. If you want a nice piece of jewelry, buy it at home and help the economy…

    4. Dean M
      August 17th, 2011 @ 3:13 am

      Must admit I am puzzled as to how the Cruise line knows I was shopping at a particular store…sure the store does not carry its own manifest…
      Dean M.

    5. Rick Norton
      August 17th, 2011 @ 7:40 am

      I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. However, you did not go far enough. One thing that so-called shopping experts tell passengers, and I’ve heard it frequently, is to avoid those stores not on the cruise line’s preferred list. They tell passengers their products are not guaranteed and that when shopping at a non-preferred store, it’s “caveat emptor.” This is a crock. My wife makes jewelry and is thus familiar with the jewelry sold in stores, especially in the Caribbean ports. More often than not, we have found the best buys in those stores not on the preferred list. Why? First, those stores refuse to give in to the cruise line’s financial demands (which really are nothing more than kickbacks) so they don’t have to raise their prices to cover the expense of being on the preferred lists. Second, they know that if they provide good service and quality items at a fair price, people will spread the word. I do not hesitate to tell my fellow passengers of a great store to shop in at a port. We have never, in almost 20 cruises, been taken advantage of. Indeed, I believe it has worked to our advantage to shop in the non-preferred stores and avoid the ships’ recommended stores.

    6. Kenn Gray
      August 17th, 2011 @ 8:25 am

      I agree completely with Rick Norton. We learned about the ‘method’ on our first cruise. We quickly found that if we went a block or two off the beaten path, that is, the one recommended by the on-board ‘experts,’ we found significantly better deals. I might add, however, to look for a store that has obviously more shoppers in it. There’s usually a good reason for that to occur. Also, listen to other passengers who have been at the port before. In spite of the coupons in the books the ships provide (which one invariably has to pay for), ‘non-approved’ stores give you much better deals. Addiitionally, I had once bought a wristwatch from the ship’s on-board emporium and found on our return home that the watch was defective. I sent it back and got a refund in less than two weeks, no hassle, no bother.

    7. Dawg
      August 17th, 2011 @ 8:32 am

      Agreed. There are great deals to be had on jewelry, clothing, & art just not at the cruise lines “preferred” stores. We enjoy shopping in various ports and searching out locally made items. Part of the fun is seeking out original items made by the local artists. I like to think shopping helps out the economy of which ever port I’m in. If I want to support China I can shop at Walmart back home. I’ll take a pass EVERY TIME on the shopping lectures & preffered stores.

    8. Richard O. Tonicar
      August 17th, 2011 @ 8:37 am

      Don’t be so hard on the cruise lines, after all they are giving you a detailed list of where not to shop. Yes, every one of these merchants are kicking back and therefore over charging you the customer. These merchants also provide an addition service to the passengers, they give you a ceiling on what you should pay. So if you really want to check them out, call a local merchant back home that you trust and see what he can do for you. If you find yourself purchasing items from these “shills” you really have too much money or you are making a concentrated effort to subsidize the cruise line.

    9. Alan Youngblood
      August 17th, 2011 @ 9:14 am

      I love the shopping shows on cruise ships. I always go, get the coupons and listen to the spiel . As Richard mentioned, this is the list of where NOT to shop. We recently went to St. Thomas and St. Marrtin and comparison shopped identical items at the recommended stores and smaller shops. The difference was incredible.
      The non approved stores typically have a little older decor and the lighting is not as bright and sales people are typically not as well dressed.
      We got very good service, a nice deal and great pieces at these non approved stores. I’m just sorry we couldn’t help buy the Cruise sales lady and her husband another Rolex in the process.

    10. Debbie
      August 17th, 2011 @ 9:32 am

      I NEVER shop at the shops recommended by the cruise ships! I have cruised 28 (another one coming up in Sept) times and have learned over the years that you get totally ripped off by these so-called recommended shops. Gold/Silver/Diamonds are much higher in these places than you can even buy back in the states! Talk to the locals and see where they buy their items and you’ll get the best deals! They are the ones that are ‘in the know’! That also goes for places to eat! The locals are the ones that know the best food/prices in their own hometown. The cruises make money in the kickbacks they get from the recommended stores/restaurants. It is strictly a business to them. Take it from someone who has been there, done that!

    11. Frank Landry
      August 17th, 2011 @ 9:33 am

      Another area of Information to utilize in addition to crew members is the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet event. Your fellow travelers will give you great suggestions on port shops that will be better than the shopping shows onboard from the cruise line.


    12. Ilene Lee
      August 17th, 2011 @ 9:40 am

      Any good savvy shopper would not spend over $100 for ANYTHING in these ports. Look for some unique inexpensive local craft items instead. I purchased some head massagers that looked like large whisks for $4 each. I should have bought a dozen of them as the few I did bring back made such a big hit! Now that some ships seem to be having on board $10 sale tables on certain days, that is where you can get the best bargains. Just enjoy the weather, ship, people, food, entertainment and scenery. Relax, and arrive home safely…that’s the best gift of all!

    13. Rhonda Gaber
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:00 am

      I never really understood the whole buying gold and jewelry from the ports. If I wanted jewelry I would have bought it at home. I go shopping for the local art and clothing. To each his own I guess.

    14. Robert M
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:14 am

      The only reason we go to the recommend stores are the freebees.

    15. Enid Tober
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:18 am

      My husband bought me a ring at Joe’s Jewelry a few years back, and when we got home, I had it appraised. To our surprise, it was appraised at twice what we had paid for it!! We would never go to any of the big chain stores that the cruise line recommends, as I really feel that they are a rip off! But if you are in St. Maarten, go to Joe’s Jewelry right near the court house!!

    16. Erica
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:19 am

      We love to shop in ports, but typically go off the beaten path for pretty much everything. I can’t stand the crowded stores with the gimmicks of “free bracelets” or “free charms”.

      We try to buy local arts and crafts too. Supporting the local economy is always a benefit, plus we return home with typically a one-of-a-kind piece instead of something stamped “Made in China”.

      We have purchased gold in St. Thomas and will probably continue to do so. We know what things cost back home and we have always received great deals by the vendors we shop at in St. Thomas.

      I don’t fault the cruise lines for doing what they do. No one puts a gun to our heads to make us shop where they recommend. It’s up to each of us as passengers to educate ourselves and make informed, adult decisions.

    17. Richard W
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:36 am

      Not only are the recommended shopping places higher priced, the quality of the product is questionable. One benefit of visitng them is sometimes they offer free transportation from the port to the shopping district. An even bigger ripoff is the art auctions run by Park West Galleries aboard the ships. They provide appraisals that are worthless because they do them themselves to backup their inflated sales prices. Buyer beware.

    18. Linda Jenkins
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:39 am

      I heartily agree with all the posters who are aware of the inflated costs of items from cruise ship recommended ports. I am very knowledgeable about gold and gemstones, and it has always amused me to sit in on one of the port shopping talks and listen to the \expert\ tout jewelry and gemstones that can be purchased far more cheaply at home or on the web. Even if you avoid the recommended shops around the main drags, you will find the prices are generally still more than you will find elsewhere. And if you do make the mistake of going into one of the standard, every-port shops, the employees will descend on you like a shark to a struggling fish.

    19. Tim Serey
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:52 am

      Worst yet is the “art show” hype that occurs on the cruise ship. The descriptions of the art are as inflated as the prices.

      This is deception at its worst and nearly all of the cruise lines engage in this mass fleecing. Truly, this is “Caveat Emptor.”

      Stay away from these…if you must throw away your money, go to the casino. The odds of getting anything of value are about the same.

    20. Sandy
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:52 am

      I definitely learned my lesson early in my cruise days. On one of my first cruises, to St Thomas, I purchased a Tag Heuer watch from one of the ships recommended shops for what I thought was a great deal. I was so proud of myself. Once back in the U.S., I searched for my watch on Amazon and discovered they had it for the same price or cheaper. Now we don’t buy from the recommended shops at all. We like to go off the beaten path for “one of a kind” items and to support the local economy.
      I’ll also buy jewelry from the ship, depending on the price and deals. I had a great experience with 2 watches I purchased at one of the ships shops. Both had a defect that didn’t show for several months. I called the watch company and they fixed both without question once I told them where they were purchased.

    21. Lindsay Wilcox
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:53 am

      My wife and I have twice bought jewelry at the same store in St. Thomas. Jewelry was examined and appraised by independent expert jeweler in Canada and all have been appraised for 25 % MORE to 100% MORE than we paid. Also this company no longer is associated with any cruise lines due to exorbitant demands for kick-backs on purchases or up-front advertising fee. We will go back again next trip for sure.

    22. Linda Jenkins
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:56 am

      Richard W–You are so right about the art auctions onboard. But on a slow sea day, if you’re bored, they’re worth going to just to get the free champagne!

    23. Ed Comer
      August 17th, 2011 @ 11:00 am

      What also irks me is the mandatory shopping stop on every ship provided excursion. I DO NOT want to waste my excursion time stopping at ship sponsored rip-off merchants. This is one reason why I avoid ship excursions and do my own thing whenever and wherever possible.

    24. Dee
      August 17th, 2011 @ 11:17 am

      I agree with this article. While in Aruba in March, I entered one of the “recommended” shops looking for a Blue Diamond Ring. While shopping for a ring that was priced at $2500.00, the Jewel OTS Cruise Shopping guy came in and started socializing with the owners. He encouraged us to put our names in “the box” for a free gift drawing, which we immediatly won. The free bracelet was cute, but within 2 wearings two stones fell out. So much for the quality of their goods. So I dickered with the owner over the price of the ring. He came down to $1500, but I told him my limit was $1000.00. So we walked toward the door and he came running up to me and right at the door he says, “ok I’ll give you the ring for $1000.00. So I decided to go ahead and get the ring. I discovered that my charge card was in the ship safe, so he gave the ring to the cruise shopping guy and said you can pay him on board…sounded reasonable to me. So I agreed. When I got back on board, after several phone calls and messages, it took two days to catch up with the cruise guy. So he says he needs to make a copy of the card, front and back and FAX it over to the jewelry shop. He makes the copy, sticks it in the top of his brief case and sticks the case on the floor behind his little desk in the Centrum area. He then gave me my ring so I could wear it to the formal dinners. Of course we are now in Panama, headed for Costa Rica and my credit card is being FAXED back to Aruba. I was very uncomfortable about this. I thought the agreement was that he would be “processing” the payment on board, not FAXING copies of my card back to the store. I would never have agreed to this proceedure if I had known.

      Well two days later I finally received back the copy of the card. Apparently there was trouble getting the FAX to go through. I never recieved a reciept for the ring. He said he would E-mail the store and ask them to send me one. I asked that they make sure the carat weight and stone quality information was included on the receipt. I never got a receipt. I was also charged an additional $30.00 by the charge card company for the overseas use of the card. After arriving home I sent severral e-mails back to the cruise shopping guy on the JOTS and the store asking for my receipt and never received any response from either of them.
      I will never again shop at a Cruise Ship/Line recommended store..they are all dishonest and it’s a scam to get more money out of the “captive” audience that the lines bring into the ports. I need to get my ring appraised yet, still not sure if it’s really white and blue diamonds or glass! I felt decieved and maybe even scammed. I’ll find out for sure when I get the appraisal.

    25. Roberta Gerlach
      August 17th, 2011 @ 11:23 am

      Shopping at “approved” stores recommended will provide some lovely views into how the “wealthy class” lives. It is a live version of Vogue or Harper’s, but to purchase, I walk as far away as I can to the smaller shops. These are typically family operated and trying to make ends meet, competing with the mega-corporate locations closest to the port. Those shops can be found from Aruba to Alaska.
      The smaller shops are not close to port, but do not have the high price CAM charges from the landlords or municipality,(an extra “tax” on their sales), so they are able to keep above water.
      They are patient, understanding, and will go out of their way to find something that you might like in jewelry. They will weigh all in front of you, and are willing to negotiate a reasonable price.
      If purchasing out of the US, I would rather help out the “little guy” and leave a pleasant picture of the US tourist.

    26. Michael J
      August 17th, 2011 @ 11:40 am

      I have never shopped in a cruise line recommended store. It was obvious from my first cruise how the deal operates. When we are in port we may stop and look in a store or two, but usually we pass them by and hit the back streets of the town. We love to purchase local art of all kinds and always, 1. get a great price, 2. get to speak with “non-cruise” related locals and 3. have something great to look and remember long after the cruise has ended. We have bought paintings/watercolors in Belize, wooden bowls in Honduras, wooden carved figures in the Bahamas, (amongst other things), and love all of it.

    27. geoherb
      August 17th, 2011 @ 11:48 am

      I agree with most of the comments here. The second thing to do is homework before you go if you know you want to buy something expensive.

    28. Doug
      August 17th, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

      If you get a great deal on a cruise, traveling in October in an interior room, it’s probably a loss leader. The cruise doesn’t make much, if anything, on your $400 cruise fare that covers room and board for a week. They make money on the unbelievable shlock they hock on board and at ports: massages for $200/hour, $9 drinks where you get to keep a plastic cup worth 30 cents, the aforementioned port shops – all of which are exactly the same in every port on the planet – and the excursions which charge > first-world prices in third world countries. EVERYTHING listed here is available for about ten cents on the dollar if you are willing to walk two blocks outside the port gate.

      Also has anyone else noticed that the ostensible “low price guarantee” on the on-board liquor store is a complete throwaway because they sell a unique size bottle that you can’t get anywhere else? And they don’t guarantee price per ounce or milliliter, just price of the bottle of that size. What a gimmick. And that is using my nice language.

    29. Ruthie B
      August 17th, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

      if anyone can remember the names of the great, honest shops in port would you please tell us so we know where to go too?

    30. Cindy Amend
      August 17th, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

      I mistakenly entered a non recommended store a few years back to buy a rainbow topaz pendant. I thought it was a recommended store. I was very happy with my purchase and wore it right out of the store. I went into a recommended store later that day and found a very similar pendant at 4 x the price. The sales person asked where I got such a beautiful piece. I had to laugh to myself. No more recommended stores! Also, I have enough jewelry. It seems that everything they want to push off on the customer is jewelry. I have already started handing down my inherited jewelry, why would I want more. We go snorkeling and to the beach instead. It is more relaxing and much cheaper.

    31. Nancy G
      August 17th, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

      One of the things not mentioned (yet) is the issue of pharmacuticals. The cruise line sales crew will be happy to recommend a “drug store” on shore that can help you with your needs, but remember, no drugs (wink, wink). Be very careful, because you’ll find the prices are close to what you would expect at stores back home. Do a little careful shopping “away from the crowds” and you can find the same products at very reasonable pricing

    32. Hockeynut
      August 17th, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

      Hubby and I ran across an unapproved store in St Thomas a few years ago and have since bought ALOT of things. The name of the store is Renassiance Jewelers… They are on the main drag and have great prices and products… Ask for Adrian. Very nice!! I purchased a pair of Australian Opals from him 2 cruises ago and when I went to one of the stores on the ship and the gentlemen said, those are very beautiful earrings you have on.. I responded thank you.. He asked what are they and I responded and he asked where did I get them and I told him a store in St. Thomas and then he proceeded to laugh and say \so that’s what they told you they were huh\… I was so peaved that I left the store and never returned.. Not that I was planning on buying anything but still………….

    33. jankie
      August 17th, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

      I agree with a lot of the above. However, cruise lines are not the only ones that cash in. A local tour guide can also get a percentage – one store we stopped at on a tour took the ’50 percent off’ sign out of the window as soon as the van pulled up.

      I like to find a local supermarket. Sometimes you can get local wine, booze, cheese, or local snacks at a good price. You have to know that the liquor stores are tied to the cruise line when they will not let you carry out the bottles. They have them delivered to the boat.

    34. Lisa Stone
      August 17th, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

      We have been on 14 cruises. Do your homework before you go. Shop in local stores and price the item you are looking for. Then, search for a similar item on your cruise in port. NEVER purchase from cruise recommended shops. You will pay double! I agree with other comments. The real stores refuse to give in to paying the cruise line for the cruise recommendations. Ask friends and family for port store recommendations and research those stores before you cruise! Ask your travel agent for store recommendations. The store should have a website and a phone number. Call them up before you go! Find out about their return policies! Price your item by contacting them through email! Then, when you get there, haggle some more. We are now devoted customers of Ballerina Jewelers. They have many stores in St. Maarten and St. Thomas. They make their money on REPEAT CUSTOMERS, not cruiser extortion. Their prices and quality are mind blowing! I would offer the same advice for liquor. Price it here and take those prices with you! It’s not always cheaper in ports. And, know your duty laws! If you purchase too much, the duties alone will get you! As for souvenirs… we found that a lot of the local jewelry and stuff were made in China! Save yourself some money…buy it here and say you purchased it in a port!

    35. Dawn
      August 17th, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

      This is to Kenn Gray (8/17/11) . . . . which cruise line was it and how did you go about getting your refund? The reason I ask is because the same exact thing happened to me. I figured I would just have to “suck it up” as money wasted.


    36. Doug Campbell
      August 17th, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

      We cruise a lot and we shop a lot – but not in ‘recommended’ port shops. If you’re looking for gold, jewelry or a watch – it’s actually less cost at QVC or HSN! we stick with locally-made merchandise.

    37. ladyfish13
      August 17th, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

      I certainl agree about shopping at the non-authorized shops. I’ve bought jewelry at ports that have been appraised at much higher in the States – due of course, to the duty the US stores must pay.

      What really gripes me tho is the long lines at the ‘Gold By The Inch’ on board the ships – the first time I bought a chain I had my jeweler look at it – of course it wasn’t even gold plated. Buy the chains for fun and cheap glitter stuff just don’t think you’re buying gold!

    38. doug wooley
      August 17th, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

      I cruise frequently to Cozumel. Let’s talk liquor and duty free prices. Start with Kahlua, since I see a lot of that coming back on board. Onboard there is a discount but you usually don’t get the bottles til the end of the cruise. Maybe there is a dollar’s savings per bottle. At the ship side duty-free port prices aren’t much different, though you can get more two for a certain price etc. Still, not much of a discount. All the shops on the main tourist route have a discount, a tourist discount. My recommendation is to head to the place where locals and some tourists shop. In Cozumel its Mega and Chedraui. Sort of like Walmart. Onboard and portside Kahlua is around $13. Same bottle in these store is $8-9 and often have shot glasses or specials. More savings on the bigger bottles. But where you find the biggesst savings is on high end tequilas and liquors. The stores are near by and the prices are similar, but sometimes better quality rums come with specials. Last Christmas we bought 1.75L clear Bicardi that had a 750 ml bottle of Bicardi Anejo for $8. We usually drink the Anejo-at local stores here
      its $35=we pick it up in Cozumel for $9 a liter. The whole moral of this is to shop away from the tourist shops. And when it comes to liquor, you will get a better percentage discount on top shelf, high-end liquor. Happy shopping.

    39. Cal
      August 17th, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

      I too learned my lesson early in my cruise life. I went to the ship recommended store for “The best prices on Seiko anywhere in the Caribbean or America”. Thankfully, something just didn’t seem right to me, so I passed on buying. When I got home,I found the exact same watch for the same price as the “Duty free tax free” price.

      I also shopped AH Riise Liquors in St Thomas for the “best price on liquor”, but was told by a couple who were my tablemates to wait until St Maarten to buy liquor, as the prices were better. Sure enough, everything I was looking for was considerably less, at a store the Shopping Expert completely ignored. I noticed the couple leaving a Grocery Store, so at dinner that night I asked them what they were after. They were buying wine, as the Grocery Store prices were much better than any of the Liquor Stores.

    40. nels ingram
      August 17th, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

      When we had the kids with us, it was fun to do the ‘scavenger’ hunt and collect the bracelets and baubles. The kids loved it, we usually got free beverages, re: booze, and it was a fun way to discover the tourist areas of the ports. As with ANY pricey purchase, we usually don’t buy on vacation. As many have stated, local arts and crafts beat pricey store-bought, cruise-line goods, especially while on vacation. If one is looking to spend $$ on a particular voyage, research BEFORE you depart, budget, and stick to it. Most of all, enjoy your purchase!!

    41. Barbara S.
      August 17th, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

      Beware of purchases onboard the ship. I believed that I was getting a good price until I bought a
      designer bracelet onboard that I believed was on sale of 1/2 price. When checking online when I got home, I found out that the bracelet from the designer actually cost less than what I thought was 1/2 price. I am in the process of getting a price adjustment. This shouldn’t have happened.

    42. IGETAROUND49
      August 17th, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

      The issue isn’t whether cruise ship recommended shops should be purchased from but rather whether any items of value should be bought at all. I learned my lesson in Kusadasi. I purchased a very expensive piece of jewelry and when it was appraised in the US I found that the main stone was misrepresented, the gold content was misrepresented and the value of the ring was far less than what I paid. Fortunately I was able to document everything and working with my credit card company I was able to resolve this. However, if I had not been able to document every aspect of my case, things could have gone otherwise. The shop maintains that if the ring was not as represented it was nothing more than a mistake. This may in fact be true. But anyone who has shopped at this port knows that many shopkeepers are far too agressive and that something akin to a shark feeding frenzy occurs as passengers depart the ship. Few articles other than cheap souvenirs have prices posted and this in itself is disturbing to me. There is a dickering process that preceeds every major sale. If you liike that haggeling you’ll love this port. I did learn a valuable lesson from my experience. By the way, my cruise ship did not have the recommended merchant program in operation for the duration of this particular cruise. I do accept personal responsability for being so naive and trusting and my experience should not be viewed as a blanket condemnation of any nationality. It could have happened in any major city of the world. Stuff happens everywhere and the need to be a careful consumer especially in distant lands can not be overemphasized enough.

    43. Dave Solomon
      August 17th, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

      We bought a gold and diamond tennis bracelet in Philipsburg,St. Maartin.
      I asked the salesman how much it weighed.He took it away and came back and told us 19 grams. He gave us a receipt and an appraisal. I am not a sophisticated buyer so I did not notice no recorded weight on the sales slip or appraisal.
      At home we were in a store and I asked the salesperson to please weigh it. She told me it was 12 grams. I contacted the clerk who sold it to us by e mail and told him about this situation. This is the only piece I had asked him to weigh.
      He replied that i was confused as he had weighed several pieces.
      I e mailed the manager of the store,copied the correspondence and told him I did not appreciate being cheated, lied to and told I must be senile.
      I said that he should be aware of this situation before I copied the correspondance to Clebrity and Master Card.
      The next day I received a phone call from the manager and he said that he would credit my card for six grams of 14 carat gold at the going price. I accepted his offer allowing for the weight of the diamonds.
      I suspect that the possible fallout from the cruise line was his incentive to deal with this fairly and expeditiously

    44. Marie
      August 17th, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

      Glad I have always avoided the “Recommended Shopping” talks like the plague. I’d much rather spend my limited time in port doing something and seeing the country. If I shop it is always from some out of the way store or roadside stand.

    45. Michael
      August 17th, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

      Last time I was in Nassau, I met my old college flatmate; a successful Bahamian attorney who lives in Nassau. She told me all the Bahamians she knows buy their valuable jewelry in the States. Nuff said.

    46. Denali
      August 17th, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

      I agree – especially in the Caribbean. On our last cruise to the Caribbean we bought locally made items. One of which was a hand carved wooden seahorse and star fish. The artist was there and even signed the back of them.

      Another RIP OFF — Cairo!!! If a guide tells you not to buy from people with there own stands – don’t listen to them. Those people have nice and unique items. We should have NOT listened to our guide. Also, don’t buy into the whole \government approved store\ it is a TOTAL kick back store.

      In St. Thomas one of the freebies was a pair of Tanzanite studs. When I was given mine the setting appeared to be emptied. I asked \oh, do I need to buy the stones?\ They said \no, they are in there\. WHERE?!? I threw them out, the stones were so small they looked like a grain of sand off of the beach.

    47. Chris
      August 17th, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

      I find the over-emphasis on shopping to be an irritating part of cruises. On my first cruise, I figured out this scam, now we just discard the recommended shopping map and get on with our day.

      I agree that the mandatory stops in shops on excursions are also crazy. I would truly rather pay more for an excursion and not be forced into some shop selling real junk. We have such precious little time in most ports — I’d like to use it to truly see the places, not to be dragged to some “cameo factory” or “papyrus institute” or “port wine institute” — all super thinly veiled post card shops.

    48. Bob Hirschfeld
      August 17th, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

      I’ve always wondered about the souvenir shops in Alaska. There was a rumor that the cruise companies actually own them. It is strange that you can see many of the same items in various stores in Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, etc. Does anyone actually know if this is true? We’ve found some real bargains at the end of the season, mid-September. Cheap jackets that were well made, really cheap binoculars that have terrific optics. But most of the stuff is junk. You have to be very picky.

    49. Julian Wulbern
      August 17th, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

      When we cruise, we do so for the experience and relaxation of the cruise itself. We NEVER shop, either on board or at ports of call. Why waste our time? Why risk a ripoff?

    50. Auntief
      August 17th, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

      Ladyfish13 (comment #37) You have got it 100% correct! The gold by the inch chains are trash! I create a lot of Swarovski crystal bracelets and earrings. In the bead district of NYC you can buy sterling silver and gold filled chain by the FOOT not by the INCH. Believe it or not, the foot prices are comparable to the inch prices. Then, the folks on the ship force you to buy a clasp to finish off the chain. They also forget to tell you that you need jump rings to attach the clasp! I’m not their favorite person; since I only cruise out of NYC, I usually tell the people looking at this nonsense “when you get back to the city, stop into any bead store on 6th Avenue in the West 30s and get yourself some sterling silver and put it together yourself. You will save lots of money!” Sometimes the bead store clerks will help you put the bracelet/necklace together! That is just my 2 cents on this subject! Happy cruising! Happy shopping!

    51. James
      August 17th, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

      Frankly I don’t understand the mind set of shopping while on vacation. Personally, I go on cruises to visit places and relax. But, if shopping is your “thing” then you should know that Caveat Emptor always applies on jewelery, whether you are buying at a cruise port or at your local shop in your home town. Remember, these folks are in business to make a profit and the less knowledge you have about the product the more profit they are likely to make from you. This is especially true at a cruise port where you will not have a lot of time to do much investigation and usually will end up making an impusle purchase that you may later regret. I have yet to see anything in a jewelry shop in a cruise port that I cannot find at home at similar prices.

    52. nancy
      August 17th, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

      Just reading comments and came upon #32 in the list. On our very first cruise earlier this year we too went into Renaissance Jewelry in St. Thomas. They could not have been nicer! My husband bought me an expensive piece of jewelry. We know enough about diamonds to know we got a great price. We visited the cruise recommended stores and found them to be tacky, pushy, poor quality stores. Adrian was as open, fair and hospitable. He even had his assistant drive us back to the ship because the transaction took a bit longer than expected. We have compared quality and price again and again since this purchase and we are totally satisfied that we got a quality product at a very fair price that could not have been duplicated anywhere within the U.S. Looking forward to going back to St. Thomas and buying more at Renaissance.

    53. Travel.AAAAmerican.Com
      August 17th, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

      Knowing what you want, the actual basis in cost and also what your willing to pay should be a known prior to shopping for items.

      A little knowledge is a great to have so your able to bargain and/or barter well.

      Your able to buy items from Communist China most anywhere in the

    54. Richard
      August 17th, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

      I have to agree with most of the comments that have been mentioned here. However, I did read a few negative comments about the Park West and other art auctions onboard the ship. I disagree with those negative comments. I have picked up some fantastic deals on artwork at these auctions, saving considerable money over the listed gallery prices I have found on gallery websites.

      The bottom line on both the art auctions and the port shopping, know what you are looking for, and how much it would cost you at home. If it is a good deal, and you want or need it, buy it. If you can get it cheaper at home, wait until you get home to buy it.

    55. Peggy
      August 17th, 2011 @ 6:40 pm

      My husband and I have cruised many, many times and enjoy shopping at the ports. We go to some of the \approved\ shops as well as other ones.When we go to the talk shows on the ship, the shopping guide has always said that the merchants on the list have paid to be on the list. We have never been disappointed. I’m a tough bargainer and feel like I get good deals. Oftentimes when I get home and have jewelry appraised it’s 3 to 4x what I paid for it. We like to shop for locally made items, too. We like to venture off the beaten path where most of the tourists don’t go and get a feel for the local flavor. I have no qualms with the way the cruiselines handle the shopping aspect.

    56. Charlotte Blakeney
      August 17th, 2011 @ 6:40 pm

      My husband and I love cruising but we will NEVER again make a purchase at a port. We are still waiting for the 8 lbs of coffee that we purchased at a recommended place on a tour in Costa Rica….the cruise line (Celebrity) said it wasn’t there issue, both the hotel on the property where the shop was and the shop themselves did not return any of our MANY phone calls and our certified letters were never picked up and eventually found their way back to us. We still have everything as is, including the sales slip, etc.
      This past March I purchased two sets of bamboo sheets (I know, call me a fool…I paid $240.00 for two sets). They are CRAP! My lint filter has never been so happy! and they are already threadbare. The company in “Utah” won’t refund my money although they have the sale in Mexico on record. It was in one of those stores where the bags and t shirts change color….Anyway, that’s my two cents worth…..

    57. Mia
      August 17th, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

      I agree. I just returned from a Western Caribbean cruise in July. I bought a pair of earrings for almost $700 and they basically fell apart before I got off the cruise. I contacted my credit card and filed a claim. I then contacted Diamonds Intl. They state they have the right to “fix” the piece. I plan to fight and return their product for a refund. I will never buy from them again.

    58. Amy Kenkel
      August 17th, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

      Just got home from a Princess cruise to Alaska. The cruise was great but I was horrified by what I found out about the cruise industry. They OWN the stores they are “recommending”. They charge taxi comapanies $10,000 a year (only three months in Alaska) for a spot in the line in front of the ports. There was nonstop literature coming at us about how fantanstic the shopping was in Alaska because of bulk buying and low overhead. They had “shopping seminars” on sea days to help people “find bargains” at their own stores (which they never disclose)! Entire blocks in these small towns close down at the end of the cruise season. They entirely manufacture shopping districts. It’s dishonest and it should be illegal not to disclose it!

    59. James
      August 17th, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

      We never shop at recommended shops. We go to the port talk to get a good idea of how to get to town and what might be available. Those recommended shops are generally too expensive anyway. We ask the crew members where they go and then follow their advice. Or we just look around and if a place catches our eye, we go in and take a look. We always have a good idea what we want to buy (if anything) and hunt for it. We prefer shops where you find a lot of locals as opposed to tourists.

    60. bill pulkownik
      August 17th, 2011 @ 7:38 pm


    61. Meredith Miller
      August 17th, 2011 @ 8:34 pm

      We rarely shop at ports. We are on a cruise to eat, drink, relax, etc. On earlier cruises when we did browse, we found that DESIGNER jewelry (Yurman, Lagos,etc) were cheaper in the states from your local jewelry store and could be easily returned if there was a problem. Anyone who buys diamonds or gold in any of these places should have their head examined.

    62. Cathy Raymond
      August 17th, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

      After our 1st cruise with Carnival & a totally awesome experience including purchasing a diamond bracelet appraised later for over 2x the cost, we decided to look for a diamond ring on our 2nd cruise – this time with Holland. BIG rip off, we were so naive & bought it at a DI recommended store. Before we even left port the side stones started falling out. We didn’t have time to go on shore, so we went to the rep who said she would get it repaired her next time back the following week but after we returned home. We waited months, couldn’t get a refund because they dubbed it buyers remorse. Numerous phone calls to them & Holland with just BS. Had to pay their credit card (using a DI credit card & not our VISA another mistake on our part) before I even got it back.
      Had it appraised when we received it, the center stone was as stated in their appraisal but the replaced stones did not appear to be of the same quality & the side stones were grey. Since the appraisal only was for the loose center diamond not the mounting & its stones we had nothing to back our claim except our memory, knowing we would have never purchased something so inferior. No more Holland cruises, no more purchasing out of the USA. Cathy in MI

    63. Mel and Bob
      August 17th, 2011 @ 9:37 pm

      Thank you all for your cogent comments.

    64. Rita
      August 17th, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

      My husband and I never shop at the “recommended stores by the cruise lines:. Total rip-off. For jewelry, I have been going to St. Maarten for years using Splash. It is family oriented and they would not be nicer. A friend of mine purchased a ruby ring years ago and after 2 years, her ruby cracked. I was going to St. Maarten and brought the ring back to Splash as Gary had agreed to replace the ruby….He in fact gave her a whole new ring for us to bring home! Incredible! Totally honest hard working family with many repeat customers either from them staying on the island or arriving there via cruise. Will never shop anywhere else…he always guarantees his stuff!

    65. Madeline
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

      I figured out the kick backs early on, and finally the owner of a non-recced store explained it in detail. I figured out that the cruise lines maybe own the bigger chains when I saw the same stores waiting for my ship in Alaska.

      I will shop at other stores, and even bought some lovely Russian amber jewelry at a small shop in Alaska off the beaten path. Better pricesd than in st. Petersburg.

      As for the art \auctions\– the prices may be lower than the cost for such decorator art in some galleries, but know that despite the touting of \investment\ and \world famous\ that most of the art can never be resold except as used goods. These are not the kinds of artists you send to Christie’s for auction, and they are not owned or purchased by museums. When they are (a Rembrandt etching, for example) they are restrikes or late pulls and grossly overpriced for what you are getting. Buyer beware!

      I am stunned at how the art stores on ships are growing, taking up more real estate. Lots of people buying art without thinking about it much. Vacations do that to people, I guess.

      Oh, and the auctions are of course not real auctions. Being in international waters they do not have to follow any codes that apply in the US. I have stood at the back of them and watched the auctioneer \bounce bids off the walls\– claim there are bids that aren’t being made. If you want art, go to a local gallery in your city. If you want investment grade art, invest your time in doing some homework first.

    66. Harry Chupnick
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

      H E L P
      My wife and i purchased 3 pieces of jewelry at the recommended Diamond International jewelry store located in St. Martin during our cruise in December, 2010. We recently had one of the pieces appraised by an independent gemoligist.There was a very material difference between the price we paid verus what it was appraised for. Also, the quality of the stone was not close to what was on the appraisal from DI. We are in the process of dealing with a representative from DI.
      We would appreciate it if anyone could give us advice of how to resolve this situation.

      thank you Harry

    67. Peter Pelham
      August 17th, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

      It’s good to see that a lot of travelers understand the RIP OFF system an are aware of it.It appears that most posts on this page are American travelers,and are concerned about buying jewellery.Quite rightly so keep away from Ship promoted stores,if you want to buy gold go to the local pawn will only be paying for the gold you are looking at,there will be no manufacturing cost, and it will always have a tag on it telling you the true weight of gold content.Most dealers will have the current gold price on display with the gold price for the day, you can then work out how much mark up there is on the item.Take your puchase home and clean it in Tarn off or somthimg similar and you won’t know the difference,niether will you friends.

    68. Elaine Harris
      August 17th, 2011 @ 11:27 pm

      I have the most amazing jewelry story of all. A few years ago, right after 9/11, we did a Greek cruise and stopped at some small out of the way ports. I saw a panther necklace reminiscent of a Cartier piece. I brought my husband back to see it and we said we would be back later. The shopkeeper knew that our ship sailed later that evening and when we came back, he told us to take the piece, valued at $3500, but he wanted cash or a check. We had neither and he said to take the piece back to the US and to send him a check. He did not want a credit card payment. We looked at him with our mouths open, asking if he wanted to see a driver’s license or credit card. No, he said, he trusted us. We took the beautiful piece back to the US with us and had it appraised. When our family jeweler asked how much we had paid, he said to “send the man his money” as he could not replicate it for near the price we had agreed on. We still tell this astonishing story of trust and the panther necklace with the sapphire and diamond stones is still a cherished piece of my jewelry collection and is totally unique. For a few years we continued to receive Christmas and Easter cards from the shopkeeper.

    69. Amy G
      August 17th, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

      I actually “won” a pair of binoculars on the cruise for a shop in Juneau. The redemption certificate stated that it was good for a certain pair of binoculars OR 60% off any purchase of $100 or more. I choose the binoculars but was given a monocular. When I told the guy about his mistake, he said that it was an error and the prize was actually the monocular ($12 worth instead of $35), when I pushed the issue, he then told me “Well it’s FREE!” So lesson is, if you win a certificate that states you can get the prize or a discount, it’s actually a ruse to get to you hopefully spend money.

      I did notice that the woman who lead the shopping “seminar” had lots of the pricy jewelry she endorsed. That made me rethink buying anything on shore.

    70. Elaine Levine
      August 17th, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

      We actually refuse to shop in any recommended store when on a cruise. We have found great bargains and lovely merchandise elsewhere and simply ignore all the places the cruise ship “touts”.

    71. Dee Rogers
      August 18th, 2011 @ 12:21 am

      I am not a shopper, but my “other mother” who has been a better mother to me by far than my own, sent me on “mission” on my first Caribbean cruise in 2004–and I couldn’t say “no” to her.

      It seems that a “Red Hat friend” had given her the name of a jewelry shop in St. Maarten. Now my other mother is practically bedridden, but as sharp as a tack mentally. She also enjoys “playing” with her jewelry–which is considerable and which largely consists of 2 ct. or more diamonds set in platinum!

      So she hands me $1000. in $20. bills and tells me I must go to the shop her friend recommended and “bring me back a couple of nice pieces.” Talk about clueless, but…..

      I returned with a tanzanite and diamond ring set in 18 kt. and a matching set of earrings. Her reaction was, “you got both of these for $1000!” So then she decides she needs an appraisal for insurance purposes–and I didn’t get one (poor me, such a dunce). She calls her insurance agent who comes, gets the jewelry, and takes it to a “certified appraiser” (member of some type of American jewelry appraisal association). The appraisal comes back at $7500. (Relief No. 999 for me).

      I decided to post this after reading Post No. 34 because the jewelry shop in St. Maarten is Ballerina Jewelers, and my experience was much the same as the other poster’s (only I’m not shopper and I don’t know much about jewelry).

      Having been all over the world on cruises including a 49-day one from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco two years ago, I’ve now “heard it all” from port shopping “experts” aboard various ships, and the one thought foremost in my mind is, “don’t shop at Diamonds International or their sister stores Emeralds International or Tanzanite International because it you do, you’ll regret it.” This is definitely not the message the shopping experts want you to have, but from all I’ve seen and heard, it’s true….As many others have said here, “away from the beaten path” is where to go if you want to shop. Myself, I want to see, hear, and experience life in the port and surrounding areas. HAPPY CRUISING!

      P.S. Fellow cruisers tell me that the beginning of the season in Alaska in May and th end of the season in September is THE time to find bargains in the ports, and I believe Poster No. 48 said the same. I haven’t shopped in Alaska, but those “in the know” swear by this “suggestion.”

    72. Velma Miller
      August 18th, 2011 @ 12:30 am

      Thank you all many, many times over. I have had the good and bad experiences, which drove me to make my own website with as much first hand information as possible. I would love to talk to each of you in person.
      I believe that way too many people are being ripped off while supposedly on a wonderful vacation. Do people even care anymore or is all about the almighty dollars?
      Please feel free to check out my website and respond. I want to help people find the truth. Thank you so much.

    73. Paul
      August 18th, 2011 @ 2:44 am

      That’s why I buy T-shirts!

    74. Erin
      August 18th, 2011 @ 7:21 am

      I actually wrote a shopping tip blog for FantabulouslyFrugal on this exact topic. (If you’d like to read:

      I agree with most of the commenters though – you should do your research and not necessarily stick with the recommended stores. I can’t believe the appraised value of Dee’s purchase above! What a great deal!!

    75. John Smith
      August 18th, 2011 @ 7:50 am

      At one time we owned eight stores in the Caribbean and heavily advertised on all the cruise lines. Two of these were jewelry stores. It was very expensive to be “recommended”. Our prices, I recall were no more or no less than our competitors. It did generate traffic, but, became so expensive that we eventually ceased business (the economy didn’t help either). In today’s world I don’t see any particular reason to buy anything special on a cruise because, just like with your local small store back home – you can ALWAYS buy it cheaper on the internet. But that isn’t the point. I would never buy very expensive jewelry while traveling. With cheaper items I would be more concerned with whether I liked it or not – it is a memento of your vacation – if it seems reasonably priced, then buy it and don’t worry too much – everyone generally pays too much for things on a vacation. After all is a $50 ring special because it has a tanzanite in it or is it special because you bought it in St. Thomas – think about it.

      The only real advantage to shopping in recommended stores is the guarantee. It was a pain in the neck with unreasonable customers, and, believe me, there are plenty out there. We had one who wanted to return a fairly expensive necklace after almost one year, claiming that he thought that you had one year to wear it and finally decide if you really wanted it. Another bought it at a competitor on another island and demanded that we take it back because they were unhappy and we carried the same item. The ship lines were very strict with the guarantee and always came down on the customer’s side even when we thought they were unreasonable.

      If I had a problem, I would rather deal with Princess or Holland America then some small store down in St Lucia – think about it.

      Note that “John Smith” is not my real name for obvious reasons.

    76. Dan in STL
      August 18th, 2011 @ 8:12 am

      I agree. My wife and I just got back from a Carnival cruise that visited Progresso Mexico and then Cozumel. I begged the people on board for information about local stuff in Progresso but all they could talk about was shopping in Cozumel. Progresso is an authentic town with little tourist shopping but there are things to do there. So sad we missed out on some hidden jewels there because the cruise line is only after the retailer kickbacks in Cozumel. Sad really.

    77. Sabrina
      August 18th, 2011 @ 9:27 am

      Over the years and with many cruises, I’ve bought several items. I once purchased this beautiful 3 tiered candle set in Mexico (so did another family member). To our surprise when my family member burned the candles – the darn thing caught fire after an hour!! I never lit mine.

      One time I spent a lot of money in Grenada on spices to bring home as gifts to friends. On the cruise ship in my stateroom I had a bug infestation from the spices! Oh my! All was thrown out. But when I returned to Grenada several years later, I bought spices again – but only those that were all sealed. I had no issues with these.

      Another time in Mexico I’ve had the experience of buying really cheap booze. Kahlua for $8/bottle, high end tequila at great prices. But then one time I bough a bottle of Grand Marnier. When I did open it at home I discovered it wasn’t the Grand Marnier I get in the states.

      I’ve also bought some beautiful costume jewelry and nice tablecloths and napkins from locals in the caribbean. And I did once splurge on some Topaz and was lucky that I wasn’t completely stiffed on it. I say lucky because I didn’t know what I was buying, but wanted some memento of the trip.

      Long story short, realize that if you are not an expert in what you are buying, you just gamble in what you are purchasing. Or if you know someone you trust that has shopped somewhere and has had a good experience – listen to them!!! I never listen to the cruise shop expert on the ship, but I like the maps they give out so I know exactly how far to get away from that circle of kickbacks. :-)

    78. Arkcruiser
      August 18th, 2011 @ 9:45 am

      Last December, a fellow cruiser bought a neat camera in St. Martin for x dollars. The user’s manual was in Spanish. Liking the camera, I shopped for it at home. I found a better model for fifty bucks less at and got my user’s manual in English. Except for something that is truly local, I can see no reason whatsoever to do any shopping at all in a cruise port. Caveat emptor!

    79. Dick Droese
      August 18th, 2011 @ 10:31 am

      From reading the comments most of us seem to be seasoned cruisers (30+ for my wife and I). The number one piece of advice I give new cruisers is \If you didn’t price it back home, you have no business buying it on a cruise, period\. Over the years, we have made many purchases we’ve been very happy with, including jewelry and art. The REAL savings over stateside pricing is rarely over 10-15%, but it’s very hard to resist the psychology of getting a \bargain\. Now 10-15% is material on an expensive purchase, but if you’re buying a hundred dollar item, best to spend that money in your own community, especially at a small locally owned business.

    80. Barbs44
      August 18th, 2011 @ 11:05 am

      Shopping is at the bottom of my list on a cruise – although I always go to those “clearance sales” on the last days of the cruise. The T-shirts are usually a bargain and although they are from a different cruise altogether, at one time or another I have been in the port portrayed. They make for good quality shirts for gardening or heavy housework.

      But the item that I bought that I have enjoyed the most is a large acrylic painting I bought in the courtyard in Antigua, Guatemala where we had stopped for lunch. I took a picture of the painting with the artist after having the fun of bargaining for the price. We ended up at $100 for a canvas that just barely fit in my largest suitcase (I was really relieved when it fit!)

      The point is that every time I look at my Indian girl with her arms full of calla lilies, I am back in the sunny courtyard in Guatemala having a wonderful time. To me, this is the only reason to shop on a cruise.

    81. jamie
      August 18th, 2011 @ 11:24 am

      I agree with so many of the comments here. We learned very quickly on our first cruise what the “Shopping Schtick” was all about. However, like several people said, doing homework in advance is the recipe for success.

      We had good luck buying Citizen watches onboard ships. I knew exactly what I wanted (the one w/the pink face that Paula Creamer endorses) and shopped around before we left. I found it onboard for $50-$100 less than what I saw online. We did the same thing this spring for my husband.

      On the flip side, there was a Fossil watch I wanted, and on 2 different cruise lines, it was priced at full price (same as the Fossil website). On one of the “sale” nights on the ship, they had that watch out, and I asked what the sale price was. They quoted me the same, full price amount. I told the guy, no way, that’s full price, give me a deal, and I’ll buy it. No dice, the price was what it was, and they had no authority to haggle with me. I told him to keep his full price watch, and a week or two after we got home, we found it on sale at Macy’s with a coupon for an extra 20% off!!

    82. Kevin Laing
      August 18th, 2011 @ 11:59 am

      Something else I advise fellow cruisers to do is NOT wear the silly nametags identifying which ship you are on. First off, it identifies you as a customer with only a little time to make a purchase so the merchant can use the “special price good for today only” line. Secondly, it gives the shopkeeper your name and allows him/her to use your name as a tool to establish an instant connection. The best indicator of a reputable shop is the presence of several customers who are repeat clients. Folks who have found a good store usually repeat purchase. Another good indicator is if the clients in the store are folks who own a place on the island and come every year. They can give you an insight into how honorable the merchant is. We have had great experiences at Caribbean Gems in St. Maarten. Everything we have purchased appraises much higher than we paid, any problems with sizing or repair has been handled efficiently. Some friends we sent there came home with buyer’s remorse, and a speedy return and refund was cheerfully arranged. Do some research before you go, and have a great time!

    83. Mary Ann G
      August 18th, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

      I’ve been on over 20 cruises with DH and we’ve purchased both watches and other jewelry mostly from St. Thomas and St. Martin. We’ve bought from both cruise ship recommended stores and others including Joe’s Jewelery which another poster here also reommended. We had extremely good service by Cardow’s. They replaced a small emerald that I lost from a ring several years after purchase with no questions asked, free of charge including postage paid both ways. This past February we were on the Explorer and we stopped at Port Zante in St. Kitts. I purchased an $800 tanzanite ring at Diamond Bazar. I don’t recall whether the ship had recommended any shops there. After wearing it only two or three times, in two months a small diamond was missing. The salesman had told me if I had any problems that their home base was in NJ where I live and they included a guarantee with the ring. To make a long story short, the guarantee turned out to me to be not worth the paper it was written on since it contradicted itself. It would have cost me $50 plus postage and insurance to send it to them. I wound up having it fixed at my local jeeweler for $30. So I definitely do not recommend shopping at this store. Unfortunately, I have never had any of my pieces appraised and at this point would probably upset myself if I did and they were worth a lot less than I paid for them. So right now after reading this thread, I’m very leary of buying any more jewelery on future cruises. I do say that it pays to shop around at the many stores on the islands and definitely BUYER BEWARE!

    84. Rich
      August 18th, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

      Absolutely HATE the port shopping talks. These “specialists” actually work for a private concern as do a fair number of the people on the ship. The gift shops, photographers, and art auctions are all concessions. Check out to find out why a picture on the QM2 is $24.99. The photographer tells me that the unsold pictures are recycled. Just look for someone like you in a future cruise.

      We too like to take the road less traveled and see where it leads.

      As with anything else, KNOW YOUR PRICES. Also look out for “gray market” goods which will not receive warranty repairs in your home country.

    85. LXB
      August 18th, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

      Why don’t we keep letting Cruise management know we are unto them? When I took my first and last Carnival cruise, I remember asking the staff if there were any kickbacks from the stores they recommended. Never received an answer. Oh? I wonder why?

    86. Dori Lee
      August 18th, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

      Great information on shopping here!
      We were so sad when we returned to Roatan and the local flea market was replaced by a cruise-line built shopping center where we docked.
      Also, I purchased an emerald & diamond ring at Diamonds International in Aruba. Before the end of the cruise one of the small diamonds had fallen out and was lost. Not exactly what I’d call “quality merchandise”.

    87. HEATHER
      August 18th, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

      We have cruised once to Alaska and soon became very bored with the shops repeating the same merchandise. We had great pleasure in finding places that were out of the way to eat and shop. We loved the local super markets and often compared the prices and range to that we had in Australia. I love shopping but did not buy anything from a reommended store. When it came to buying alcohol we always found a local shop and the prices were great. Same with medications as we both had terrible colds. If you like it and you can afford it go for it but we would never really buy really expensive items abroad. This year we are off to new Zealand and will follow the same practices

    88. gloria elliott
      August 18th, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

      the information in the comments is REALLY fabulous, thanks cruise shoppers, but has anybody gone to CHINA, HongKong, Japan and shopped (via Cruise) i’m going, and would like a heads up.
      thanks again

    89. Linda Cross
      August 18th, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

      HELLO! This is a total rip-off and it’s designed to make money for the cruise lines and the merchants. I have gone to the same jeweler in St. Thomas for years and he does not pay the cruise line to be represented. He has stood by every jewelry purchase I’ve made and the friendship and trust we have forged over the years means he will continue to get my recommendation to others and my business.

    90. LJR
      August 18th, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

      I want to warn cruisers who make expensive jewelry purchases ONBOARD their ships that they had better be honest and claim the full value @ customs as the ship reports the purchasers names, cabin number & amount purchased over the duty limit to the customs agents before you even disembark.

    91. Lea
      August 18th, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

      I so agree about the “recommended” shops and “guarantee” – and I will NEVER deal with Diamonds International again – bought a loose stone (tanzanite) from them several years ago, and it was not the quality represented by the dealer – and I had to go to the upper management of the cruise line to get my money back. I have a jewler in Aruba that I have dealt with for years now and will not stray from him again. Next time I was there, he found me a much higer quality stone for less tha 2/3 of the price DI charged (for almost the same carat weight)

      The only reason I go to some of the recommended shops in the ports is to collect the “freebies” – the grandkids like them.

    92. Richard S
      August 18th, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

      How easy it is to be cheated while shopping in port:
      Many years ago, when I was only 20 years old, I took a cruise to Bermuda. I bought some liquor in port, which had to be delivered to the ship, to be reclaimed by me once arriving home–and would all the while be out of my sight.
      The bottles that I received had been opened and re-sealed; most probably the contents had been removed and replaced with colored water. I gave it all as gifts and the recipients were too gracious to tell me what had happened.

    93. Harold Davis
      August 18th, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

      do any of you people who have had problems with purchases ever purchase gold and jewelry at home? BUYER BEWARE

    94. Edward Dickson
      August 18th, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

      We have been on a number of cruises to Mexico, Canada, Europe. I purchased a watch on board and it has never missed a beat in the 6 years I have had it. It was significantly cheaper than the same article in Australia (150%). I have always bought drinks on board but would agree that some drinks can be purchased cheaper on shore in the quiet areas. I like most would never use the recommended shops (except for the freebies)DI does not have a good name! Where I live in Aus we see many Japanese tourists being escorted to special shops to buy their souveniers that alone makes we want to wander around to the local shops rather than the ones we are directed to! Anyone know where to shop in Hawaii?

    95. turbs
      August 19th, 2011 @ 12:34 am

      On reading these criticisms and noting how many there are, I am puzzled why this is still happening,I got coned, many years ago being dropped off by a taxi in a jewelry store in Phuket, offering free gifts,we recently cruised to Bangkok , on a princess boat they took us to an identical shop with the same spiel , they got really upset when we would not go on the tour, we said we have been on this type of tour before and we knew it was a con, and don’t want to participate we sat there whilst waiting for the tour bus to continue to Bangkok. so all I can say is wake people and smell the coffee, and let the cruise ship know we don’t want this crap

    96. Sue
      August 19th, 2011 @ 10:41 am

      On two cruises we made purchases at Diamonds International in St. Thomas and Aruba that appraised at more than the cost, so we felt prety safe buying from them on a cruise two years ago. My husband bought me a 5-stone anniversary band for $2500.00. When we took it to be appraised a week after returning home, we were told that one of the diamonds was chipped. I sent it back to DI in New York at my expense, and it was “repaired.” Three months later the stone fell out. I again sent it back, this time for a new ring. Less than a year later, the same stone fell out. DI wanted to charge me $500 to repair it, but RCCL intervened and the repair was made free of charge. When I took it back to the appraiser, the same chipped stone was in the ring. We bit the bullet, paid him $400 to turn the stone, re-set the ring and ensure that all the prongs were correct.
      I returned to that store in St. Thomas and told the manager about my ring. He stated that they do not sell damaged goods and I told him they won’t ever sell anything else to me.
      Thank you for the recommendations of Renaissance and Ballerina. Although I will now buy “good” jewelry at home, it’s nice to have a place to browse where one can feel safe from scams.

    97. Keith
      August 19th, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

      It’s been a few years since I last cruised on the Queen Mary 2. I used to work on ships and in the early days of Port and Cruise Consultants, their was always a note on the Shopping Maps to say that the shops have paid for a promotion.
      While I would agree that some lecturers and staff may not like to admit that fact, Port and cruise consultants have been around since the early 1990’s, so this write up, which seems to be written by someone with a bad experience rather than an objective article, is only about twenty years out of date!
      On the other hand, this was before the days of the internet and so it’s fun to see this writer catching up now. LOL
      Buyer beware should be your motto for anything from used cars, through duty free to a property!
      It used to be fun to watch fellow guests run off a ship and into a shop to purchase diamonds and especially Tanzanite, when they had no idea what they were buying, apart from a basic explanation that the Port Lecturer had given them!
      St. Marten and St. Thomas were awash with Grey Photographic and electronic imports and the saving was little or nothing over what one pay in BH photo in New York!
      Take buying anything on a cruise ship with a pinch of salt.
      Photographs are outrageous!
      The Spa, ridiculous!
      Art Auctions, probably the most dodgy of all, depending on the auction house!
      But remember, it costs less to cruise now than it did 25-years ago and when selling a photo, the staff have to be paid, the cruise lines gets a cut, the cruise company needs their cut, food and board have to be paid for, not to mention the couple of million in equipment that the company have spent to produce the photos onboard.
      Such is cruise life.
      but, the article gave me a laugh anyway.

    98. Donna
      August 20th, 2011 @ 11:44 am

      We go to the shopping talks to get the free stuff and the art auctions for the free champagne. In port, we will get the free stuff–ie miniscule earrings from DI, then look for local stuff which is so much cheaper. While in Grand Cayman last month, my daughter haggled with a preferred shop owner regarding a Michael Kors watch she liked and explained that she could get it tax free in Delaware (we live in NJ) with discounts wit coupons at Macy’s/Nordstroms etc but she wouldn’t budge. We never get the high end stuff that the shopping consultants push but have fun looking!

    99. cora gero
      August 20th, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

      Of course the ship will get a cut back it’s the same with cabs as with tour bus The drivers direct you to what they say is the best place to go It business So Buyer Be Ware

    100. Joe
      August 21st, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

      Recently visited port in Skagway, Alaska with friends. We were in the \recommended\ jewelry store as my friend thought it would be nice to buy his wife a ring to celebrate the occasion. I’m somewhat familiar with diamonds so our friends asked me what I thought of the deal. The price was $595.I asked the salesman about the stones and he told me they were of the highest quality. I looked closely and noticed there were flaws visible to the unaided eye.
      I asked the salesman to borrow a loupe to which he replied that the store doesn’t have any. REALLY!!!! A jewelry store that doesen’t have a loupe? Seeing that he was losing a customer he went to the manager who amazingly produced a loupe. Imagine that. Upon closer inspection I found the stones to be of junk quality. I advised my friend that the only value I could find was the 10K gold the stones were set in. Salesman, without saying a word took the loupe and the ring and walked away. No wonder they’re in every port. They make ridiculous profits from unsuspecting tourists.
      Since then I won’t step into ANY store recommended by the ship’s con man. Buy jewelry at home from a reputable business.

    101. Jackie
      August 22nd, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

      I agree as well. I used to work onboard a large cruise line and know all to well of the overpriced, over-hyped shopping that is pushed on to the passengers for a little kick back. The worst store to shop in the Caribbean is Diamonds International – they are a huge rip-off. Just for kicks, my husband and I went in one in Mexico to take a look around. While the store was completely crowded, the selection seemed less than desirable. We were finally approached and decided to look at a diamond/sapphire bracelet just to see and they wanted over 6500!! My husband and I are very familiar with diamonds, quality and cost. We laughed and left. I would stick to buying fine jewelery from a trusted source then buying on whim because it was “suggessted.”

    102. Traveling Bob
      August 22nd, 2011 @ 7:18 pm

      I put the recommended shops just about equal to the the Art Auctions!

    103. rutgersgirl
      August 22nd, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

      I don’t trust the tourist-driven stores, and I agree with the comments here. It’s certainly buyer beware. I’ve been known to purchase makeup at island stores, but that’s only because I know the prices I pay in the States, so I can see where I stand.

      In regards to the jewelry, if you are keeping in mind that you might be getting tourist prices (to say the least) but you are still going to get enjoyment out of it, then I say wear it in good health. It’s when people are flat-out lied to that I feel badly.n

    104. linda
      August 23rd, 2011 @ 7:21 am

      We have over 50 cruises and have learned many lessons the hard way..we also have found great “out of the way shops” . After taking an early teaching retirement I spent 3 months in Puerta Valleta, Mexico. It was amazing that everytime a ship was in port. prices in the shops actually were changed higher then false sale prices applied. The local Canadians and US residents atayed away from town on ship days.
      When you are in any Mexican port you will notice that the same silver jewerly is in every shop. Ask the sales people for the old pieces. They usually put them away to made room for the “new designes” The pieces will be much cheaper and you won’t see “your necklace” coming and going when your on the ship!

    105. Daw Marie
      August 27th, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

      As has been mentioned….. go enjoy the port for sightseeing, and any beauty you can find… forget the shopping until you get home and deal with a reputable LOCAL dealer that you go back to if there are any problems later…….
      If you need a momento of your visit…stick with cheap tokens.

    106. Kristin Fox
      August 30th, 2011 @ 10:15 am

      Any suggestions on what you can do after you realize that you were fooled? We had our honeymoon cruise in Europe, and purchased a Turkish rug in Kusadasi. We just had it appraised here in the US and it was really made in China and the US retail is less than half of what we paid in Turkey. We only received it 30 days ago, but so far the cruise line is not helpful. We were brought to this shop on our excursion, and they were listed in the cruise line’s preferred vendors, who are apparently covered under a 60 day guarantee. Any suggestions on what we could do, after the fact? Obviously lesson learned for moving forward.

    107. Deepu Budhrani
      August 30th, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

      After reading a lot of the comments, I thought to myself that not a single retailer has responded to all of this discussion, at least not directly. We all know that retailers plug themselves by posing as clients on CruiseCritic and talking only about a single store, which just happens to be their own! My family owns a few stores in St. Maarten and Alaska, and I am not going to mention our name. But I will tell you that we are constantly approached by the cruise ship promotion reps to get on board the shopping program, and we keep refusing. First we would have to buy expensive advertising in the onboard magazine. Then we would have to print flyers to give away before passengers disembark (to make sure they remember our stores), and we are urged to give away a “Freebie” to people so it brings them through the door. Finally, we would have to pay a high commission to the cruise ships on every sale, on top of which we have to sign up for an “incentive” program with the Port Lecturer (PL), which gives them a direct commission from every sale we make. The PL actually deals with the passengers so he/she can send them to specific stores depending on the kickback they are getting from the merchant. They employ “scare tactics”, telling passengers that they should only shop at “recommended stores” as they give a guarantee on what they sell. Their main target are the novice cruisers, who don’t realize that there are a lot of fine establishments that have been in business for 20 to 30 years in a lot of these ports. At the end of the day it is all about the money. He who pays more gets the best recommendation. And it is eventually the customer who pays, as the merchant ends up having to give about 12% to 15% of the sale to the cruise ships. They monitor the books, and have audits in place to make sure the merchant is reporting all sales & paying the commission. Integrity has no value here, and after sales service is not taken into account. A company could open up tomorrow, and if they can afford it they will be promoted onboard, even though they have no track record. These are the facts, and you make of them what you may.

      A passenger will almost always get the best value in stores that do not have to pay “ransom money” to the cruise lines. If its a family owned business that’s been operating for 20+ years, then we/they must be doing something right. And if the owner or family member is present, then we/they must care about the business as it is our livelihood. There are a lot of reputable stores in the Caribbean & Alaska, and we don’t need to pay “protection money” to the cruise lines to send naive clientele our way. It’s important to find a store that stands behind their product, with a website, email and toll free access. Makeing the purchase should be a fun experience, but almost more important is to know that the store will stand behind the product should there be any problem.

      All of the above is factual, and I have tried to be as brief as possible. If we can answer any queries, please feel free to email us at

    108. Online Shopping
      September 8th, 2011 @ 6:09 am

      You are just simply awesome. Loved every word said by you here…feels so motivated.Thanks in tons.

    109. m. williams
      September 8th, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

      big rip from ships shopping in port of cosumel mexico, (4) of the jewlery stores on the main street are taking the public for BIGBUCKS,THE JEWLERY LOOKS REALLY GREAT BUT ALL ARE CUBIC Z.

    110. Michael
      September 21st, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

      Love the internet. While on our very first cruise last year (Alaska) I saw a beautiful watch onboard that was “marked down”. Whipped out my trusty iPhone and found the exact same watch for $65 less on Amazon than their “marked down price.” Learned a valuable lesson on my first cruise!

    111. Winifred Graveline
      October 16th, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

      The last few cruises in 2009-2010, visiting Cozumel, I was shocked at the high prices for silver jewelry,when silver $7 p/ounce, in Mexican shops. Identical designs [braclets, earrings, necklaces] at TJ Max in Florida for 1/3 the cost $39 vs $129. & silver jewelry from Taxco. Jewelry is cheaper in NYC & check diamond ring prices at Tiffany’s before cruising to know the cost of highest quality diamonds. WG, Florida

    112. Winifred Graveline
      October 16th, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

      Read all comments and everyone left out fact that you have to declare purchase of expensive jewelry when returning through CUSTOMS. You need to produce a receipt and pay DUTY. Not sure if accurate but told once that if you wear jewelry returning through CUSTOMS, not charged or need U.S. proof of purchase. I would never buy expensive jewelry in Caribbean as gold costs same everywhere & NYC has best deals. Winifred.

    113. buy nandrolone
      November 18th, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

      Im no pro, but I believe you just crafted an excellent point. You clearly know what youre talking about, and I can really get behind that. Thanks for being so upfront and so sincere.

    114. Winstrol 2 mg
      December 14th, 2011 @ 2:02 am

      I admit, I have not been on in a long time however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues.

    115. beachdancer
      December 31st, 2011 @ 4:41 am

      2009 Stayed awake on HAL ship – could not sleep. Saw that St. Thomas preferred shop was Tanzanite International. I was very excited and my fiancee very savy. We bought my wedding ring there and luckily when back in the states, it appraised the same as we had lowered them down to. Happy ending this time

    116. Connie
      January 15th, 2012 @ 8:53 am

      Shopping guide onboard the Disney Dream told us all purchases were covered in the first 60 days if from an approved shop. I purchased a watch and the crystal broke before the 60 days is up, from an approved shop and well known Diamonds International. I filed a claim and followed all necessary steps. The company employing the shopping guide…The PPI Group said they are not will to back the purchase, nor is Diamonds International. I would NOT make a purchase in port!!!

    117. Frequent Cruiser
      April 1st, 2013 @ 6:57 pm

      I find it funny that the person above (Deepu Budhrani) says all these negative things about the shopping program and claims she will remain anonymously and then posts the stores email address. Zhaveri jewelers ripped me off when i cruised and then came on here to protect itself and try to poach business. The fact of the matter is YES stores located in cruise destinations pay to be in the program. Thats called advertising!!! Do you drink coca cola? Guess what? They paid to advertise their product and yet, you still love it!
      The guarantee offered is VERY specific and is protection against fake/stolen goods etc. I had an issue once with something I purchased, and that guarantee saved me thousands of dollars as it was fixed immediately. Why should a store be scrutinized just because it uses advertising?
      By the way- there are only negative comments listed here for the most part, because they literal millions of people that shop in the recommended stores dont typically have issues. Try looking up negative shopping stories elsewhere online. Guarantee you most of them shopped at non-rec stores. There are laws about ethics, conduct etc that those experts onboard must follow for the protection of the guests and the destinations and if you say or think differently, you dont know what youre talking about

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