Updated January 8, 2020
You're expecting your next cruise will be the vacation of a lifetime, and you want to commemorate it appropriately. But what's the best way? With crew members hawking inch-of-gold jewelry discounts and locals zealously selling trinkets in port, it can be difficult to decide. Below, we offer some solid cruise souvenir ideas, as well as some not-so-great ones you might want to avoid.
Best Free Cruise Ship Souvenirs
1. Daily Programs
If you simply loved the onboard experience on your cruise, save a daily program or two (or all of them). They're ideal mementos for scrapbookers, and they'll give you an hourly play-by-play of each day's ship activities; when someone asks what you did on your sailing, you'll remember every detail. The best part? They're free, you'll receive at least one each day in your cabin, and they'll take up almost no space in your luggage on the way home.
2. Cruise Cards
Like the daily schedules, your onboard keycard is a great scrapbook addition, and it's small enough to take home without costing you extra in overweight baggage fees. Plus, it contains additional details -- like your name and dining time -- that the daily programs don't have. If you're extra crafty, you can turn your collection of cards into refrigerator magnets using a bit of magnetic tape or Christmas ornaments using a hole punch and some ribbon.
Everyone's got a cellphone these days, so there's no excuse for not taking photos. Even if you keep it on airplane mode for the duration of your trip, you can still use the camera function to document as much or as little of your voyage as you'd like. Whether you print them out later to use in a photo album or create a free online one, you'll have some great memories captured.
Best For-Fee Cruise Souvenirs
If your photography skills aren't the best, you don't feel like lugging your camera or cellphone around with you or it's time for a new family portrait, not to worry. Nearly all oceangoing ships have onboard photography services. You can either set up a time to have professional photos taken, or you can purchase ones taken of you during dinner or at embarkation. Alternatively, if you've taken your own photos of the trip and want to display them, there are plenty of inexpensive ways to make hard copies. We've tried photo books from Shutterfly.com and Chatbooks.com. The latter, which automatically aggregates pictures from social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram, is ideal if you've been posting photos throughout your travels.
5. Duty-Free Items
You'll often find duty-free shopping options onboard and in port, featuring items like jewelry, cigarettes, alcohol, perfume and electronics. Although they won't necessarily provide you with a locally made memento of your trip, these can provide decent savings over what you'd pay elsewhere. But if you're in the market to make a purchase, it's a good idea to do some pricing research before you embark so you know whether or not you're actually getting a deal. Also keep in mind that, even though the items might be duty-free, you could still have to pay hefty taxes, depending on where the purchase is made. We bought perfume at an onboard shop on a recent sailing, and although we didn't pay a duty, we did have to pay a 20 percent tax, which was levied based on our ship's European itinerary.
6. Ship-Specific Items
Whether you cruise a lot or a little, if you're a ship nerd or know someone who's interested in impressive feats of engineering, a ship-specific souvenir is a great idea. Many mainstream lines' onboard shops sell T-shirts, mugs, ship replicas and the like. They range in price, but they're a great way to remember the specific vessels on which you've sailed. Some are even printed with facts and stats, such as when the ship was launched, how many tons it is and how many passengers it carries.
7. Authentic Handicrafts From a Port You Loved
Was there a stop on your itinerary that you absolutely adored? Snag a local souvenir. From Jamaican rum and Alaskan ulus to French lavender soap and perfume, there's nothing that will remind you of your journey quite like something native to that area. Just be sure that what you're buying is authentic. Check the items to see where they're made. Bonus points if you purchase something that you witness being crafted right in front of you.
Worst Cruise Souvenirs
Of course you want the folks back at home to know that you've just spent a week in the Caribbean. One of the easiest ways to do that is by catching a lovely case of sunburn after too many hours on the beach without sunscreen. Although it's free, we don't recommend it. If you're prone to becoming a lobster, use a high SPF, and toss a hat, some sunglasses and lightweight protective clothing into your bag.
9. Weight Gain
Combine the vacation mentality with seconds on dessert and access to nearly 24/7 nibbles, and you're likely to come home with an extra 10 pounds in tow. You can still indulge, but there are a few simple ways to ensure your biggest cruise souvenir isn't an extended waistline. Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. Not only will it help you work off the extra calories from that bucket of beer, but it will also help you to better learn your way around the ship. Order desserts to share. Instead of ordering two or three desserts at dinner (because you just can't decide which one you want), have each member of your party order something different, and share the plates. Finally, even the smallest ships generally have onboard fitness facilities that are free to use. Some also have walking/jogging tracks and fitness classes that provide great at-sea workouts. You don't have to go crazy, but 20 minutes of walking on a treadmill or around the outer decks can keep weight gain at bay.
10. Pillow Chocolates
With pillow chocolates at turndown slowly becoming a thing of the past, these little morsels might seem like a hot commodity. They aren't. We tried stockpiling them throughout a sailing and taking them home, but they sat in a cupboard for months, nobody daring to take a bite. This is especially true if the chocolate has been melted by contact with someone's head after a night of sleeping without checking the pillow first. Instead, stick with chocolate that's made locally in a port of call you've visited or sweets from one of the onboard shops.
11. Pressured Purchases
Beware of unsavory sales tactics used by locals in some ports of call. It goes something like this: A person approaches you, welcomes you to the port and asks your name. You smile and reply. Before you know it, your name has been carved into some sort of souvenir for which the artist then demands payment. If you didn't specifically request the item with your name on it, don't feel obligated to buy it; a simple, firm "no, thank you" is sufficient. If the seller is insistent, becomes angry or continues to follow you, alert port security.