Cruises can sometimes feel built for those who love to shop. You'll find a wide variety of products, duty-free signage (indicating you don't have to pay the local tax) and promotions touting prices that might seem too good to be true along the corridors of most cruise ships.
Sure, some items are worth the splurge aboard a cruise ship, but the truth is that while you can snag pretty good deals on some onboard buys, not everything is a bargain. Some goods are so ridiculously priced, you're bound to spend almost double what you would back home.
From bottled liquor to laptops and everything in between, check out these eight often overpriced items that you shouldn't buy on a cruise ship.
Unless you're shopping for a rare vintage, an artisanal local liquor or high-end brand that's not available where you live, don't spend your money on bottled booze at the duty-free store or elsewhere on the ship. Most of the alcohol sold in cruise ship shops can be found at your neighborhood liquor store, Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s Club for far less. Even if you do the math and discover you can save a few bucks, consider the hassle of having to lug your booze back home (it's not going in your carry-on, for starters).
It’s also worth noting that cruise ships have strict policies on alcohol and any bottles purchased onboard will be held until the last day of your cruise. Same goes for duty-free liquor that you’re trying to bring on board, so don’t think those bottle purchases will go toward cutting down on your bar tab.
Forget toothpaste, sunscreen or feminine care products? Buy them in port if you can (if you can). The prices of personal care products on cruise ships are astronomical; you'll pay nearly twice as much as you would at home. If you're traveling with only a carry-on and intentionally didn't pack certain items due to TSA liquid limitations, aim to scoop them up at a grocery store or pharmacy in your embarkation port before you board your ship.
Similar to personal care products, medications are also extremely expensive on board cruise chips. Unfortunately, in most cases, you can't wait until you get to port to buy them. Our advice? Always pack basics like pain relievers in addition to any usual vitamins or supplements.
While ships do often have seasickness medication on hand, it’s safest to have some of your own on hand even if you aren’t prone to seasickness -- especially for shore excursions that involve catamarans and other small boats.
If you require any daily prescriptions and forget them, be aware onboard doctors will charge you a visitation fee in addition to the cost of any medical purchases or treatments, and insurance is not accepted. You may also not find exactly the medication you need on board. Check out our expert breakdown of cruise ship doctors and medical facilities, as well as some of the ways you can save, for more info.
Whether you're itching for a GoPro camera or forgot some equipment back home, we advise you to refrain from purchasing any electronics onboard (unless it's something small, like a memory card). Any money you save won't be worth the hassle of trying to deal with product returns/exchanges, warranties or any post-purchase maintenance -- and we've heard some horror stories from Cruise Critic members. You're better off buying the camera online, or, depending on your itinerary, you might have better luck shopping for electronics in port.
Chances are that you weren’t considering buying a laptop on board your cruise. But on the off chance that you get snagged by a deal on one and can’t pass up the opportunity, think twice. Cruise ships don’t typically sell a ton of laptops aboard their ships, so stock may be sitting around for a while. Sometimes long enough (read: years) that manufacturer warranties or coverage programs like AppleCare may have expired by the time you get your brand new laptop back home. Save your computer-purchasing money for when you’re back on dry land.
These days, traveling with face masks and hand sanitizer is second nature. While you may no longer be required to wear a face mask on board your cruise ship, there are times when you might still want one in an airport lounge, on a flight, in a port of call or even in crowded parts of the ship. Don’t wait to buy a face mask on a cruise. Chances are you’ll pay too much for two or three disposable masks.
Purchase face masks before departure and make sure to carry them in your hand luggage in case you’re required to wear one while traveling to your embarkation port.
As for hand sanitizer, you’ll want to carry a small bottle with you in your hand luggage. When you’re onboard, you’ll find dispensers liberally placed around your cruise ship.
Most cruise ships feature an art gallery, or at least a corner where paintings are displayed to tempt passengers into purchasing them. Our tip: Don’t blow your cruise budget on what is likely to be an overpriced painting that could also set you back on shipping and handling costs. Instead, save your hard-earned cash for purchases and souvenirs onshore. Head to local markets and pick out items with real meaning that will forever remind you of your travels.
As with most things on a cruise ship, expect to pay a premium for any children’s toys on board your cruise. Go prepared and think about a couple of their favorite books, a cuddly toy and lightweight game or puzzle to keep them entertained during your cruise. Be warned, though, that there will be shops on board selling plenty of kid-friendly stuffed animals and souvenirs, so you’ll likely be making a pit stop to the gift shop even if you do come prepared with your kids’ favorite things.
Updated June 21, 2022