This is a topic often discussed among experienced cruisers. On board the ship, where generally a large portion of the passengers are new to cruising or have only one or two prior cruises, the official line by the cruise employees is you should only buy from recommended shops. To some extent the real answer is really based in part on the port, thus a port by port based answer is more accurate.
Some ports are safer (one place to get an idea of safety is to look at US State Department warnings) than others for venturing out to whatever shops you want. When I say safe I don’t intend for you to think in terms of only your personal safety but also to think about it as will you be dealing with honest businesses. Honest deals are important when shelling out big money.
When you are laying out a bunch of money on some fine jewelry or art, or whatever you like to collect that is expensive it’s imperative that you deal with honest and reputable businesses. Those businesses who aren’t honest know you are off the ship and likely you can’t come after them if or when you find out what they sold you is not what it was advertised to be. (The majority of visitors to most ports are really only there once in a lifetime so scams do happen and somewhat more often than some want to know.) In many ports the local authorities aren’t going to stop anything that brings money to the economy while in other ports where there are strong consumer protection laws the less reputable businesses can be shut down. This is more of a country by country situation as opposed as literally an individual port situation.
One thing to be wary of are the street vendors. Don’t expect to get high quality trinkets from them in most places. That said if you are seeing lots of hand crafted art work and you like it bargain and get some. The artisans often need our support and their art work is usually as good, if not even better than you get in the trinket stores. Some places around the world yield far better artwork than others, or more unique artwork. In particular I really like the hand carved items put out on the island of Bali.
Focusing on the high end things that the folks on the ship shout out; “If you like it, you want it, buy it!” So we are referring to liquors, higher end souvenirs, and even jewelry. Often for the high end souvenirs there will be other decent shops that offer similar quality goods. You of course have to take a look at the items in both places to know for sure what you are getting, or just know what to look for in terms of quality before buying at the lower cost not recommended stores.
For jewelry, or high end art, it becomes a bit difficult to say one way or the other is fine to go. When buying gold you need to know are you getting the real thing, is it as solid as they say, or just plated? Many questions come up with jewelry and watches, it’s critical to know what you are buying. Know the expected quality, what it should look like, and what you would be paying at home. That will help as you shop other than just the recommended shops.
Know the general attitude and laws about misrepresentation where you are going. Singapore, the USA, and Canada are great examples of places where you are generally safe dealing with an established shop either recommended or not, because these countries have laws to protect consumers. On the other hand, Mexico is one great example of buyer beware. When in places where the attitude is buyer beware and you can’t be certain of exactly what you are buying, then it is probably best to stick with a recommended shop.
A cruise and shopping in port should be a fun experience. To that end depending on what kind of money you are spending, it is best to be careful that you are buying. You should either what you know is legitimate and that you are getting a good deal on such deal, or stick to recommended shops where you have some recourse. Just keep in mind that the recommended shops are not accepting returns based on buyer’s remorse.
We like to share shopping ideas with our clients when we know they are looking for specific items in port. We recommend signing up for alerts to new articles on this and other cruise related topics. We typically publish at least once per week and more often when breaking cruise news warrants additional articles.