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The best cruise ports to shop till you dock

Author: World of Cruising

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Shopping is an essential part of the modern cruise experience, whether it is onboard or ashore, with the retail factor is designed to attract all-comers and add an exciting, modern element to your maritime voyage

Shopping is an essential part of the modern cruise experience, whether it is onboard or ashore.

The retail factor is designed to attract all-comers and add an exciting, modern element to your maritime voyage.

In fact, some of the latest ships take their shop offerings so seriously you don’t even need to get off to fill your suitcase with all manner of bargains.

Gone are the days when the onboard provision element consisted of just a small duty free ‘cupboard’ and basic travel commodities like razors and sun-tan cream.

Now, we have whole shopping ‘malls’ and glamorous boutiques, offering some of the finest designer names and products.

Therefore, we will take you on a whirlwind tour of the shopping high spots of the cruise world, region by region, and highlight how the different lines approach the idea of providing the most enticing onboard retail opportunities.

Chaoyang District is great for shopping. Credit: Shutterstock


This is Bargain Central for a vast range of commodities, from antiques to designer apparel. All shopping aficionados should have this region on their ‘to-do’ list.


China is the heart and soul of the Asian shopping experience. Custom-made apparel, antiques and silk fabrics are purchases of choose here and, since Beijing is as flat as a scallion pancake, it’s an easy amble, whether you’re browsing the goods at street stalls or combing the racks at shops along Ploenchit and Ratchadamri Roads.

The Chaoyang District is the go-to spot for good tailors and antique dealers and, in the Xuanwu District, the Beijing Silk Shop is one of Beijing’s best, as is Century Silk. Freshwater pearls are a good buy, too, especially at the Pearl Market near the Temple of Heaven.

Shanghai has always enjoyed a reputation for first-rate shopping, but here’s a tip: the best buys are inside the hundreds upon hundreds of small shops or from street hawkers offering woodcarvings, ceramics, teapots and chopsticks sets for a song.

Antique lovers will swoon – given that some China’s best collectibles can be found here. But make sure you get a red wax seal for any items made from 1795 to 1949 if you want to successfully get past China’s custom officers.

If you’re hoping for jade and freshwater pearls at bargain-basement prices, brush up on your negotiating skills (counter-offer about 20 to 25 percent off the first price) and check out places like Pearl City in the Huangpu District and Angel Pearls in Jing An District.

In Hong Kong, lucky visitors are generally no more than a dim sum’s throw away from tax-free shopping. Harbour City is their largest mall, but you can also roam Wangfujing Dajie, where two of the city’s best malls, Sun Dong An Plaza and Oriental Plaza, are located.

When it comes to bespoke custom tailoring on the fly without compromising quality, Hong Kong Indian tailors go to the head of the class. Most can be found in the Tsim Sha Tsui District (WW Chan & Sons is considered one of Asia’s best and Bill Clinton likes Sam’s Tailor, both on Nathan Road). For hunting down antiques, including chinoiserie, walk along Hollywood Road, particularly near Pottinger and Cat Streets.

It’s a quick ferry ride to duty-free Macau, where you can stroll around Avenida, Almeida Ribeiro or Avenida Horta e Costa for gold jewellery and watches. Portuguese wines are a good buy here, too.

For determined shopaholics on the lookout for on-the-cheap designer knockoffs, hit the road to Luohu Commercial City in Shenzhen. That’s part of Mainland China, so arrange for a visa at least 48 hours in advance from your hotel concierge or the ship’s travel desk.

One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster. Credit: Shutterstock


When it comes to Thailand, the city of Bangkok stands out for antique shops, particularly along Charoen Krung Road, but also consider the shops at the back of the Four Seasons Hotel lobby on Rajadamri Road. Gemstones, ranging from sapphires to rubies, are mined and cut here, so you’ll find high-quality selections, notably in and around Charoen Krung Road.

If you’re game, take the ride out to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. You’ll have to hop on a motorised long-tailed boat to make your way through dozens of narrow canals to the main market but, once there, you’ll find handbags, jewellery, apparel and collectibles at highly negotiable prices.


Shopping truly reigns supreme in Singapore, what with all their shopping malls and street markets, such as the night-time bazaar at Clarke Quay (where wares are mostly high-quality). Orchard Road is perhaps the most popular shopping street and is home to Shanghai Tang, one of Asia’s best department stores.

Men’s tailors are at the top of their game in Singapore and good ones include Justmen’s on Tanglin Road and Wai Cheong Tailor on Orange Grove Road (their suits are made from Ermenegildo Zegna and Loro Piano fabrics).

The stalls inside the Little India arcade on Campbell Lane off Serangoon Road are for textiles, collectibles, henna supplies, on-the cheap saris, bedazzled shoes and more. There are also highly worthwhile shops such as Far East Legend on South Bridge Road selling antique ruby jewellery and old Chinese porcelain blue and white pillows. Arab Street, though often jam-packed with tourists, is still a decent stop for hunting down deals. And believe it or not, there are some great shops (and good prices) at the Cruise Terminal.


Vietnam cruisers should be on the lookout for well-priced lacquer ware, embroidered goods and made-to-order silk apparel.

Hoi Ann is notable for clothing from master tailors at terrific prices and, though you can find a good selection in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), you’ll probably pay more for virtually the same thing.

In Hanoi, a good many tailors specialising in silk are along Hang Gai Street. Footwear is another Hanoi hot item and shoe stores along Hang Dau Street have the greatest selections.

For kitschy collectibles, souvenirs and such, try Dong Xuan Market in the Old Quarter. But do be careful about purchasing art and antiques since Vietnam has extremely strict rules on exporting items.

Admire the vibrancy of San Juan. Credit: Shutterstock

Caribbean and South America

The former has been a shopping Mecca almost since time immemorial, where duty-free bargains translate to as much as 50 per cent off European price tags. South America adds its own Latin flavour to the retail offerings.

Any Caribbean cruise with shopping on the agenda simply has to call at the US Virgin Islands. Here, top-brand watches, cameras, cosmetics, premium brand portables and much, much more are all to be had on main island St Thomas, notably in downtown Charlotte Amalie, which is just a 10-minute taxi ride from the busy Cruise Terminal.

Another notable free port is the Dutch-French island St Maarten/St Martin, and prices here can be lower than many of its island neighbors. Some of the world’s best jewellers are over on Front Street in Phillipsburg on the Dutch side, along with luxury goods from Lalique. Then, if you head over to Marigot on the French side, good deals can be had at Paris outposts such as Cartier, Longchamps and Hediard.

Duty-free shops hawking watches, diamond jewellery, crystal, china are everywhere in Barbados, too, especially along Broad Street in Bridgetown. However, be aware many of the multitude of jewellers and electronic outlets are all chain stores which can be found pretty much ubiquitously throughout the region.

In Puerto Rico, though only taxfree for US citizens, there are plenty of good deals around for rum and cigars, along with electronics and jewellery in the port of San Juan.

When you head south to Brazil, you need to make sure Rio de Janeiro is on any shopping-tinged itinerary. Home to world famous-jewellers like H Stern, Amsterdam Sauer and Sabon, this where you can pick up some magnificent precious gems.

The Hippy Fair is a Sunday-only flea market on Praca General Osorio and is an excellent spot for picking up sensually soft leather goods, especially handbags and colourful flip-flops.

Admire leather goods in Italy. Credit: Shutterstock


Born-to-shop cruisers love Italy, where best buys include clothing, leather goods and pottery; the French Riviera boasts fine fashions and designer perfumes; and surprising Portugal offers the chance to bag some world-class linens, gold jewellery and painted tiles.


Italy should be first on the cruise shopping agenda for the Med. Intrepid shoppers visiting Rome should check out Sergio di Cori at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, where they’ll find soft-as-butter gloves in every colour imaginable and, for the well-heeled, it’s Dal Co’ on Via Vittoria for stunning hand-made shoes.

In Florence, you will find shopping at its best in and around Via de’ Tornabouni. Of course, one shouldn’t miss the San Lorenzo street market near Piazza S Lorenzo and Via dell’Ariento for leather goods, clothing and fine souvenirs. The famous Ponte Vecchio is renowned for its 18-carat gold jewellery.

Outlet shopping is also surprisingly prevalent. Outside Florence, The Mall near Rignano sull’Arno showcases shops selling top brands such as Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Gucci, Hogan, La Perla, Ferragamo, Valentino and Tod’s.

Also not far from Florence is a Prada outlet in Montevarchi. There’s a Bulgari outlet not far from the port of Civitavecchia (Rome), plus McArthur Glen at Castel Romano, home to outlet shops for Bruno Magli, Dolce & Gabbana, Ermenegildo Zegna, Fratelli Rosseti and much more.


Good buys in Lisbon include leather goods, handicrafts, new and antique hand-painted tiles, linens and gold jewellery.

Gold is government-regulated, hence jewellers are obligated to put a minimum of 19.2 carats into the pieces they sell. Rua Aurea is where to find some of the city’s best jewellery shops.

Linen lookers should visit Principe Real on Rua da Escola Politecnica for luscious, albeit pricey, linens. Literally fit for a king, European royal houses consider this their ‘local’ linen shop.

The French Riviera

Signature splurge-worthy Provence fabrics (or anything made from it) and espadrilles abound throughout the French Riviera. Fresh-pressed olive oil, wines, lavender soaps and perfume (particularly in Grasse and Eze) are also popular buys.

In Cannes, the March Forville in the Old City is fun to browse, as is the March a la Brocante et Antiquits on Cour Saleya in Nice. If hand-made sandals are your hot button, check out Rondini on rue G. Flemenceau in St Tropez (Colette had hers made there in 1931).

Shopping in Dubai is tax-free. Credit: Shutterstock

Middle East

This is now the modern Mall experience par excellence, a truly astounding region boasting incredible bargains in gold, spices, electronic and high fashions.

Dubai shopping is tax-free. Some say the best shopping can be found in the souks, where haggling prices down about half of the first offer is de rigueur. The Gold Souk on Sikkat al-Khali Street is the place for solid 24-carat jewels galore, including pieces from DeBeers. Along the same street is the Perfume Souk for checking out the thousands of fragrances being offered. The Spice Souk on Al-Sabkha Road is where to get bags brimming with saffron and frankincense.

The largest themed mall in the UAE is the Ibn Battuta Mall, but Dubai Emirates Mall is famous for shopping and the unique Ski Dubai, with its five indoor ski slopes topped with honest-to-goodness snow (the longest at 400 metres). Though Souk Madinat Jumeirah indeed attracts lots of shoppers for bargains in rugs, saris, shawls and other souvenirs, it can be a bit touristy.

Also tax-free, Abu Dhabi is known for solid-gold jewellery at excellent prices. The largest concentration of gold-selling jewellers is in the Madinat Zayed Gold Market, off Zayed Second Street. The Iranian Souk on Al Meena Street, the Blue Souk near the Khaled Lagoon and the Grand Souk on Sheikh Hamdan Street are also good bets. Additionally, antique carpets can be found be found at these souks, but the best selection is at the Al Meena (Afghan) Souk on Al Meena Road.

Like Dubai, negotiating the right price is expected. There are close to two dozen malls – the two largest are the Marina Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall with stores including show-stopping goods from the likes of Chanel, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Bang & Olufsen and Tommy Hilfiger.

Browse the gorgeous Norwegian wool sweaters. Credit: Shutterstock

Northern Europe

Price-wise, this is not the ideal region in which to go bargain-hunting, but there are still some unique opportunities, notably in Denmark and Norway.

Best buys in Copenhagen are Royal Copenhagen’s signature blue and white porcelain and Georg Jensen silver. The flagship headquarters for Royal Copenhagen is on Stroget while the largest and best collection of Jensen hollow-ware in Europe is on Amagertorv

In Norway, its famous Norwegian wool sweaters and tax-free selections are plentiful at any of the Oslo Sweater Shop’s locations. Actually, they claim to have Scandinavia’s largest selection, and you will usually be spoiled for choice.

Throughout the country, you will also have multiple opportunities to pick up the beloved signature Trolls, which come in all shapes and sizes, as well as Jarlsberg cheese, which is probably their most famous export.

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