Duty Free Ferries and Cruise Ships
Even though the days of buying cheap tobacco and booze on cross-Channel ferries are now gone (unless you happen to be catching a ferry to Norway or the Channel Islands), ferry operators continue to offer travellers significant savings - at least over UK High Street prices. P&O, for example, claims to offer savings of up to 30% on beer, wines and spirits and as much as 50% on UK prices for fragrances, skincare and cosmetics.
Additionally - like airports and inflight - there is a good range of confectionery, toys, books, games and travel essentials to choose from with some items exclusive to travel retail (eg you wont find exactly the same product on the domestic market).
On Channel Island routes look out for special multi-buy offers and mix’n’ match promotions that represent particularly good deals, particularly on liquor and confectionery.
While ferries are short routes designed to get you from A to B, cruises are holidays in themselves and here onboard retailing has had a real face lift over the past decade. New cruiseships coming into service are bigger and more impressive than ever before with an incredible array of facilities to keep passengers (or guests as they are called) entertained and occupied. Onboard health centres with gym equipment and spas; multi-media games and cinema complexes; some now even have real grass lawn areas!
The retail experience is just as important and these days shops onboard are more like mini department stores and boutiques than corner shops. Luxury brand names in fashion, leathergoods, watches , jewellery and glassware can now be found onboard, along with the more traditional liquor, tobacco, confectionery and logoed gifts and clothing.
Resident artists and jewellers are often onboard producing unique and original pieces and you’ll often find local specialty products representative of the region in which you’re cruising. So if you’re looking for fine jewellery, particularly gemstones, silver and gold, pearls and special items such as tanzanite, or are looking for an unusual watch or unique piece, then you might just find the very thing whilst on a cruise - and at a good price!
Cruise ships are working hard to develop their own sense of style and atmosphere. The Celebrity Solstice, for example is the only ship on which you can buy the Solstice Diamond, a patented 10-sided cut available in varying sizes and mounted in settings for rings, pendants and earrings.
On Regent’s Voyager and Mariner cruiseships, you can buy bespoke 14ct Globe pendants mapping the ships’ journeys with major destinations accented by precious diamonds. Not a bad gift for a loved one!
The product mix that you’ll find onboard tends to reflect the area in which you’re are cruising and the passenger profile. With more cruises in the Mediterranean now targeting families rather than retired couples, the trend is towards a greater choice in sportswear, toys, gifts and fun items.
Shops won’t be open while you’re in port, but once the ship has ventured into international waters, merchandise can be sold and - yes - at duty and tax free prices. So no sales tax, no VAT. The ticket price is the ticket price; nothing will be added on at the cash till (Europeans are used to taxes being included in the price while in the US and Canada sales tax is added on at the cash desk).
Cruise lines in the Caribbean have to compete with onshore duty free shops, so they have to keep their prices competitive to those at the port of call.
Purchases onboard will almost certainly be guaranteed, so you can contact the cruise line if you experience a problem when you’re back home. That may not always be the case with a shop at a port of call. The really good thing about buying onboard a cruise ship, though, is that you don’t have to make an instant decision. You’ll be on that ship for at least a week, so you’ve got plenty of time to ask questions, think about it...persuade the other half! Staff are generally helpful and know what they’re talking about.
It’s a good idea to keep receipts for duty/ tax free purchases; you must still keep within your allowances and may be asked to prove it when you’re back on terra firma. So you may be tempted, but don’t go crazy!