Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Shop Until You Drop

The busy holiday shopping season is now behind us. By now, hopefully you've gotten all the post-holiday bargains, exchanged the gifts that didn't fit, spent some of you gift card money, and have gotten shopping out of your system. But, perhaps you really love to shop and instead are missing shopping already. Not to fear, there is hope for those that love to shop.

I'd like to suggest a new venue for your shopping excursion. Shop while on a cruise. There are plenty of opportunities to shop during a cruise vacation. This picture shows some of the shops onboard Caribbean Princess. If you didn't know better, you might think that you were inside a neighborhood mall. There are a few keys to having a successful shopping experience during a cruise.

Many cruises ago, we decided that we'd dedicate at least one cruise for some holiday shopping. On our Baltic cruise, we decided that we'd buy gifts from Russia for everyone on our Christmas list. Some items were purchased onboard the ship, but the majority of the items were purchased on land during our private tour.

By shopping during a cruise, you are able to purchase unique gifts that will have a lasting meaning for the recipient. In the picture above, taken in Bergen, Norway, you could purchase some hand-made items for someone on your list. Of course, don't forget about your collections and yourself while doing your shopping.

A happy shopper is an educated shopper. I strongly encourage you to do some research prior to your cruise. There is a wealth of information available on the internet. In our Cruise Vacations website, there are several links provided under the Shopping category.

You'll want to be able to answer the following questions: What is the best bargain in this destination? What unique items can be purchased here? What are the custom limitations?

What are the duty-free rules? How do I get the taxes refunded? Are there items that I am not allowed to bring home (such as Cuban cigars if traveling to the U.S.)? Are there local markets where I can purcahse hand-made items?

One advantage to shopping while on a cruise is that you can take advantage of duty-free shopping. You'll want to know what your custom limits are and also how to get refunds of Value Added Taxes (VAT) you might pay. Sales tax / VAT is included in the purchase price and can make up to 20% of the price tag. It is important for you to undertand how to obtain a refund.

For example, in the UK, there is a VAT added to all purchases. You need to complete a form to obtain a refund of the taxes. For the latest information on Value Added Tax (VAT) see the HM Revenue & Customs website.

In Norway, you will see TAX FREE shops during your visit. The thing to note is that there is a minimum purchase amount to qualify for a refund. As of this writing, the minimum purchase amount is NOK 315 on regular goods. While in Bergen, we found that several of the stores were actually associated together and you were allowed to "pool" you purchases to get the refund.

On some itineraries, a customs agent is located at the pier or onboard the ship to process tax refunds. This is a great benefit that you'll want to utilize if it's available on your cruise. Check with Guest Relations onboard if you need assistance.

Often the ship will do a shopping briefing and/or have brochures with recommended stores.
Watch your daily paper for details about shopping talks or special sales onboard the ship.

Sometimes there are specials offered in the various stores for ship passengers. Most ships will offer a guarantee on merchandise purchased in one of the recommended stores. That's not to say you should restrict your shopping to those stores, but if you do, you'll have the added security of the cruise line assisting you with any problems that occur after the sale.

The final thing I'd like you to consider is the ship itinerary. Obviously, if you are looking for a particular item, it will most likely be easy to determine which cruise to select. One thing that you may not have considered is the oboard ship inventory and how a change in destination might be a benefit to you and offer bargains.

For example, the last cruise to a particular destination (and possibly cruises that follow) may offer an onboard discount as they clear out merchandise to make room for the new destination's merchandise.

Take for an example, a cruise that visits the Baltic during the summer and the Caribbean during the winter. After the last Baltic cruise, they will want to clear out the Russian and other Baltic country's merchandise. So, if you want some Russian trinkets, but aren't able to get there this year, perhaps the first Caribbean cruise after the Baltic might be a good one to consider.

I hope this gives you some ideas about planning for a cruise vacation that includes some shopping. Again, I strongly suggest that you do some homework prior to your cruise so that you can have an enjoyable time and get some good deals. Check on the web, talk to your cruise specialist, read the shopping information, and attend the shopping talk(s) onboard the ship and you should be in good shape.

Happy Shopping,

No comments: