Ahh, shopping. People love to shop, and cruise ships love people who go shopping. So its win-win for everyone. Cruise ships have their own duty-free shops, with various items on sale at really good discounts throughout the cruise. You can get some excellent deals on some of the stuff there, but probably won’t get anything for free on board. So where do you get the free stuff?
Start with the handouts you get as you exit the ship at any given port. Often they have something free to offer if you go to the store mentioned on the ad. Of course they will try to sell you something as soon as you set foot in their store, but just say no and they give you the free stuff anyway. Anyone can get those with just the slight effort of finding that shop, which is not hard to do as you probably got a port shopping map delivered to your stateroom the night before. Odds are that is just one thing though, where to get more?
Enter the official port shopping guide. Most cruise ships seem to have one. The port shopping expert will give a variety of lectures throughout the cruise. Their job is to promote those stores that affiliate themselves with the cruise lines, but in between their shameless promotion of said shops they do have some useful tidbits of information. You might learn about new products, such as clothing and other items that change colors in sunlight or are made of interesting materials such as bamboo. They will also tell you where to find these and many other things.
Jewelry though is normally the main focus of the port shopping talks. In fact some are just specifically talks about jewelry. You can learn all sorts of interesting things at these lectures. Some will tell you how the value of specific stones is determined, complete with handouts explaining all the details. You might get some useful tidbits of information such as the human eye can’t tell the difference between a 1 carat stone and one of say .85 carats, but the price goes way up when you hit that full carat so you can save a lot of money buying the .85 carat stone and still have the same look.
You also might learn about stones you may not have known existed had you not gone on a cruise. Alexandrite is an interesting stone that changes from red to green depending on if it is daylight or night. Tanzanite is the biggie of cruise shopping though. This violet or blue stone comes from only one mine in Tanzania (hence the name tanzanite.) Once there were three mines, but only one has any tanzanite left.
They are not kidding when they say the tanzanite rapidly increases in value. Just in the few years since I first learned of it at the port shopping talks on a Norwegian cruise it has gone way up. Bracelets that sold for about $500 at that time now sell for nearly $2000. The biggest lesson I learned from that is if you find something you want made from tanzanite, buy it when you see it because if you decide to think about getting it later it will cost a whole lot more.
To entice people to come to the jewelry/port shopping lectures, there is often the offer of something free. Which usually turns out to be some sort of card that you take to a store in port to retrieve said free item (where they can try to sell you something else). Again, as long as you just say no to buying more things, you can get that free item and walk out of the store without spending any money. Sometimes you can get additional cards for collecting even more free things by visiting the port shopper at their desk at a specified time. Just by attending a couple lectures and visiting a few of the shops offering free items at a couple ports, I got quite a collection of free things on my recent Carnival Caribbean cruise. If someone made the effort to go to all of the talks and all of the shops offering free things, they would have considerably more. Of course you do get nicer things if you actually buy stuff, and they do have some really good deals. Jewelry and liquor tend to have really good prices both on board and in port, due to their duty-free status as well as lower overhead costs.
Some ports also have local handcrafted jewelry, which is often inexpensive as well as pretty. You can find things there made of stones you wouldn’t find anywhere else. In St. Thomas we found Larimar jewelry at a booth in a local market. Larimar is a blue stone from Dominica found in jewelry around the Caribbean.
Buying on board or from the cruise ship approved stores means you get a guarantee backed by the ship on whatever you purchase, so in the case of jewelry you know you get the real thing. You can often find lower prices in other random stores though, so if cost is more important to you than the guarantee they are good places to look.
Without making any real effort on my last cruise I collected three necklaces, two additional pendants, a charm bracelet, and a pair of earrings from Carnival approved stores. The three necklaces came from the cards they give everyone as they leave the ship. The earrings, bracelet and crystal pendant I got through the one jewelry lecture and one port shopping lecture I attended. The pearl pendant came from one visit to the port shopping expert’s desk. If I had opted to purchase one charm for $5, additional charms for the bracelet could have been collected free at each port. I also got a loose stone which can be set into a ring or something from walking past a random jewelry store who used that to entice people to come in. If I had put any effort into it, I could have collected much more.
I had no problem finding chains for the loose pendants. The ship had inch of gold and inch of silver sales with chains starting as low as $1.00 per inch. They also sold clasps to add to the chains.
If you have a specific stone in mind to buy, do your research before the cruise. Check websites or stores for items similar to what you would like to buy. If you know what the price is at home, then you know when you find a good bargain. Value of stones such as tanzanite is determined by cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. A better cut stone reflects more light, giving it more sparkle. Clarity refers to flaws in the stone, a clear stone having more value. Deeper color also makes any particular tanzanite more valuable whether it is deeper blue or deeper violet. Carat weight of course refers to the size, obviously increasing in value as the stones get larger.
All tanzanite used to get set in gold, mostly white gold, but some in yellow gold. Now though with the prices of both gold and tanzanite escalating, some places have started setting it in silver to lower the cost of some jewelry. Diamonds enhance the sparkle of the tanzanite and are often found set around it, which increases the value (and cost) of any piece of jewelry containing them.