Ship to Shore to Store

by Paris Permenter & John Bigley

Ready, set, shop.

Whatever your heart may desire (or your pocketbook may allow) can be found in the cruise ports of the Caribbean. Fine jewelry, watches, electronic goods, china, crystal, and more tempt travelers with bargain prices. Duty free shops in this region offer goods anywhere from 25 to 40 percent below their US retail prices.Island-made goods are also good purchases. Whether you are looking to bring home a taste of the islands with some locally made rums or peppery hot sauces or to decorate with hand-hewn wood carvings or straw placemats, you'll find an array of goods for sale just steps from the cruise ship terminals.

George Town, Grand Cayman

Jewelry is a top buy on this island: watches, custom designed pieces, stones, and coins. Some popular shops include Savoy Jewellers Fort Street, known for its collection of Spanish Doubloons, Savoy Jewellers Queen's Court, which showcases an extensive collection of diamonds and Fabergé eggs, and Colombian Emeralds International, a well-known jeweler throughout the Caribbean.

Just across the street from the cruise terminal, the Duty Free Centre offers a variety of shops with goods in all price ranges. Treasure coins, black coral, gold, designer sunglasses, imported leather goods and more are found here.

Real bargains are found on Cayman-made items. Caymanite, a stone found only on the eastern end of Grand Cayman's East End and the bluff on Cayman Brac, is sold throughout the islands. The semi-precious stone, a form of dolomite, ranges from a light beige to a beautiful amber color and is often mounted in a gold setting.

Another popular island purchase is the Tortuga Rum Cake, made using five-year-old Tortuga Gold Rum. Sealed in a red tin, the cake is the product of a century old family recipe.

Oranjestad, Aruba

International goods -- perfumes, china, crystal, jewelry, cameras, and clothing--are best buys on this southern Caribbean island. Unlike the practice on many islands, bargaining is not customary in Aruba.

The primary shopping district stretches along Oranjestad's waterfront. Malls as colorful as sherbet line this route, tempting shoppers with goods that range from T-shirts and Delft Blue salt and pepper shakers to European tres chic designer outfits and fine jewelry.

Seaport Mall and Seaport Marketplace have the lion's share of the mall business. The Mall is located adjacent to Sonesta Resort and includes high-priced shops on its lowest level. Upstairs, boutiques offer moderately priced resort wear, jewelry, china, and more for a total of over 65 shops. At Sonesta Suites, the Seaport Marketplace is an outdoor gallery of nearly 60 shops specially targeted for vacationers.

Nearby, the Holland Aruba and Harbourtown Malls also offer a good selection of gift items.

Nassau, Bahamas

Bay Street is the Fifth Avenue of the Bahamas, a boulevard lined with shops stocked with names like Gucci, Lalique, Cartier, and Baccarat. Inside, display cases gleam with gold, diamonds, and emeralds, and travelers look for duty-free bargains.

Perfume prices are regulated by the government, so you will find the same prices at any of the "perfume bars" which are frequent in Nassau. Everything from French to American perfumes, colognes and aftershaves are sold in the perfume bars, as well as in many clothing stores.

For authentic Bahamian souvenirs, head down Bay Street to the frenzied, open-air Straw Market. Every imaginable straw good is sold here, and if you don't see it, the nimble-fingered women will make it for you. Expect to haggle over prices here, but overall, prices and goods vary only slightly from booth to booth. Upstairs, wood carvers chip away at logs to produce sculptures of animals, birds, and anything else you might request.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Whether you start your cruise here or just stop by for the day, shopping is a major activity for Puerto Rico visitors. Duty-free shopping is found at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport and at factory outlet shops in Old San Juan.

If you're looking for gold and jewelry or factory outlets, check out the shops on Calle Christo and Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan.

If you're looking for an island product, popular purchases are cuatros (small handmade guitars), mundillo (bobbin lace), santos (hand carved religious figures), rum, and cigars.

Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

The two-nation island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten is one of the few completely duty free ports in the world with no charges for goods coming either in or out of the island. The result: lots of bargains.

On the Dutch side, the city of Philipsburg is lined with duty-free shops. Stroll Frontstreet, the narrow boulevard nearest the waterfront, for bargains on electronic goods, leather, jewelry, and liquor (especially guavaberry liqueur). Shops are found just steps from the cruise terminal.

On the French side, the best shopping is in the capital city of Marigot. A crafts market near the cruise terminal offers jewelry, T-shirt, souvenir items, carvings, and Haitian paintings. Marigot also is home to boutique shops which offer liqueurs, cognacs, cigars, crystal, china, jewelry, and perfumes, many from France.

St. Croix, USVI

In the port city of Frederiksted, a small crafts market just west of the cruise pier offers some quick buys like homemade hot sauces and waterfront shops such as Colombian Emeralds and the Royal English Shop offer more serious buys.

If you've got more time in port, consider a shopping tour to Christiansted. This historic Danish town is filled with charming shops and you can easily spend most of a day strolling from store to store.

Jewelry is a popular purchase here and one of the most unique items is the "St. Croix Hook," developed by Sonya's Lts. (No. 1 Company Street). The bracelet features a simple hook clasp that gives a clue to the wearer's romantic status: if the hook is pointed down, it signifies the wearer is single, pointed up and turned toward the heart it symbolizes attachment.

Larimar, the light blue semi-precious stone known as "the gemstone of the Caribbean," is also sold at many shops on St. Croix. The largest collection is found at Larimar Mines in Christiansted on the Boardwalk behind King's Alley.


Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI

Charlotte Amalie (pronounced ah-ma-lee) is a mecca for dedicated shoppers. This is where serious duty-free shoppers come to seek out bargains from around the globe on jewelry, perfumes, leather goods, and gemstones.

Cruise ships dock just east of Charlotte Amalie near Havensight Mall. Here, among over 50 shops, you can start your duty free shopping but save time for a walk (or a short taxi ride) into the city for the best selection.

The Waterfront Highway (Kyst Vejen), Main Street (Dronningens Gade) and Back Street (Vimmelskaft Gade) run parallel to the waterfront of Charlotte Amalie. These streets, and the alleys that connect Waterfront Highway and Main Street, are filled with non-stop shops. Start near the Vendors' Plaza (good for crafts purchases and inexpensive T-shirts), then begin your walk down crowded Main Street. When you're ready to get away from the hustle and bustle of the street, tuck into one of the many alleys, refuges where you can shop or dine in a little peace. These brick walls recall the area's history and its days as the Danish warehouse district in the 19th century.

The picturesque alleys are also home to several excellent malls. The A.H. Riise Gift and Liquor Mall, located between Post Office Alley and Hibiscus Alley off Main Street, includes shops such as Colombian Emeralds, Mapes Monde and Gucci. Nearby in the Royal Dane Mall, Carson Company is an excellent stop for Caribbean artifacts dating back to the Taino Indian days as well as antiques from around the globe.

TIPS FOR DUTY FREE SHOPPERS

  • Do a little pre-trip homework. Know prices so you'll know a good bargain (or a not-so-good bargain!)
  • Know what islands are noted for what duty-free items.
  • If you are visiting the island but you're not on a cruise ship, consider scheduling your shopping day on a day when there's no cruise ship in town (or the fewest cruise ships in port). Stores will be less crowded and you'll have more opportunity to bargain effectively.