If you imagine cruise shopping is all about overpriced knitwear and dodgy wood carvings, then it's time to venture beyond the frequently dismal offerings of cruise terminals and nearby shops, set up to relieve unwary passengers of unwanted currencies rather than supply them with interesting artworks or quirky fashions.
Set off to explore further afield and you'll find authentic artefacts, locally produced goods you don't get anywhere else, or international brand-name items at better prices than back home. Buenos Aires, for example, has an innovative fashion scene led by bold local designers, while Helsinki has an entire design district in which some 200 shops focus on Nordic design in homeware, fashion, jewellery and furniture.
And while some ports have limited shopping options, they might offer niche products such as the black pearls of French Polynesia, Murano glass in Venice, lace in Dubrovnik, or ceremonial kava bowls in Samoa. Ports in Vietnam provide an opportunity to order tailor-made clothing.
Fact is, cruise ships often visit major port cities that have thrived for centuries on trade, and remain significant retail distribution centres. Here are six classic examples that are bound to swell your suitcases with great buys.
Taipei is one of the world's greatest street-market cities, so hop on the train from Keelung port and get into town to plunder, among others, Shilin Market (clothes, shoes, jewellery, souvenirs) and Guanghua Digital Plaza (computers, cameras, security gear and high-tech gadgets). Keelung's night market, a walk from dock, is famous in Taiwan for street food.
Themed shopping streets are common in Taipei. Hit Yuanling Street for shoes, American Street (Lane 96, off Kunming Street) for hip-hop gear and Wuchang Street for camera equipment. Dihua Street is devoted to Chinese medicine but also has teapots, bamboo homewares and embroidery. Huaxi Street near Longshan Temple is a trove of laughing Buddha statues, lacquered chopstick sets and hand-painted umbrellas. Chinese Handicraft Mart has four floors of scrolls, porcelain and silk clothes. The National Palace Museum sells quality reproductions of its treasures. See travel.taipei
The epicentre of American consumerism has endless shopping choices. Beverly Boulevard is worth a visit for furnishings and several vintage clothing, watch and footwear stores. Melrose Avenue has funky fashion. Along popular shopping drag Robertson Boulevard, movie stars are sometimes spotted hunting through the racks inside the trendy boutiques. Famous Hollywood Boulevard is rather tacky but good for Hollywood memorabilia, while Wilshire Boulevard is the place for department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus.
Downtown, though not the hub of sightseeing action, is where savvy locals look for bargains in the Fashion District and Chinatown. Olvera Street sells just about everything made south of the border, adding mariachi bands and folk dances to the lively mix at weekends. See discoverlosangeles.com
Explore the traditional markets on the Deira side of The Creek, where the spice and perfume souks rival each other in the olfactory stakes. Then wander down Baniyas Road for Middle Eastern souvenirs such as bronze coffeepots and wooden camels. The gold souk is one of the most amazing sights in Dubai. Even if you aren't interested in buying gold, admire the intricate jewellery and bullion coins.
Then investigate the other side of Dubai shopping, its glitzy malls, of which there are several along Sheikh Zayed Road alone. (Royal Caribbean offers a shop-and-spa excursion that includes a visit to Dubai Mall, with celebrity stylist Rose Arbaji on hand to provide styling advice.) Duty-free items include good-value electronics, computers, camera equipment, jewellery and textiles. Goods are displayed with considerable glitz and panache, and often alongside record-breaking aquariums, dancing fountains and even artificial ski slopes for added spectacle. See visitdubai.com
Orchard Road is the epicentre for big-name fashion brands and mega-malls. Tanglin Shopping Centre, at its very end, is crammed with shops selling art, antiques, collectables, jade, old maps, carpets and curios. If you want good prices and are willing to sacrifice ambience and air-conditioning, however, head to department stores such as People's Park Complex and Chinatown Point in Chinatown. These are a great source of Chinese-made products, as well as electrical goods, textiles, clothes, cosmetics and luggage.
In Chinatown Point's Singapore Handicrafts Centre you'll find pottery, jewellery, Chinese lacquerware, wooden masks and handicrafts from across south-east Asia. Tekka Centre and Mustafa Centre in Little India are other magnets for bargain hunters, especially those looking for electrical goods, household items and Indian textiles. Head to Arab Street for batik and silk. See visitsingapore.com
Wealthy port cities that survive on trade invariably have good shopping, and Hamburg doesn't disappoint. You could go all-out in the high-end fashion stores along Jungfernstieg, reputedly Germany's most expensive shopping drag. Several historic shopping arcades are nearby, and intersecting streets also have plenty of stores. You'll find more mid-range goods in the department stores of Monckebergstrasse and Spitalerstrasse. Head to Milchstrasse and Mittelweg in trendy Poseldorf for more eclectic fashion boutiques.
If you're in Hamburg on a Sunday, don't miss the famous open-air Fischmarkt, which has been running since 1703. It sells fruit, vegetables, pets and antiques, though it's the raucous seafood section that provides the best entertainment, as vendors try to attract passing customers. You mightn't be able to souvenir a Dover sole, but it's great entertainment. See hamburg-travel.com
Hong Kong has ultra-luxury shopping, rock-bottom rummaging in street markets and everything in between. If your ship docks at Ocean Terminal, you can delve straight into two adjacent shopping malls before heading on to nearby Nathan Road for department stores and electronic shops. Further into Kowloon are street markets overflowing with handbags, watches, homewares and clothing, plus less useful but eye-catching flowers, goldfish and songbirds. The best is on Temple Street, at its liveliest in the evening.
Then head across the other side of the harbour for leather goods and designer knock-offs along Li Yuen Street in Central, and Chinese antiques, porcelain and jade along Hollywood Road. Further out in Causeway Bay, you'll find factory outlets and department stores. If your shore excursion heads to seaside town Stanley, you'll find shops selling silk, sportswear and casual clothing. See discoverhongkong.com
BEST ON-BOARD SHOPPING
The best shopping of any Australian-based cruise ships, and some of the best anywhere – Majestic Princess has the largest retail space at sea, with more than 1000 square metres of designer stores such as Burberry, Fendi, Cartier and Ray Ban. Some ships carry more than 5000 designs in jewellery. On some itineraries, on-board shopping hosts provide port shopping advice. See princess.com
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE
Many big international names in fashion, cosmetics and accessories (Swatch, Swarovski, Victoria's Secret, Clinique, Lacoste) are available, but the cruise line carries local products too, such as Sydney-based swimwear brand Seafolly and Melbourne-based sunglasses designer Quay Australia. You can attend fine jewellery seminars and join jewellery-making sessions on some itineraries. See carnival.com.au
ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL
RCI's biggest ships have shopping malls offering many major brands, including American labels such as Coach and Guess. On-board port shopping guides give seminars on watches and jewellery, and talks on the best shopping opportunities in port. Port maps indicate on-shore shops with a reliable reputation for those wanting to make significant purchases. See royalcaribbean.com.au
A galleria-style shopping area on Celebrity's largest ships leans towards European labels such as Armani, Versace, Bulgari, Omega and Breitling, though American brands such as Tiffany & Co and Michael Kors are also represented. There's also a fine-art gallery and an authorised Apple reseller. Celebrity has on-board shopping experts to supply port advice. See celebritycruises.com
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
The usual high-end international fashion, jewellery, watches, beach paraphernalia and other goods are available on board. More notably, though, the artworks displayed around the ship – many by well-known artists – can be purchased at art auctions. The cruise line has port shopping consultants who provide insider tips on shopping opportunities when in port. See ncl.com
Brian Johnston has travelled as a guest of numerous cruise companies.
Celebrity Cruises has a dedicated website covering port shopping, fashion trends and brand news. See portshoppingspree.com Royal Caribbean International has a website with details of shopping opportunities in ports, and tips and advice on products. See royalportfolio.com