There was a time, not so long ago, when a trip to Nassau meant you could pick up a high-end item for 30-50% less than back home. Add to that the lack of sales tax and you came home brimming with pride and feeling lucky and clever. Unfortunately, those deals have ceased to exist but one thing is certain: you can deduct the sales tax off the item, right off the bat. Now, if you are a good negotiator, have done your D&D, or to be specific, have checked prices online back home, looked at discount stores and have a clear idea of the bottom price you’d pay back in the USA, you are starting off with the right foot in the door.
Imagine having your heart set on a Canon Camera 5D Mark 4 with a zoom lens, an added SLR telephoto lens, and a wide-angle lens (comes in a kit). The price in the Duty-Free Caribbean shops is $1,000 lower than you’d have paid at home. Well, that was 10 years ago. Nowadays the real bargains are found by being familiar with the price at home, what is the exact item you want, how good a negotiator you are and the biggest factor – competition. The more tourists, the busier the streets and stores, the less likely you are to score a great deal. The best chance for a bargain is in shops not advertised by the cruise lines. Travelers tend to frequent the recommended shops and I found that I scored a deal that saved me hundreds of dollars by shopping around on my own, comparing prices and walking away. The shopkeepers often ran after me to sweeten the deal. This is how I got my amazing Canon camera which can take pictures of anything, indoor, outdoor, with added filter- kit, mini tripod, extra lenses and a price which was $500 less than at home. This is not the norm, but I am a good negotiator. Additionally, there was a flash sale on the last day of the trip and prices were radically reduced. Even the reduced price was too high for me so I began to leave the store but the owner called me back and gave me the package for the price I wanted.
There are perfumes, liquors, tobacco, faux jewelry, fine jewelry and inexpensive souvenirs. Some of these are similarly priced to what you’d pay in the USA but without the sales tax. These items, especially on board at certain times (mainly the last full day of the cruise, often during shore stops when there is a lull of traffic in the shops on board), become far cheaper. As an advertising trick, the shops reduce the prices for a certain period, and you may score great deals. But be equipped with the best price available back in the states and don’t ever buy on impulse without knowing what you do. This applies mainly to the expensive items. You can’t go wrong with the small inexpensive souvenirs since you won’t lay out much money in the first place. I’d like to quote a passenger who was brimming with joy and a bag full of Russian goodies – "Some of the items sold on board are unique to the port and are great deals since you cannot buy this stuff back home. We are from New York where you can find most anything cheap, so we are hyper critical of vendors. On a recent cruise to the Balkan Islands, during a two-day stop in St. Petersburg, suddenly there were Soviet-era souvenirs in the ship’s stores. Russian hats and soviet caps, imitation medals, lacquered boxes, nesting dolls, carved wooden figurines imitation ornate Faberge eggs, gorgeous figurines, and faux jewels were awesome buys. Great quality and simply not available outside the country. They seemed to be brought on board by local merchants and promptly disappeared as soon as we left the region. Sorry I did not buy more."
I thought to mention the local merchants in the back streets of the different places. I wandered into the workshop f a local craftsman in Jamaica who practically gave away his wonderfully lovely wooden statue. I cherish it and the story he told still makes me teary eyed: he was a bad boy and part of a gang when he was a kid. They were shooting anything they could with a sling and a rock. He saw a bird singing when his rock killed it. It changed his life direction – instead of killing beautiful things, he decided to create them. He wiped a tear and gave me the statue of the bird. I think because he made me cry he refused to charge me but I left him money anyway. One of the best investments I’ve ever made.