One thing that you can count on wherever you exit your cruise ship at a port-of-call is that there will be no shortage of people waiting to try to separate you from your money. You will typically find a gauntlet of taxi drivers, tour guides, and other people encouraging you to let them show you around or provide transportation services. After you make it through the crowd, your next hurdle will be a horde of eager craftspeople or shop owners at the end of the pier. As you would with any other time when you are in an unknown place and around people with whom you do not share a common language, be careful and choose wisely.
SAVVY CRUISER TIP
Whenever you are visiting a port, remember that you are a guest in the country. Most people you encounter are not trying to rip you off, they are simply doing business and trying to make money to support themselves or their families. Be polite. If you are not interested in what someone is offering, simply smile, say “no thank you” (in their language if you know it), and continue on your way. They will not be offended; they will simply make the same offer to those behind you.
In many countries bargaining is an art. It is expected. Some consider it a way of building a relationship between the sellers and potential buyers while making sure that both parties involved get a fair deal. You generally cannot bargain in upscale malls or modern stores in some countries. Although in the Caribbean you can often get a better deal by shopping in independent shops and asking for a discount. These are not necessarily the better “negotiated deals” that the cruise ship representatives will tell you about onboard. Keep in mind that their preferred stores are often providing a commission back to the cruise lines. That is why they ask customers which ship they came in on.
When you visit shops or street vendors in your ports of call, do not feel awkward at countering or haggling for a price that you view as a reasonable alternative. Just ensure that your exchange with the salesperson is cordial and does not come across in a demeaning manner. Problems sometimes arise when travelers come across as arrogant or “above” those attempting to sell something. For example, in such an instance someone might call the salesperson’s products junk or otherwise insult him or her. That can possibly lead to an escalated situation of yelling and other uncomfortable consequences.
Bear in mind that negotiations start as soon as you make contact with a representative of a shop or street booth. In many countries people stand on the street and try to direct you into their shop to look around. Such representatives might be family members of the owner or employees hired for this purpose. Should you decide to stop to look at trays of items sitting in front of a store or go inside to browse, you have now potentially indicated interest and started a negotiation. You will likely be asked what you are looking for or if you stop, pick something up, or otherwise look at a specific item, the sales people will view that as interest and begin their sales pitch. He or she will make an offer and, even if you say you are not interested or are just looking, will ask how much you want to pay. Look at the whole experience as a fun introduction into another culture and enjoy your experience. You might even walk away with a treasured memento of your port visit.
Another thought on haggling over price, if you are unsure whether bargaining for an item in which you have interest is appropriate in a particular shop, is to say something like, “it’s nice, but it is just more than I can spend.” This puts the salesperson in a situation where he or she might respond, “I am sorry that it is not in your price range,” or to offer an alternative price. In the latter case…let the haggling begin!
As a final point, recognize that if you are from a developed nation like the United States or Canada, many of the vendors that you will encounter in less affluent countries or islands view you as rich. Compared to many of them, you are. They certainly cannot afford to get onto a beautiful ship and travel the world. No matter how much you bargain, you are not likely to get the same friends and family pricing offered to locals. Still, bargaining can be fun if you approach it with this knowledge and get into the spirit of the process. If you feel that you got a good deal, then you have succeeded and now have something to take home that you will treasure. Plus, you have a cool story to tell others about the great deal you negotiated.
Cruiser At Heart was created and is managed by Robert (Bob) W. Lucas, who is passionate about cruising, world travel, meeting people, and sharing information with others. He has visited, lived, and worked in over 50 countries on four continents. He and his wife, MJ, took their first cruise in 1994 and have not stopped since. He shares his travel experiences about the wonderful people and cultures he has experienced, along with tips for maximizing a cruise vacation.