Cruise Lifestyle

High Seas High Streets – the best cruise lines for shopping at sea

While duty-free shopping in port and the chance to buy rare or touristy items in port is often the main shopping goal of many cruisers, duty-free shopping onboard ship is also a major feature of most cruise lines. But, not all lines are the same and not all cruise ships within a fleet offer the same facilities.

Freedom of the Seas, Royal Caribbean Cruises

Cruise Arabia decided to review ten of the world’s major cruise lines in order to shine some light on this onboard activity, which is sure to be popular with Emirates-based cruisers, given the fact that Dubai has a mall on just about every street corner.

What Cruise Arabia learnt through our research is that no cruise line offers a shopping experience that comes close to that on land and none of the cruise ships sailing out of the UAE this year and in 2014 rank among the top dogs in terms of their onboard shopping areas. But, in the world’s cruise fleet, the lines that have done it properly sport shopping areas aboard some of their ship’s that could be called malls without having to be generous. Royal Caribbean is notable among the contemporary ships, their Oasis-class vessels will blow your mind, while Celebrity, Regent Seven Seas and Cunard rate well in the upscale (or premium) to luxury segment of the market. The world’s leading luxury lines, such as Seabourn and Silversea, generally sail smaller ships that lack the space necessary to accommodate a large shopping area, but they make an impressive effort with boutique shops nonetheless. Our list will include only those ships with shopping experiences at sea that are truly impressive.

For dramatic effect, we’ve decided to rank them from bottom to top (and to annoy our readers that like things to be logical and chronological). But, in the interests of logic, we’ve also decided to focus on the largest ship in the fleet of each of our top cruise lines for shopping, because the added space gives them the freedom to go wild.

 

Royal Caribbean Cruises (22 ships in fleet) – contemporary/mass market

Oasis and Allure of the Seas

Oasis of the Seas Central Park

Oasis of the Seas ‘Central Park’

This is the grand daddy of them all! Royal Caribbean is the second largest cruise corporation in the world after Carnival Corp and the Royal Caribbean line operates the second largest fleet after Carnival Line. But, Royal Caribbean, which had the Brilliance of the Seas based out of Dubai through the beginning of 2012, also has the world’s largest cruise ship in her arsenal, the Oasis of the Seas and her just-released sister ship, the Allure of the Seas, both of which are part of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class of ships. “The shopping experience will be one of a kind in terms of both the items offered and the setting on the largest and most revolutionary cruise ship in the world,” Royal Caribbean says of their newest vessel. Indeed, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas are the only cruise ships in the world to offer what could reasonably be called ‘malls at sea’. These shopping areas are vast enough that one could forget they’re at sea and for a moment imagine they’re in Mall of the Emirates or Dubai Mall, except this is even better! The ground-breaking Central Park atrium aboard these ships starts on Deck 8 and rises through six decks to open air high above. This 10,000 square foot shopping promenade is designed to resemble the ambiance of Central Park in New York, with living trees and flower beds growing within the ship itself, while guests have the option to browse through goods at 13 different stores, including the iconic maker of luxury leather goods, Coach. In addition, there are a number of novelty restaurants and coffee shops integrated into the Central Park atrium to really give it the all-inclusive feeling of a world class mall at sea. For younger cruisers and the young at heart, there is another shopping area aboard both ships in the Boardwalk neighbourhood (yes, these vessels are so big they have neighbourhoods, not areas). For those looking for a more mature shopping experience, there is the Royal Promenade, where shopping and people watching from a comfy coffee shop go hand in hand.

Oasis of the Seas Boardwalk

Oasis of the Seas ‘Boardwalk’

Oasis and Allure of the Seas Vital Stats:

Displacement: 225,282 GRT – LOA: 1,181 ft (360 m) – Decks: 18 (16 passenger) – Capacity: 5,400 (Double Occupancy)

                Freedom of the Seas

Freedom of the Seas shopping, Royal Caribbean Cruises

Freedom of the Seas’ Royal Promenade

Royal Caribbean takes the top spot because the second-largest class of ships in the fleet, the Freedom-class vessels, the name sake of Freedom of the Seas, are second only to the two Oasis-class ships in terms of the onboard shopping experience. Shopping aboard Freedom (as well as Liberty and Independence of the Seas) is like a scaled-down version of the fully-integrated shopping and entertainment experience aboard Oasis or Allure. The Royal Promenade is the heart of the ship. This immense four-story atrium with the impressive centrums forward and aft offers a range of items in specialist stores (sportswear, souvenirs, jewellery, perfume and cosmetics, fashion apparel, as well as general items), but each is faced on the opposite side of the ship by a range of novelty public areas. The Perfume Shop, for example, faces the Bull & Bear Pub, Logo Souvenirs faces Vintages Wine Bar, while the Fashion Boutique faces Sorrento’s. This ensures that the shopping area is always alive and part of the heartbeat of the ship. In addition, this area on Deck Five is home to several other eateries, from the Ice Cream Parlour and Cupcake Cupboard, to the Cafe Promenade and Pharaoh’s Palace, one of the ship’s large nightclubs.

Freedom of the Seas Royal Promenade atrium, Royal Caribbean Cruises

Freedom of the Seas Vital Stats:

Displacement: 154,407 GRT – LOA: 1,111.9 ft (339m) – Decks: 15 (14 passenger) – Capacity: 3,634 (Double Occupancy)

 

Cunard (3 ships in fleet) – premium/luxury

Queen Mary Grand Lobby

Grand Lobby aboard Queen Mary 2

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, the flagship of one of the oldest and most prestigious cruise line’s in the world, is not only the grandest ocean liner in the world, but also the largest luxury cruise liner ever to set sail. Because of this, she has an unfair advantage over her luxury liner rivals and it is an advantage Cunard has made full use of, with a Mayfair shopping area as large as that found aboard Norwegian Epic, but so much better. Incorporated into the impressive and imminently elegant Grand Lobby, which spans six decks and is the heart of the ship, the Mayfair shops amidships on Deck 3 offer the usual souvenir type items, as well as perfumes, liquors and jewelry. But, here Queen Mary 2 has another unfair advantage, because of the proud history of the Cunard Line, her souvenir shop is unlike those on any other ships and is very popular with passengers. But, this alone does not set Queen Mary 2 apart, for in addition to the usual shopping fair, Cunard has also put to sea the widest range of upscale brands ever seen aboard a luxury ship – Hermes, Dunhill, Chopard, H. Stern and even Harrods are some of the shops that fill the Mayfair shopping area. Another aspect of this space that Cruise Arabia particularly likes is the classiness, no mall, even in the UAE, could come close to this kind of style and sophistication and is reminiscent of the liners of old. Queen Mary certainly can’t be beaten in the premium/luxury segment. The Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar, which faces the shopping area across the Grand Lobby is a great place to take a breather and again exemplifies the importance of the shopping experience being incorporated into the life of the ship.

Queen Mary shopping area

Queen Mary 2 Mayfair shopping area

Queen Mary 2 Vital Stats:

Displacement: 151,400 GRT – LOA: 1,130 ft (334.42m) – Decks: 13 (12 passenger) – Capacity: 2,592 (Double Occupancy)

 

Disney Cruise Line (4 ships in fleet) – contemporary/mass market

Disney Dream - Mickeys Mainsail

The Disney Dream, Magic and Wonder are like the Queen Mary 2 in that they are an entirely different class of cruise ship, but for different reasons. While Disney Dream (the largest Disney ship) is not an ocean liner queen, she is a ship that is very special. While Carnival is built around the concept of fun, Disney Cruise Line, as the name suggests, is founded on the idea of magic, which is central to the Disney brand. The Dream’s Retail Promenade is one-of-a-kind because, like Cunard with its tradition and prestige, Disney Line enjoys an advantage over the competition because they’ve got the magic. This shopping area is the heart of retail-Disney at sea, with three main shops: Mickey’s Mainsail (filled with Disney-branded merchandise such as toys, towels, swimwear and t-shirts), the Treasure Ketch (watches and jewellery) and Upbeat forward on Deck 3. Aboard Disney Wonder there is also the Radar Trap (similar to Upbeat with a selection of luxury goods, including, premium cigars and upscale liquors). The Bon Voyage lounge is nearby, but secluded from the retail area, leaving it feeling a bit closed off and isolated.

Disney Dream - shops

Disney Dream Vital Stats:

Displacement: 128,000 GRT – LOA: 1,115 ft (334m) – Decks: 16 (14 passenger) – Capacity: 4,000 (Double Occupancy)

 

Celebrity (10 ships in fleet) – premium/luxury

Celebrity Solstice - Shops on the Boulevard

Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice-class ships, named after the first-of-her-class Celebrity Solstice launched in 2008, are the largest ships in the Celebrity fleet and are some of the largest premium/luxury liners afloat after the Queen Mary 2. The shopping experience aboard Celebrity Solstice and her sisters, Equinox, Eclipse, Silhouette (launching 2011) and Reflection (launching 2012) is enhanced by the fact that the two primary shopping areas on Deck 4 (Promenade Deck) and Deck 5 (Entertainment Deck) offer 17 different specialist stores. Guests can browse the usual designer jewellery, clothing and fun souvenirs, as well as golf equipment and apparel, unique glassworks, accessories and clothing inspired by the region in which the ship is cruising, travel-related items such as designer luggage and even then the surface has barely been scratched. Eschewing the tendency by some lines to simply have a ‘Boutique’ store in which everything from jewellery and perfumes to suntan lotion and clothing is found, Celebrity’s Solstice-class vessels instead have an entire gallery of boutique shops of Deck 5, aptly named the Galleria Boutique. The forward part of the gallery on this deck has the Photo Gallery directly to port, so guests can also browse through the photos of the day and select the ones they like. The casino is directly to starboard of the Shops on the Boulevard on Deck 4, although this shopping area is kept separate due to the smoking policy within Fortunes Casino. Our favourite of the ship’s shopping areas is the Galleria Boutiques amidships facing the Art Gallery and the specialist novelty restaurant Galleria Tastings far to port. If you’re having trouble choosing which of the Solstice-class Celebrity ships to cruise on, consider that Celebrity Solstice, in standing with her position as the flagship of the fleet, offer for sale the exclusive Solstice Diamond, a 86-facet 10-sided gem available only aboard the flagship.

Celebrity Solstice art gallery

Celebrity Solstice Vital Stats:

Displacement: 122,000 GRT – LOA: 1,033 ft (315m) – Decks: 19 (13 passenger) – Capacity: 2,850 (Double Occupancy)

 

Costa Cruises (15 ships in fleet) – mass market/contemporary

Costa Concordia Atrium

Costa’s Concordia-class ships are currently the largest in the Costa fleet and some of the largest cruise ships operating in Europe after the MSC Fantasia-class vessels. Costa Concordia was the flagship of the fleet until her 2012 grounding and partial sinking, with the Costa Serena, Costa Pacifica, Costa Favalosa and Costa Fascinosa remaining. Costa Serena’s mammoth proportions, although smaller than those of the Grand-class liners of Princess and P&O, have been put to good use by her designers in the retail area, which the line refers to as the ‘shopping centre’. Although the Galleria Shops aboard Serena (and her Concordia-class fleetmates) on Deck 5 (Italia Deck), just aft of the Athens Theatre, can’t possibly compare to the areas of conspicuous consumption aboard the top liners in our list, Costa makes a concerted effort, with several different stores offering a variety of items, from the usual boutique fare like jewellery, clothes and perfumes to more high-end fashion labels such as Dior, Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, Bulgari, Rayban and Swarovski. In addition, Costa is the only line in our list that has said it will refund any difference in pricing discovered ashore. So aboard any Costa ship, you’re guaranteed to be buying at the lowest price when it comes to the duty free apparel and consumables. Like other large ship lines, Costa have integrated the shopping area with the most impressive (if somewhat over-the-top) part of the ship, the multi-deck Europa Atrium, which makes sure the retail space does not become a ‘dead area’ separating the theatre from the Berlin Grand Bar amidships.

Costa Concordia Galleria Shops

Galleria aboard Concordia-class ships

Costa Serena Vital Stats:

Displacement: 114,500 GRT – LOA: 951 ft (290m) – Decks: 15 (11 passenger) – Capacity: 3,000 (Double Occupancy)

 

MSC Cruises (12 ships in fleet) – mass market/contemporary

MSC Splendida Atrium

MSC Fantasia and Splendida both occupy the number 10 spot in terms of the largest cruise ships in the world, until MSC Divina is launched in 2012. Although Fantasia is the line’s flagship, both are near-identical in terms of their onboard facilities and entertainment options. The Duty Free shop is the heart of the shopping area on Decks 6 and 7, where a range of deals can be made on spirits, tobacco and jewellery. But, there is also a Logo Shop (souvenirs and MSC branded clothes), La Boutique (featuring clothes and accessories from designers like Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger) and La Profumeria (perfumes). The shopping area aboard MSC’s Fantasia-class vessels is centered around Le Vele Main foyer, so that Le Vele Bar on Deck 6 and Il Cappuccino Coffee Bar on Deck 7, as well as the Piazza San Giorgio restaurant off the Boutique on Deck 6, are near-at-hand, providing that all-important entertainment-inclusive atmosphere.

MSC Splendida - Duty Free

MSC Fantasia Vital Stats:

Displacement: 137,936 GRT – LOA: 1,092.5 ft (333.3m) – Decks: 18 (15 passenger) – Capacity: 3,274 (Double Occupancy)

 

Carnival Cruises (24 ships in fleet) – contemporary/mass market

Carnival Dream Dream Atrium

Carnival Cruises is built on the concept of ‘fun’, the word defines the Carnival experience – indeed Carnival’s ships are known worldwide as the “fun ships” and the premier shopping destinations aboard each are called the Fun Shops. Aboard the Carnival Dream, the first ship in the eponymous Dream-class, the Fun Shops area forward on Deck 5 is the largest Carnival has ever put to sea, which fits in with Carnival Dream’s position as the largest ship in the Carnival fleet (along with her sister ships, Carnival Magic and Carnival Breeze). However, while Carnival does many things bigger and better than most other lines, the shopping experience aboard Carnival Dream is fairly grounded in the reality of being at sea. There’s not much to distinguish the Fun Shops aboard Carnival Dream from the Fun Shops on smaller Carnival ships, except that the area is larger and features impressive entertainment architecture out of Vegas. It does not offer a greater range of items to buy though and is limited to an assortment of sundry items (suntan lotion, toiletries, candy, postcards, etc.), Carnival logo-wear, resort wear (casual clothing) and jewellery, watches, liquor and cigarettes. The Dream’s saving grace is her massively impressive eight-deck Dream Atrium, which the Fun Shops are incorporated into, making the shopping experience feel integrated with the cruise experience and, you guessed it, increasing the fun of shopping.

Carnival Dream Fun Shops

Carnival Dream Vital Stats:

Displacement: 130,000 GRT – LOA: 1,004 ft (306.02 m) – Decks: 15 (14 passenger) – Capacity: 3,652 (Double Occupancy)

 

NCL (11 ships in fleet) – contemporary/mass market

Norwegian Epic shopping area

Although Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) takes sixth place in terms of the size of her fleet among the major cruise brands, her flagship vessel, the Norwegian Epic, is the second largest cruise ship in the world and is widely believed to be the driving force behind Royal Caribbean’s desire to launch the Oasis and Allure of the Seas (tied at number one). The Epic, although hideously ugly and top-heavy looking with 19 decks, created a bang within the industry when she was launched, offering a variety of entertainment and activities never before seen at sea. At the time, her shopping area was also the largest at sea aboard a mass market ship. Occupying a large portion of the forward area of Deck 7, these series of shops offer a range of assorted cosmetics, jewellery, clothing and perfumes. Disappointingly, Epic’s shopping area does not compare with the integrated free-style cruising nature of the rest of the ship. There are no bars, coffee shops or restaurants within the shopping area and there is no integrated entertainment, such as the jugglers, musicians and music venues found throughout the three shopping neighbourhoods aboard the Oasis and Allure of the Seas. There is an amazing Spiegel Tent restaurant to port, where Cirque du Soleil-type entertainment accompanies dinner across two decks, but the restaurant is closed off from the shopping area, making it feel a bit stale and unimpressive. A bowling alley, also to port, is an industry-first for the Epic, but again this is entirely separate from the shopping area, as is the Bliss Ultra Lounge further forward. Royal Caribbean clearly looked at Epic’s weaknesses as well as her strengths when designing the Oasis and the Allure.

Norwegian Epic shopping area

Norwegian Epic Vital Stats:

Displacement: 155,873 GRT – LOA: 1,081 ft (329m) – Decks: 19 (14 passenger) – Capacity: 4,100 (Double Occupancy)

 

Holland America Line (15 ships in fleet) – premium/luxury

iuew Amsterdam Merabella Shop

Holland America Line’s flagship, the Signature-class Nieuw Amsterdam is the modern incarnation of that most majestic and iconic of ocean liners, the 1937-launched SS Nieuw Amsterdam, which at 36,667 gross registered tons after her 1947 refit was almost a third the size of the current Nieuw Amsterdam. This new ship is the largest in the Holland America fleet and is the culmination of hundreds of years of passenger shipping experience, much like Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, although Nieuw Amsterdam couldn’t be called an ocean liner by any stretch of the imagination. The retail space aboard Nieuw Amsterdam is huge in comparison to the ship, which is huge, but relatively small compared to the other ships mentioned in this piece. Occupying a large area amidships on Deck 3 (Promenade), the shopping arcade could fit three lounges into it. Holland America calls them the ‘Signature Shops’, reflecting the line’s sense of distinction (another trait it shares with Cunard). The Signature Shops offer a selection of fine jewellery, watches, fragrances, premium liquor, exclusive Holland America souvenirs and sundry items such as postcards, toiletries etcetera. Although the size of the shopping area aboard Nieuw Amsterdam is impressive given the ship’s size, it is not designed to incorporate any other public areas, such as an atrium, coffee shops, bars or lounges. It stands isolated between the Screening Room cinema and Hudson and Half Moon bars forward and the atrium and Ocean Bar aft, which is a pity.

Nieuw Amsterdam Signature Shops

Nieuw Amsterdam Vital Stats:

Displacement: 86,700 GRT – LOA: 935 ft (285m) – Decks: 13 (11 passenger) – Capacity: 2,104 (Double Occupancy)

 

Princess Cruises (16 ships in fleet) – mass market/contemporary

Ruby Princess Grand Promenade

Princess Cruises’ flagship and largest liner in the fleet, the Ruby Princess, is a continuation of the Grand-class liners that sail under the Princess brand, but she is significantly larger than the namesake Grand Princess, which was launched way back in 1998. At 116,000 gross registered tons (GRT), Ruby is one of the largest cruise ships in the world and her retail area is located to starboard on Deck 7 (Promenade Deck), facing the Wheelhouse Bar and Crooners Lounge and Bar. Considering the size of the Ruby Princess, her retail offerings are pretty standard, with little to separate her onboard shops from those on other large-ship-lines, such as Carnival or MSC. The ship, like all the liners within the Grand-class, offers an assortment of sundry items (suntan lotion, toiletries, candy, postcards, etc.), Princess logo-wear, resort wear (casual clothing), jewellery, watches, liquor and cigarettes. There are no distinct shops offering speciality goods, such as those found aboard the Queen Mary 2, Celebrity Solstice or Freedom of the Seas, although the two retail outlets onboard (Essence and Facets) are located to starboard, directly off the highly impressive Promenade Galleria, which is one of the social hubs of the ship. The British cruise line P&O, which, like Cunard and Holland America shares a rich history in passenger shipping, disappointingly bases its largest ships, such as the Azura and Ventura, on the Princess Grand-class and offers a shopping experience that is almost identical.

Ruby Princess - Facets

Ruby Princess Vital Stats:

Displacement: 116,351 GRT – LOA: 951 ft (290m) – Decks: 19 (15 passenger) – Capacity: 3,080 (Double Occupancy)

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