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Shipboard Bargains on the Overhauled QE2

<i> Merin is a New York City free-lance writer. </i>

Following six months in dry dock for a $130-million overhaul, the magnificent Queen Elizabeth 2 is back on the high seas. Cunard has upgraded the vessel to make it what may be the luxury liner of the future.

The new QE2 is a dream come true for shoppers. There is a new promenade of boutiques with 14 shops offering luxury items and designer goods, all duty free.

This is the biggest and best shipboard shopping complex in the world. In addition to bargain prices, many items are offered exclusively aboard the ship.

Most of the shops are on a balcony overlooking the ship’s Grande Lounge and Ballroom; others are clustered toward the rear of the ship, where an open deck area was enclosed. To get to the shopping promenade from the ballroom, you take an elegant curved stairway, conspicuously placed near the bandstand, or ascend by an elevator that is discreetly tucked away. The balcony provides a fine view of the ballroom.

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The Top Labels

The shops are all top label: Louis Feraud, Christian Dior, Liberty of London, Aquascutum, Pringle of Scotland, and Harrods sell clothing and accessories. Leather goods and accessories are sold by Louis Vuitton and Gucci and jewelry by H. Stern and Garrard. Hamley’s of Regent Street sells toys.

Harrods has a mini-department store filled with clothes, accessories, leather goods, foodstuffs, etc., including signature tartan carryalls, luggage, golf tees and other fanciful or practical souvenir items.

Individual shops are small but well-stocked. And displays are handsome. Additional merchandise is put out on a daily basis, so that passengers will find it entertaining and worthwhile to tour the shops several times during the cruise.

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There also are special sales held daily. These are advertised in the ship’s newspaper, which is slipped under passenger cabin doors daily. Specials range from silk scarfs and key chains to fine china and silver service, all at exceptionally low prices.

Reasonable Prices

But even items that don’t go on sale are reasonably priced. Shipboard prices across the board range from about 5% to 20% less than prices elsewhere. For example: Louis Feraud’s beautifully tailored red wool two-piece women’s suit with a row of golden buttons costs $609 on the QE2; the U.S. price is $749. Louis Vuitton’s signature umbrella is $125 on board; the U.S. price is about $170. A large hunting-style handbag (half-moon shaped) costs $300 on ship; on land it’s about $370. The women’s organizer wallet is $143 on board, compared to $185 in the United States. A duffle bag costs $355 on the QE2; the U.S. price is more than $400.

Christian Dior’s 100% lamb’s-wool V-neck sweaters with a QE2 logo sell for $40; Dior silk headscarfs with the signature “Dior” pattern are $30, and Dior 40th anniversary large picture shawls are $105. Silk scarfs are also sold at Gucci for about $75. Gucci’s leather wallets range from $95 to $117. Pringle of Scotland has lovely tartan scarfs, shawls and blankets, as well as beautiful kilts (about $50, compared to $80 in London) and cashmere V-neck sweaters (about $105).

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The jewelry shops of H. Stern and Garrard will sell you a brilliant bauble to commemorate the sailing, but don’t expect bargain prices at either of these stores, despite their duty-free status. Garrard, jeweler to the British crown, has on board some beautiful pieces set with diamonds and other gems. These are priced from $5,000 to more than $1 million. The shops also carry fine watches, silver goods and objets d’art.

Among the best bargains are in the ship’s perfumery, which carries a broad range of top fragrances and cosmetics at prices comparable to those in airport duty-free shops.

Excellent buys are also available in the ship’s china and crystal shop, which stocks merchandise by Ainsley, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Villeroy & Boch, Royal Worcester, Lladro and other top manufacturers. The stock ranges from boldly colored ceramic candlestick holders to elegant figurines to table service patterned with floral motifs or gold borders. There are Wedgwood ashtrays, Royal Doulton cups and serving platters from Villeroy & Boch.

Many of those items are included in daily sales, and prices are so low that you almost can’t afford not to buy them. They’re great gift items. You need not be concerned about buying too much to carry home. If you feel your purchases are too cumbersome, you can arrange to have them shipped to you by the QE2’s baggage master. There is no fee for this service; your only cost is the price of postage.

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A special QE2 shop offers all sorts of items customized with the ship’s logo. The bath towel has a picture of the ship and, at $10, makes a fun souvenir. T-shirts cost $9, shot glasses are $2.50 and elaborate ship’s bells are $74.

The QE2 shop also features special merchandise that the ship takes aboard from ports of call, thereby offering passengers unusual and exotic merchandise from faraway places. This stock varies from season to season and from port to port, but may include items such as reasonably priced silk blouses or dresses with hand embroidery, embroidered linens, lacquerware boxes and bowls, toys, trinkets and objets d’art.

What’s the best strategy for shoppers planning to board the QE2? Fly to London with empty suitcases.

Prices quoted in this article reflect currency exchange rate at the time of writing.

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