Watch Out! Cruise Port Scams That Caught Me & My Friends Out

cruise scams

Watch Out! Cruise Port Scams That Caught Me & My Friends Out

Let’s face it, cruise ports are a perfect place for scams as large numbers of cruisers pass through daily. We’re only there a couple of hours before disappearing, our guard is down, and the scammers and tricksters have had time to finesse what works to fleece us of our money. Until now, as I am here to help you avoid them.

Recently, my dear friends Roger and Sue found on their first Mexican Riviera cruise that taxi drivers are masters at this game. There are at five taxi tricks that friends, and I, have fallen for to watch out for.

Taxi Tricks

They got caught by one of the oldest tricks in the taxi driver’s book. As they like to self-explore, they grabbed a taxi in Puerto Vallarta to head into town and beach. They were quoted a price, but once there the taxi driver said they had to pay double as the price was per person.

No Change

Then he double stung them with his next trick, which was by saying he did not have any change for the notes they had. So, they paid even more. As well as checking clearly what the rate is for, make sure that you have small notes.

No Coming Back

Another friend of mine, Ben, was in St Kitts last year and asked a taxi driver taking him to a beach to come back and fetch him at a set time. The driver asked to be paid up front to guarantee it. But never returned.

No tour tours

The last time I was in St. Lucia, instead of going on a cruise line tour, and as there’s not much around the cruise port, I used a taxi driver offering to give a tour of the island.

But he kept taking me to shopping venues, and places like a beach with bar and restaurant where he clearly was getting some sort of kickback rather than the must-see places.

People on my recent Nile River cruise had the same experience with using a Cairo taxi drive. Promising a tour that spent as much time calling into papyrus, rug, and jewellery stores as the Great Pyramids.

So, if you are going to get a taxi driver tour, be clear about where they’re going to take you and stress that you don’t want to go to shopping.

No better place

Linked to this is this scam that happened to me in Cozumel. I had found a great looking and well-rated beach club with restaurant online. So, I asked a taxi to take me there.

He said he knew a much nicer place. He dropped me off and going in it was a real dump, and where he appeared to be getting commissions taking people there.

So, always have a good dose of skepticism, as I learnt when on a cruise with a stop in Kuala Lumpur. A taxi driver taking me to another sight heard me saying I really wanted to go up the Petronas Towers, but hadn’t booked, and it was sold out.

He claimed he could get us tickets through a friend. Of course, after paying up I found trying to use them that it was a fake ticket scam used to catch lots of tourists.

If you don’t use taxis and want to hire a car or scooter in a port watch out for this next one.

Damages Scams

On a round UK cruise, I hired a car from one of the biggest car hire companies in Edinburgh, to explore my Mum’s hometown nearby.

I checked it over when I picked it up and when dropping it off, as I had to leave it in the parking lot because the office was closed. My credit card was charged £700 pounds (about $850) for supposed damage.

I knew I had not done anything, and it took months of arguing, and getting the Credit Card company involved before finally getting them to back down.

I’ve heard of this happen in other ports around the world. Where cruisers have been charged for supposed damage to hire cars, scooters, wave riders and so on.

It’s easy money as often fighting it wears one down. Now I take a video on my phone on pick up and again when dropping off all round to be able to argue that one.

cruise scams

Free Stuff Scams

As I mentioned, I’m just back from a Nile River cruise and saw many of the successful scams used in markets and popular sites around the world. This is the “free” gift one.

It often even starts on many ships where at the shopping advisor talks, they hand out the first free charm, which they say you can then collect additional free ones to make up a bracelet or necklace at stores like Effy or Diamonds International. Of course, it’s a trick to get us into stores for a pushy sell.

But watch out for market vendors, like those on my Nile cruise did to Jen who I befriended on the trip. She was handed a small bracelet as a “free” gift. Once she took it, she was aggressively hassled and finally they demanded payment unless she bought something bigger.

If anyone’s handing you anything, do not take it.

In some Mediterranean ports like Barcelona, gypsy-style ladies often hand out small bunches of lavender or flowers to cruisers and ask for a small donation. Someone on a tour I was on in Barcelona took it, not realising it was so the lady, or what I suspect was more likely an accomplice, could see where they took the money from and how much they had. As a short later they were pickpocketed.

By the way, watch where you keep your money. If you are a cruiser that likes to support street vendors or give to beggars, keep small bills or coins in a separate pocket or place.

So, if you ever reach for and bring out money, it is limited and suggests you do not have a lot and are a poor target. And if your small bills pocket is pickpocketed it’s not a big loss.

Pickpockets target crowds in all the big cities that cruises call in Europe, as the narrower streets and packed sights where people are often jostling and bumping into one another is perfect cover for them.

The Big Spill

By the way, one old trick that I have seen someone try a few years back on an MSC Cruises tour in Rome was the classic spill trick. One of gents in our group had someone bump into them and spill some gelato on them.

They apologised profusely and started to wipe it off with tissues. Of course, they were really shaking him down to pickpocket him. He pushed them off and later told the group he knew about this scam and kept his credit cards and money in a money belt inside his shirt anyway.

If anyone spills anything on you do not let them help! Which brings me to another nothing is free and money fleecing scam in popular cruise ports.

The Photo Scam

The most outrageous of these I have seen is in Rome where men dressed as Roman Centurions hang around outside the Coliseum offering to pose with cruisers visiting. But things get nasty very quickly.

Offer them a small tip like say 5 Euros (about $5) after the photos, and they will demand way more, and get very aggressive.

One report in The Times UK newspaper in November reported “the men allegedly posed for a picture with an Irish visitor then marched him to a cashpoint and forced him to hand over €200”, and another Italian claimed he offered them €40, and they wanted more and started physically attacking him.

So, if you ever come across people in costume in any port agree the price before taking the photo.

Ask someone on your tour!

Of course, also beware of people spotting you taking selfies and offering to take your photograph, especially if they ask you to unlock your phone to do it.

I have heard of people then running off with the phone as it is now unlocked and of value. Instead, I always ask someone, ideally someone on the tour, from the ship or other tourists I have seen about.

Also, if anyone in a foreign port confronts you saying you took their photo without approval and demands you unlock your phone and show them. Don’t for the same reason.

In past videos I have spoken about my friends Graham and Pete, as they start to go cruising and the fact that they are big souvenir buyers when travelling. I have warned them repeatedly about a few cruise port goods scams.

The Goods Scams

Obviously, those are not genuine Rolex watches or Louis Vuitton bags being sold by hawkers on the street, but if you are buying expensive items in stores watch out for these two scams and tricks. I know people who got caught out by stores relying on the fact that we are leaving port and cannot get back to them.

Simon, a follower of the channel, told me he bought a fancy watch in a small store in Jamaica. Once back at the ship he found it wasn’t working. As it was close to departure, he called the store who fobbed him off and as he could not get back to the store, they refused to refund him. It was a faulty watch and little he could do.

I heard Ilana from the Life Well Cruised YouTube channel talking about buying a handbag in one of the stores in Turkey. The store owner was very chatty and distracted her while someone else in the store packed it up. Once she got back to the ship, she realised they had switched the bag. It was not the high-quality bag that she had bought.

Beach vendors

Next, I always stress to Graham and Pete to be wary of market and beach vendors. Graham found out the hard way buying supposedly real Cuban Cigars from a beach vendor to take back to a connoisseur of them back home. They were not!

Roger and Sue on their Mexican Riviera cruise told me about this charming old gentleman going around the beach telling everybody about his handcrafted sculptures and jewellery, which people were buying. Back in town they realised all the cheap souvenir stores were full of the same items. All mass produced.

I am always sceptical of stallholders pointing out unique and rare items as there is no way of verifying them. My view is if I love it and I like the price then I’ll buy it for that reason only as it is worth that to me.

And when buying, there is one expensive scam I fell for, but will never again.

Money Trickery 

I got caught out by this when I was in Buenos Aires shortly after arriving there on a South American cruise not long ago. I saw some shirts I really liked in a small clothes shop. They told me the price of the two shirts would equate to about US$250.

I was a bit embarrassed as I was not yet up on the exchange rate and did not want to seem untrusting by taking out my phone to check the rate. So, I just took them at face value and paid with my credit card. When the bill came a few weeks later, they had put through what was almost $700.

Now I check any purchases using a currency exchange app, I use an app called XE, before buying to avoid that one.

Have you fallen for any scams in a cruise port recently? Leave a comment to help warn others.



Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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1 Response

  1. Kristine Vazquez says:

    Great info Gary. I got scammed while on a tour in France. We were taken to a perfume manufacturer and got to sanple their perfumes. Of course, we wanted to bring home some. I was sold a sealed box with small vials of the various perfumes. Once home, I opened up one or more of the vials. Come to find out the “perfume” was very watered down with hardly any fragrance.
    I got suckered while in Alaska with the trinkets and charms to visit Diamonds International and eventully suckered for some ammonite which I was told was “rare”. Over paid. Come to find out it isn’t rare at all. My friend got taken while shopping in Jordan from a street vendor. She purchased a scarf. Not being familiar with the local currency, she did not check the “change” she was given back. She was short changed, so she found out that a bargin scarf was not much of a bargin.
    Loved your article and I will keep it in mind on my upcoming trips.
    Thanks Gary

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