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We are about to undertake our first river cruise. We are sailing with Viking and departing Budapest 8th June and finish in Amsterdam 22nd. Beside myself with excitement I can assure you.
Plan to shop till I drop
A friend told me her mother went on a European river cruise - she didn't know who it was with, but towards the end of the cruise they arranged for the local postal service to come aboard and set up a mini post office so parcels could be mailed home.
Does anyone know if Viking do this? No biggie as will hunt up a post office ourselves - but would be handy if they did.
On our river cruise, we too made some large purchases at various shops. Rather than pay excess baggage charges, I opted for the individual shops to take care of shipping. One Christmas shop offered a reasonable flat rate for the entire purchase back to the US - given the huge nut crackers, angels, and delicate tree ornaments, it was a great value. They sent an email and provided tracking info, too.
We were on AMA, but didn't find the "boat post office" - would have been nice to merge all of the smaller items and send them home. Luckily, I had enough room in my suite case and carry on luggage to handle those items.
I did an Avalon cruise last year and while they did not arrange for a post office on board, the staff were more than happy to help people pack up items and direct them to the local post office. As previous posters mentioned, if you are making a large purchase from a store, most will take care of shipping direct to you.
FedEx also has numerous options worldwide but is probably much more expensive than regular mail.
Another consideration to having the merchant handle the shipment of merchandise back to the US - the VAT tax is removed from the purchase at the point of sale. If you take the purchases with you, then you will need to handle this at the airport before you board your flight. For me, I like to do a little last minute shopping in Duty Free before I board my flight home instead of standing in line to handle to VAT tax issue. Besides, when the merchant takes charge of the shipping, it leaves my hands free to continue to shop at the various ports.
I doubt if the river boats would be able to set up a VAT tax booth - there is immediate proof that the merchandise is leaving the EU.