We just disembarked the Edge on Sunday out of Ft. Lauderdale and had an amazing cruise. When my husband scanned his card to exit the ship, an alert pinged in the system and the staff person said that he had been selected for a "random" customs check. There was a customs official waiting right at the podium where we checked out, and led us through the terminal to the baggage area and dropped us off with another customs official who had us fill out the old customs form that you used to complete on the ship before leaving. When we were done, we were led to the customs office where several other passengers were also waiting. Someone there took our customs form and went to the back room for about ten minutes, and then came out and asked if we had made any purchases onboard (even though my husband had clearly listed the items we'd purchased on the form). We told him that we had purchased a bracelet, and he asked to see our receipt so he could see if it had been stamped by the ship that it was made in the US. 1. Our receipts were packed away, and 2. the bracelet was Bulgari and clearly was not made in the US. The customs official then pulled out a paper with a list of passengers and the purchases they'd made onboard, and said that it was likely the item, which he knew was jewelry, was not made in America (which we already knew). He then said that because of this we would have to pay duty.
As we were waiting to pay this duty that had to be calculated in the back room, we realize that everyone else in the room that was waiting had also made purchases onboard and were being checked against this list that customs had of our purchases. This check was clearly not random - customs had pulled the list ahead of time and had made sure that the passengers were marked with an alert when they were disembarking. They were then requiring everyone who had made an onboard "duty-free" purchase to pay duty. Some of the officials were nicer than others--some were outright harassing passengers who didn't have their receipts with them, even though customs already had a list of what everyone had purchased. We waited 30-45 minutes to go through this process, as they would go in the back room for long spans of time doing I don't know what. One couple had to wait so long that they missed their flight. One elderly woman in a wheelchair on a group tour was left by her group of 40 because they could not wait for her.
Now we have made onboard purchases in the past, and have never had this happen, even in the days when you had to fill out the customs form and we would always list our purchases. So be warned - if you make a large purchase on the ship thinking you will avoid paying duty, this is not the case (at least not in Ft. Lauderdale). What made this very frustrating was that there was no way that Celebrity was not aware that this was going to happen - the alerts were placed on our cards and there were customs officials on the ship waiting at the podiums as people disembarked. Also, when the onboard shops manager was called down to clarify a purchase and a guest complained to him, he said that it was the guest's responsibility to keep their receipts and know the requirements.
I am not saying that if a duty was owed we should not have had to pay it, but Celebrity should notify guests of this when they make these purchases instead of blatantly lying to them and saying they are duty and tax free. It felt like a scam, and left a bad taste in my mouth.
SO be warned before making a duty-free purchase onboard.