We will be cruising to the following ports (Le Havre - Lisbon - Cadiz- Barcelona - Marseille -Cannes - Genoa and Rome) on the NCL Dream's London to Rome April 19, 2004. I've used a Master Card in Europe on other trips and used traveler checks, but never used the ATM machines. How well do they work and do you get Euros or dollars or do you have a choice? What fees are involved in the transaction and is it a good thing to do?
The ATMs work well overseas and are readily available in the tourist areas, but you need to make sure before you go that you have a 4-digit PIN because the others won't work over there. As previously noted, the currency that you will receive will be the currency for that country (mostly Euros except in the Baltic countries). You have probably seen the segments on the 20/20 type news programs about those plastic devices that can be slipped into the ATM card openings to make you think the ATM ate your card and then the thieves retrieve your card to use it (happens in the U.S. too), so make sure to cover your hand when you use your PIN. You know, just the normal precautions you would take in any city in the U.S.
Forgot to answer your question about fees--check with your bank. We were charged $2 per transaction for overseas ATM transactions, but it was worth it to us because we got such a good exchange rate. Generally (everyone's situation is a little different), I would recommend getting a small amount of each currency from your bank before you leave the U.S. so that if you have to take a cab or need to purchase something small or tip or whatever before you use the ATM, you'll have some. Then I think it's best to use your credit card everywhere you can, but check with your credit card company before you leave to determine their markup over the wholesale rate. It's usually about 2-3% and that's customary. Your goal should be to avoid exchanging money several times. Every time you switch from dollars to Euros or whatever, you'll pay a fee. On the Baltic cruises where there are many different currencies, you can lose a lot by converting small amounts. If you have less than $10, you might as well buy yourself a little something nice because you'll lose most of it in the exchange. Whatever you do, don't exchange money on the ship; you should go to a bank in the port. On the ship, you will be charged a fee (usually about $6 US) AND the exchange rate is not good. You also have the option of buying traveler's checks in Euros instead of dollars. Richard suggested on another post that you might consider buying Euros now since the dollar is so weak, so that's another strategy too (and assumes that the dollar will continue to weaken against the Euro).
Thanks to all who answered my request for information. I now have a four digit PIN number and have notified the card company where and when I'll be using the card, so they don't cut off the credit line because they suspect fraud. I also was informed there will be a 1% exchange fee to convert from $ to Euros and the bank charges a 3% transaction fee (min of $5) and the transaction is treated as a cash advance with a 12.99% rate from the time of the transaction.
It's nice to have a place where people are willing to share knowledge and experiences to help others. I can now make decisions based on knowledge I didn't have before.