There is a convenient on-board "bank" at the purser's desk where, among other things, they exchange currency. Money can be exchanged for the currency of the next port of call, but only one port at a time. In comparing the rate the ship uses vs. the official exchange rate at the time, the fee for doing this service is about 7%, about the same as you would pay in a hotel. You pay this fee in both directions, both buying and selling foreign currency.
At each port stop before sailing, there was an on-board clerk from a company called Global Refund who was returning VAT charges incurred onshore. This is a commercial service also found at European airports. They take a few points off the top for what they do, and of course some additional money for foreign exchange. This is a very profitable operation for them, sufficient to have someone there clerking all of this.
Customer service has nothing to do with this operation. If not a lot of money is due back, it was a convenient way for the passenger to go. If someone bought something major, that skim might be painful.
Bargains abound for Americans on purchases in Europe because of the decline in the value of the Euro as compared to the dollar, as much as 25% in recent months.
I bought a pair of expensive Mephisto shoes in Helsinki that I had been eyeing in the Nordstrom store at home. Same shoes, less than half the price. A friend bought an expensive Breitling Swiss watch in Amsterdam for more than 50% off list.
Based on the ship's recommendations for tipping, allow $11 per passenger per day as a minimum to cover all "tippable" personnel.
It is expected that tips be paid on the last day of the cruise in cash. There are limited opportunities to acquire US dollars onboard ship. The "bank" will cash traveler's checks but not personal checks. The ATM wasn't operating throughout the cruise, and presumably there would be a service charge if and when you could use it. You can get up to $1500 cash on your account in the casino, but there is a 3% charge for the service.
I can't think of any reason why tips couldn't be paid in part with left over foreign money, but we used US dollars that we brought with us anticipating this expense.
American cash for purchases onshore is the preferred method of payment in Russia and in Poland. In Poland, 5% discounts are available for the use of US cash vs. using a charge card. In other locations, most stores will not accept anything other than local currency. Street vendors everywhere will take dollars with pleasure.
A New Ship:
There were a number of rumors circulating around on the Internet before sailing that this ship was beset with all kinds of mechanical problems that might require cancellation of future cruises in order to remedy the difficulties. We saw no sign of this. Talking to crew members, they said seemingly quite honestly that they were not aware of any deep problems. Some minor anecdotal issues were discussed, mostly for their humorous value.
No, the ship performed perfectly as far as we were concerned. It left on time, it arrived on time, and other than one or two occasions when the seas were a little rough, it rode the water as smoothly as any ship on which we had sailed before.
There were a couple of minor "problems" we personally had with this new ship. The cabin toilet failed to flush properly a few times. We called the room steward and a plumber showed up in less than five minutes to fix it. We also had to pull our cabin door hard to lock it, and the spring loaded hinges on the cabin door made it seem quite heavy to open. Supposedly this is a common problem on the ship which they plan to rectify in time.
If there were other, deeper issues, these were down in the bowels of the ship and not evident to us as passengers. Everything seemed to be running as smoothly as it could be.
There is an expanded shopping area called The Emporium. The shops are similar to what is found on other ships, but simply more of them, considering the size of the Millennium. Most of these are "designer" name-brand shops, which means their merchandise is even more expensive than that found on other ships. These shops always remind me of what you find in upscale Las Vegas hotels. They are beautiful shops selling beautiful goods, but you see few people in there buying anything.
Each night at sea there were "sales" of this or that commodity, and these seemed to attract people. The shops may be doing better than I imply. We just weren't in them enough to notice one way or the other.
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