We will be stopping for day trips in the ports of Istanbul and Athens during our Med cruise. Can we use US dollars to make purchases or do we need to get the local currency?
Hit an ATM at your stops and get some local currency. Even if you found a merchant that would accept dollars - which is unlikely - you'd get a terrible exchange rate in comparison to an ATM.
You'll need local currency. I suspect that some larger merchants might be willing to take Euro or Dollars but as Tom has written, the exchange rate will be much more to their advantage than to yours. Not having taken a cruise I can't say for sure but logic suggests that, with the volume of visitors coming ashore by cruise ship at these two very large ports, you won't have any trouble finding ATMs nearby when you leave the ship.
Reminds me of a business trip I once took and was in Bristol, UK. A fellow traveler was checking out at a shop and handed the merchant a US quarter. The merchant replied "What's this?". My fellow traveler apologized and responded "Same thing we say about Canadian money!". And they both chuckled a bit. You will have to pay in local currency. The only possible exception is at some places in the Grand Bazaar they can take US dollars but they will run it over to the exchange market and a do a spot rate exchange for your money in order to pay for the goods. Any food, public transportation, entrance fees, etc. have to be paid in local currency. Also, keep in mind a visa stamp required for Turkey so you have the correct amount to pay for it since change is not provided. Edwin
Since you are on a cruise, the cruise line will handle the visa requirement. In fact, I doubt if you will even have your passport as the ship will have taken it.
Thank you all very much for your messages. They are very helpful. I feel better now knowing that I need local currency instead of arriving at the ports with only dollars and being stuck. Would you recommend getting local currency from an ATM once we are in the port or getting it ahead of time in the states?
The least expensive way is to get it at an ATM in the port. There's really no need to get it ahead of time.
Also, a currency exchange is available on the ship if you want just a few local bills. The exchange rate is fair.
Agree with Frank, the ship will have one. The ports that you mentioned though definitely have ATM's. Remember that Greece is on the Euro, so some other stops you will have may be Eurozone as well (Italy, Malta, Cyprus).
A few years back, we took a cruise to Istanbul - we did get local money at an ATM (can't remember where, though), but found that a lot of attractions and vendors would take Euros (the price difference wasn't great). Ridng the tram, etc. would need local currency. Unless you plan to spend a lot in Istanbul, it would be easier, though a little more expensive, to get money on the ship. You probably could use dollars easier in Turkey than in Greece (but you never get change in dollars, so you would need to have small bills in good condition) Athens is easy because they are a Euro zone country, and you'll probably need Euros anyway.
Just visited both those countries on a Med cruise. You'll need euros for Athens and while you could get away with euros for some purchases in tourist shops and restaurants in Istanbul, it's TL only for buying tram tokens, museum entrances and most vendors/restaurants. Some tour companies will accept US$ if you make arrangements ahead of time. We took a tour in Ephesus (out of Izmir port) and they took US$. However, the vendors at the tourist areas took TL or Euros. Do not exchange money on the ship unless it's your only option. Ours charged $10 per transaction + gave a lower rate. Withdrawing at an ATM is almost always guaranteed to be a better option. Just make sure you let your bank know that you're traveling so your card doesn't get blocked.