St. Petersburg with no guide - are we crazy?

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#1
9 Posts
Joined Jul 2004
We are booked on the WindSurf's August 11-21 Baltic cruise. We have 2 days in St. Petersburg, we've obtained Russian visas and are planning on sightseeing in St. Petersburg on our own. We really don't like cruise tours, would rather do our own thing at our own pace. We don't speak Russian, I speak a little French and my husband can manage a little German.

Most of the posts on this board seem to talk about using some sort of tour guide. Is it possible to get around on our own? Or are we crazy to even consider it?

Our Russian visas are sponsored by a tour company associated with the cruise line. They are for "indepedant shopping or sightseeing". Would we be violating our visas if we hired a local tour guide?

Thanks in advance,
#2
Oakton, VA USA
624 Posts
Joined Jun 2000
We usually tour on our own, but hired Red October in St. Petersburg. The best part of having them as a guide was that we didn't have to wait in lines. The palaces and Hermitage are VERY crowded, and 2 days wasn't enough time to visit every place that we wanted to see. Had we been in line with the masses, we would have seen even less. Also, the information that the guide gave us was wonderful-we wouldn't have appreciated what we were seeing without her explanations. I really think you can do a combination of tours and sightseeing on your own. Our tour ended by 5:00 on the first day and we wanted to go out that night. However, Red October didn't have a tour that suited our interests. Had we obtained a visa, we could have done something on our own.
#3
Ontario Canada
596 Posts
Joined Apr 2004
I agree you could probably do a tour on your own. If you had a week I could see you doing it. We just returned as well and used Red October. We did not wait for anything. There where line of 300-400 hundred people outside the Hermitage and we went to the front of the line. Same with the Palaces etc. I have heard stories of getting VISAS through the cruise ship tour company and the customs not allowing you off the ship because these companies are sponsering you. We too started the process of that type of VISA and did some research and went with Red October. On the first day we did a folkshow with Red October at night. We got back about 10pm and we where tired. There was a company on line called Pete's wlking tours and if you had a Visa he would yake you enywhere you wanted by taxi, bus or subway. It sounded great as well. The one problem was where our ship (Jewel of the Seas) was docked we needed papers to get out of the dock yard and it was very secure. I did not see any Taxi's when we got off and it was a 2 mile walk to get out of the dock area. I never use the cruise line tours either we always venture on our own. Good luck.
Ed
#4
Orewa , Auckland , N.Z.
18,453 Posts
Joined Jun 2001
We did the Baltic cruise in May on Norwegian Dream.All ports ,except St Petersburg ,we did on our own,and there we used Red October for both days.They really made St Petersburg a highlight for us.

I note that you will be on WindSurf......
Most Cruise ships berth either at Main Passenger Terminal or Berths #32, 33 -at a Commercial Port......but your ship being smaller you may moor further up the river at either English Embankment or Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment in the Downtown area of St. Petersburg.
If this is the case you could use RO for day 1,doing the summer palaces which are some distance from the city,then use your visas to go ashore on day 2.
I still think it's best to use RO for both days,if just to get ahead of the queues.....Also ,some venues have separate entrances for tourists and locals,and not many signs are in english.......
#5
Colorado Springs, CO, USA
230 Posts
Joined Aug 2003
My cousin tried to do St. Petersburg on her own for a week in May. She seen very little, stood in lines a lot and did not learn any history. She said she now wished she had done a tour. We did a RO tour with only 7 of us. Good size.
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#6
9 Posts
Joined Jul 2004
Thanks for the information, y'all. We will look into a tour guide for at least one day. The good news is that I've confirmed that the Wind Surf will berth at the English Embankment, so if we do go exploring on our own it won't be as difficult.

DD
#7
88 Posts
Joined Jul 2001
We were on the Constellation in June. We applied for independent visas but also arranged for a private tour out to Catherine's Palace. Nevsky Prospect or a canal tour was easy enough on our own and we enjoyed having the free time.

Our tablemates took a ship's tour to the Hermitage and found it difficult to keep up or even to hear the guide in a large group. They wished they could have looked at the paintings at their own pace.

So I guess a half-day private tour and using the rest of the day for independent sightseeing would be ideal. Since you have your own visas, you would not need a company like Red October whose prices include the cost of visas, although they might have a reduced price.
#8
New York City
9,515 Posts
Joined Sep 2001
Dlemma,

I'll agree with the rest of the posts here that say it's a lot easier to see St. Petersburg with a guide. It was the only port where we used a guide - we did all the other ports on our own.

We used Red October last month and were very happy with them.

Another company, not mentioned in this particular thread is Denrus. Not as popular as Red October, but in other threads, people are also very happy with their services.
#9
Fairfax, VA
149 Posts
Joined May 2003
Recommendation -

If you don't read or speak Russian, it will be very difficult to get around on your own. Very few Russians outside the tour industry speak English, certainly no cab drivers, signs are all in Russian. I think you will find your visit greatly diminished without some kind of local assistance.

Jerry
#10
48 Posts
Joined Nov 2001
Originally posted by dlemma
We are booked on the WindSurf's August 11-21 Baltic cruise. We have 2 days in St. Petersburg, we've obtained Russian visas and are planning on sightseeing in St. Petersburg on our own. We really don't like cruise tours, would rather do our own thing at our own pace. We don't speak Russian, I speak a little French and my husband can manage a little German.

Most of the posts on this board seem to talk about using some sort of tour guide. Is it possible to get around on our own? Or are we crazy to even consider it?

Our Russian visas are sponsored by a tour company associated with the cruise line. They are for "indepedant shopping or sightseeing". Would we be violating our visas if we hired a local tour guide?

Thanks in advance,
Is the tour company requiring you to take a tour with them? The reason I ask is we got visas also with a letter of invitation from Red October. But Red October required that we take one of their tours. So we did a few things with them, then went off on our own. It was perfectly fine and fun. We took a hydrofoil to Petehof, canal tour, went out to dinner. True nothing's in English, and hardly anyone speaks English, and we managed just fine! They certainly know yes, no, right, left and WC. However, the beauty of a tour guide for the really popular things like the Hermitage, Peter and Paul, St. Isaac's etc. is they get you ahead of the lines. So, consider doing both.

Enjoy!

Kathy
#11
48 Posts
Joined Nov 2001
Originally posted by dlemma
We are booked on the WindSurf's August 11-21 Baltic cruise. We have 2 days in St. Petersburg, we've obtained Russian visas and are planning on sightseeing in St. Petersburg on our own. We really don't like cruise tours, would rather do our own thing at our own pace. We don't speak Russian, I speak a little French and my husband can manage a little German.

Most of the posts on this board seem to talk about using some sort of tour guide. Is it possible to get around on our own? Or are we crazy to even consider it?

Our Russian visas are sponsored by a tour company associated with the cruise line. They are for "indepedant shopping or sightseeing". Would we be violating our visas if we hired a local tour guide?

Thanks in advance,
Sorry, forgot to answer your visa question. As long as you have visas, you can hire anyone you want. The only violation would be staying beyond the date stamped on your visa.

Kathy
#12
118 Posts
Joined Mar 2003
Just got back from a Baltic sailing. Do not do St Petersburg on your own. 1st of all, the commentary from the guide on their history, etc is really important as you visit the sites. Everything is in Russian. You will be missing out on 1/2 the experience if you don't hear the commentary. Secondly, there are pickpocket/theft rings operating around several of the main attractions. Our ship had an expert speak on the subject before we arrived and yet, there were actually people who had sat thru that presentation and still ended up being victims.
#13
17 Posts
Joined Jul 2004
Just got back from St. Petersburg last week on Princess. Everyone talks about Red October for tours, but we used Denrus. Elaina our guide was so fabulous that I couldn't imagine the tour without her. Of course we didn't wait for anything and if you do it yourself you will be waiting on lines because it's major tourist season and all there are are 1000's of tourists everywhere you go.

Advantage of getting a guide - the driving, parking, etc. Our guide knew more history about Russia then I know about my own country and really made our 2 days special. We waited for nothing. No waiting in lines for all the sites and some things would be really difficult to arrange in Russian as alot of people don't speak english.

We could've done things on our own, but having to figure everything out in 2 days eats up alot of time. She met us at the ship and dropped us off there.

I would also go with Denrus as everyone is going with Red October and they are probably less apt to customize as they are really busy. I saw them at the dock too. We had a mercedes with air conditioning, while all those red october people in groups were in a mini van. We had a fabulous driver and guide.

Think about it...I think it's really worth it.

Vicki
New York
#14
Dallas, Texas
192 Posts
Joined Feb 2004
Thanks for the info Vicki! We have booked DenRus for our two days on the Jewel in August and they have been wonderful to deal with. We look forward to a wonderful 2 days of touring with them.
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#15
Victoria, BC
113 Posts
Joined Oct 2001
Just to add a dissenting voice to this discussion, we toured St. Petersburg on our own during our 2 day stop in June 2003 and it was great! I've never liked tours, and you just have so much more freedom when you're on your own. It was so nice to wander along and browse through all the fascinating shops on Nevsky Prospekt - and not be forced to go only to where your guide chose to took you. We had no problems getting taxis to and from the pier, and central St. Petersburg is compact enough that we were able to walk just about anywhere we wanted to go, along with a couple of short subway trips. We booked tickets for the Hermitage on the internet before we left, so we were able to bypass the line-up getting in. I love to research places before I visit them, and between that and carrying a good guidebook with me I never felt like I was missing the stories behind the places we visited. We watched an Orthodox service at St. Nicholas Cathedral, chatted with locals at Palace Square, sampled some great local restaurants, and ended our first day with a cruise through the canals. We also saw St. Isaac's cathedral, the Aurora battleship, the Smolny Convent, the Church on Spilled Blood, the Kunstkammer Museum ( a gem!) ,the Admiralty, Peter & Paul Fortress, the Summer Palace and Garden. We had a fabulous time!
#16
west bloomfield, mi, usa
456 Posts
Joined Aug 2002
We just got back two weeks ago after being on the Jewel of the Seas.
We used Red October and they were fabulous!!!!!!!!! There were four of us and we had our own private guide and driver. We didn't have to worry about getting from one place to another and the history that we learned couldn't have been done by touring on our own. Our guide was Irina Gavrichenkova and she was wonderful!!!!!!!!! We saw all of the wonderful sights and could even add or change the itinerary if we wanted to. I would definitely recommend them to everyone!!!
#17
9 Posts
Joined Jul 2004
I'm the one who posted the original question. Just to let y'all know - we did hire an independant guide (recommended from this thread). I think that for two days, it was the right thing to do. We were a group of 4 (my husband and I and his parents). On the first day we saw the Peterhof gardens, Catherine's palace, the Church on Spilled blood, a farmer's market. We also drove by several other sights. We had a lunch stop at The Idiot, a vegetarian restaurant that was a neat place and also the food was good.

My husband and I went out on our own that night to a restaurant called 1913 (recommended by our guide). Since our ship was docked on the English Embankment we were able to walk to the restaurant. We had black caviar as an appetizer - much better than any caviar I've ever had in the US! Our main courses were seafood - we were happy with the meal. There was a trio of musicians who played classical and Russian music during the meal also - very romantic. The wait staff spoke enough English that we were able to order with no problems.

The second day we spent 4 hours in the Hermitage. Quite honestly, it was rather rushed. However we did hit the "highlights" including the Golden Room. It was nice being able to cut all the lines and red tape due to our guide. If I had more time, I would have come back on my own another day just to be able to linger longer. We had time for a stroll down Nevsky Prospect before returning to the ship.

If we had had more time in St. Petersburg, I think that after two days with a guide, I would have felt comfortable enough to get around on my own. But for only two days, having the guide worked out well.
#18
1,163 Posts
Joined Apr 2003
How much did R/O charge you for 4 people? Did you have a car or a van?

Dlemma,

Who did you use in St Pete?
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#19
9 Posts
Joined Jul 2004
The guide we used is Olga Stepanova. Her rate (for a group of 4) was $12/hour. On the day we used a driver, the charge for the driver was $17/hour plus one additional hour for commute time.

Is is OK to post contact information for a 3rd party guide? I've got Olga's email address, but I'm not sure if it is OK to post it here. (The original post with her contact information seems to have been removed).