Private guide in Russia


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#1
526 Posts
Joined Dec 2004
Hello

I have been to Saint Petersburg twice on two previous Baltic cruises, most recently on the QE in 2012 ....I am joining the QV in August for another such cruise. In the past we have used the ship's tours in Russia so there was no need to obtain my own visa. This time around I am interested in retaining the services of a private guide. Does anyone have a recommendation or any tips? Your help appreciated. BTW, it will be nice to be back on the QV since the refit....thank you.

Deck Chair
#2
Vale of Glamorgan
4,390 Posts
Joined Aug 2007
There are a few suggestions in this recent thread on the Northern Europe board.

https://boards.cruisecritic.com/show....php?t=2610669
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#3
San Francisco, CA
1,472 Posts
Joined Nov 2002
We got the visa ourselves, which wasn't a big issue in 2009 (fill out a detailed application, wait at the consulate to submit it. Come back a week later to pick it up).

However, now that the SF consulate was closed, no longer so easy.

- Mark
#4
9 Posts
Joined Sep 2017
Originally posted by MarkBearSF
We got the visa ourselves, which wasn't a big issue in 2009 (fill out a detailed application, wait at the consulate to submit it. Come back a week later to pick it up).

However, now that the SF consulate was closed, no longer so easy.

- Mark


We used ALLA tours in St Petersburg.Fantastic.Superb guide and minibus driver.Nothing too much bother.One of our party has a mobility problem and they were brilliant with her.Found a wheelchair to take round the Hermitage museum.Highly recommended


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#5
215 Posts
Joined Jun 2006
Things may have changed since we visited St. Petersburg in 2012 (on a Silversea cruise), but at that time individual visas were not (repeat, not) a requirement for touring the city and environs with a properly licensed tour operator such as Alla. (We also used a guide from Alla, and also were very pleased.)

There has been much discussion of the visa issue on CC and on Trip Advisor over the years, and much misinformation. There is (or was) a widespread false impression that the cruise ship had a "ship's visa" that substituted for individual visas that would otherwise be needed. The fact is (or was) that there has never been such a thing as a "ship's visa," and the "ship's tours" that took people around without individual visas were operated by the same type of tour operators, under the same legal authority to escort visa-less foreigners, that you could book on your own at much less expense and with much greater choice and flexibility of touring programs. It's those contract operators who convinced the cruise lines (or convinced them to tell their passengers) that theirs is (or was) the only legal way for passengers to see the sights without an individual visa.

I can say this with confidence because I have personally seen and read the controlling official Russian governmental regulation. It's worth noting that if you carefully read your cruise line's notices and informational material on this issue, you may find that the pre-cruise material is enough to scare you away from making independent plans, but the on-board notices once the ship approaches St. Petersburg are much more cagily worded. Caveat lector.

A related point to bear in mind was told to me by an acquaintance who'd visited Russia on business numerous times and was in a position to know (if you get my drift): Those friendly tour guides who speak impeccable English almost certainly are active or supposedly former FSB intelligence agency employees. So watch your words carefully. As my acquaintance puts it, there's only one foreign language school in Russia where you learn to speak perfect, unaccented English, and it ain't Berlitz.

To repeat, though: Things may have changed since 2012. You might check the St. Petersburg board in the "Ports" section of this forum to see what's currently being said (by reliable sources, of course).
#6
Lincoln UK
266 Posts
Joined Oct 2008
Originally posted by deck chair
Hello

I have been to Saint Petersburg twice on two previous Baltic cruises, most recently on the QE in 2012 ....I am joining the QV in August for another such cruise. In the past we have used the ship's tours in Russia so there was no need to obtain my own visa. This time around I am interested in retaining the services of a private guide. Does anyone have a recommendation or any tips? Your help appreciated. BTW, it will be nice to be back on the QV since the refit....thank you.

Deck Chair
We have visited St Petersburg three times and have taken twoprivate two-day tours. On our first tour we joined a party of eight andfollowed a pre-agreed tour itinerary. Because we were a small group we were allowedto bypass most of the entrance queues and our guide was able to spend more timeanswering our questions and provided amore personal service than that provided on a ships tour. On our last visit toSt Petersburg we took a two day private tour just for the two of us. We arrangedan itinerary with the tour company and our venue visits were organised to makethe best use of our available time. Because I was interested in the siege of Leningradour guide was happy to make a detour to the impressive war memorial and would haveadded a tour of the associated museum had it been open on the day we visited. Ifyou want to make the most of your St Petersburg visit then I would recommendyou take a private tour just for the pair of you and have the tour company helpyou create an itinerary to suit your interests. For our two private tours weused SPB and were extremely satisfied with the service they provided.
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Pugwash123
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#7
215 Posts
Joined Jun 2006
I heartily second Pugwash123's comments. Using the miracle of email, we arranged a to-order tour for the two of us with Alla Tours. We could not have been more satisfied with the results, including the pleasant young woman who was our unaccented-English-speaking guide. (Her father, she said, had been a Soviet Army officer. Hm.)

Not to get off-topic, but this may be useful to the OP: Our main interest was the Hermitage, which is far too large to handle in a single visit. We worked out what periods and styles of painting we wanted to see, and sent the list off to Alla. Our guide created a schedule of half-day visits on two consecutive days that allowed us to see what we wanted in a most efficient sequence. The other half-days were devoted to other sights, including trips to Peterhof and to "Catherine's Palace" as well as a short canal boat trip.

We also booked our own tickets to the Mikhailovsky Theatre for an opera performance ("Eugen Onegin," fittingly enough), at a fraction of the "ship's tour" price, and Alla created a private "evening tour" for us consisting of a car and driver to take us from ship to theatre and back, thus meeting the "escorted tour" requirement for visa-less foreigners.
#8
Lincoln UK
266 Posts
Joined Oct 2008
One visit worth including on any St Petersburg tour is a short trip on the Metro. The stations are magnificently decorated.
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Pugwash123
Sailing on Fred Olsen Braemar - The Flavour of Spain 31st August 2018
Sailing on Cunard Queen Victoria - Mediterranean Highlights – 6th September 2019
Sailing on Fred olsen Braemar - Caribbean, Central America & the Azores - 27th February 2020
#9
Bedford UK
416 Posts
Joined Feb 2012
Alla and SPB are the most used tours in St Petersburg however we had a really great experience a couple of years ago with Insider who provided us with a great 2 day tour which was hectic but boy did we see and learn a lot. We were a group of just 3 with a driver and guide.The guide was an art historian which was brilliant for the various palaces and the Hermitage and the driver seemed to have an amazing knack for finding a space to park really close to all the town centre locations. The tour included a ride on the subway which really is not to be missed and they even found time to slot in a couple of request stops from us that were not on their main itinerary. We always seemed to be ahead of the crowds and having talked to others, particularly who had been on ships tours we seemed to have been to far more locations and yet had plenty of time at the main ones.
Two 9hr days would not be for everyone but the guide made even the drives between the outlying locations interesting with insights into Russian life in pleasant and open conversation as well as historical background.
Should note that whilst this tour was anything but cheap it was no more expensive for the private tour for three of us than it would have been to go with up to 16pax with Alla and SPB. The company may have been nice but to have a completely private tour not only felt really special but I am convinced we got so much more out of it.
Check Insider out, you can book online and they sort out visas for you.