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emory2001

What makes independent tour operator better/worth it in St. Petersburg?

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Hello, I've been reading here all about the various independent tour operators in St. Petersburg, and I've checked out their websites and several look very good. But the price is quite a bit more than the Royal Caribbean 2-day St. Petersburg tour ($330 for Royal, $462 for the independent's "relaxing" 2-day tour, which we would want, vs. the more jam-packed tour). What made your independent tour worth the extra cost? Did they do anything special or take you anywhere extra that you didn't expect? If you've done the Royal one, did it meet or exceed your expectations? 

 

For either option, we would particularly enjoy a meal at a local restaurant and an evening canal cruise.

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I'm not sure how you're seeing $462 for a tour with a local operator. :classic_huh:

 

A quick check of the internet for a two-day tour shows Best Guides starting at $219,  SPB-Tours starting at $210, Alla Tour's "comfort" tour at £285. I've not been through all the others, but they'll be in the same ball-park

 

Ships' tours are mainly in large coaches - 40 to 50 pax. It's not possible to see RCI's tours and prices on the 'net without booking details, so is that what we're comparing against? 

Local operators' shared tours in the  $200 to $350 range are for two-day tours in vans with a max of 16 pax. Consequently much more personal, much more flexible, no delays while 50 folk board & alight, quicker thro traffic and often much closer parking, and inclusions like hydrofoil and metro rides that aren't possible with large groups.

 

Private tours (itinerary to your requirements) are of course more expensive, but can be as low as the shared tours if you have at least 12 in your group.

 

Some tours include restaurant lunches, it's mainly the busy-busy tours that include a packed meal

Those tours usually include a canal cruise, but evening canal cruises (canals & vodka are popular) are amongst the available evening events.

 

JB :classic_smile:

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This is the $462 one, but now that I look at it, maybe that means for a group of only 2 people. I was looking there because we will be 2 people, but not opposed to going with a group if that lowers the price: https://anastasia.travel/tour/relaxing-st-petersburg-the-most-comfortable-tour/. But I guess that means we wouldn't know the price until we know our group size?

 

The Royal Caribbean one shows the price here: http://www.royalcaribbean.com/shoreExcursions/product/detail/view.do?sourcePage=shorexByPort&ProductCode=PZM3

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Posted (edited)
22 minutes ago, emory2001 said:

This is the $462 one, but now that I look at it, maybe that means for a group of only 2 people. I was looking there because we will be 2 people, but not opposed to going with a group if that lowers the price: https://anastasia.travel/tour/relaxing-st-petersburg-the-most-comfortable-tour/. But I guess that means we wouldn't know the price until we know our group size?

 

The Royal Caribbean one shows the price here: http://www.royalcaribbean.com/shoreExcursions/product/detail/view.do?sourcePage=shorexByPort&ProductCode=PZM3

The Grand Tour offered by Alla Tours includes everything that the RCCL tour includes (including lunches on both days) - Alla also includes a visit to 2 of the most beautiful metro stations in the city (and they are quite grand indeed) - you ride the metro to get from one to the other (the RCCL tour does not offer this). The Grand Tour is flat rate group tour with a maximum of 16 (and the groups are, in actuality, usually smaller than 16). The price is $285 per person (and, cruise critic members get a discount - we got $15 off per person). So, $270 vs $330 is $60 per person, $120 for a couple. The independent operators offer a better value.

Other companies offer about the same tour itinerary at about the same price point. Check-out the top companies on TripAdvisor and contact a few of them to find what best suit you. Make sure to compare apples to apples - there are less expensive tours out there but they do not include everything that the Grand Tour or the RCCL tour offer. Make sure that the price of lunch is included on both days!

Edited by dogs4fun

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the trick is to get together a group on your roll call to really drive the price down per head over the ships big bus tours'

 

having said that our first St Petersburg tour for 3 of us and slightly shortened to accommodate husband s mobility issues was slightly less than ships tours and our last one with party of 5 was much less

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All the independent companies will have smaller groups....several state 16 max, but I had an SPB tour in 2013 where my friend and I lucked out and had a group of only 6. Why is this important? Fewer people means less waiting for people to get off the bus, climb back on the bus, find their seat, go to the bathroom, ask interrupting questions, etc. You will see more things because there is less wasted time, and you have a better chance of getting a special request granted (like seeing the metro or going to a Russian Starbucks). A smaller group will be more flexible and accommodating.

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We have booked the 2 Day Must See Tour with Alla for our August Regal Princess Cruise.  The listed price for this excursion is $250 per person and we will get an additional discount for being Cruise Critic members.  This is approximately half the cost of the Princess excursion.  I contacted them by email and they were very prompt about getting back to me.  Based on reviews and their prompt, professional responses we have booked two additional excursions with them in other ports.  Since we had booked the St. Petersburg excursion we also received discounts on these other two excursions.  They have already sent us our tickets for the St. Petersburg excursion.  I suggest that you check out Alla’s website as well as reviews on the internet.  That may help you with some of your questions.

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12 hours ago, emory2001 said:

This is the $462 one, but now that I look at it, maybe that means for a group of only 2 people. I was looking there because we will be 2 people, but not opposed to going with a group if that lowers the price: https://anastasia.travel/tour/relaxing-st-petersburg-the-most-comfortable-tour/. But I guess that means we wouldn't know the price until we know our group size?

 

The Royal Caribbean one shows the price here: http://www.royalcaribbean.com/shoreExcursions/product/detail/view.do?sourcePage=shorexByPort&ProductCode=PZM3

We booked with Anastasia Travel back in 2015. The tour you are talking about  https://anastasia.travel/tour/relaxing-st-petersburg-the-most-comfortable-tour/ 

was around $350 for a group of 8 (which is the best by the way), but we got a great discount for it because we booked with Anastasia again for Stockholm and Berlin. It came down to no more than $200 I believe.

To answer your other question, it was a great tour because they were able to customize it for us and of course the advantage of a small group in front of lines in St.Petersburg. That is a big deal when you have limited time.

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The fewer the better.  A 35 pax bus is far too cumbersome.  You would always be waiting.

 

Even 16. is a lot.   We were 6. with Ulko Tours - wonderful.  6 or so is ideal.  You go at your pace to the places you want. You don’t line up.  You can hear your guide in very busy venues.  Someone getting separated is far less likely.  You can go to a restaurant if you choose.

 

Go for it. You won’t be sorry.

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Posted (edited)

I can't access the RCI excursion, I'm getting error messages.

 

The £462 pp price of the Anastasia offering is for two, but drops as low as $233 pp for 15 pax.

I'm kinda presuming that it's a "private tour", which means that it's up to you to find sharers. Via your RollCall is the obvious way, or you might find fellow-cruisers on the RollCall already looking for sharers.

 

But most local tour operators also offer "seat in van" bookings. 

A fixed price per person regardless of numbers, and you'll be sharing with others from your ship who've booked with that tour operator.

For instance Alla's shared Grand Tour is fixed at $285 pp.. Their identical private tour will cost you dearly for two ($680 pp) but at $256 pp it's marginally cheaper than a shared tour if there are 15 in your party.

I don't see shared tours offered by Anastasia

 

Private / shared pros & cons include-  

- shared tours are not available for all ships, 'cos of the lower prospects of being able to fill a van from a small cruise ship. 

- shared tours aren't as flexible, for instance if there's a sight you don't particularly want to visit you can't drop it unless everyone agrees. But one passenger on our bus needed a chemist so we swung by one & the guide helped the passenger buy medication. Cost us ten minutes, not begrudged by anyone. And I particularly wanted a drive-by of the battleship Aurora so the driver swung by it - and at everyone's request we had a photo-stop. So there's some flexibility in a shared van, and of course that's much more unlikely on a big ship's bus. 

- there's the possibility that there will be a lot less than 15 pax in the van, as GRG found out. Which makes a small-group shared tour cheaper than a private one.:classic_smile:

- the big concern with organising a private tour via your RollCall is that someone ducks out without paying, leaving the organiser (hopefully assisted by the others) to pay the consequently higher cost pp. But that's the risk with RollCall arrangements anywhere.

- with a private tour you can agree with the operator the itinerary that you want. Not interested in art? Go for just a drive-by of the Hermitage and give yourselves much more time elsewhere, for instance an inside tour of Aurora (I'd join your tour for that :classic_biggrin:)

 

It you're unable/unwilling to organise or join a RollCall booking and Anastasia don't offer seat-in-van prices, you may need to check out tour operators who do.

You really can't go far wrong with any of the accredited St P tour operators - they're all very good.

 

BTW going back to a point in your OP, in St P. ship-sponsored tours are also well-received by passengers. 

The difference is that they're comparing against ship-sponsored tours elsewhere in the world, where standards are very variable. 

And in St P  they don't know what they're missing by taking a ship tour. :classic_rolleyes:

 

JB :classic_smile:

 

 

Edited by John Bull

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Posted (edited)

After communicating with Anastasia Travel, and the posts here, I do think a small group of some kind with an independent tour will give us more of what we want. Anastasia said they can customize the tour however we/group wants. It sounded like if we book with them, we can also state the max size we'd want our group to be, and they can add people who want to be in that small group. After more reading, I think we'd be prepared to pay the higher price for just the 2 of us if necessary, since St. Petersburg will be our main touring destination on this cruise. We'll visit one or two highlight points in the other stops, but I'm focusing the budget on St. Petersburg.

 

Thanks for all your input and feel free to add more if anyone thinks of anything else.

Edited by emory2001

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On 6/8/2019 at 6:14 PM, dogs4fun said:

The Grand Tour offered by Alla Tours includes everything that the RCCL tour includes (including lunches on both days) - Alla also includes a visit to 2 of the most beautiful metro stations in the city (and they are quite grand indeed) - you ride the metro to get from one to the other (the RCCL tour does not offer this). The Grand Tour is flat rate group tour with a maximum of 16 (and the groups are, in actuality, usually smaller than 16). The price is $285 per person (and, cruise critic members get a discount - we got $15 off per person). So, $270 vs $330 is $60 per person, $120 for a couple. The independent operators offer a better value.

Other companies offer about the same tour itinerary at about the same price point. Check-out the top companies on TripAdvisor and contact a few of them to find what best suit you. Make sure to compare apples to apples - there are less expensive tours out there but they do not include everything that the Grand Tour or the RCCL tour offer. Make sure that the price of lunch is included on both days!

 

 

We are already booked, how do we  get the cruise critic discount ?

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17 minutes ago, floridasun lover said:

 

 

We are already booked, how do we  get the cruise critic discount ?

 

When is your cruise? If it's this season -- like leaving next week -- you might not be eligible for a discount because often companies ask you to publicize them on your Roll Call to attract more cruisers in order to receive a discount. Although you could always ask.

 

If it's not until next season, you have lots of time. You can even change your booking to a different tour (Highlights to Grand or Comfort, e.g.) or arrange a private tour with others from your Roll Call (which would allow you to set your own itinerary and might get you better pricing still), etc. You have a lot of flexibility.

 

When in doubt, always just email the company. St. Petersburg tour companies are, IME, very professional and responsive. For our last trip (private tour with Red Sun Tours), I was emailing back and forth with our tour coordinator about tweaks to our itinerary as late as a couple of days before our tour!

Edited by trosebery

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15 hours ago, floridasun lover said:

We are already booked, how do we  get the cruise critic discount ?

If you are booked with Alla, just email them and ask about the cruise critic discount. It is not too late to post to your roll call and receive the discount as, if memory correctly serves,  Alla gives the discount right up until the date of your tour.

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On 9/12/2019 at 12:19 AM, floridasun lover said:

We are already booked, how do we  get the cruise critic discount ?

I agree with the two previous comments and also suggest that you contact your tour operator and ask for the information on the Cruise Critic discount. I am sure that it will be easy for you. Good luck!

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The Baltic has been on my wish list for a long time and when we finally booked the cruise a few years back, my search for the best deals was next.

I was looking at St Petersburg and the sights to see, I knew we needed a private or small group tour. This way you can see the most of what the city has to offer. For us, we choose Anastasia Tours. They were very helpful with setting up the 2-day private tour. It was perfect and money well spent. Both days we had the same guide who knew St Petersburg by heart.

We saw a lot, but still so much to see. So our 2nd Baltic cruise is in the process of being selected and when we reach St Petersburg we will surely book a private tour again. 

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5 hours ago, angie7911922 said:

The Baltic has been on my wish list for a long time and when we finally booked the cruise a few years back, my search for the best deals was next.

I was looking at St Petersburg and the sights to see, I knew we needed a private or small group tour. This way you can see the most of what the city has to offer. For us, we choose Anastasia Tours. They were very helpful with setting up the 2-day private tour. It was perfect and money well spent. Both days we had the same guide who knew St Petersburg by heart.

We saw a lot, but still so much to see. So our 2nd Baltic cruise is in the process of being selected and when we reach St Petersburg we will surely book a private tour again. 

 

It's true that you don't see posts from cruisers who regret booking with an independent tour operator and you also don't see posts from cruisers who regret booking private tours, even though they can be slightly more expensive. As you say, "money well spent."

 

I've been thinking that at the end of this cruise season and before the beginning of next, those of us who've visited St. P  in the last few seasons should create a master thread of St. P tour recommendations: what company we booked with, what tour we booked, and what we especially liked about it. Because not everybody wants the same experience: some people may want the very standard highlights tour with one of the larger tour operators, but others may want a more unique off-the-beaten track tour or would prefer to work with a smaller operator.

 

And I've noticed that finding information/recommendations about more unique tours and smaller operators has actually become more difficult: the first time we booked a Baltic cruise, back in 2016, it was easy to go to TripAdvisor and see a list of well-reviewed independent operators, and you could click through to their websites to see what they offered. Now TripAdvisor want to advertise tours that can be booked through Viator at you instead. Google searches don't bring up all options either: they tend to favour the large resellers (like Viator again, or Shore Excursion Group, etc.) and a few of the larger companies. I would have had a hard time finding the independent company that I did book with this year (in our case, Red Sun Tours) if I hadn't seen them mentioned in a thread on here.

Edited by trosebery

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2 hours ago, trosebery said:

And I've noticed that finding information/recommendations about more unique tours and smaller operators has actually become more difficult: the first time we booked a Baltic cruise, back in 2016, it was easy to go to TripAdvisor and see a list of well-reviewed independent operators, and you could click through to their websites to see what they offered. Now TripAdvisor want to advertise tours that can be booked through Viator at you instead. Google searches don't bring up all options either: they tend to favour the large resellers (like Viator again, or Shore Excursion Group, etc.) and a few of the larger companies.

True - TripAdvisor (cruise critic is owned by TripAdvisor, BTW) has changed their format to highlight the tours that they sell (I detest the current format). However, one can still find a list of tour operators in Saint Petersburg ranked from #1-600 - it just takes a tad more effort.

Select Saint Petersburg > click on Tours 

when tours are displayed, scroll down the left side of the page until you find "See All Tour Operators in Saint Petersburg". When you click this hyperlink, all the tour companies will be displayed.

 

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it seems that trip advisor is trying to act as intermediary for booking tours

 

OK it was on a UK round cruise so perhaps not directly relevant on this forum

 

However 2 private tour companies-one in Orkney Islands and one in Southern England said they had been pressured by trip advisor to sign up for guests booking via them [taking commission of course]

 

didn't sit well with me-I look to trip advisor for reviews but want to book directly through company not a 3rd party   

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21 hours ago, trosebery said:

 

It's true that you don't see posts from cruisers who regret booking with an independent tour operator and you also don't see posts from cruisers who regret booking private tours, even though they can be slightly more expensive. As you say, "money well spent."

 

I've been thinking that at the end of this cruise season and before the beginning of next, those of us who've visited St. P  in the last few seasons should create a master thread of St. P tour recommendations: what company we booked with, what tour we booked, and what we especially liked about it. Because not everybody wants the same experience: some people may want the very standard highlights tour with one of the larger tour operators, but others may want a more unique off-the-beaten track tour or would prefer to work with a smaller operator.

 

And I've noticed that finding information/recommendations about more unique tours and smaller operators has actually become more difficult: the first time we booked a Baltic cruise, back in 2016, it was easy to go to TripAdvisor and see a list of well-reviewed independent operators, and you could click through to their websites to see what they offered. Now TripAdvisor want to advertise tours that can be booked through Viator at you instead. Google searches don't bring up all options either: they tend to favour the large resellers (like Viator again, or Shore Excursion Group, etc.) and a few of the larger companies. I would have had a hard time finding the independent company that I did book with this year (in our case, Red Sun Tours) if I hadn't seen them mentioned in a thread on here.

 

I think that is actually a very good idea. And I would love to contribute. But true, it is hard to find info about certain tours or tour operators if you don't know which one you are looking for. Do you know what I mean?

Maybe it's a good idea to find a way for travellers to tell their stories about certain tours and operators. Then again, those are personal opinions.      

I just know that for me personally, I like tours that are unique" and not the mass tours and it is always a victory when I find those....                                         

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16 hours ago, fabnfortysomething said:

I look to trip advisor for reviews but want to book directly through company not a 3rd party   

Precisely my sentiments.

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21 hours ago, dogs4fun said:

True - TripAdvisor (cruise critic is owned by TripAdvisor, BTW) has changed their format to highlight the tours that they sell (I detest the current format). However, one can still find a list of tour operators in Saint Petersburg ranked from #1-600 - it just takes a tad more effort.

Select Saint Petersburg > click on Tours 

when tours are displayed, scroll down the left side of the page until you find "See All Tour Operators in Saint Petersburg". When you click this hyperlink, all the tour companies will be displayed.

 

 

Oh, useful, thank you! I don't see that option on my phone or tablet browser, but I do on my computer browser, so I'll make sure to use that in future. But here's an interesting twist: the ranking that it uses to present the tour operators on that page is not exactly the same as the ranking it presents for the company when you click through to the company's page? Now, I don't go by ranking: I always read the reviews for context. But still, it's interesting. . . .

 

1 hour ago, angie7911922 said:

 

I think that is actually a very good idea. And I would love to contribute. But true, it is hard to find info about certain tours or tour operators if you don't know which one you are looking for. Do you know what I mean?

Maybe it's a good idea to find a way for travellers to tell their stories about certain tours and operators. Then again, those are personal opinions.      

I just know that for me personally, I like tours that are unique" and not the mass tours and it is always a victory when I find those....                                         

 

Yes, putting all the reviews in a master thread will probably be more useful to cruisers than having them have to search for individual threads. I've got an intro written already. But when do you think would be a good time to post one for next season's cruisers so it doesn't get buried? I know I'm the type to try to book everything ridiculously early, but I know most people on my Roll Call were booking in spring for the summer.

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17 minutes ago, trosebery said:

 

Oh, useful, thank you! I don't see that option on my phone or tablet browser, but I do on my computer browser, so I'll make sure to use that in future. But here's an interesting twist: the ranking that it uses to present the tour operators on that page is not exactly the same as the ranking it presents for the company when you click through to the company's page? Now, I don't go by ranking: I always read the reviews for context. But still, it's interesting. . . .

Yes, I noticed the same. You will also notice that the number of reviews received by any given company are not frequently updated. My suspicion is that the rankings and reviews on this page are not frequently updated as TripAdvisor's primary concern seems to be $$$. I have to actually click on the given tour operator to get the exact number of reviews and current ranking.

Acting as a tour consolidator at a minimum 20% commission is, I am sure, a large source of revenue for TripAdvisor. Real bummer as I much preferred the old format - IMHO, it provided users with more useful information rather than the new version which steers users toward the tours that net them the largest profit.

Edited by dogs4fun

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20 hours ago, trosebery said:

 

Oh, useful, thank you! I don't see that option on my phone or tablet browser, but I do on my computer browser, so I'll make sure to use that in future. But here's an interesting twist: the ranking that it uses to present the tour operators on that page is not exactly the same as the ranking it presents for the company when you click through to the company's page? Now, I don't go by ranking: I always read the reviews for context. But still, it's interesting. . . .

 

 

Yes, putting all the reviews in a master thread will probably be more useful to cruisers than having them have to search for individual threads. I've got an intro written already. But when do you think would be a good time to post one for next season's cruisers so it doesn't get buried? I know I'm the type to try to book everything ridiculously early, but I know most people on my Roll Call were booking in spring for the summer.

 

I am not sure, for me I book as early as possible also. I think it should be fine to start doing that maybe in next months? And when it is a master thread, it will all be collected together right? and you put your intro on top. 

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16 hours ago, angie7911922 said:

 

I am not sure, for me I book as early as possible also. I think it should be fine to start doing that maybe in next months? And when it is a master thread, it will all be collected together right? and you put your intro on top. 

 

Yes, there are probably a lot of early bookers on CC. And if it's a master thread that other people keep adding too, it'll probably stay on the first page for a while? I went ahead and created it while I'm thinking about it, anyway:

https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2696545-master-thread-of-st-petersburg-advice-and-recommendations-from-cruisers-whove-been/

I hope it can be useful to people -- but for it to be useful, other people need to go add their experiences! Please post, people!

 

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