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Master thread of St. Petersburg advice and recommendations from cruisers who've been!


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My husband and I will be in SPB in early July.  We will be there 3 days.  I have booked a private tour for two days, thinking that on the third day we could explore on our own.  In reading the various posts, I'm not sure this will be allowed.   The tour company is arranging a visa.  Would we be allowed to explore on our own on day three? 

 

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52 minutes ago, AuntyJan said:

My husband and I will be in SPB in early July.  We will be there 3 days.  I have booked a private tour for two days, thinking that on the third day we could explore on our own.  In reading the various posts, I'm not sure this will be allowed.   The tour company is arranging a visa.  Would we be allowed to explore on our own on day three? 

 

No, you will not be allowed past immigration on the third day if your tour ticket from the company is for a two-day tour. (Unless you have an actual visa.) Talk with the company with whom you have arranged the tour to see what they suggest.

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59 minutes ago, AuntyJan said:

My husband and I will be in SPB in early July.  We will be there 3 days.  I have booked a private tour for two days, thinking that on the third day we could explore on our own.  In reading the various posts, I'm not sure this will be allowed.   The tour company is arranging a visa.  Would we be allowed to explore on our own on day three? 

 

Each time you get off the ship you must pass through immigration and each time you go back to your ship you must again pass through the immigration check. Your tickets will be dated and timed so, for day 1 you will have a ticket that will allow you to clear immigration and on day 2 you will have another ticket that will allow immigration clearance. Without the requisite ticket on day 3, you will not be allowed to pass through the immigration check (immigration kiosks are similar to what you would experience upon arriving via air in a foreign country). You need only your valid passport and a tour ticket for visa free touring but you must be with a licensed tour operator and they are responsible for you while you are off the boat.

Does you ship offer a one day tour with some free time on your own? Perhaps the company with whom you contracted your 2 day tour can provide a one day tour that allows you to do what you want rather than be governed by a strict itinerary? Or, simply rebook a 3 day tour.

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19 minutes ago, jbinbi said:

Great thread, thanks to the OP.

 

maybe I missed it, but has anyone done a tour from the cruise line? Just wondering how it compares to what seems like lots of TJ or Alla happy people.

 

We haven't gone yet but booked through TJ Tours. The ship's excursions are not as inclusive and cost quite a bit more. Plus the groups are probably larger. 

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21 minutes ago, jbinbi said:

Great thread, thanks to the OP.

 

maybe I missed it, but has anyone done a tour from the cruise line? Just wondering how it compares to what seems like lots of TJ or Alla happy people.

 

Yes, lots of people have done tours through the cruise line, even some people here! Sometimes it's because they have lots of OBC, sometimes it's for peace of mind (especially if they're travelling with a large group and they can't talk everyone into an independent excursion), sometimes it's because there's some special experience the cruise line is touting (e.g. I remember Princess advertising its evening at Catherine Palace), etc. And people do enjoy them because it's hard *not* to enjoy St. Petersburg.

 

There's just the trade-off of the higher prices and the larger groups -- and since larger groups are slower, the itineraries usually don't get to visit as many sights. (I also like my groups as small as possible so that I can ask lots of questions of the guide, which is one reason why I selected a private tour with Red Sun Tours on our last visit.)

 

Bottom line is that you won't be unhappy if you book a tour with the cruise line. But I would strongly recommend doing some research first to see if that's the *best* choice for you.

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On 1/19/2020 at 1:24 PM, jbinbi said:

Great thread, thanks to the OP.

 

maybe I missed it, but has anyone done a tour from the cruise line? Just wondering how it compares to what seems like lots of TJ or Alla happy people.

We used Alla, but I did speak with many other passengers who had used ship's tours (Princess). Most were very happy with them. I did hear a few complaints. One said the air conditioning broke down on their bus. (The temperature was in the high 80s.) Another reacted to me saying that our guide had 18 years experience by saying their guide was only 18. And one other said that their guide lamented the fall of communism. 

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On 1/18/2020 at 2:20 PM, ForMyBoys2015 said:

Hi,  I e-mailed three tour companies to arrange a private tour for 8.   The issue is that the prices between them were significantly different even though the itineraries were roughly the same.   Well actually one of them had a lower price then the other two but had the most items on the proposed itinerary.   So this leads to my question, are they expecting us to negotiate so they throw out a higher price?    A price difference of $60pp really adds up with a party of 8.  

 

Thanks!

Ali

I emailed a couple of companies and ended up with SPB Tours because they were the lowest price and they included the price of restaurant lunches in the cost where as the next lowest place charged $60 for lunches. We have a party of 5 and I think we are paying $299 each.

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I am re-posting this review of our 2016 tour in St Petersburg with Best Guides.  We are going again in July and will use Best Guides again for another custom tour.

 

This was our third Baltic cruise so we decided to do something different since we had done the “standard tour” twice using a different one of the big well known companies each time.. I am interested in religious art especially icons and Novgorod, south of St Petersburg, is the birth place of Russian icon painting. Could we go there? Internet research turned up several new to me tour companies offering tours to Novgorod. I contacted them plus the well known companies often seen on this board. The new companies were VERY expensive for what they offered. Two of the better known companies (used before) replied but said they would get back to me. I'm still waiting. I received a quick response from Best Guides. They already offer a tour to Novgorod. I began working with Natalie and came up with the following: we would go to Novgorod on the first day and have a walking tour around the center of St Petersburg on the second day. We told them some places we would like to visit and a place and time schedule was worked out for the walking tour. We expected to pay more as it would only be the two of us but their price was only a bit more then what a standard tour for two would have cost. Here's a link to their Novgorod tour: http://www.bestguides-spb.com/tour-novgorod.html Natalie was quick to reply and easy to work with even when we made several changes over time to both parts of the tour.

How did all this work out.....well, you always have doubts and fears. Will they be there to meet you at the dock, will ride to Novgorod be safe (it's about a three hour trip each way) etc. On June 11 we arrived in St Petersburg and quickly got off the ship and through boarder control. There was a representative from Best Guides along with our driver, Anatoly, waiting to meet us. Anatoly took us to his van and we were off. He was an excellent, careful driver and the drive to Novgorod was pleasant with lots to see, old wooden houses, small towns etc. Our guide, Galena, was there to meet us and we began by walking into the “Kremlin” area of Novgorod. I won't go into detail but will be happy to answer questions. It was a truly wonderful day except for the rain. Even with that we saw everything as promised and Galena was excellent with lots of information about the meaning of religious paintings and icons. The ride back to St Petersburg was uneventful and Anatoly (who, by the way, did not speak English but that was never a problem) indicated he would be our driver tomorrow.

He was there to meet us on Sunday with our guide for the day, Elena Isakova. Again, rather then going into detail, our day worked out wonderfully. Elena was a excellent, knowledgeable guide. From the first stop at an Orthodox church to see and hear some of the service, to the Central Naval Museum, not usually on a tour but a place DH wanted to see, and finally the Peter and Paul Fortress we saw everything we wanted to see and more. We had a long walk along the Nevsky Prospect that made us feel like everyday Russians out for a stroll. Stopped in at the office and paid with a credit card, no problem.

All in all we could not have been happier with service and guides from Best Guides. We would use them again in a heart beat. They were easy to work with and quickly responded to our emails. Being able to pay with a credit card on the second day was a plus because we did not have to bring a lot of cash with us. Apparently, the big two companies (I will name them if asked) were not interested providing anything but the “standard tour”. Best Guides stepped up gave us exactly what we wanted. They certainly earned their name as they were the “Best Guides. 


It was truly a "customized" tour. The two highly rated companies that did not "reply back" were Alla and SPB. We toured with both companies, Alla in 2010 and SPB in 2013 so we thought we would use one of them again. Neither wanted our business. You will see from the review that a customized tour can be done. The cost was $800 total for both days, only a bit more pp then the going rate for a two day tour in 2016. Considering the drive to Novgorod and back we thought it was a bargain

 

<<<Karen>>>

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I was just looking at Princess cruises St. Peterburg tours and part of the information they provided was that The Church on Spilled Blood will not be open from June 1 to some time in July.  Can anyone confirm this?  

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2 hours ago, Nok977 said:

I cannot say for sure that the pricing is 100 % correct but seems anyway to be very close to reality. 

The list is not complete. Unfortunately, it omits some of the most popular and highly rated tours offered by these companies.

Edited by dogs4fun
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2 hours ago, Anubi said:

I was just looking at Princess cruises St. Peterburg tours and part of the information they provided was that The Church on Spilled Blood will not be open from June 1 to some time in July.  Can anyone confirm this?  

Although I know that the church is undergoing restoration (until 2025 I was told) I have certainly not heard that it will be closed & cannot find any note of closure on the Museum Complex website. It appears that they are conducting church tours in 2020 (http://eng.cathedral.ru/kskursii_v_spase_na_krovi & http://eng.cathedral.ru/raspisanie). I would contact one of the local independent operators in Saint Petersburg as hopefully they would have the correct up-to-date information. I would certainly not rely on any information that I received from Princess. Email TJ, Alla, Spb or one of the other top operators - they should know or, at the least, they should be able to find out if it will be closed.

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2 minutes ago, dogs4fun said:

Although I know that the church is undergoing restoration (until 2025 I was told) I have certainly not heard that it will be closed & cannot find any note of closure on the Museum Complex website. It appears that they are conducting church tours in 2020 (http://eng.cathedral.ru/kskursii_v_spase_na_krovi & http://eng.cathedral.ru/raspisanie). I would contact one of the local independent operators in Saint Petersburg as hopefully they would have the correct up-to-date information. I would certainly not rely on any information that I received from Princess. Email TJ, Alla, Spb or one of the other top operators - they should know or, at the least, they should be able to find out if it will be closed.

Thanks so much for this.  I have already emailed Alla since we are touring with them.  Another reason to be happy to be going with an independent.  

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16 hours ago, dogs4fun said:

Although I know that the church is undergoing restoration (until 2025 I was told) I have certainly not heard that it will be closed & cannot find any note of closure on the Museum Complex website. It appears that they are conducting church tours in 2020 (http://eng.cathedral.ru/kskursii_v_spase_na_krovi & http://eng.cathedral.ru/raspisanie). I would contact one of the local independent operators in Saint Petersburg as hopefully they would have the correct up-to-date information. I would certainly not rely on any information that I received from Princess. Email TJ, Alla, Spb or one of the other top operators - they should know or, at the least, they should be able to find out if it will be closed.

Update.  I heard from Alla and they say its a go.  If not, they will be advised and will pass the information on.  

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 1/19/2020 at 10:00 PM, trosebery said:

 

There's just the trade-off of the higher prices and the larger groups -- and since larger groups are slower, the itineraries usually don't get to visit as many sights. (I also like my groups as small as possible so that I can ask lots of questions of the guide, which is one reason why I selected a private tour with Red Sun Tours on our last visit.)

 

Bottom line is that you won't be unhappy if you book a tour with the cruise line. But I would strongly recommend doing some research first to see if that's the *best* choice for you.

It is really nice to have a private small group tour. I think some of the private tours are quite reasonably priced, if you go with an independent company.  We had such a tour with Red Sun Tours and their price was very good. We had really high quality tour. What surprised us most of all,  we had skip-the-line admission to the museums and churches. We never waited in lines. Then we could talk with our guide and ask questions. We knew not only about culture and history of St. Petersburg, but about real life from a local. That was an amazing experience, very interesting.  It's more like to be with a local friend. 

 

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We really would prefer a very small group tour, but there are just 2 of us, and the price for a private tour with just us is too high. I've tried posting on our cruise critic group but it is a very inactive group so no responses. Our cruise is at the end of Aug 2020. How far in advance do you typically have to book your tours? Any advice on how to get a very small group tour - but not private for just the 2 of us? Thanks!

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7 hours ago, debway said:

We really would prefer a very small group tour, but there are just 2 of us, and the price for a private tour with just us is too high. I've tried posting on our cruise critic group but it is a very inactive group so no responses. Our cruise is at the end of Aug 2020. How far in advance do you typically have to book your tours? Any advice on how to get a very small group tour - but not private for just the 2 of us? Thanks!

 

Yes, for August 2020, it's a good time to start emailing tour companies and see which is best able to accommodate you. Although most of the "small group" tours offered are 15-16 people, some companies offer even smaller groups (8 or less), and some may be able to connect you with another couple or family wanting to share a similar itinerary. I emailed several companies before I decided on Red Sun Tours for our private tour and all the ones we contacted were very professional and willing to help. (Red Sun Tours just happened to be the one that I "clicked" with best.)

 

I will agree with you that the smaller, the better!

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16 hours ago, trosebery said:

 

Yes, for August 2020, it's a good time to start emailing tour companies and see which is best able to accommodate you. Although most of the "small group" tours offered are 15-16 people, some companies offer even smaller groups (8 or less), and some may be able to connect you with another couple or family wanting to share a similar itinerary. I emailed several companies before I decided on Red Sun Tours for our private tour and all the ones we contacted were very professional and willing to help. (Red Sun Tours just happened to be the one that I "clicked" with best.)

 

I will agree with you that the smaller, the better!

Two interesting concepts in your post---clicking with the tour company and the smaller the better.

 

We did out Baltic cruise in 2002, and there were less companies then. (For instance SPB was started the next cruise season by our Alla tour guide.) I only remember there being 4 at the time. I e-mailed all 4, and 3 replied. I definitely clicked best with Alla. I posted in our roll call and ended with 10--ourselves and 3 other couples, one of which had their teenage daughter and her friend with them.

 

I remember figuring that if I could get 8 including ourselves, it would be cheaper than a Princess excursion. When we reached 10 and let Alla know there were no others coming from our roll call, she asked if we wanted it limited to 10, and that was fine with us. 10 ended up a nice number as it was large enough to make the excursion less money than a similar cruise line excursion and still small enough that we all bonded and could agree when anyone wanted something added. Alla went along with requests as long as there were no objections from any of us.

 

 

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Hello all, my me, my wife and another couple will be taking a Baltic cruise on Brilliance of the sea in May. My wife has some balance issues and feels more comfortable using a walker when on tours. Does anyone have any recommendations on St. Petersburg tour companies who can accommodate a walking challenged person.  Thank you.

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On 2/9/2020 at 5:29 AM, debway said:

We really would prefer a very small group tour, but there are just 2 of us, and the price for a private tour with just us is too high. I've tried posting on our cruise critic group but it is a very inactive group so no responses. Our cruise is at the end of Aug 2020. How far in advance do you typically have to book your tours? Any advice on how to get a very small group tour - but not private for just the 2 of us? Thanks!

We are on RCI Brilliance at end of August and looking for a private tour with more emphasis on Peterhof and less on Hermitage. Would like to see St P&P and Yusupov which aren’t included in most group tours. We are finding private tours for 2 are around $300 - $400 US which is OK for us but wouldn’t mind sharing costs....

Edited by cntrymum
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4 hours ago, cntrymum said:

We are on RCI Brilliance at end of August and looking for a private tour with more emphasis on Peterhof and less on Hermitage. Would like to see St P&P and Yusupov which aren’t included in most group tours. We are finding private tours for 2 are around $300 - $400 US which is OK for us but wouldn’t mind sharing costs....

The best way to find some others to share costs is probably your roll call. However, this will probably be more difficult in your case because of your restrictions such as no Hermitage.

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5 hours ago, cntrymum said:

We are on RCI Brilliance at end of August and looking for a private tour with more emphasis on Peterhof and less on Hermitage. Would like to see St P&P and Yusupov which aren’t included in most group tours. We are finding private tours for 2 are around $300 - $400 US which is OK for us but wouldn’t mind sharing costs....

 

38 minutes ago, ontheweb said:

The best way to find some others to share costs is probably your roll call. However, this will probably be more difficult in your case because of your restrictions such as no Hermitage.

You can only discuss tour shares on your roll call, so whether @cntrymum 's request is difficult or not, that remains the only place for the discussion.

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