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Viking specific St. Petersburg Question

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I'm in the early stages of planing our first ocean cruise, Viking Homelands next summer. 

All of the advice I see about the St. Petersburg stop involves using private tour operators. I'd love to hear the pros(if there are any) and cons of using Vikings own shore excursions.

We obviously want to do St. Petersburg right.

Thanks,

Frank

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Our experience in SPB was with a private tour (Alla, highly recommend).  Some observations:

  • The private tour gained us early admission to the Hermitage and timed entrance through alternate entrances to others. When leaving we witnessed a half dozen or so groups standing in a massive line behind Viking lollipops (the signs the guides hold up so you know who to follow).  We never stood in a line that had more than 20-30 people in front of us
  • In discussing our itinerary with other pax that did Viking tours, our private tour was much more comprehensive and seemed to include visits that to see on a Viking tour, you would have had to take several Viking tours simultaneously (an obvious impossibility).
  • The cost was less than half of those offered by Viking
  • Our group was limited to a max of 16 people where Viking uses 40ft coaches.  Our vehicle was a Mercedes Sprinter van and due to its size, our driver always dropped us at the door and with coordination with our guide was always waiting at the door when we emerged.  This also resulted in less waiting time for loading and unloading vehicle and at "nature breaks".
  • The smaller group allowed for actual conversation and questions with the guide and the group over the two days seemed like family when we were done.
  • If you organize a group on your Roll Call, companies like Alla will offer a discount for each CC member that signs up for that group.  Alla as example offers everyone a discount and if 16 people sign up, the 16th seat is free and that savings can then be either passed back to all participants or the organizer of the group.

I'm sure there are more I could think of, but I'm sure others will chime in here

Edited by ropomo

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I also highly recommend Alla for all the same reasons.  I was skeptical, at first, that we didn't have to give a credit card number or pay in advance.  Unless they have changed their policy, we paid at the end of the first day. 

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We also used Alla on our three day visit (Russia and the Baltic Sea cruise) back in May, and it was an excellent experience. With Alla, you can sign up for a private tour, where you are responsible for gathering the participants on your tour. You can also choose a group tour, where Alla collects the guests. The group tours have a maximum of 16 people, and your tour is guaranteed to go even if they do not fill the group. Check out their website, it is very helpful.

 

Normally, we just use the Viking excursions, and some have been great, most have been good, and just a couple less so. (Three ocean cruises completed so far, one more booked.) St. Petersburg was different for us for several reasons. We were pretty certain this was going to be our one and only visit there, so we wanted to see as much as possible. As mentioned earlier, with Viking's excursions, it isn't possible to cover as many of the highlights of St. Petersburg so some would have been missed. Also, we book veranda cabins, and are the last to book excursions, so I was afraid some of our desired tours would be full before our chance to book. As it turned out, that didn't seem to be the case, but I couldn't tell that in advance. The Alla tour is jam packed, and at some stops (especially the Hermitage), I would have loved to have more time. However, the schedule is clear before you reserve a spot so i knew that would be the case. 

 

We loved St. Petersburg, and we love Viking. I hope you will too.

 

 

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Highly recommend a private tour.. it included much more than the Viking tour at 1/2 the cost. Meals were unbelievably wonderful..I am so glad we did a tour with TJ travel..

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Although ropomo has some good points, we were in St. Petersburg with Viking in July and booked our tours with Viking. Our tours also gained early admission to the Hermitage and the Gold Room (amazing!) and the Catherine Palace, the Yusupov Palace, Peterhof Palace and the Faberge Museum.  We never stood in line at all.

 

You asked about cost and that is probably a motivation to use Alla.  On our cruise we heard many good things and just as many bad things about Alla.

 

Many of our coaches were small with not very many people possibly because there were so many other tours offered in the same time slot.  Overall, we are very happy that we booked our tours with Viking.  We would very much like to go back to St. Petersburg and would book with Viking again.

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We did two Viking excursions, one each day, in St. Petersburg during our VH (Stockholm to Bergen) cruise late May-early June of 2018. We did the included Panoramic St. Petersburg early afternoon the first day. This was a coach ride with three photo op stops (Neva River across from the Hermitage, Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s churches). We enjoyed this overview which included driving the Nevsky Prospect. Our guide and driver were so efficient that we had 55 minutes at St. Isaac’s to wander about a bit (she said as long we stayed along the streets directly facing the church we would be covered by the group visa - whether this was within the rules for her group visa we don’t know, but we welcomed the occasion). We had time to enjoy coffee and dessert at a cafe and this was the highlight of our time in St. Petersburg, especially since we didn’t expect to have such an opportunity. I wouldn’t count on this, though I’ve read Russia is easing visa requirements or ability to obtain one. 

 

One indirect benefit was we virtually had the entire ship to ourselves that first morning as nearly all guests were on excursions, both private and Viking based. This was our first ocean cruise and having the opportunity to explore the ship and use the spa was very pleasant. 

 

On the second day we did the Viking Canals and Churches (Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s) optional excursion, which we very much enjoyed. The main reason we didn’t do the all day, one or two day durations, excursions (either private or Viking) is because we are not into museums and performing arts, and prefer to avoid crowds. 

 

If we were to visit St. Petersburg again and had two days there, I would apply for visas so we could do our own thing. We would have liked wandering about the Nevsky District.  We had been most cautious about Russia in our preparations for the VH cruise , but we felt extremely safe and welcomed by everyone we interacted with in St. Petersburg. 

4163AB82-7C4C-4A1F-B92D-7BF44760EF32.jpeg

Edited by Hanoj
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My first independent tour was over 10 years ago in St.P. with Alla. I am so glad that we used a private provider as opposed to the ship. Ten years ago Alla did only very small groups that were put together by one person; she did not have the bus tours, so it just wasn't a choice for us. I set it up, so I chose the schedule and then used the roll call to fill in the seats. We had twelve people on the bus with us; in retrospect I regret that we didn't limit it to 6 people. Yes, it would have been more expensive but the fewer the people you have to deal with, the easier it is to get around. Hence, my advice for this once in a lifetime visit is not to look for the cheapest tour available but to look for the smallest tour group you can afford.

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We used Alla as well and loved it. We limited our group to 6. Had a guide and driver and van. A wonderful 2 days. 

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6 hours ago, ropomo said:

Our experience in SPB was with a private tour (Alla, highly recommend).  Some observations:

  • The private tour gained us early admission to the Hermitage and timed entrance through alternate entrances to others. When leaving we witnessed a half dozen or so groups standing in a massive line behind Viking lollipops (the signs the guides hold up so you know who to follow).  We never stood in a line that had more than 20-30 people in front of us
  • In discussing our itinerary with other pax that did Viking tours, our private tour was much more comprehensive and seemed to include visits that to see on a Viking tour, you would have had to take several Viking tours simultaneously (an obvious impossibility).
  • The cost was less than half of those offered by Viking
  • Our group was limited to a max of 16 people where Viking uses 40ft coaches.  Our vehicle was a Mercedes Sprinter van and due to its size, our driver always dropped us at the door and with coordination with our guide was always waiting at the door when we emerged.  This also resulted in less waiting time for loading and unloading vehicle and at "nature breaks".
  • The smaller group allowed for actual conversation and questions with the guide and the group over the two days seemed like family when we were done.
  • If you organize a group on your Roll Call, companies like Alla will offer a discount for each CC member that signs up for that group.  Alla as example offers everyone a discount and if 16 people sign up, the 16th seat is free and that savings can then be either passed back to all participants or the organizer of the group.

I'm sure there are more I could think of, but I'm sure others will chime in here

Ditto!  They were the greatest. About the same money but much longer tours and just a van full of people.

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Alla Question here... I had contacted them and then reserved the 3 day tour in St Petersburg (Russia and the Baltic itinerary). They are asking for credit card info up front. They don’t specify whether that is for payment or just to hold the reservation. I don’t mind doing this but every comment I have read on these boards and on their website says payment is made at the end of the first day of touring. Has anyone else run across this?  I’m a bit leary of leaving cc info but will do it if others have not had issues. 

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I will also whole heartily recommend Alla Tours.  The best tour company I have ever used.  St. Petersburg was one of the best ports we have ever visited.  

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22 minutes ago, mhb1757 said:

Alla Question here... I had contacted them and then reserved the 3 day tour in St Petersburg (Russia and the Baltic itinerary). They are asking for credit card info up front. They don’t specify whether that is for payment or just to hold the reservation. I don’t mind doing this but every comment I have read on these boards and on their website says payment is made at the end of the first day of touring. Has anyone else run across this?  I’m a bit leary of leaving cc info but will do it if others have not had issues. 

 

Is this for a private tour or a group tour?  For a private tour, most companies generally require a deposit.  For our group tour earlier this year, no CC was required, don't know if there is a new policy in place.

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Couple problems with Viking @ St Pete.  First there is no way you can schedule the Viking tours over the 2 days where you see the same # of places for a long a stay that an agile private tour can get to in the 2 days. Much prefer the small Mercedes van with 12 people vs a 40 person bus logistics.  Very personal.  You have close access to your guide.  Then there's the price ~ half Viking's.  Paid at the end after 2 wonderful full days with professional and friendly TJ Tours.
I'm a big fan of Viking excursions but St Pete with TJ was vastly superior for this 2 day port city.

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33 minutes ago, mhb1757 said:

Alla Question here... I had contacted them and then reserved the 3 day tour in St Petersburg (Russia and the Baltic itinerary). They are asking for credit card info up front. They don’t specify whether that is for payment or just to hold the reservation. I don’t mind doing this but every comment I have read on these boards and on their website says payment is made at the end of the first day of touring. Has anyone else run across this?  I’m a bit leary of leaving cc info but will do it if others have not had issues. 

Did you reserve a private tour, or a group tour? Private tours require a 20% deposit (refundable under certain conditions) in advance, but group tours are paid in full after the first day of touring. We did a group tour on your same cruise last May, and did not have to pay until we were in Russia. Great experience.

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3 minutes ago, philw1776 said:

Couple problems with Viking @ St Pete.  First there is no way you can schedule the Viking tours over the 2 days where you see the same # of places for a long a stay that an agile private tour can get to in the 2 days. Much prefer the small Mercedes van with 12 people vs a 40 person bus logistics.  Very personal.  You have close access to your guide.  Then there's the price ~ half Viking's.  Paid at the end after 2 wonderful full days with professional and friendly TJ Tours.
I'm a big fan of Viking excursions but St Pete with TJ was vastly superior for this 2 day port city.

Phil,

I agree completely, even with your support of Viking tours in most places. Generally, after a Viking tour there is the option to remain in port to explore on your own. This is not the case in St. Petersburg because of the visa requirements, so we wanted to see as much on our tour as possible. We used Alla, but heard good things about several other tour groups as well.

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Did the Homelands this past summer late June. I was lucky enough to spent 3 wks in STP back in mid 90's, so had seen all of the "must do's and many of the "if you get the chance, ya gotta go see" bucket list items.  My DH, however,  had never been so... we took all the included tours (Panoramic) and then optionals ( Canals, St. Isaacs and Chirch of the Spilt Blood and  the Peterhof). 

 

Really disappointed with the Viking tours - on paper the tour is a great plan... but we were on large motor coaches and traffic was a simply a nightmare.  The guides we had were very good, informative and helpful, but it was clear they were incredibly frustrated as well. 


We spent more time on the bus circling St. Isaacs than actually on the ground on front and inside of it.  Likewise, we did a forced march/run from 4 blocks away to the Church of the Spilt blood and back to the bus in less than 30 minutes.   And, sadly for us, we were watching all the small vans zipping in and out (dropping off faces we recognized from the ship) as we made our circuit yet again looking for a parking/ drop-off sites for the large coach.

 

For the canal cruise portion, the bus finally had to let us off on the other side of the canal, and  we hustled up a couple blocks, crossed the bridge and then sprint  back down the other embankment to the impatiently waiting cruise boat staff (who then shortened the excursion because of the tardiness of our arrival.) 

 

That evening at dinner, we sat with several couples who had taken either the  Alla or and Dancing Bear tours, and were gushing on what a fabulous day they had enjoyed, while we spent most of ours on a bus. 😞

 

 I would strongly urge anyone who wants more than a bus ride through STP and the opportunity to explore this beautiful city to seriously consider a private tour - at least during the busy summer months. 
 

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2 hours ago, lackcreativity said:

Did you reserve a private tour, or a group tour? Private tours require a 20% deposit (refundable under certain conditions) in advance, but group tours are paid in full after the first day of touring. We did a group tour on your same cruise last May, and did not have to pay until we were in Russia. Great experience.

It was the flat rate group tour and here is a cut and paste from their booking reply so it appears their payment policy has changed. 

 

PAYMENT: 
Full prepayment for your tour(s) is required 1 month prior to your first port with us. You are more than welcome to make it with the help of our online payment system. We accept only Visa/MasterCard; no foreign currency conversion fee will be applied if you use a card in US dollars and/or Euros. Please find the INSTRUCTIONS below: 

1. Go to the ‘INVOICE & PAYMENT’ folder and at the bottom you will see the table with your names and all the financial information regarding the tours you’ve booked. 
2. Tick the boxes in the DUE column for the people you would like to make the payment for (multiple transactions are allowed). The total amount both in US dollars will appear above the table. 
3. If everything is correct, click on the button ‘PAY’ right next to it. It will redirect you to the online payment page. 
4. Input your credit card details as requested (card holder name, number, expiry date, and CVV2/CVC/CID code). 
5. Check all the information once again and click on the yellow button ‘COMPLETE THE PAYMENT’. 
6. That’s it, well done! 🙂

After that your invoice will be automatically adjusted. I will contact you within 24 hours to acknowledge the payment. 

--> INVOICE: 
In order to avoid any payment misunderstanding, please make sure to print your invoice or download it on the phone (blue 'Print invoice' button in the upper right corner). This document regulates our payment arrangements and indicates your total due with all the applied discounts. 

--> NOT WORKING? 
In case the payment doesn’t go through, here are 3 suggestions that might help you: 
1. Please make sure you are using Visa/MasterCard (not American Express); 
2. Please make sure that your bank is aware of the upcoming charge from Europe; 
3. It might be a good idea to try a different card if possible.

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mhb, this is what it states online, did you see this?

 

PAYMENT METHODS

  • We accept credit cards (Visa and MasterCard, but not American Express).
  • Please inform your bank of your intent to use your card abroad. Otherwise, your charges may be declined by your bank.
  • Alla Tours does not charge any credit card fees. If you will pay online your total will be charged in USD. If you will pay in St. Petersburg your total will be charged in Russian Rubles (RUB) according to the exchange rate on the day of payment as set by the Russian State Central Bank (www.cbr.ru). Because of this, Visa/MasterCard Europe will most probably charge a conversion fee from Russian Rubles to the currency used at your bank. Please check to see if your credit/debit card carries a foreign transaction fee.
  • You have an option to pay a deposit or make a full prepayment online at your Personal Account any time but not later than the date agreed.

 

PAYMENT SCHEDULE

  1. Group Tours:
    • At time of booking: No deposit
    • Upon arrival in St. Petersburg: Full payment for St. Petersburg and package tours.
  2. Private Tours:
    • 30 days prior to your tour (or 3 days after your booking, whichever is later): 20% deposit
    • Upon arrival in St. Petersburg: Balance
    • We kindly ask you to have your printed invoice ready for the payment.
    • Your entire package is to be paid in St. Petersburg, even if it is not your first port with us.
    • If you are not booked in St. Petersburg with us, we will require full prepayment by credit/debit card.
    • If you are not booked on any of our tours in St. Petersburg, you shall make a full prepayment for the tours in other cities online at your Personal Account.
    • We kindly ask you to have your printed invoice ready for the payment.

 

CANCELLATIONS

  • If it becomes necessary for you to cancel your tour(s), the following fees will apply, computed as of the date of receipt of written cancellation notice, which can be sent by e-mail, fax, or messaging system on our website.
  • Alla Tours reserves the right to cancel tours in all other ports due to various reasons and undertakes to inform clients no later than 7 days prior the tour.

 

REFUNDS

  • 100% refund if the ship does not call into a port;
  • 100 % refund provided that you cancel your reservation in writing at least 7 days before the start of your tour;
  • 100 % refund if the tour is cancelled by Alla Tours
  • No refund will be made if the cancellation is received within less than 7 days before the start of the tour.
  • No refund is in the case of a "no-show" ("no-show" is a guest who never cancelled, and never reported to our waiting guide / manager at the port after their ship's arrival).
  • No refund will be made for the Ballet or Folk Show, or any other theatre performances once your ticket has been purchased by Alla Tours.
  • No refund will be made for Moscow speed train tickets.
  • No refund will be made for missing any part of the tour by the will of the client.

 

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There is some confusion here. The payment information from Alla's website does not seem to match the information that came with mhb1857's booking reply.  It may be that things have changed recently.

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Yes, lackcreativity is correct. What they sent in the reply does not match with what is on the website or what others have reported. That is my concern. I guess I will email them and see what has changed and perhaps look at other companies. 

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mhb, as you know I'm speaking to Alla too at the moment. They sent me a revised itinerary to fit our arrival and departure times. It states that payment is made at the end of the first day but there is no mention of a deposit. The website states that deposits are only required for the private tours.

 

I asked lots of questions which were answered comprehensively, though only the total cost was given to me. Maybe there has been a misunderstanding about the Group tour versus the Private. On our roll call I was trying to clarify which we'd all like to do as I though it might be better to keep the numbers down, and given that there are eight of us speaking about the tour companies, it would have been an opportunity to do this.

 

This is the revised itinerary sent to me.

 

3-day St. Petersburg GRAND Tour [group]

16 May 2020 Day 1

12:30     Meet and greet at the ship
12:30 - 13:00 City orientation drive tour with the panoramic views on the bridges, squares, palaces, and the Neva river embankments
13:00 - 14:00 Guided tour of Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral
14:00 - 15:00 Traditional Russian lunch at a local restaurant
15:00 - 16:00 Drive to Peterhof Summer Residence
16:00 - 17:30 Guided tour of the Peterhof Fountain Park and Gardens
17:30 - 18:30 Drive back to the city
      Payment for the tour
19:00     Onboard and/or Optional Evening Program

17 May 2020 Day 2

09:00     Meet at the ship
09:00 - 09:30 Subway ride and tour of the most beautiful Metro stations
10:00 - 12:30 Guided tour of the Hermitage Museum (early entry)
12:30 - 13:30 Inside visit to the General Staff Building to admire the Impressionist Art Collection
13:30 - 14:30 Traditional Russian lunch at a local restaurant
14:30 - 15:30 Drive to Tsars Village (Pushkin)
15:30 - 17:00 Guided tour of Catherine's Palace incl. Amber Room and a walk through the park
17:00 - 18:00 Drive back to St. Petersburg
18:00     Onboard and/or Optional Evening Program

18 May 2020 Day 3

08:00     Meet at the ship
08:30 - 09:30 Boat ride: scenic tour along rivers and canals
10:00 - 11:30 Guided tour of Yusupov Palace incl. Gregory Rasputin exposition
11:30 - 12:30 Guided tour of St. Isaac's Cathedral
12:30 - 13:30 Traditional Russian lunch at a local restaurant
13:30 - 14:30 Guided tour of the Faberge Museum
14:30 - 15:30 Guided tour of Church on the Spilled Blood
15:30 - 16:30 City sightseeing tour through the historical downtown and Nevsky Prospect with short walks and photo stops. Time for gift shopping.
17:00     Onboard

 

Edited by DGHOC

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If the information that mhb has provided is indeed the new payment policy for Alla, and not just some kind of mix-up, that would be a concern. Having toured with them before, and knowing their reputation here and on other travel sites, I would prepay for the tour if that was necessary. However, as a possible new client, I am not so sure.

 

On all other ports on our cruises, we have used Viking excursions, so my experience is very limited. Do private tour companies in other parts of the word usually require payment in advance?

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