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St Petersburg- free time on our own?


Travelers56
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Hi all-

We will be on the NCL Jade in June-  stopping in St Petersburg for 2 days.

My question is-  regardless of whose tour we use (cruise line or independent) are we able to stay in town on our own after the tour ends?  We like to do some exploring on our own outside of whatever organized tours we do- for shopping, meals or whatever we may fancy......

Will this be a problem in SPB?  in regards to visas, safety, transportation back to the pier ect??

Appreciate the help!

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31 minutes ago, Travelers56 said:

My question is-  regardless of whose tour we use (cruise line or independent) are we able to stay in town on our own after the tour ends?  We like to do some exploring on our own outside of whatever organized tours we do- for shopping, meals or whatever we may fancy......

Will this be a problem in SPB?  in regards to visas, safety, transportation back to the pier ect??

Since your location is listed as Pittsburgh, I assume you are a US citizen. To answer your question ...

No, you can not stay in town after the tour ends and explore on your own - you would require a valid Russian visa in order to fulfill your wish to explore on your own.

The tour company with whom you book your day tour will provide you with a tour ticket (some call this a visa waiver or a blanket visa - there are really no such animals) - this tour ticket and your passport will allow you to clear Russian immigration at the port. The Russian Federation allows visa free touring for cruise ship passengers provided that they meet certain requirements. One of the requirements is that cruise ship passengers must be with a licensed tour operator at all times while off the boat unless they possess a Russian Tourist Visa. They are ways around this issue - some tour companies (Alla Tours is one such company - you can check with them if interested) offer evening options wherein you can do what you please but they provide the tour voucher and are still responsible for you while you are off the ship.

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As Dogs4's post.

 

We used Alla Tours. Same as the other operators, you need to remain at the same venues as the guide.
But you're not tied to their apron-strings. We wandered into different rooms at the Hermitage, very easy cos we could hear the guide on our radio-earphones. We had a half-hour wander down Nevsky Prospekt (the main shopping street) & met up with the guide further down the street.

 

In the evening we went to the Think Yourself Russian folk show (touristy but well-performed and great fun). Because there wouldn't be time  to go back to the ship before the show we were dropped at a bar near the theatre (we had roubles), collected from there about an hour later & walked to the theatre where the guide left us after getting us in. After the show there was an Alla driver waiting outside the theatre for us. It all worked very well.

 

At one time Princess offered a half-day excursion which took folk to Nevsky Prospekt and collected them from there. That was bending the rules a little too far, it's no longer offered and I think they had their knuckles rapped.

 

The tour operators know how far they can bend the rules.

But for sure they collect you from the cruise terminal & return you there.

 

JB :classic_smile:

Edited by John Bull
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As an American, the only way to do this legally is to get a visa, and not travel on a visa waiver offered by your tour company.  Your tour operator may issue you a blanket visa waiver for the entire time your ship is in port since some clients want to add an evening excursion at the last minute.  If your visa waiver covers the entire time the ship is in port, immigration will only check that you have a valid visa or visa waiver when letting you though so it would be possible logistically for you to pass through immigration on your own after you have returned from your official tour.  However, if anything happens to you while you are on Russian soil - such as if your passports get stolen  by pickpockets - you would be stuck dealing with very angry Russian officials and be liable for violating immigration law.  

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17 minutes ago, kitkat343 said:

.  Your tour operator may issue you a blanket visa waiver for the entire time your ship is in port since some clients want to add an evening excursion at the last minute.  If your visa waiver covers the entire time the ship is in port, immigration will only check that you have a valid visa or visa waiver when letting you though so it would be possible logistically for you to pass through immigration on your own after you have returned from your official tour.  

 

I don't think it works that way, kitkat.

 

As Dogs4 posted, the tours are "visa-free" - the tour ticket rather than a "blanket visa-waiver" gets you through immigration without a visa . Hence the need to pre-book so that you can print-off the tour ticket e-mailed to you. (ship-sponsored tour tickets are issued on the ship).

Those tour tickets quote date and time of the tour and will only get you thro immigration on the appropriate day and approx appropriate time.

So if for instance you book just a one-day tour for Day One it won't get you thro on Day Two, or even the evening of Day One.

 

And the tour operator will bring you back to the ship at the end of your tour, or they risk losing their approved status.

 

Nice try, but no goulag and no cigar either.:classic_wink:

 

JB :classic_smile:

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In addition to what JB states above, there is another consideration  ...

one must enter the port to access their cruise ship and there is a guarded checkpoint prior to entering the port (Marine Facade). Without the proper documentation (i.e., valid Russian visa or accompanied by licensed tour representative) , how would one re-enter the port? Taxi drivers and the like cannot supply the appropriate docs to get you through the checkpoint.

We have valid Russian visas and were required to show our passports with the appropriate tourist visa before we were allowed through the checkpoint. Believe me, the guard carefully checked each one of us!

Edited by dogs4fun
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13 hours ago, kitkat343 said:

As an American, the only way to do this legally is to get a visa, and not travel on a visa waiver offered by your tour company.  

Absolutely agree.  If you decide to  stay in the city after the tour ends and explore it on your own,  first of all it’s illegal. It’s illegal even if your guide or tour operator allows it. Then as kitkat343 wrote in one of the posts above  if anything happens to you while you are in the city and not accompanied by a guide -  for example your passport gets stolen -  you will have all the problems possible. I couldn't even start to imagine what might happen in such a situation!

Jess

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It sounds like you might be more interested in a private tour that would allow you to control your own itinerary and explore more? We did that on our most recent visit. First time we were in St.P., we were on an organized small-group tour with one of the big tour companies. It was fine, but this past time, we did a lot of back-and-forth chatting with a smaller company (Red Sun Tours), planning out what we might like to do, both on and off the beaten track (I picked them mostly because they always got back to me quickly with detailed answers to my questions) and then we also had the flexibility to change our schedule on the day if we wanted because it was just us (and our lovely guide and driver).

 

Yes, it was more expensive, but having done both, I think the added value in a private, customized tour more than justifies the added cost. If a private tour is out of your budget for just you, you might be able to find a few like-minded people from your Roll Call who would enjoy the same things you would?

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18 hours ago, John Bull said:

I don't think it works that way, kitkat.

 

As Dogs4 posted, the tours are "visa-free" - the tour ticket rather than a "blanket visa-waiver" gets you through immigration without a visa . Hence the need to pre-book so that you can print-off the tour ticket e-mailed to you. (ship-sponsored tour tickets are issued on the ship).

Those tour tickets quote date and time of the tour and will only get you thro immigration on the appropriate day and approx appropriate time.

So if for instance you book just a one-day tour for Day One it won't get you thro on Day Two, or even the evening of Day One.

 

And the tour operator will bring you back to the ship at the end of your tour, or they risk losing their approved status.

 

Nice try, but no goulag and no cigar either.:classic_wink:

This may have changed, but four years ago when I took this tour, SPB sent us an email explaining that our paperwork included all hours the ship was docked since many people decide at the last minute to add a night tour.  We were also told in the email to carefully check the time printed on our paperwork to ensure it was correct, or else SPB wouldn't be able to fix it at the last minute.  The time on my paperwork reflected all of the time our ship was in port.   But that may just be SPB, or it may have changed in the last 4 years.  But just in case anyone else is given this paperwork or email instructions, do bear in mind that if anything happens to you if you are wandering around alone you will be liable for violating the customs regulation and I don't want to mess with the Russian authorities.

 

This was a good point:  

one must enter the port to access their cruise ship and there is a guarded checkpoint prior to entering the port (Marine Facade). Without the proper documentation (i.e., valid Russian visa or accompanied by licensed tour representative) , how would one re-enter the port? Taxi drivers and the like cannot supply the appropriate docs to get you through the checkpoint.

We have valid Russian visas and were required to show our passports with the appropriate tourist visa before we were allowed through the checkpoint. Believe me, the guard carefully checked each one of us!

Edited by kitkat343
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If you'll be using a local tour operator and disembarking the ship with a blanket visa, you would need to be accompanied by the guide at all times. I think you could ask the tour operator to customize the tour for you that will give you some free time in the city for dinner or shopping. You would need to be accompanied back to the ship by the guide and driver though. 

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As John Bull said, go to someone like Alla Tours and they will discuss everything with you.  

 

I put together a party of 17 for two days, I had lots of help planning what we were going to do.  Two of us decided to visit the ballet in the evening.  We paid extra for that.  We were driven to the theatre and apart from being sat behind a tall man it was perfect.  

 

In the last minute several of the party decided they wanted the ballet and they went with the ship.  They went on a coach, we had our own driver and felt quite special.  We had better seats (apart from the tall man whose head features in many of my daughter’s photos).  I think we paid less. 

 

The thing about going out in the evening is that there is not a lot of time to eat, but it is lovely being out when it is both late and light! 

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52 minutes ago, ollienbertsmum said:

 

 

The thing about going out in the evening is that there is not a lot of time to eat, but it is lovely being out when it is both late and light! 

 

 

One thing we regret - that after the show we didn't ask the driver to go back to the ship via views of the illuminations on the bridges, apparently a wonderful sight. :classic_sad:

 

And yes, it's difficult fitting in evening eats.

O&B'smum had only a short time back at the ship to get ready for the ballet.

The folklore show has an earlier start so we didn't go back to the ship at all between day & evening. The little nibbles during the show's interval did nothing to alleviate our hunger and we prayed (successfully :classic_smile:) that there'd still be eats available when we got back to the ship.

 

JB :classic_smile:

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1 hour ago, ollienbertsmum said:

The thing about going out in the evening is that there is not a lot of time to eat, but it is lovely being out when it is both late and light! 

We took snacks in our day packs - alleviated the hunger pangs. 😎

IMHO, the nice thing about evenings/nights in St. Pete is that most of the tourists are no longer out and about - you are experiencing St. Pete with the locals.

When on a cruise, we have also booked the free content with Alla Tours and enjoyed a wonderful meal at a Russian restaurant of our choosing - had plenty of time to enjoy our meal and time to stroll Nevsky (the Galleria is open for shopping till 10pm).

Edited by dogs4fun
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2 hours ago, Sirius 10 said:

Best to get a full visa, then you can explore on your own.

I disagree. Although we are fans of DIY, we would not recommend acquiring a visa if your visit is via ocean cruise on a short port stay & this is your first visit to the city. I realize that river cruise passengers like yourself are required to have a tourist visa as you must fly into Russia. Most ocean cruise passengers do not fly into Russia and are not required to have a visa (they are usually cruising in from the schengen zone) - they can be covered by the visa free scheme offered to ocean cruise passengers.

I have a Russian visa (3 year) and it was rather expensive (all of my Russian visas have been expensive). If one plans to spend extended time in Russia, securing a visa is highly recommended. However, when visiting Russia for a first timer with only 2 days in Saint Petersburg - a local guide with a licensed company is, imho, the way to go. One can do what they want by booking a private tour & still do what they want in the evening with a free content program. 

2 hours ago, Sirius 10 said:

visit Grand Hotel Bar and Asia restaurant for a different experience.

Located on Arts Square, the Belmond Grand is an iconic 19th century Russian hotel and the Lobby Bar in the Belmond Grand is interesting and worth a visit if one has the time - especially if one appreciates Art Nouveau.

We appreciate Art Nouveau and find visiting the Eliseyev Emporium a very special & worthwhile experience - the Eliseyev is simply exquisite, very luxurious and is open late - located in the heart of St. Pete (at the corner of Nevsky & Malaya Sadovaya) one can visit via free content in the evening. In addition to shopping/browsing there, we recommend enjoying a pastry & cappuccino/espresso in the coffee shop.

2 hours ago, Sirius 10 said:

Rent a Black Mercedes for added oligarch bling factor.

Interestingly, we have noted that the majority of the well known independent operators in Saint Petersburg utilize Mercedes vans or sedans. 

Added note: traffic in St. Petersburg is chaos. The locals seem comfortable driving but there is absolutely no way that we would rent a car & drive in either Saint Petersburg or Moscow (accidents are frequent and driving rules appear arbitrary).

Edited by dogs4fun
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This was a number of years ago, but a female Canadian table-mate on a Baltic cruise developed pancreatitis onboard and at St. Petersburg was sent to a hospital. Because neither she nor her husband had a visa, when her husband tried to return to the ship for some necessities, he almost got arrested by the local authorities. Moral...go nowhere in Russian unless on an approved tour (ship or private) or with your own visa.

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  • 1 month later...

Okay, please let me know if I have this correct.

 

  1. When in SPB, a local tour guide has to be with you all the time, from the time they pick you up, and bring you back to the ship.
     
  2. You cannot wander around on your own, if the guide isn't in the immediate vicinity.
     
  3. The guide has to bring you back to the ship for you to get past the checkpoint controls.
     

I guess I get all that, but I REALLLLLYYYYYY want to spend the night in SPB, so it seems that the only option to do that is to get an actual visa, correct?  If I do that, though, how do I traverse the area between the cruise ship dock and the entry to the port?

 

And if I did get my own visa, what are the transportation options to create my own tour?  Or would you just use Yandex/Uber?  Or is this a bad idea for distance/transportation/language reasons, and I would be better off with an organized tour, and still getting a visa to satisfy my overnight concern?

Edited by yoolykeme
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5 hours ago, yoolykeme said:

Okay, please let me know if I have this correct.

 

When in SPB, a local tour guide has to be with you all the time, from the time they pick you up, and bring you back to the ship.

You cannot wander around on your own, if the guide isn't in the immediate vicinity

For those points, different tour operators interpret the rules in different ways,  some stretch the rules further than others. Princess (see my earlier post) apparently stretched them a bit too far.

 

The guide has to bring you back to the ship for you to get past the checkpoint controls.

That's cast in stone if you don't have a visa.
 

I guess I get all that, but I REALLLLLYYYYYY want to spend the night in SPB, so it seems that the only option to do that is to get an actual visa, correct?  If I do that, though, how do I traverse the area between the cruise ship dock and the entry to the port?

I believe there are now taxis available at the cruise terminal. If not, staff will call one for you. I suggest you have the first place you want to visit written down in cryllic and/or marked on a map

 

And if I did get my own visa, what are the transportation options to create my own tour?  Or would you just use Yandex/Uber? 

I have no idea but I guess an expensive round of taxis and/or research the public transport options.

 

Or is this a bad idea for distance/transportation/language reasons, and I would be better off with an organized tour, and still getting a visa to satisfy my overnight concern?

IMHO yes, it's a bad idea.

IMHO the grief & cost of a visa just for a bed for the night is a pretty poor idea too, but it's your trip & not mine.

 

For a land visit or river cruise, or pre-cruise time (I believe St Petersburg is an embarkation point for some Baltic cruises) you'd obviously need a visa.

And you'd have the time to wander & sus things for yourself. So despite the challenges of DIY  (and I like such challenges) perhaps consider a one-day organised tour & the rest of the time fending for yourselves.  

But even a two-day port-of-call visit is woefully short and I'll wager that without a guide, transport, etc you'll waste so much time that you'll regret it.

 

But that's just MHO as always

 

JB :classic_smile:

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43 minutes ago, John Bull said:

 

For a land visit or river cruise, or pre-cruise time (I believe St Petersburg is an embarkation point for some Baltic cruises) you'd obviously need a visa.

And you'd have the time to wander & sus things for yourself. So despite the challenges of DIY  (and I like such challenges) perhaps consider a one-day organised tour & the rest of the time fending for yourselves.  

But even a two-day port-of-call visit is woefully short and I'll wager that without a guide, transport, etc you'll waste so much time that you'll regret it.

 

But that's just MHO as always

 

JB :classic_smile:

Totally agree with John Bull - I would not want to waste my valuable (and short) time in port standing in long lines. That said, if your heart is "set' on staying overnight in the city ... taxis are indeed available at the port (be aware that if you do not speak Russian and wish to hail a cab to return to port, be prepared to be ripped-off regarding price - if you overnight at a hotel, I would recommend having your hotel concierge arrange for your taxi back to port). Alternately, there is a bus that you can take from the cruise port (I am assuming that you will dock at Marine Facade) - bus 158 runs around the 4 terminals at about 30 minute intervals and you can take it to the closest metro station (Primorskaya - “Приморская”) - via bus, it takes about 15 minutes to reach Primorskaya from where you can catch any of the metro lines to wherever you wish. There is also a TI inside terminal 1. 

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HI, if you really like to explore on your own you will need a visa. And as others mentioned before, i would not recommend it either. Maybe if you really want to "explore" it would be an idea to contact a local travel agent if they can suggest something. (then you wont need a visa). For both our Baltic tours we booked a customized tours in St Petersburg. It might be worth while to contact them, we loved Anastasia Travel. I am sure they can answer all your questions and help you decide.

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2 minutes ago, dogs4fun said:

Just curious ....

Where, specifically, did you wish to party?

I wanted to do what young, single people do around the world.

 

Wherever I go, I fire up a dating app and meet local women for whatever reason, but mostly to meet someone local, go out at night in an unfamiliar location after seeing the sights, have an enjoyable time, learn something, and make a new friend. I've found myself in a palace in Dubai, to talking with my hands with a girl from Venice that didn't speak any English, through swiping on apps.

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  • 1 month later...

Partying sounds nice in St.Petersburg, but unless you have a Russian visa, you won't be able to. Some of the local tour agencies will be able to help you with that, as some have the option to travel alone at night but they still vouch for you. Good luck and let us now where you ended up partying 🙂

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