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SPB overnight on your own. Easy for savvy American?


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I really want to spend the night in SPB and party, so I guess I'll have to get a visa.

 

My questions center on how navigable and understandable Russia is.

 

All of the cruise and private tours tout that they get skip the line access to all the cool museums.  Will going to these places on my own have me standing in lines wasting time?  Other than being visa-free and having someone explain what you are looking at to you, what other purpose/benefit does the guide serve?

 

The private tours seem to be pretty pricey.  Does most of this cost go towards entry fees, or towards labor?  Some toursbylocals go for $1000/pp for 1-2 days.  Are labor rates in Russia really that high, or is it because they have a captive market to charge these prices?

 

I assume that a guide serves as an interpreter, as well.  How much difficult is it to solo-navigate Russia compared to some place like Beijing or Seoul, where they don't really speak any English either?

 

Given all that, how would you maximize the freedom of having a visa?

 

Thanks in advance.

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If you use an accredited visa-fee excursion agent and don't overnite in a hotel you won't need a visa.

(web advice says visa-free "provided that you over-night on the ship" but I'm reading that as "as long as you don't check into a hotel" - hotels will require to see your visa)

 

I don't know where you got $1,000 pp for a 1 - 2 day tour ?????

Just by way of example, well-respected Alla Tours' prices are around $300 pp for a shared (up to 16 pax) tour or from $640 pp for a private tour for just two people.

https://alla-tour.com/tours/SPB

Most other accredited agents' prices are in the same ball-parks. Also check out SPB Tours, TJ Travel, Best Guides, Anastasia, DenRus and a dozen others on threads in this forum.

 

For the evening, most offer various entertainment options.

For popular evening events, like the ballet or folk show, prices are very reasonable for providing tickets and transport to and from.

But they can also offer tailor-made evenings like a restaurant dinner or a vodka-crawl. Tell them your intentions and they can suggest options & quote prices. Also tell them when you plan to crawl back to the ship because if that's around dawn it will affect the price, and they will hopefully know if / when port immigration desks are closed overnight.

 

Yes, if you go ashore alone, visa in hand, you are likely to join long entry lines in some places. For instance unless things have changed Alla's (& other agents') tours get access to the Hermitage half-an-hour before public opening. Not only does that give you that extra and quiet half-hour, it means the whole visit is pretty un-crowded since you're mostly ahead of the herd. From inside the Hermitage we were able to look out at the long long lines for admission. 

 

A great deal more time is saved by not having to figure your own itinerary & logistics, wait around for a bus or metro or struggle with taxi-drivers' limited or absent English.

And just like Beijing or Seoul the written language is in local script (cryllic in Russia) making signage impossible to read, although that won't be a problem if если вы владеете русским языком

 

"Given all that, how would you maximize the freedom of having a visa?"

We maximise the freedom of not having a visa. :classic_wink:

 

JB :classic_smile:

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5 hours ago, yoolykeme said:

My questions center on how navigable and understandable Russia is.

You mention you are a savvy traveler? IMHO, Saint Petersburg is easily navigable - download a metro map and get a city map. Note that names of streets will usually be posted in Cyrillic (Russian) - I would recommend purchasing a city map with street names listed in both Russian and English.

 

5 hours ago, yoolykeme said:

Will going to these places on my own have me standing in lines wasting time? 

Yes, you will waste time in queues if you DIY (especially at the Hermitage where queues can be over 2 hours long). For this reason, a guide with a licensed tour company is a great time saver because our tour company (Alla Tours) pre-purchased all of our tickets and we wasted no time standing in lines.

 

5 hours ago, yoolykeme said:

The private tours seem to be pretty pricey.  Does most of this cost go towards entry fees, or towards labor?  Some toursbylocals go for $1000/pp for 1-2 days.  Are labor rates in Russia really that high, or is it because they have a captive market to charge these prices?

Our 2 day tour with Alla was $285 and included lunch and all entrance fees over 2 days. The group sizes are limited to just 16 people but there were only about 12 - 14 on each bus when we last booked with Alla. We are going again in September and 2 members in our group have booked with Alla. They booked the Grand Tour - you can check it out on the Alla Tour website. I have a visa and have visited multiple times - so, in order for the 2 in our group that want to join us at the Jimi Hendrix Blues club in the evening (they don't have a visa), they booked the free content program with Alla (it's a way to get around the visa issue - you might want to check-it-out since you are interested in partying).

 

In summation, it is my opinion that you would save a lot of time and money by simply booking with an independent operator - it is, again IMHO, the best option to maximize your time on short port visits via cruise. 

If you really want to maximize your time in Russia, forget the cruise and fly into Moscow or Saint Petersburg!

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Hi yoolykeme

For me St. Petersburg looks quite navigable and understandable. Names of the streets are doubled in English, central metro stations has English signs, public transport is rather cheap and works perfectly, many young people speak English. At least all staff in all the restaurants, cafes, bars, shops and museums I’ve been to spoke English well enough to understand me.   I’ve visited St. Petersburg three times that’s why it looks so easy for me.

But! Don’t even dream to get inside Catherine Palace or Grand Palace in Petergof without a guided tour. No chance. You will spend a few hours in a line and after that won’t get inside. If you buy tickets to the Hermitage in advance you will probably get inside after  ½ hour of waiting in a line. You have a good chance to  get inside of St. Isaac’s and Spilt Blood. There will be lines… Just be ready to wait 30-40 min at worst.

Private tours are never cheap and couldn’t be cheap. I think for a solo traveler it would be smart to join  one of numerous small group tours organized by local operators. You can check website of All Tours, TJ, Spb tour, Best Guides. The size of the groups are 12 to 16 people. We’ve been to St. Petersburg with Best Guides and were more than happy.

Any way if you managed to navigate in  Beijing St. Petersburg won’t be a problem for you 😊

Good luck!

Jess

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15 minutes ago, CrazyJess said:

For me St. Petersburg looks quite navigable and understandable. Names of the streets are doubled in English, central metro stations has English signs, public transport is rather cheap and works perfectly, many young people speak English. At least all staff in all the restaurants, cafes, bars, shops and museums I’ve been to spoke English well enough to understand me.   I’ve visited St. Petersburg three times that’s why it looks so easy for me.

to the OP - I agree with all of the above with one caveat ...

Only some of the street signs are doubled in English - most are not (especially when you stray from the tourist areas). The signs in the tourist center were updated for last year's World Cup so most are now doubled in English.

Metro stations are listed in both English and Russian so no problem there - and Jess is spot-on, the metro works perfect for getting around and, like all metro systems, is inexpensive when compared to taxi. English is spoken in tourist areas (hotels, museums, gift shops, cafes) but NOT so much when you stray from the tourist areas. 

Edited by dogs4fun
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Not sure what kind of tour will charge $1,000 per day and would not presume to guess !

 

Suggest you book one night at the Kempinski to get your Tourist Invitation Letter for the Tourist Visa.

You can arrange for them to send a Car to collect you from the Port and they can arrange a guided trip to the Hermitage a short walk away.

Later you can ask your driver to take you to the best Party area. ( A mater of personal choice ! ) and collect you later, suggest you get them to drive around the City and Bridges on your return to the Hotel, it looks even better at night.

Roof top Restaurant and Bar at Kempinski worth a visit.

Will not be cheap but at $1 to Rouble 62 not so expensive.

 

 

 

 

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I get it.  I've seen the recommended tour providers, and it looks like I'll go with one of them to fill in the day tour off the cruise.

 

These are the super expensive tours that I was talking about.  Some of them charge way more than the organized groups.

 

https://www.toursbylocals.com/St-Petersburg-Tour-Guides

 

 

6 hours ago, dogs4fun said:

- so, in order for the 2 in our group that want to join us at the Jimi Hendrix Blues club in the evening (they don't have a visa), they booked the free content program with Alla (it's a way to get around the visa issue - you might want to check-it-out since you are interested in partying).

 

 

 

But even I do the above, I still can't stay overnight in a hotel, since the hotel requires a visa to check in, correct?

 

Ugh, I guess the dream of partying in Russia isn't going to happen.  I'll just have to get it in in Copenhagen or something 😕 

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2 hours ago, yoolykeme said:

I get it.  I've seen the recommended tour providers, and it looks like I'll go with one of them to fill in the day tour off the cruise.

 

These are the super expensive tours that I was talking about.  Some of them charge way more than the organized groups.

 

https://www.toursbylocals.com/St-Petersburg-Tour-Guides

 

But even I do the above, I still can't stay overnight in a hotel, since the hotel requires a visa to check in, correct?

 

Ugh, I guess the dream of partying in Russia isn't going to happen.  I'll just have to get it in in Copenhagen or something 😕 

 

You don't have to "fill in" a day tour by joining a small-group tour from one of the companies mentioned above. You can get a private tour for much less -- from those companies or from companies who specialize in (visa free) private tours. I would try contacting several of them for quotes. (I had an excellent and affordable experience with Red Sun Tours last summer, including an evening out.)

 

The private tours (prices including admissions) can also get you around the lines. And you can swap out sights that don't interest you for sights or experiences that *do* interest you. For example, if you'd rather do a vodka tasting than visit Saint Isaac's cathedral, a private tour can make that happen. I skipped Catherine Palace (hot, crowded) for Grand Maket, Peter and Paul Fortress for the Soviet Arcade Games Museum (where you can play the games!).

 

(You can also make a private tour more affordable if you find people on your Roll Call who are interested in a similar itinerary, but we elected to splurge and go it on our own.)

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It sucks 🙂

 

Btw if your visit is in June or early July you could just buy a ticket for the european football championships and no I won't call it soccer 🙂

 

A ticket will grant you a visa.

 

13th of June its Russia - Belgium

 

17th of June its Russia - Finland

 

22th of June its Finland - Belgium

 

3rd of July they will host a quarterfinal.

 

The Kretovsky stadium can host 68.000 so perhaps its possible to get some tickets. 

 

For tickets you go to UEFA.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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Well, you can get a visa and then use a local tour operator to customize a tour for you to just include the sites that you would need to get advance tickets to like Catherine's Palace so you won't waste your time waiting in line. All the other sites within the city center you can just tour on your own. This way you can still party all night! We used Anastasia Travel when we visited and their prices are very affordable compared to the price of 1000 USD per person that you mentioned. 

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22 hours ago, dogs4fun said:

to the OP - I agree with all of the above with one caveat ...

Only some of the street signs are doubled in English - most are not (especially when you stray from the tourist areas). The signs in the tourist center were updated for last year's World Cup so most are now doubled in English.

Being tourists we probably stayed all the time in tourists areas 😊 Actually St. Petersburg looked for me very navigable. It was as easy as Copenhagen or any other European cities. Any way it’s much more navigable then Beijing. I’ve been to China….. There is one thing I know for sure. If someone manage to navigate in Beijing he wouldn’t have problems in any of European cities… even in St. Petersburg 😊

A year ago we got Russian visas and flew to St. Petersburg from Paris. It was an experience! We both enjoyed it a lot!

Jess

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10 hours ago, flowslow said:

Well, you can get a visa and then use a local tour operator to customize a tour for you to just include the sites that you would need to get advance tickets to like Catherine's Palace so you won't waste your time waiting in line. All the other sites within the city center you can just tour on your own. This way you can still party all night! We used Anastasia Travel when we visited and their prices are very affordable compared to the price of 1000 USD per person that you mentioned. 

 

You just it in perspective for me!  I had it ingrained that I had to go on a pre-planned group itinerary, but really, I can just have a tour group get me into sights that have special lines for tour groups, and then break away when i want bc I have a visa anyway.  That's what you're saying, right?

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During the world cup in 2018 we had a 2 night /3 day stop in SPB. We used Alla tours which provides a group visa (not an individual one) that you are not permitted to wonder off on your own(need the individual visa). We were very satisfied with Alla 2 day grand tour & bypassed many museum lines. Contrary to some other posters, it was not be as convenient or easy to see some of the locations dio such as Peterhoff which is far away from the city center.

BTW, I believe that if you had tickets to a World cup game , it was treated as a special visa. Perhaps tickets to the european championships may have similar benefits.

Edited by dabear
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13 hours ago, yoolykeme said:

I had it ingrained that I had to go on a pre-planned group itinerary, but really, I can just have a tour group get me into sights that have special lines for tour groups, and then break away when i want bc I have a visa anyway.  That's what you're saying, right?

Correct. If you have a Russian visa you can break away from your group tour at any time and do whatever you want on your own. The Russian tour operators are responsible for their charges that do not have a Russian visas and are utilizing the visa free scheme for cruise ship passengers. Since you will have a Russian visa, the tour guide does not need to be concerned if you wish to break away on your own - he/she is not responsible for you - you are responsible for yourself.

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10 hours ago, dogs4fun said:

Correct. If you have a Russian visa you can break away from your group tour at any time and do whatever you want on your own. The Russian tour operators are responsible for their charges that do not have a Russian visas and are utilizing the visa free scheme for cruise ship passengers. Since you will have a Russian visa, the tour guide does not need to be concerned if you wish to break away on your own - he/she is not responsible for you - you are responsible for yourself.

 

 

Kinda what I thought.

But the stops where the tour would be useful (beat-the-lines, boat trip, etc) will be spread through the day, so it's not a simple matter of taking advantage in the morning & breaking away for the afternoon.

 

If it does work out for the OP, I trust they'll have the commonsense to

1 - use the visas rather than the tour tickets to go thro immigration

2 - show the guide their visas and tell the guide when they split. Otherwise the guide, presuming that they're ashore only because they're on the tour, will have kittens when they go AWOL :classic_ohmy:

 

JB :classic_smile:

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