We are planning on cruising on Princess Cruise lines in May, 2016 on their Baltic cruise and one of the stops is a 2-day stay in St. Petersburg. Presently, we are signed up for the Discovery shore excursion (offered by the Princess cruise line) which covers both days in port and includes an evening visit to the Catherine Palace. I would like to ask any travelers who have had this experience before, what to expect and if they were pleased with the experience. This is a once in a lifetime trip for us and I want to make sure that I am selecting the best option to see as much as possible. Thank you very much!
In addition to any responses you get here, be sure to look at Cruise Critic. You will find that for St. Petersburg, many prefer to use excursions other than the cruise line one. You get a smaller group, and the cost is not higher than the cruise line if you go with a group tour (of course, you can also take a private tour for more money). There are many companies that will get you a "visa equivalent" so you don't need to get your own visa to take their tour ("visa equivalent" is not of course an official term, but that's what, in effect, it is).
Some of the big companies that do this are Alla Tours, SPB Tours, Red October Tours, and DenRus Tours. Many of them have discounts if you also book them for tours of other Baltic ports.
Cruise Critic Northern Europe and the Baltics Ports Forum: http://tinyurl.com/by57g9z
Cruise Critic Roll Calls, where you can meet up with others on your sailing. This way, you can arrange to have others join your private shore excursion, lowering the cost per person: http://tinyurl.com/ap7h55m
Thank you for your reply Harold. I am worried about signing up for a tour with a company other than the cruise line because they say if your tour returns you to the ship late you will miss the ship but if you are on a tour through the cruise line and you are late, they will hold the ship and not leave without you. Is this a silly worry or a valid concern? Thanks again for your kindness in replying.
That's common scare tactic to attempt to trap you with cruise line only tours. Catherine's Palace is your only destination that's actually out of the city, but it's an easy short drive if you have a guide with their own car. The rest of St. Petersburg is right at your front door.
I've been twice to St Petersburg and both times hooked up with licensed professional LOCAL guides from www.toursbylocals.com with the most recent guide being Nikolai to Catherine's Palace.
If you feel better staying with your cruise ship group then do it that way. Otherwise break out and be on your own (with your own guide) and enjoy yourself!
I haven't been on a cruise, but EVERYTHING I've read confirms what Tim said. Particularly for St. Petersburg, if the companies had people missing their boat, they'd be out of business, fast. Taking cruisers on port excursions is their only business, so they get to know it well; they know exactly how long to allow to get you back to the ship.
Look at the two day itineraries from the companies I mentioned. You'll see that they always put the out of town palaces on day 1, and in town activities on day 2. This allows them to get you back to the ship on day 2 in time (on day 1 you overnight in port, so you can't be late - the ship isn't leaving).
However, for some shore excursions, you can indeed have difficulty doing them on your own in the time frame allowed. I'm specifically thinking of some of the ones on the French Riviera, where you see 2 or 3 towns in just a few hours. There's no way I'd try to duplicate that myself.
Thank you Harold and Tim for your help. You both gave me confidence to book a tour with a tour guide listed in Rick Steve's Northern European Cruise Ports book in the St. Petersburg section. We will see much more and be able to to attend the ballet as well. I will post how everything goes when I return in an effort to help other travelers. If anyone has thought of any other helpful information that will come in handy in St. Petersburg, I would certainly love to hear from you! Thanks again.
We were not there on a cruise, but did see the cruise ships on our hydrofoil ride out to the Summer Palace. The cruise ships dock WAY far away from the main historical areas of St. Petersburg, so keep that in mind when setting up your times. We were part of a tour that included the amazing Peter from Peterswalks or a morning guided tour. http://www.peterswalk.com/
We saw so many huge groups that had come off large buses. You will be happy that you booked a more personalized and smaller tour. I would trust anyone recommended by the RS company.