When you disembark from a cruise ship in St. Petersburg, do you need to show proof that you have either a tourist visa or have a reservation with a licensed tour guide/operator?
Rick Steves "Scandinavian & Northern European CRUISE PORTS" book, third edition (2018)
has contradictory information
on page 105 "Excursion Cheat Sheet" (Introductory chapter) it says "without a visa, you'll be allowed off the ship only if you pay your cruise line for an excursion"
on page 342, in the "St Petersburg" chapter, he lists several third-party tour operators that he recommends. He even recommends private tours as "the ideal way to experience St Petersburg". None of this page would make sense if what he wrote on page 105 was true as written.
I'm guessing the page 105 comments are a typo/editorial error or out-of-date. Or apply only to certain cruise lines? But really, the editors should fix this contradiction.
oh to answer your question, from everything ELSE I've read (other than Rick's misleading book), you are correct.
The government immigration staff at the Port will require you to have acceptable proof of your licensed "escort"/tourguide, which from what I've read, those guide companies will provide.
He points out in the book that getting a visa requires upwards of $350 in various fees, including mailing your original passport away for several weeks. So he recommends a private guide for a (cruise-ship) visit of a day or two.
"Cruise ship passengers visiting St. Petersburg do not need a Russian visa provided they are staying in the city for no longer than 72 hours. Therefore, if you book a cruise and St. Petersburg is one of the calls, you DO NOT NEED to get a Russian visa before you depart. However, traveling without a Russian visa does impose strict limitations on your time in St. Petersburg, so it's certainly worth considering the option of getting a Russian Travel Visa before you start your cruise. From the moment you leave the ship in the morning to the moment you step back on board in the evening, you will have to follow a pre-arranged schedule and will not have the opportunity to explore the city under your own steam. Cruise operators will expect their clients to book the St. Petersburg tours offered on-board or during booking. In fact, there are essentially three options for cruise passengers visiting St. Petersburg:
Book the tour recommended by your cruise operator
This is certainly the simplest option, the path of least resistance even. However, beyond the lack of choice in what you see and do in St. Petersburg, the tours offered by your cruise operator or booking agent are likely to be significantly more expensive than tours you book independently.
Book a tour independently
Though you may be encouraged to think otherwise, the tours offered by your cruise operator or booking agent are not the only options for cruise ship passengers to see St. Petersburg visa-free. There are a number of independent companies in St. Petersburg with the necessary licensing to offer shore tours for cruise ship passengers without Russian visas. Not only will this option give you much greater choice in terms of what you can see and do - as well as a wide range of more original and unusual tours, many companies will give you the option of designing your own itinerary - tours booked with independent local companies are in general considerably cheaper than those offered by your cruise operator. Like angie7911922 we also used Anastasia Travel Group and they did an amazing job.
Get a Russian Travel Visa
If you prefer to be truly free to do what you want while in St. Petersburg, the only option is to obtain Russian Travel Visas before you depart on your cruise. This is essential if, for example, you plan to meet up with friends or family in St. Petersburg, or if you want to enjoy the city's colorful nightlife (especially tempting if you're visiting during the White Nights). While getting a Russian Visa can seem a laborious process, our simple step-by-step guide will help to make it as painless as possible and, provided you apply for your visas in good time, the expense is likely to be no more than you would otherwise have to pay for guided tours if you chose to travel visa-free.
If staying out late is part of your reason for wanting a Russian Visa, then it's probably also worth booking accommodation in St. Petersburg as there are likely to be restrictions on returning to your ship after a certain point in the evening. If you book accommodation, then you should be provided with visa support documents free-of-charge (this is certainly the case if you book hotel or apartment accommodation through our website). If you are not planning to book accommodation in St. Petersburg, you will need to order visa support documents separately, which you can do from recommended providers here."
For more info check out the website http://www.saint-petersburg.com/russian-visa/for-cruise-ship-passengers/
Hope this helps.
The info on the page 105 must be out of date. For quite a few years the regulations of St Petersburg say that if you are booked with a licensed tour operator, you don’t need a visa, regardless if this is with the cruise line or not. For sure, cruise lines also use local suppliers and just resell their tours. Booking with an independent operator (not through the cruise line) is way better, as you will have your personal tour or travel in a small group, which is much more convenient. We were there back in 2016 and booked with Anastasia travel (mentioned in one of the above posts). We did not experience any troubles disembarking whatsoever! Just needed to show our passports and the tour tickets they emailed us. The tour was brilliant, and I am definitely going back some day. Don’t let the cruise line or the guidebook scare you!
The tour agency makes it easy. But I believe having a Visa should be accepted.
The link recommended by Kate is excellent indeed. The following will take you directly to the well organized step by step guide: http://www.saint-petersburg.com/russian-visa/step-by-step-visa-guide/
It is a decent guide indeed, BUT it is not country-specific (for instance, US citizens do not have to provide proof of health insurance).
For most up-to-date walk-throughs, check the website of Rus embassy/consulate or Visa Center in your country (for the US, as of mid-April, it's VFSGlobal https://www.vfsglobal.com/Russia/USA/Tourist.html )
If you book a tour with a local tour operator, you won't need a tourist visa. They will provide you with visa-free disembarkation that you will need to present at the passport control before you get off the cruise ship. We found booking with a local tour company more convenient instead of applying for a tourist visa for just a 2-day visit to Russia. They prepare everything for you and you don't have to worry about all the visa stuff. Plus we got the best guide during the trip! She shared so much information and made us appreciate and understand the history of the places we visited.