Our travel agent said that you must book a tour through the cruise ship. I have been reading online and I see that if you choose a reputable tour company in Russia, you don't have to go through the cruise line. My friends are really worried that we must do it through the ship. Has anyone been on a cruise lately and used a company other than the ship tours? I want to make sure we do the right thing.
Do you have any suggestions for a good small tour group that will take care of us getting into the country?
If you go on TripAdvisor, you can find many, many tour operators in St. Petersburg. There may be as many as 50 tour companies. If you tour St. Petersburg without a tour company reservation, you'll have to jump through hoops and spend $ to get a Russian visa.
We went on a 2 day tour with about 10 people in a Mercedes van. The tour guide was late 20's, and it was like she had a degree in Russian history. The tour guide gave us money if we needed to buy anything, and we didn't even settle up until the end of the second day.
St. Petersburg and the suburbs is probably the best city tour we've ever had, and the city's beauty is just breathtaking.
You are diving into deep waters. It's been more than a decade since we took a Russian River cruise, but that was when relations were good with Russia. We had to get a Russian Visa: Step 1. A Russian citizen had to file an official form with the Russian Embassy inviting us to visit Russia. The very expensive Visa required photos and 8 weeks processing time and could only be applied for alter filing the invitation to visit. There are very expensive services that will do all this for you. Its not worth it, but its essential.. A couple years later, our neighbor did the same thing. Her Visa was supposed to say she would be flying out St Petersburg on day x. She was ticketed for day x. The Russians made a mistake on her Visa and put down day x+1. When she got to the airport on day x, they wouldn't let her leave Russia. . Kept her there for 3 days while they checked into it.
Ocean cruises visiting ST P have different rules. You don't need a visa if you take a ship provided tour, but you can only go into the city when on a ship tour. I don't know about pre-booked tours with land based tour operator, but I would not trust anything they told me unless its an international tour operator like Viator and you must call their US center to get answers, do not rely on the skimpy info on the web.
You do not want to mess this up. TripAdvisor is not the place to find answers, although you may get some hints as to what you need to ask officialdom. You need to get answers from 1] your cruise line, 2] the Russian embassy, 3] the state dept., & several of those visa help companies. You must be specific about your documented plans and you must never change them.
If you are on an ocean cruise and want to go off on your own or on a local tour, you probably have to buy a Russian Visa (you will need 2 or 3 blank pages in your passport).
Rethink your plans. ST P is great, but if you are going to all that trouble, its even better to do a full Russia cruise-- Moscow to St P river cruise where you will get a full Visa which allows you to anywhere on your own. If you really want to do St P, and a couple post cruise days. You can extend a river cruise just by changing the dates on you visa, but then you are locked in.. Try to find a river cruise that includes Kostroma. We had some free time on our river cruises in St P, & since we had a visa, we went off on our own, took metro to do shopping trip on Nevsky Prospeckt & took a canal tour by boat (highly recommended. Much better than Venice)
Any of the tours on here will give you a great 2 day tour. Alla Tours is the largest operation. You just don't want to be on one of the large tour buses--stick to the smaller buses that can maneuver through the traffic to get you to the attractions and beat the crowds the large buses (the cruise lines tours use.)
If you take a tour with a tour company, you do not need a visa. You do not need to take the cruise ship’s excursions.
I cruised with Norwegian in September and overnighted in St. Petersburg. I chose to take my shore excursions through NCL because I got a good deal but other passengers were very happy with Alla and one that begins with an S, something like STP.
You do not need to take shore excursions through the cruise ship but for Russia, you do want to take one through the experienced and professional tour providers that have been doing this a long time. There are lots of excellent reviews about Alla and STP.
These reviews are on TripAdvisor but also YouTube.
there are 3 options for you to get a visa to be allowed to enter St Petersburg.
1. you can get your visa yourself..... (I am not sure how, but I remember when we were on our cruise I tried to find out but the process was very daunting to me)
2. book a tour via your cruiseliner
3. Book via a local tour agent (then they will get you a visa upon entering)
For me, we have been cruising for quite some years now and I hardly ever book my excursions via the cruise anymore. Their tours are always in big numbers. So you always loose time waiting for other people and when there is something you really like,,,, you have to keep going cause the bus is waiting. (this is from my experience)
So as always when the cruise was booked for the Baltic, I started looking. There are many different companies that offer tours. I decided on Anastasia Tours, cause they replied very quickly to all of my inquiries and there were many. They also made some very interesting suggestions. In the end, we had booked a 2-day private tour with them. Completely customized to us. And the price was not even that bad, we also got some discount cause we booked our Tallin en Berlin tour with them.
So you can tell your friends, that you can book via a local agency.
Have fun in Russia! it's magical
One thing is sure: you DON'T have to book your excursions through your cruise line.
We were cruising the Baltic with Princess Cruises and chose to book the excursions we did in Stockholm, Berlin and St.Petersburg with a local agency, Anastasia Travel. The rest of the ports we did on our own.
Several people have recommended SPB Tours for St.Petersburg to us and we just booked with them for May. Visas are taken care of. Smaller groups than cruise ship and private available.
www.toursbylocals.com has been useful to us in connecting up with some wonderful tour guides in St Petersburg, Moscow and all over Central and Western Europe.
We went on a Baltic Cruise with Royal Caribbean in 2019 and had 3 nights in St. Petersburg. We booked the 3 day tour with SPB Tours and recommend them highly. We had a private English speaking driver and a 15 passenger air conditioned van, head-sets, bottled water every day, and raincoats when needed . Our guide was a walking encyclopedia of St. Petersburg history and she kept the tour right on schedule and was top notch in every way. Our tours covered a lot and it cost less than half of what the cruise ship tours cost with a much smaller group. Each day's tour included a very nice lunch and at least one other rest stop.
SPB guides in other countries as well, and you can get discounts if you book other tours with them. I will not hesitate to book their tours wherever they are offered. We seek out the private tour operators in all ports we visit for the value, group size, NO shopping and more sites in their itineraries.