I am taking my family on a cruise late July, early August. Stopping in Stockholm, Helsinki,St. Petersburg, Tallin, Warnemunde andCopenhagen on Royal Caribbean. Looking for helpful hints, suggestions. Like currency, credit cards, safety, etc... Veteran Rick Steves/Back Door, European Traveler. Novice Cruise Ship Explorer. Any help greatly appreciated. Thank you
I am planning on taking the same cruise next year. I am also a veteran RS/ETBD traveler and veteran cruiser. From what I can tell, the St. Petersburg portion of this cruise will be the trickiest because of the visa. You must have a guide or you have to get your own visa. I found this company that does tours in St. Petersburg and all of the other stops on this tour. I must admit, the independent traveler in me is almost ashamed to be considering this, but we are most likely going to do the guided tour for all five ports. Here is why...last year we did a cruise from Barcelona with stops in Capri, Rome, Livorno, Cannes, and Marsailles. I bought my Rick Steves cruise book and was all ready to tackle it on my own. The struggle was having to double back every day and racing against the clock. Also, the port transfers from the ship to the exit of the port was sometimes tricky and expensive. This next cruise we are going to cut out the stress and hassle and hire the guided tour. Plus, you really have no choice in St. Petersburg but to hire a guide. Here is a link. Good luck!! http://www.alla-tour.com/tours/
My opinion is there is no need for an excursion in Helsinki or Tallinn. We did both cities as overnight cruises from Stockholm and had a great time with no time pressures or fear of missing our ship. It's a very short and easy walk into Helsinki and easy to get around by foot. We took a bus to see some of the sites a little further a field. In Tallinn, it's about a ten minute walk to the old town and you can spend a delightful day touring the old town by foot. One caveat you need to make sure you know where your ship will be docking, in case there are other places less convenient to the cities. I'm not sure where the ships dock in Copenhagen, but Copenhagen is also easy to get around on your own. Stockholm isn't hard either, but the ship may dock some distance from the major tourist spots. At least ours did.
I did a similar cruise a couple of years ago with Celebrity, except we had 2 days in Stockholm and no stop in Germany. In Stockholm, it was about a 20-25 minute walk to the town center but and there was a bus from the terminal into town. Taxis are available and it's a short ride. There is so much to see and do here - an outdoor museum, a Viking maritime museum, quaint center, interesting churches. Copenhagen was similar, but the ship was closer to the center, and if you didn't walk, you missed the Little Mermaid. I took a 2-hour canal cruise independently and found the trams easy to use to get around. I did go to the Tivoli Gardens and was disappointed. Maybe after dark it is magical, but in mid-afternoon, it was an incongruous combination of botanical garden and lame amusement park. There are lots of other things to enjoy. Tallinn was also walking distance to the Old Town, which is extremely charming and picturesque. In Helsinki we were a fair distance from town, but there were buses waiting (for about €5) to take us there and back. Again, lots of choices of what to see. The morning market was the best. Once in town, the trams were very easy to use to get around. I don't think you need a tour for any of these cruise stops. Just let your family do a little research on what the attractions are and then you can work out your own itinerary.
For St. Petersburg, you should go to cruisecritic.com to the Roll Call section, find your ship and your specific cruise. There will be people from your cruise who have put together private tours. It is possible that you will be able to join one - though if your cruise is at the end of this month, they may have filled up already. There will be information on local tour operators and you still have (a little) time to contact them and arrange a private tour - or sign up for a ship's tour. When I was there, 4 years ago, you had to either be with a group or have an individual visa (about $180 each). I don't know if this is still the case. In any event, 4 years ago, hardly anyone in St. Petersburg spoke English - including a lot of the people who work in the tourist industry. Signage is all in Russian and even in the Hermitage Museum, with the exception of the European paintings, the labeling of exhibits was all in Russian. Without a Russian guide, it is pretty hard to manage here. Every country has its own currency. The best way is to take local currency from ATM's in small amounts, but if your bank charges high fees, you might do just as well buying from the ship. And most everywhere will accept credit cards (restaurants, entrance fees). Germany and Finland use the euro. In Russia, if you are on a tour, you will only need money for drinks and souvenirs and small denomination dollars will usually be accepted, though you are likely to get your change in rubles.
Thomas, the advice above to use Cruise Critic's Roll Calls is great. We are on the 7/28 Emerald Princess out of Copenhagen so we are going to the same cities. We are using SPB Tours and doing their customizable Baltic Pearls tour package. For the cost of a cruise line's 2 day in St. Petersburg; we get Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Warnemunde, and 2 Day "deluxe" of St. Pete. Alla Tours is also good per others on CC and both are "Travel Advisor" award winners. http://www.spb-tours.com/st-petersburg/en You do NOT need a Russian visa as the ship's group visa is good WITH a licensed tour group. I agree you can do some of the cities on your own, but having a small group tour with a guide is really great when it costs so little as part of a package. Rick Steve's Scandinavia book has all the tips needed on currency, credit cards, safety, etc. Go Blackhawks!!
I have scheduled a Baltic cruise for July 2014. Though I cannot offer the experience of having taken such a cruise, I have done some reading and planning. Some quick suggestions: 1. As noted above, go to the Cruise Critic forums. There will be a Roll Call forum for your particular cruise where your fellow passengers are trying to put together groups for independent tours. Also, there is a separate forum for Northern Europe (for the area forums, click on Europe and then Northern Europe), which contains a tremendous amount of information on the Baltic cruise ports and companies offering independent tours.
2. I too enjoy independent travel. However, with a Baltic cruise, there are two exceptions to the general rule. The first concerns those who wish to travel to Berlin for the day from Warnemunde. The second is St. Petersburg. There are several SPB tour companies that offer two-day, three-day and special tours in SPB as well as the option of a one-day trip to Moscow (which is super long and involves about eight hours of travel). Some of the companies are SPB, Alla, T J Tours, Best Guides, and Dancing Bears as well as others. All of these companies get high marks. Also, for those wishing to consider tours in the other Baltic cruise cities, these companies do offer discounts for those using their services in SPB. If you book a tour with one of the SPB companies, or through your cruise line, you do not have to get a visa. However, you will have to be with the tour company representative your entire time on shore. Based on what I have read, nearly all passengers book tours with the independent companies or through the cruise line.
The RS website shows RS's Northern Europe cruise book will be available July 26.