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It is not possible to do St P by your own unless you speak Russian! Ships dock in an industrial port, no cabs are allowed in, it is a 2mile walk to the port gate, or there is a rusty looking green bus that shuttles the port employees around that you can try and catch (again you need to speak russian to explain where you want to go). At the gate, there may be a few small Trabant taxis waiting, explain in Russian where you want to go, agree a price and you can get there. If you do not have tickets booked expect long queues at the main attractions like the Hermitage. At the main attractions few people speak english, in restaurants even fewer still. So, whilst there is no need to buy the ships tours, I do suggest you arrange a private tour with a registered Russian guide who will take you where you want to go to- DenRus, Red October and Alla are the most highly recommended ones. I personally used Alla. We had 2 days in a private mini bus for 11, we saw all the sights, had early entry into Hermitage - all for $325pp. With a ships tour you are in a coach for 30+, you move at the speed of the slowest person and the 'potty' stops are more frequent! I also heard of many people on the ships tours complaining that all they spent time in were the shops and they were rushed through the museums. We actually had to request that we were taken to a shop! So those are your choices. Do NOT believe the ship if they say you cannot get off if not on one of their tours - this is rubbish, and do NOT believe the ship if they say you cannot get off until all the passengers on their tours are off - they are not allowed to detain you on board, so just walk off when you want to. Alla met us at 7.45am on the first day. I cannot recommend her highly enough. alla-tour.com
Unless you get yourself a visa, which costs as much as an excursion, then you are committed to either the ships tour or a land based tour company. In any case I would not recommend you do it on your own unless you speak Russian .
I would heartily agree with the views of Aldrich from Newbury. A group of four ofr us booked with Red October and were later joined by another three who had been put in touch with us by Red October to make the price more reasonable. We had a superb guide and driver, and we also were almost the first off the ship. Our minibus was waiting for us at 8.30am and we saw so many places - and in most we were taken to the front of the queue if there was one. Also our guide accompanied us around the museums, and she was very knowledgeable. Of course she could not have done this with a coachload on the ship's excursion, we were told that the guide on the ship's coaches just told people what to look out for,but that is not the same as having someone come round with you. Over the two days we saw everything that the ship had to offer, but you would have had to book about six different excursions from the ship to cover all we saw (and think of the price!). Red October was no more expensive than booking through the ship, was far more comfortable, and they were happy to include anything unusual that you wanted to see. We asked to have a mid-day snack in a cafe/type place that a normal Russian family would use and it was superb. We did not have to pay a deposit when booking, at the end of the first day the driver took us to the office of Red October and we paid then, so it showed they trusted us just as we trusted them to turn up. Any more questions, please ask.
We were in St Petersburg in June and I personally would not have liked to have arranged the tours myself. We were on Princess and agree that the tours were very very expensive but I still would not have liked to arrange visas etc. myself.
You will need your own visa to get off the ship on your own. obtainable from the russian embassey cost vary. worth the trouble.
I also booked my tours independently with Red October. Three of us from Oriana were linked up with 9 from Crown Princess who were in port the same days. I worked like clockwork and we saw all the important sites. I did all the negotiations by email several weeks in advance and Red October sent us the tickets by post and emailed me a sponsorship letter so we had all the paperwork needed by the authorities. We saw more than we could have done with the ship's tours and it was cheaper. I thoroughly recommend it.
We found it too difficult and costly to try and obtain a visa, so the ships tours are best. The port is also quite a long way from the city centre. We travelled with Celebrity and their tours were first class and well worth the money.
I agree with these comments. Unfortunately when we cruised with Celebrity in May it was cold and very wet in St. Petersburge the whole two days! The Heritage they arranged early morning so we missed allthe crowds! Catherine's Palace and Peterhof are an hour on the coach from the City and cannot see doing it independently would be any advantage. You certainly cannot get off the ship without a visa which is organised by the Celebrity. Friends of ours followed us two weeks later and did the cruise up the river which they said was wonderful.
We did st petersburgh in may on a cuise, you can not go ashore at all unless you have a visa , and that can be costly, and they do take some time to come through, also st petersburgh is massive , we found the trips very informative and well worth payung for, the port is too far from the city,
julie birmingham , we sailed with thomson celebration,.
We recently did the Baltic cruise with Celebrity, arranged a private tour with Alla. The guide/driver met us at the ship at 7.30 and we spent a superb 2 days at considerably less cost then the ships tours. Alla arranged all the paperwork and getting off the ship and through immigration was no problem at all. Alla did not want any payment up front, we paid on the second day. They also arranged an evening at the ballet for us at 50 pounds each for excellent seats including transport to and from the ship. Have a look at their wb site www.alla-tour.com.