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I would definitely book with a private company - we did this a few years ago and went with Red October, but there are a number of other reputable companies. You will get a far better experience, will have everything organised for you, and see far more in the two days than going on 1 excursion per day with the ship's tours. We did not have to pay a deposit - just paid at the end of the first day at the company's office. We were on a minibus for 7 people and it was absolutely fabulous - you get an English speaking guide (ours was a a lecturer at the University), and they are able to come into the various palaces etc with you to explain everything first hand, rather than having the guide on the ship's tours giving you information whilst on the coach before you go in - which we were informed happened by those who took ship's tours. This is usually a one-off life experience to visit St. P so you want to see as much as you can - I would say book a private tour and you will not regret it - have a great cruise !
It depends what you mean by doing them yourself. If you mean booking prior to you going with an independent company in St.Petersburg then yes it can be done but if you mean just walking off the ship and doing your own thing you will not be allowed unless you have a visa and even then I wouldnt bother.
There are many of the same questions with answers on this forum. Firstly you will need a Visa to get through customs at St Petersburg, which I thinks costs £50. However if you book your excursion via P&O or one of the many private excursion companies, your Visa comes as part of the excursion. When we visited St Petersburg in 2009, one of the new cruise terminals was completed and more were being built and the whole complex was virtually in the middle of nowhere and some distance from the centre of St Petersburg. There is another cruise terminal nearer the centre of the city, which I think is used by smaller cruise ships. Where we were berthed, no shuttle buses were provided and the available transport was pre booked by cruisers on the ship or by the ship itself. My strong advise would be to take one of the many private companies available (just google private excursions in St Petersburg). We went with SPB Tours who were great. All the booking was done via the internet/email and they will send your visa. These companies have set themselves especially for the cruise ships. They all give a full, 2 day tour (early start and late finish on day 1, be prepared to be absolutely knackered, but day 2 is somewhat shorter) and the price is much cheaper then the excursions provided by our ship. Also as the ships only provide 1 day tours, they tend to overlap, which the private excursions don't do. Lastly go to Cruisecritic, where you will probably find a forum for your cruise (far superior to this sites forums) and like us you can team up with ups (we had 42 people on our tour, which required 3 tour buses), which makes the excursion that much better. So to sum up, you'll find it very difficult to do St Petersburg on your own, if you could it would cost you more and you will probably miss all the great sites to visit.
As other posts, to DIY you need to buy a visa IN ADVANCE, this takes time & you may already be too late. It also helps if you can speak Russian & read cryllic writing. So hardly anyone explores independently. ............. so instead book a visa-free our with the ship or one of the local tour operators. We used Alla who were excellent but so are the others. Google Alla Tours, SPB Tours, TJ Tours, Best Guides, Denrus, Red October. Only a little cheaper than ships tours but way better. St Petersburg needs two full days. ...................... all the other ports are easy to DIY, and P&O provide free shuttles though they're not really needed everywhere. And ST Pete's is the jewel in any Baltic tour, so spend your excursion money there & DIY the others. ............. Chris.
I also endorse the idea of using a local tour company rather than ship tours. However, as well as the small group tours you may well be able to arrange a private tour just to cover your interests if this is why you are asking. We used Alla to do this a few years ago for our family - a car to ourselves with agreed extra items such as a short trip on the metro, lunch in a local "pie" shop and the Russian Art gallery to see Ikons. We also saw most of the rest of the standard tour - as we were able to move through faster than a coach size group.
Thank you all by DIY I meant booking something independently rather than through p&o - am NW going to some research thanks gain .
Does anyone know if you can opt out of Gratuities on P&O by going to the Pursers Desk when on board? We have been with P&O before, but can't remember, our last few cruises have been with Princess and it is possible to do this with them as we prefer to tip the people who have looked after us directly.
St Petersburg well woth doing the tour from the ship. They may be expensive but well woth the money.Do your homework before you go and look at the excursions .It would not be adviseable to do on your own. You have to get a visa and it it would be safer on tour.Hope this is useful.