Wilba and I had a preview of this ship when she came into Southampton and several of www.CRUISE.co.uk have sailed on her and we all agree that she is a very good large ship with the special something that belongs particularly to HAL, you should really enjoy her and the itinerary. If you look at "Find a Question" and put in Baltic Ports you will get a huge amount of comment on what to do and what to see on your own or in St. Petersburg with the ship or an organised local agent..... Neil.
Many thanks for your response to our question on the Baltic Cruise
Have not done this cruise ourseleves but understand ALLA Tours in St Petersburg are worth a try,cheaper than on board Tour and they arrange Visas etc. The have a web site.
You probably only need an organised excursion in St Petersburg as all the other ports should be OK to explore by yourselves. Peterhof is beautiful and worth the trip. We didn't do the Hermitage because it is supposed to be always crowded and my husband doesn't like crowds. Catherine's palace was also worth the visit. In Stockholm don't miss the Vasa museum. It's walkable from the city and next to a lovely park. Try to get into Tallin early, before the tours, the old town looks much better without crowds of people.
If you are berthed out of the city the company will provide a shuttle bus (at a cost) or you can get a taxi if you don't want to queue for a bus.
Many thanks , for these valuable comments which you have made regarding our forthcoming Balti Cruise
Your response has been much appreciated
Almost every port can be successfully visited without taking the ship's (overpriced) tours. In St Petersburg I recommend Alla Tours. Alla herself overseas the arrangements. Party size is far less than with other operators. For example the ship's tours fill coaches while Alla's might not even fill a minibus! You are very much not a number. We were the first entrants in to the Hermitage and had a whole hour before the masses arrived on their tours. The courier and the driver were excellent. I can't praise the deal highly enough. We paid significantly less than the ship's prices AND had far better service.
As I also, will be in St Petersburg this June with Celebrity Constellation, I wonder how you went about booking with Alla Tours. Was this done as you went ashore?
No. You need to have made the arrangements some weeks before you sail.
We searched on the internet and found three independent companies all of whom could arrange visa free entry into Russia. We opted for Alla Tours (www.alla-tour.com) as it was Russian owned. Their “Complete St Petersburg” offered to take us to every sight we wanted to see in an air conditioned mini bus with a courier and a separate driver. We booked by e-mail six weeks before the cruise and Alla sent us our tickets by e-mail. They were all we needed to enable us to pass through immigration without a visa.
Once off the ship, we passed the welcoming brass band and went straight through immigration while those on the ship’s trips had to queue for some time. Alla herself was there at quayside to direct us to our transport. It was interesting to see that the excursions run by the ship and the other local companies (Red October and Denrus) used much bigger coaches than Alla.
The whole day was fascinating. We took longer at some places than the itinerary indicated but, as we were a small group, it did not matter and we returned to the ship at about 6.00pm. Every sight we saw was well worth visiting, exceeding all our expectations. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the city she clearly loved. Some of our twelve opted for the evening entertainment but the rest of us returned to the ship in the mini bus.
On the second day, again disembarkation was simple. Once in our minibus Alla turned up to take payment for the two days. We paid by plastic as did everyone else.
The day started with entry to the Hermitage before the general public and before the coach parties were allowed in. This gave us an hour with no disruption from other tour groups – fantastic! With time to spare before our timed entry into Yusupov’s palace our guide arranged for our driver to take us to see a couple of other of the city sights including the battleship Aurora and the Smolny Monastery.
Our driver delivered us back to the ship in good time. The two days cost the two of us a lot less than the ship charged and we saw more than any combination of the ship's excursions would have accommodated. Considering all we had seen and the service we had received, it was very good value for money.
I appreciate your prompt reply. Perhaps I could ask a further favour. The itinerary of Alla indicates a one hour break for lunch. Did you find a necessity to purchase Russian currency just for buying lunch or could one rely on the credit/debit card for the St. Petersburg Tour?
We managed without buying Roubles. The first day included a (very Russian) packed lunch. It was eaten on the minibus between Catherine's Palace and Peterhof. It contained a blini filled with soft cheese and (I think) chicken. Some of our party could not eat it; I found it fine. There was enough in the packed lunch without the blini to keep you going. On the second day we were taken to a restaurant for lunch and that was excellent. We didn't buy a drink; a juice (or was it water) was provided.
Roubles are needed for public lavatories but a US dollar coin would be accepted by the lady on guard. That makes it a bit pricey but still cheaper than converting money into Roubles.
If Alla no longer provides a meal I suggest that you e-mail her asking about needing Roubles. As I recall, e-mailing direct to her works better than sending a message through her web site.
I'm sure that you'll be pleased with Alla Tours.