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Visa requirements for cruise port in St. Petersberg,Russia

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I am a little confused as to the Visa requirements for St. Pete Russia. I am told that if i book a excursion via my cruise line then a visa is NOT needed. However if i plan to go independently i DO need one. Is this correct? If so i have heard that the visa is hard to get and expensive. How expensive? And what do people mean by difficult? Do i have to write a 100 page thesis on why i want to visit Russia?

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