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Cruise with 2 nights in St. Petersburg. Local tour or go solo?

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Hello,

We are going to be on a 5 night Royal Caribbean cruise this summer that has 2 nights in St. Petersburg, Russia. We aren't really interested in the cruise lines shore excursions, partly since they appear to rush through key sites and focus on shopping.

The options we are looking at are contacting local agencies so they can arrange the "blanket" visa and customize a tour for us or perhaps applying for tourist visas on our own. I have read a few of the other posts and see a few agencies like DenRus and Red October that have received good reviews, but they seem to be a bit pricey. Is there an expectation that quoted prices are "final" or is bargaining expected? (I want to be sensitive, yet I plan on contacting several agencies.)

Assuming we try to get tourist visas on our own, just how daunting is the visa process? Also, how challenging is getting around St. Petersburg and what are the public transportation/taxi options from the port where Royal Caribbean docks their ship?

Also, how easily can I use my ATM card overseas to obtain Rubles?

Thanks for any insights.

Misterfuss

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