St Petersburg - guide vs visa

Mar 30th, 2016, 09:04 PM
  #1  
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St Petersburg - guide vs visa

Hello! I'm a semi-regular poster on the US/Europe boards, but have never taken a cruise before, so am definitely new on this board (and new to cruising in general). I've booked a Baltic cruise in July with some friends, and we are currently trying to figure out how to handle our stop in St. Petersburg. We're sailing with Royal Caribbean and have two days in the city.

It looks like a visa to enable us to go around independently would cost $160 (plus hours of our lives in red tape?), plus we'd have to figure out how to get from place to place on our own (I don't even know if this is feasible - everything I've read so far focuses on guided tours, and Google Maps can only help so much). Private tours are, of course, not cheap, but I'm thinking they might not be more expensive than the visa + transportation, admission, etc, and would certainly be easier. And of course there's the official cruise excursions.

We're all budget-minded, so cost is definitely a consideration, but at least for most of us, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There are five of us, in our 30s/40s, plus one set of parents (not mine, so I'm not sure if they would want to do their own thing or tour with us).

Any advice on whether it's even worth considering exploring on our own, what combination of private tour + cruise excursion to use, or anything else would be most welcome! So far Denrus is looking most promising in terms of a private company, but we're definitely open to suggestions.
jent103 is offline  
Mar 31st, 2016, 04:04 AM
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Actually I think its much better to see SPB with a guide. We had one and its was a ships tour. She was a wealth of information and that added immensely to our experience there.

I wanted to use Denrus as their reviews were good and they were actually cheaper than the ships tour which was $338.00 or so per person for two days and included two lunches and entry fees and I would bet Denrus has similar perks so factor in the cost of the visas and going private either thru the ship, Denrus or other reputable tour agencies is the way to go.

We did not use Denrus because our traveling friends preferred the ships offerings. We had a good time but if we were on our own then I would have taken them.

I assume you have to out a deposit with any Russian company. Just be aware that if for some reason you can't dock in SPB which would be very unusual then likely you have lost that money.
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Mar 31st, 2016, 06:07 AM
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We used Red October and had a fabulous time. For 4 if us traveling together, it was cheaper than the ship tours. RO was very willing to tailor their standard 2 day itinerary to out interests and preferences; Denrus was not.
Having a guide and driver enhanced our experience, made getting around much easier than if we had been on our own.
abram is offline  
Mar 31st, 2016, 07:41 AM
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Thanks so much to both of you! It sounds like our group is pretty much on board with doing a tour of some kind. This is very helpful. As far as I know we'll be mostly interested in the standard offerings, so it sounds like any of the companies would work fine, but abram, that's very good to know in case someone in our group surprises me!

The cruise begins and ends in Stockholm and also stops in Helsinki, Talinn and Riga - if anyone has any input on whether any of those cities are much better seen with a tour, that would also be welcome. I love a good walking tour, but also know that all the excursions can add up quickly, so am keeping an eye on the budget as well.
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Mar 31st, 2016, 09:53 AM
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I haven't been to Riga but the other ports are easily seen on your own. The ship ports in Tallinn right basically in town so you can just walk in and see things. I am not sure where you port in Stockholm but if it's the same place that we did you can take a taxi to the Vasa museum which for us was inside from the port location. Right behind this museum is a water taxi that will take you to the old town called Gamla Stan and in there you will find anti-shops and pastry shops and stores and coffee and so on so you can just wander and walk around and that's a pretty pleasant thing to do. There is a poster here named Percy and if you search under his name you will find an extensive and informative trip report about what to do in these cities
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Mar 31st, 2016, 09:55 AM
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I should have checked the voice recognition before I posted. I said the museum was in sight from the port
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Mar 31st, 2016, 11:24 AM
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Maybe you are reading the wrong guidebooks, lol. Take a look for Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and Rick Steves "Northern European Cruise Ports".

All your ports other than STP are easy to do on your own (although I did STP on my own, I had longer there). Do not miss the wonderful Art Nouveau buildings in Riga.

Larry - was "anti-shop" a snafu too? Antique, maybe?

See:
http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...ne-baltics.cfm

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...omment-9306663
thursdaysd is offline  
Mar 31st, 2016, 12:14 PM
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We are taking RCCL doing a very similar tour May 29. We had been to St. P for 10 days a few years ago so had the dilemna of a one day in port for this cruise and what to do.

Go to cruiscritic.com and check out the roll call and maybe someone is getting a group together. Or I had tried to put a shore excursion together with TJ Travel (highly recommended) and they were extremely helpful. You can go to their website and see the 2 day tours they have which look to be excellent (as someone who has been to St. P before).

As a note: Russian visa process is up to the whim of whatever bureaucrat's desk your visa gets dumped on. You may feel you have done everything right but if they send it back--what a headache. A visa processor costs an additional $100 or so to get it processed with as little stress as possible but yes is an added cost.

You will then see that a tour is cost effective.
jan47ete is offline  
Mar 31st, 2016, 12:34 PM
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Thanks so much, everyone! This is all extremely helpful. Our group had some email discussion today and I think we're all on board with the tour (this is confirmed by hearing the experience of a friend who's in the process of getting a visa for a 24-hour layover in Moscow... basically the headache you mentioned, jan47ete!). So we just need to pick the one we want.

I'll be very honest - I know many people plan cruises way in advance, but we only started even discussing this trip two weeks ago! We booked the ship and the flights last week and are now filling in all the details. I normally am much more of a researcher, but am definitely feeling the time crunch on this one and haven't done as much reading as I usually would. If we can get our tour for St. Petersburg and our hotel in Stockholm booked soon (most of us will have a night there on either end of the cruise, and jacketwatch, the Vasa museum is definitely top on my list!), I'll be able to relax - it's good to know that the other stops will require less planning!

Thank you very much for all the TR links - I've skimmed over them and will absolutely read them in full. Even just the bits I've read so far have made me even more excited!
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Mar 31st, 2016, 01:16 PM
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Thursdaysd. yep, another voice recognition mishap and I also missed it visually too. Mean to say "many"

. .
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Mar 31st, 2016, 01:21 PM
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Jent103: If you get to the Vasa would be so king as to drop a quick note here if it has been repainted? We were there 9 yrs. ago and read that they were researching original paint schemes so the restoration was ongoing.

I think you will really enjoy this cruise. of all or 15 cruises this one is in the top 3.

Cheers, Larry.
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Mar 31st, 2016, 02:28 PM
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Larry - I was there last year and it hasn't been painted in the primary colors on the model, but it does look in very good condition. There's one photo here:
https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com...ays-stockholm/

Not my best but I was posting on the road.
thursdaysd is offline  
Mar 31st, 2016, 02:32 PM
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I think the OP's post answered her own question. I went to st. Petersburg on princess cruises and used a ship excursion for a 2-day excursion. Our guide Leo was incredible!! Got us into all the right places and most importantly the right time for each. It seemed as though we were the only ones at each place we went. We even went into a couple of places that were over a hour drive outside the city. I got to see everything on my list and hear some awesome stories from our guide as we went along. It was never a thought in my mind to go indepdently in Russia. I just don't see what more you can get out of this visit to st.Pete by going independently as opposed to a guided tour. But each to his/her own.
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Mar 31st, 2016, 04:44 PM
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Thanks for that link thursdaysd. I am surprised that after all this time they haven't begun to paint it so maybe they decided not to. Not sure why??
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Mar 31st, 2016, 05:17 PM
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We used Alla tours in St. Petersburg and thought tour was great. All the tours metioned have great reviews on trip advisor.
St. Petersburgh , io, wuld be very hard to do on your own. The guides convey so much info. This is one location i would not do on my own.
Tallin is rather compact and easy to do on your own. Helsinki is easy too if you know what you want to see ahead of time.
Russia is the main stop and it is not the time to be a penny wise and a pound foolish.
giro is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2016, 06:17 AM
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We had a guide from DenRus and it was worth every penny we paid for our own "once in a lifetime" stop. Whatever you do, try to cram as much as you possibly can into your stop: every palace, fortress, church, the Hermitage, nighttime cultural events, everything! You can sleep when you get home.

Believe me, you will not regret doing so. That city and environs are definitely not the "usual" cruise port.
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Apr 2nd, 2016, 12:06 PM
  #18  
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Thanks, everyone. We have definitely decided to go with a tour, most likely the Denrus deluxe one. Hoping to book asap once we work out the logistics with our group (seven people is more challenging to plan for than my usual two!). You've helped convince me (and therefore my friends!).

Dukey, you're right - sleep when we get home! And the day after our St Petersburg stop is our cruise-only day, so the 7:30 start times should balance out.

jacketwatch, I'll try to post a TR after I get back so you can see the current state of the museum!
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Apr 2nd, 2016, 12:10 PM
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(oops, scratch what I said - St Petersburg is our second stop, not our last. Followed by Talinn. Oh well. We'll still sleep when we get home!)
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Apr 2nd, 2016, 03:50 PM
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Thanks jent103. Do enjoy this cruise.
Larry .
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