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St Petersburg tour

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we used alla-tour in St Petersburg for a private tour for group of 8. They even took us to a typical Russian restaurant for supper one night (extra).

 

Very happy with the quality of tour as well as guide & driver.

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We used SBP tours and had a very good experience. We did the private tour so that we were able to get around faster than with a larger group. I highly recommend them!

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We did StPeters with Best Guide twice. Once with a small group and the second time it was just us (St.Petersburg and Moscow). Both times it was a wonderful experience!

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I am considering the Best Guides, Best of the Best. I've only heard good things about them. However, Alla Tours & SPB Tours are so famous.:confused:

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I am considering the Best Guides, Best of the Best. I've only heard good things about them. However, Alla Tours & SPB Tours are so famous.:confused:

 

 

It is because Alla and SPB Tours are more popular but that does not mean that they are the best. Contact 3 or 4 companies and from their you will see which one is best for you. On our Baltic Cruise I contacted SPB, Alla and Insider Tours regarding a personalised private tour. Only 2 responded SPB and it seems that they did not even read my email when I stated what I wanted and didn't want to see. Insider Tours responded quite quickly and did read my email and the itinerary was different to their normal tours. We did book with Insider and I have no hesitation in recommending them. Also do go on Tripadvisor read the reviews, I normally read the worst and the best and from there I make my decision. Go with who you feel comfortable with, I really don't think you can go wrong with any of the tour companies in St Petersburg

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums mobile app

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In St. Petersburg, if your tour company goes bankrupt or disappears you won't have a visa waiver and won't be eligible to get off the ship. Therefore, I personally would only choose one of the major, longstanding tour companies. I'm sure there are people who have had wonderful experiences with new companies (after all every company had to start sometime) but I personally wouldn't take that risk in St. Petersburg. I don't see any reviews of Tzarina Tours on Trip Advisor prior to 2016, and their first page of most recent reviews is mostly filled with reviews from people who only have one review (it's easy to set up a trip advisor account and create one review; it's harder to fake reviews when travelers include photos all over the world.) I wouldn't personally take the risk simply due to the visa issue, but it is entirely possible you might have a wonderful experience with Tzarina Tours.

 

There have been reviews on Best Guides on TripAdvisor since 2011, and many people on cruise critic have used them. I booked my Baltic Cruise 6 weeks before sailing, so I didn't find out about Best Guides until after I returned. Since I traveled with a child, I would have booked with them if I had known in advance since people on cruise critic highly recommend their family tour. I used SPB, which did a good - but not great - job. Honestly, partly it depends upon the luck of the draw for your tour guide. Many people on these forums had an wonderful experience with SPB.

Edited by kitkat343

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Alla Tours' reviews on Trip Advisor and these boards are all excellent and Cruise Critic members get 5% discount on very reasonable 1, 2 0r 3 day tour prices

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There are a lot of experienced tour operators handling shore excursions but most work through agents so you don't hear of their names. The who field has changed in recent years and a shift in passengers. In the past, up to 80% of cruise passengers were American since that is how most Americans travel to foreign destinations but for a couple years they have not been coming very much, only about 30% last year but there were about 22% more visitors with 15% more ships arriving. The Chinese middle class have discovered cruising, Italians, German and various Spanish speaking countries now represent the other 70%. A lot of guides are studying Spanish and Italian and a number are studying Chinese because they are paid about 50-100% more for Chinese tours.

Also the big change is large booking agencies have become the most common way of booking shore excursions, with Viator, which is owned by Trip Advisor which also has Cruise Critic. Those tours are sold without reference to the actual provider, so 70-80% of cruise passengers booking independent tours do not even know what company is hosting them, but the tours themselves are reviewed and overall tours from all the companies are getting good reviews. A few companies became popular 5-6 years ago primary due to hyping on Cruise Critic, on of the most well known used full time boiler room style "cruiser" postings to hype on forums but with booking agencies now, fewer people are using forums for referrals so the most hyped saw dramatic drops in bookings. One used to have 10-15 15 passenger vans filled each ship and for the last two years was down to 2 or 3. Another one most mentioned moved its office to Istanbul Turkey so much of the most common repeat referrals, some "cruisers" have chimed in 2000 times to recommend the same company. The fact is that all of the 130 or so companies registered at the port and hundreds of individual guides who buy port access from ticket agencies provide pretty much the same tours with the same destinations because there is very little different to offer. The reason is that cruisers tend to want to do the exact same itinerary as those who came before them. There are hundreds of museums and restored palaces but the few everyone requests have jam packed interiors because of all 16,000 cruisers arriving on a typical Tuesday or Saturday(the 2 busiest arrival days) all want to see the same identical itinerary. If you are interested in anything else, you are in luck, there is a lot to see that has no crowding at all.

Some destinations are so over crowded due to this me-to tour planning that it has really started to negatively impact the museums and the experience. Catherine Palace used to have a limit permitted of 7500 tickets a day but last year, due to demand, they increased that to 15,000 a day. It is not like the Hermitage with over a thousand rooms and many paths through it, there are only two routes and which one you get in Catherine Palace is up to the museum, but 60% of both paths overlap. So it is single file with all groups following the same narrow path. The guides and tour operators would love to drop Catherine Palace because it is a pain to deal with and they keep raising prices. They are going to double it this next summer after a 35% increase last year.

For a better experience, create a custom itinerary and don't use the cookie cutter itinerary because it will be crowded. Even the gigantic Hermitage which can accommodate 15000 people at once is uncomfortably crowded because the route used by all tour operators is the same, so of 15000 people inside, 12000 are on the same route and filling the same rooms, leaving 880 rooms empty of visitors.

So decide what you want, compare tours that seem different for a better experience, and those others are likely to be lower priced also. Look on tour booking sites for the reviews of the tour itself and not the tour operator since they are not listed by supplier name. That is why tour operator names reviews mean very little in recent years. The ones which were popular 5-6 years ago are not the same as those 10 years ago or last year, although most using the same itinerary for cruise passengers. Tours have evolved to be provided the same way hotels and flights are booked nowaday, through big booking agencies. The biggest difference between any two tours is the guide but since they all work as independents, they work for all the companies. They might work for 20 different companies during the same summer. In tour booking, Viator.com come has grown to be the Amazon of tours in just a few years.

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SPBSTAN, Thank you for your insight. You hit it on the nose! :)

 

I may use Best Guides, which is smaller than the BIG Three.

 

 

Well said, that is exactly what we did. We went for a smaller company and designed our own tour. It was excellent and it wasn't your cookies cutter tour.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums mobile app

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Hello, we are planning a customized 2 day tour. We will not do the Catherine Palace. We would like to see both the Winter Palace and the building with the Impressionist paintings. Does it make sense to do this in 2 different days so as to reduce museum time on 1 day? I know the early ticket does not include entry to the Impressionist section. Thanks for any tips

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Here's my review of "Best Guides" for our 2 days in St Pete last June. Hope it helps you make the right decision.

 

This was our third Baltic cruise so we decided to do something different since we had done the “standard tour” twice using a different one of the big well known companies each time.. I am interested in religious art especially icons and Novgorod, south of St Petersburg, is the birth place of Russian icon painting. Could we go there? Internet research turned up several new to me tour companies offering tours to Novgorod. I contacted them plus the well known companies. The new companies were VERY expensive for what they offered. Two of the better known companies (used before) replied but said they would get back to me. I'm still waiting. I received a quick response from Best Guides. They already offer a tour to Novgorod. I began working with Natalie and came up with the following: we would go to Novgorod on the first day and have a walking tour around the center of St Petersburg on the second day. We told her some places we would like to visit and a place and time schedule was worked out for the walking tour. We expected to pay more as it would only be the two of us but their price was only a bit more then what a standard tour for two would have cost. Natalie was quick to reply and easy to work with even when we made several changes to both parts of the tour.

 

How did all this work out.....well, you always have doubts and fears. Will they be there to meet you at the dock, will ride to Novgorod be safe (it's about a three hour trip each way) etc. On June 11 we arrived in St Petersburg and quickly got off the ship and through boarder control. There was a representative from Best Guides along with our driver, Anatoly, waiting to meet us. Anatoly took us to his van and we were off. He was an excellent, careful driver and the drive to Novgorod was pleasant with lots to see, old wooden houses, small towns etc. Our guide, Galena, was there to meet us and we began by walking into the “Kremlin” area of Novgorod. It was a truly wonderful day except for the rain. Even with that we saw everything as promised and Galena was excellent with lots of information about the meaning of religious paintings and icons.

 

Anatoly was there to meet us on Sunday with our guide for the day, Elena Isakova. Our day worked out wonderfully. Elena was a excellent, knowledgeable guide. From the first stop at an Orthodox church to see and hear some of the service, to the Central Naval Museum, not usually on a tour but a place my husband wanted to see, Church on Spilled Blood and finally the Peter and Paul Fortress we saw everything we wanted to see and more. We had a long walk along the Nevsky Prospect that made us feel like everyday Russians out for a stroll.

 

All in all we could not have been happier with service and guides from Best Guides. We would use them again in a heart beat. They were easy to work with and quickly responded to our emails. Being able to pay with a credit card on the second day was a plus because we did not have to bring a lot of cash with us. Apparently, the big two companies were not interested providing anything but the “standard tour”. Best Guides stepped up and gave us exactly what we wanted. They certainly earned their name as they were the “Best Guides.

 

<<<Karen>>>

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Thank you Karen for an informative review of your two day tour with Best Guides. I have read some very nice reviews and am leaning towards them for my SPB excursion. I'm glad it all worked out for you and you didn't have to pay some extra high tour price.

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Just in case you were wondering......our two day custom tour cost $400pp. We were quoted as high as $1000pp with some of the newer companies who advertised that they did tours to Novgorod :eek:

 

<<<Karen>>>

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Karen, You did well!

I see you will be on another cruise in Oct. I did a similar cruise and we loved Rome. You have some work ahead of you for your tours. Many on my cruise used a tour company, called Joe Banana or something. I used another company.

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Has anyone used Tzarina Tours for St. Petersburg?

 

Hi,

 

I've used Tzarina Tours in SPG and had an amazing time with them. Here is my review on TripAdvisor for them - I'm gemma1930. Please don't worry about this being a new company - they will look after you and treat you like family. They will organise your visa (this is what I was worried about as before I didn't know what was going to happen!). If you want anymore information let me know!

 

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g298507-d10072993-r370502633-Tzarina_Tours-St_Petersburg_Northwestern_District.html#review370502633

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TravelingAPor-

 

Have been to some of the ports before and were in Rome in 2014. We have several tours already arranged and the rest we will do DIY. Will not be going into Rome this time as we want to visit Ostia before the cruise. We plan to stay in Fiumicino and just go back to the airport and take a Princess transfer to the ship on the day of the cruise.

 

<<<Karen>>>

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My wife and I booked with Tzarina for a private tour on one day of our three day stay at SPG. Nina's service and attention was spectacular. Before launching her own company, she worked as a guide for one of the big SPG companies and learned all the ropes. The challenge in SPG is the big operators dominate the market, have a lot of efficiencies of scale, and also the most boring tours. Nina is wonderful, original, out of the box, different, refreshing, and is not going bankrupt. She took us to a bunch of out of the way places I requested, like DIY and hardware , lighting and design stores, Russian fashion, bakeries and chocolate shops...then showed us her apartment in North St Pete where we had cavier and learned to drink a little vodka...

 

Highly recommended!

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The challenge in SPG is the big operators dominate the market, have a lot of efficiencies of scale, and also the most boring tours.

 

southofnorth,

 

Can ask which tours operated by the big companies you took and what made those tours boring?

 

I'm happy that you asked this question, NiaGara-Buff. I am also very curious as to with which tour company southofnorth toured and why he/she found the tour boring.

southofnorth, I also don't understand what you you mean by "efficiencies of scale" - could you kindly elaborate?

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Gents, to clarify a bit a more. My wife and I had three days in St. Pete. We took a two day tour with one of the top tour companies (if you search "St. Pete Cruise Ship tours) they'll be on the first page. And we had a one day private tour by Nina. I wouldn't name or criticize the tour company we took because they wouldn't deserve it. They were boring compared to Nina, and boring in the sense that you're on the beaten path, like SPBStan alluded to, waiting in line with 10,000 other people at Catherine Palace, which is what most people want. Those tour operations are prisoners of their agendas They also are tied to souvenir and promotion interests apparently owned by the same people. So they'll herd you into these places. Its hard to compare the public and private tours and one needs to be fair. The two day tour was in a mini-van with about 12 people and covered the big sites (Peterhof, Catherine Palace, etc).

 

Then there was Tzarina and Nina...totally original, bubbling with energy, out of the box, more private, more personal, took us to see the things we wanted to see of the real Russia. If you don't want that kind of experience and just want Matryoshka dolls, go for it. All of the tour companies make a strong effort to please.

 

As for economies of scale, do the math and follow the money. Fill up a minivan with 10 -12 people at a couple hundred bucks a head, pay the tour guide X, it becomes real money for the owners. Now take a smaller private guide, who has the expense of a nice vehicle, and works the same grueling day for a couple of people. When you spend your $$, think hard about the the quality of the experience, and who you want to help. The big guys have overhead too. If thats your comfort zone, go for it. But don't let yourself be manipulated.

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