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Hey everyone! My family and I are going on a 14-Day Baltic Heritage Cruise aboard Sapphire Princess from May 4 - 18, 2019. We are especially excited for the St. Petersburg segment because we get 2 days to explore the city. We arrive at St. Petersburg May 11, 2019 at 6:30 am and depart the next day May 12, 2019 6pm.

 

Any suggestions on what we should do in St. Petersburg? Any excursions or shore tours we can do to make the most out of our 2 days there? This is our first time doing a cruise and we are so excited we want to visit as many places as we can. Any advice will be very much appreciated.

 

Thank you so much in advance!   

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Hi there! You are going on a great cruise, and I am sure you will be fascinated by that part of the world.

For St Petersburg, the best thing you can do is arrange a private tour. Russia is not very easy to access due to visa regulations, so doing this on your own will be quite complicated. Also, St Petersburg is a big city with a peculiar system of public transport, which makes it difficult to navigate if you don’t really know where to go. As you are on the cruise, you would want to make the most of your time without spending it in attempts to figure out your way. On the tour the guide will take you straight to the most interesting things and share all the stories behind the objects.

With a little research you can decide what you would like to see and do in St Petersburg. My personal highlights are:

Peterhoff

Hermitage

Faberge museum

Savior on Spilled Blood

St Isaac’s Cathedral

Canal boat trip

There are some more popular sites, like Catherine’s Palace, Peter and Paul’s Fortress, Yusupoff palace etc. Lots of things to see and do!

Enjoy planning your tour!

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1 hour ago, Lagerta said:

 

 

Hi there! You are going on a great cruise, and I am sure you will be fascinated by that part of the world.

For St Petersburg, the best thing you can do is arrange a private tour. Russia is not very easy to access due to visa regulations, so doing this on your own will be quite complicated. Also, St Petersburg is a big city with a peculiar system of public transport, which makes it difficult to navigate if you don’t really know where to go. As you are on the cruise, you would want to make the most of your time without spending it in attempts to figure out your way. On the tour the guide will take you straight to the most interesting things and share all the stories behind the objects.

With a little research you can decide what you would like to see and do in St Petersburg. My personal highlights are:

Peterhoff

Hermitage

Faberge museum

Savior on Spilled Blood

St Isaac’s Cathedral

Canal boat trip

There are some more popular sites, like Catherine’s Palace, Peter and Paul’s Fortress, Yusupoff palace etc. Lots of things to see and do!

Enjoy planning your tour!

 

I would echo all of the above; l found  the Yusupov Palace fascinating, and Catherine's Palace well worth the  visit . The picture is the Saviour of the Spilled Blood 

20180508_113157.jpg

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2 hours ago, Lagerta said:

 

 

Hi there! You are going on a great cruise, and I am sure you will be fascinated by that part of the world.

For St Petersburg, the best thing you can do is arrange a private tour. Russia is not very easy to access due to visa regulations, so doing this on your own will be quite complicated. Also, St Petersburg is a big city with a peculiar system of public transport, which makes it difficult to navigate if you don’t really know where to go. As you are on the cruise, you would want to make the most of your time without spending it in attempts to figure out your way. On the tour the guide will take you straight to the most interesting things and share all the stories behind the objects.

With a little research you can decide what you would like to see and do in St Petersburg. My personal highlights are:

Peterhoff

Hermitage

Faberge museum

Savior on Spilled Blood

St Isaac’s Cathedral

Canal boat trip

There are some more popular sites, like Catherine’s Palace, Peter and Paul’s Fortress, Yusupoff palace etc. Lots of things to see and do!

Enjoy planning your tour!

 

 

Thank you so much for the information. I have additional questions though if that’s okay. So you strongly suggest that we book tours beforehand instead of doing a DIY trip once we arrive in St. Petersburg? You mentioned the visa regulations, should we arrange the visa before we arrive in Russia or can the tour company arrange that for us as well?

 

I apologize for asking so many questions. I hope I am not being too annoying.

 

Thank you for in advance!

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1 hour ago, Sancho_proudfoot said:

 

I would echo all of the above; l found  the Yusupov Palace fascinating, and Catherine's Palace well worth the  visit . The picture is the Saviour of the Spilled Blood 

20180508_113157.jpg

3

 

Can I ask what makes the Yusupov Palace and Catherine's Palace stand out? Is there anything special to see there? By the way, thank you so much for this picture. This is such a lovely shot. Looks like it was under renovation when this picture was taken. Is it still under renovation now and probably by May? If you have other photos and if it's not too much to ask, is it possible to share some more here? 

 

Thank you so much in advance! 

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You really need to book before you cruise, whether it be a private tour or ships tour. The visa will be sorted by the cruise line or the private tour operator. I would check your cruise excursions then google private tour operators, I can vouch for Alla tours. 

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Hi, and welcome to Cruise Critic.

 

Unless they've changed their advice this year to something more truthful, Princess will tell you that for St Petersburg you will need a Russian tourist visa "unless you take ship's excursions"

That's more than a little misleading.:classic_angry:

Certainly you will need a Russian visa (expensive and complicated) if you want to go ashore independently and do your own thing, but if you book excursions with one of the many excellent accredited local tour operators their excursions have exactly the same visa-free status as ship's tours. And their prices compare favourably with Princess's excursions.

 

Check out (in no particular order) Alla Tours, SPB Tours, TJ Travel, Best Guides, Anastasia, DenRus,

Any that I've not mentioned is simply because I forgot them, they're all very very good .

Whereas most ship's tours are in 50-seat coaches, local operators use 16-seat vans (minibuses), so they're much more personal, more flexible, quicker to board and alight, quicker thro' traffic, park closer to the sights, can incorporate things that are difficult or impossible with large groups such as a ride on St Petersburg's famous metro, etc.

For their standard tours you can book just seats for yourselves, no need to book the whole vehicle and find sharers.

You do need to pre-book because the tour ticket that they e-mail to you gets you through immigration without a visa. But they trust you -  most don't require payment or even a credit card number until you're there, usually at the start of the second day.

 

Be aware that tour tickets, whether you do ship's tours or local operators' tours, will only get you thro' immigration for that tour. So a ticket for a day tour on Day One won't get you thro' to go explore by yourselves in the evening or on Day Two. 

 

All the other ports (except if you want to go to Berlin from Warnemunde) are very easy to DIY. 

As a first-time cruiser you might want to book a tour at one or two of them, depending how confident you feel. But devote the bulk of your excursion money to St Petersburg, the crown in any Baltic cruise.

 

Great part of the world to cruise, have a good one

 

JB :classic_smile:

 

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Posted (edited)
30 minutes ago, flowslow said:

 

 

 

Thank you so much for the information. I have additional questions though if that’s okay. So you strongly suggest that we book tours beforehand instead of doing a DIY trip once we arrive in St. Petersburg? You mentioned the visa regulations, should we arrange the visa before we arrive in Russia or can the tour company arrange that for us as well?

 

I apologize for asking so many questions. I hope I am not being too annoying.

 

Thank you for in advance!

 

I think you'll find that pretty-well everyone will advise that you book excursions in St Petersburg, otherwise life gets very complicated - not just visas but also the things that Lagerta mentioned. And bear in mind that the Russian language is written in cryllic, not the Roman alphabet, so it's impossible to even pronounce words, let alone know what they mean. Signage is increasingly being duplicated in English and more & more Russians can speak English, but in these respects it's still way behind the rest of the world.   

 

Excursions offered by the ship and by those accredited operators are actually visa-freenot "visa included". Provided that you pre-book excursions (when booking you do have to provide passport information, perfectly normal for St Petersburg) you need do absolutely nothing about visas.

 

JB :classic_smile:

Edited by John Bull

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45 minutes ago, flowslow said:

 

 

 

Thank you so much for the information. I have additional questions though if that’s okay. So you strongly suggest that we book tours beforehand instead of doing a DIY trip once we arrive in St. Petersburg? You mentioned the visa regulations, should we arrange the visa before we arrive in Russia or can the tour company arrange that for us as well?

 

I apologize for asking so many questions. I hope I am not being too annoying.

 

Thank you for in advance!

St Petersburg is not easy to DIY, unlike other Baltic ports. I know some people did that, but with your limited time a pre-booked tour would be the best option. Also, no one recommends taking a ship’s tour, which is a bus full of people, so the tour is very slow and of course has no personal touch. There are quite a few good tour companies operating there, so if you read through the threads discussing St Petersburg, you find some names that come up very frequently. Read the people’s feedbacks about them, maybe contact several operators and pick one that is more responsive to your wishes and needs.

Regarding visas, you don’t need to obtain a Russian visa if you are coming on a cruise, as the tour operator will arrange your visa-free disembarking. It makes things much easier and cheaper, however, without a visa you have to be accompanied by the operator’s representative (that is, your guide) while ashore. That means you can’t wander around on your own. Anyhow, if you have a busy tour schedule, you simply don’t have time for that 🙂 There is such a lot to see!

 

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BTW, there's stacks of info on Cruise Critic's Baltic forum.

Top right on this page, click on Boards > Ports of Call > Europe > Northern Europe & Baltic Sea

 

JB :classic_smile:

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Unless you recently booked this cruise, you have left the planning very late, and may find you have to take a ships tour in SPB.  For the other ports, suggest you hurry and get a copy of Rick Steves' Scandinavian and Northern European Cruise Ports.  He will tell you what there is to see/do in the ports, how much you can do in the time you have, and how to DIY.  EM

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2 hours ago, flowslow said:

 

Can I ask what makes the Yusupov Palace and Catherine's Palace stand out? Is there anything special to see there? By the way, thank you so much for this picture. This is such a lovely shot. Looks like it was under renovation when this picture was taken. Is it still under renovation now and probably by May? If you have other photos and if it's not too much to ask, is it possible to share some more here? 

 

Thank you so much in advance! 

 

Catherine's Palace is stunning. It was severely damaged by the Nazis during their occupation and restoration is still on going. The famous Amber Room was looted by the Nazis during their occupation but has been painstakingly restored.

 

The Yusupov Palace is fascinating; it was here that Rasputin was assassinated. It is also a glorious house, with a full theatre hidden inside.

 

The church is deconsecrated but is maintained as a museum. The exterior was under restoration last May but no works were under way inside then.

 

The first 2 pics are the Catherine Palace  then  a couple of the amazing mosaics in the church. The last one is the entrance hall to the Yusupov Palace

 

 

20180507_093525.jpg

20180507_090706.jpg

20180508_111410.jpg

20180508_120915.jpg

20180508_143156.jpg

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2 hours ago, Essiesmom said:

Unless you recently booked this cruise, you have left the planning very late, and may find you have to take a ships tour in SPB. 

 

Yikes, didn't notice the date. :classic_ohmy:

e-mail the local operators soonest, then book soonest. Hopefully some still have spaces, and a restricted choice isn't a big deal in St Petersburg cos their prices are all very similar & all have good reputations.

 

Also scroll through the posts on your cruise's RollCall - there's at least one group on there still looking for sharers.

The link is to the latest of 10 pages of posts.

https://boards.cruisecritic.co.uk/topic/2538639-may-4-2019-baltic-heritage-sapphire-princess/

Post on there anyway, to say "hi" to some of your ship-mates :classic_smile:

 

But if you are indeed too late to book anything but ship's tours, it's a consolation that those on ship's tours have also enjoyed their visit - a massively higher satisfaction rating than elsewhere in the world. Understandable because they too use local operators.  They just don't know how much more they missed. 

 

JB :classic_smile:

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Posted (edited)

Wow, thank you, everyone, for your comments and suggestions! These are all helpful and gave me so much information especially regarding the visa-free regulations.

 

I guess it really is more convenient and will save us a lot of time if we book a tour. But which one do you think is better, a private tour or a group tour? A private tour might be too pricey but then I wouldn’t want my family and me to be going on a group tour with so many people. I’ve read good reviews about Anastasia Travel, SPB, Best Guides and TJ Travel. Yes, we might really be pressed for time but do you think these local tour operators offer last minute booking? 

 

Thank you so much again for your suggestions and comments.

Edited by flowslow

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1 hour ago, flowslow said:

Wow, thank you, everyone, for your comments and suggestions! These are all helpful and gave me so much information especially regarding the visa-free regulations.

 

I guess it really is more convenient and will save us a lot of time if we book a tour. But which one do you think is better, a private tour or a group tour? A private tour might be too pricey but then I wouldn’t want my family and me to be going on a group tour with so many people. I’ve read good reviews about Anastasia Travel, SPB, Best Guides and TJ Travel. Yes, we might really be pressed for time but do you think these local tour operators offer last minute booking? 

 

Thank you so much again for your suggestions and comments.

 

Definitely NOT the big group tour arranged by the cruise line! Local tour operators usually offer either private tours or small group tours (up to 16 people). Small group tours are slightly cheaper, but private tours give you more flexibility. You can have the itinerary designed specifically for you and it will cover everything you want to see and do. The local tour companies have a lot of expertise in that, so they customize the tour for you. I think it is well worth the money. Just do a little of homework and decide what you would like to see.
You really have very little time left before your cruise, so ask the operators you will be contacting about the last minute bookings. I know some of them do that (some of our former cruisemates managed to book a private tour even being on the ship already!), so check with them.

Good luck!

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Posted (edited)

As per my first post and Lagerta's reminder, the local tour operators use 16-seat minibuses whereas cruise-lines' tours are usually in big 50-seater coaches.

Alla Tours, SPB Tours, TJ Travel, Best Guides, Anastasia, DenRus as per my first post, and any others that you come across - check their websites & e-mail them.

Do it today, time is short.

Certainly some will be booked-out, but it really doesn't make much difference which one you use, they all offer much the same tours at much the same prices and they all have excellent reputations.

 

You're probably too late to book a private (ie not shared) tour, but that'll be expensive anyway. Unless you have an aversion to sharing with up to 14 others, one of the local operators' minibus tours is the way to go.

 

Have you checked your RollCall for fellow-cruisers seeking sharers, as suggested?

 

Make sure that you book a two-day tour, and print-off & take their confirmation - you need it to pass thro Russian immigration without a visa. 

You can only go thro' immigration visa-free on the day & approx time of your tour, so if you only book a one-day tour you'll not be allowed off the ship on the other day without a pre-purchased tourist visa. And it's now probably too late to buy a visa.

 

You got responses on this thread on tuesday, and today's friday.

You need to sort something today or your only option is likely to be over-priced and over-crowded ship's tours.

 

JB :classic_smile:

Edited by John Bull

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21 hours ago, John Bull said:

As per my first post and Lagerta's reminder, the local tour operators use 16-seat minibuses whereas cruise-lines' tours are usually in big 50-seater coaches.

Alla Tours, SPB Tours, TJ Travel, Best Guides, Anastasia, DenRus as per my first post, and any others that you come across - check their websites & e-mail them.

Do it today, time is short.

Certainly some will be booked-out, but it really doesn't make much difference which one you use, they all offer much the same tours at much the same prices and they all have excellent reputations.

 

You're probably too late to book a private (ie not shared) tour, but that'll be expensive anyway. Unless you have an aversion to sharing with up to 14 others, one of the local operators' minibus tours is the way to go.

 

Have you checked your RollCall for fellow-cruisers seeking sharers, as suggested?

 

Make sure that you book a two-day tour, and print-off & take their confirmation - you need it to pass thro Russian immigration without a visa. 

You can only go thro' immigration visa-free on the day & approx time of your tour, so if you only book a one-day tour you'll not be allowed off the ship on the other day without a pre-purchased tourist visa. And it's now probably too late to buy a visa.

 

You got responses on this thread on tuesday, and today's friday.

You need to sort something today or your only option is likely to be over-priced and over-crowded ship's tours.

 

JB :classic_smile:

 

 

Thank you so much for all the insights and information, John! I really appreciate it. I have contacted the tour companies I mentioned and most of them are nice enough to offer us last minute booking of a private tour. They also assured us of taking care of our visa-free disembarkation. My family and I are now in the process of discussing and deciding on which tour to take from the offers of different tour operators. 

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On 4/12/2019 at 2:56 PM, Lagerta said:

 

 

Definitely NOT the big group tour arranged by the cruise line! Local tour operators usually offer either private tours or small group tours (up to 16 people). Small group tours are slightly cheaper, but private tours give you more flexibility. You can have the itinerary designed specifically for you and it will cover everything you want to see and do. The local tour companies have a lot of expertise in that, so they customize the tour for you. I think it is well worth the money. Just do a little of homework and decide what you would like to see.
You really have very little time left before your cruise, so ask the operators you will be contacting about the last minute bookings. I know some of them do that (some of our former cruisemates managed to book a private tour even being on the ship already!), so check with them.

Good luck!

 

Hi, Lagerta! You seem like you know St. Petersburg a lot and I’d like to ask more about the places to visit there. Do you think it’s okay to visit both the Peterhof Grand Palace and Catherine’s Palace, while visiting other places in the city as well, with just two days in St. Petersburg? I’ve read that they are located outside the city and the trip going there can take a lot of time. I’m afraid we won’t have enough time to visit other places as well.

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3 hours ago, flowslow said:

 

Hi, Lagerta! You seem like you know St. Petersburg a lot and I’d like to ask more about the places to visit there. Do you think it’s okay to visit both the Peterhof Grand Palace and Catherine’s Palace, while visiting other places in the city as well, with just two days in St. Petersburg? I’ve read that they are located outside the city and the trip going there can take a lot of time. I’m afraid we won’t have enough time to visit other places as well.

You can visit both places, however, personally I don’t think it is worth going inside both palaces. If you go to Catherine’s Palace, you don’t really need to see Peterhoff Grand Palace, as they are very similar. Both can be very crowded in the high season, but you see the Amber Room in the Catherine’s Palace, and it is really impressive! In Peterhoff, better walk around the gardens, they are charming. I think you will enjoy being outside in the fresh air more than trying to walk through the palace with a million of other visitors. Besides, it is not allowed to take photos inside the Grand Palace.

Of course it is totally up to you to choose!

 

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So much to do in St. Petersburg and so little time to do it all. The recommendations above for places to see are all good recommendations. Definitely talk to a tour operator and get booked with them. If the 16 person group is still too big for you, talk to them about a private tour. I know some of them don't do those. We used Anastasia's Travel because they do. Because our group was just us, we were able to do more and see more. We were able to focus on our agenda and get to where we wanted to go, while avoiding the lines. Our tour guide was sensational. She was willing to let us set the pace at each place and when we were ready, then we moved on. Good Luck and enjoy your trip!

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Wow, thank you all so much for your replies! You all have been very helpful and offered a lot of suggestions. It really means a lot.

 

My family and I are very much into the outdoors and we would definitely love to see the beautiful gardens in Peterhoff. Anyway, I saw the option of going there via hydrofoil. Do you have any idea what that is? It sounds interesting but I’m not sure that is the best way to go there and if it is worth the try. We’d like a faster route to the Peterhoff.

 


 

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11 minutes ago, flowslow said:

Wow, thank you all so much for your replies! You all have been very helpful and offered a lot of suggestions. It really means a lot.

 

My family and I are very much into the outdoors and we would definitely love to see the beautiful gardens in Peterhoff. Anyway, I saw the option of going there via hydrofoil. Do you have any idea what that is? It sounds interesting but I’m not sure that is the best way to go there and if it is worth the try. We’d like a faster route to the Peterhoff.

 


 

 

Hydrofoil is a speed boat going from the center of St Petersburg to Peterhoff. It’s quite convenient, and the ride takes about 30 minutes. It’s a fun experience too, the boat is very fast, and you get a nice view of Peterhoff when you approach.

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There are plenty of hydrofoils in use in the western world, though they're a lot more pleasant on the eye than these Soviet-designed ones.

This isn't the one, but very very similar.

Beautifully ugly :classic_wink:

 

It's a public ferry service. Departs from the River Neva,  close to the Hermitage, and sails down the river & across a corner of the Gulf of Finland direct to a pier in the gardens of Peterhof.

It was the quickest way to Peterhof, but since a new road was constructed word is that journey time is now about the same by hydrofoil or van.

 

Because of its limited capacity the hydrofoil isn't an option for those on the big bus tours arranged by cruise ships, tours arranged by local tour operators usually use the hydrofoil one way and van (minibus) the other way. 

 

 

Meteor hydrofoil boat

 

JB :classic_smile:

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On 4/16/2019 at 4:52 PM, Lagerta said:

 

 

Hydrofoil is a speed boat going from the center of St Petersburg to Peterhoff. It’s quite convenient, and the ride takes about 30 minutes. It’s a fun experience too, the boat is very fast, and you get a nice view of Peterhoff when you approach.

 

 

That seems like a very interesting mode of transport. Are there other modes of transport worth trying other than that? We’d like to get a feel of St Petersburg and experience the city like a local too. Can you suggest any local food we need to try? We’d really like to eat at an authentic Russian restaurant, we haven’t tried that so I am looking forward to the experience . Any suggestions would be very much appreciated. Thank you! 
 

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