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trosebery

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  1. Have you asked on your Roll Call yet if there are any other second-timers who might prefer a tour that visits other sights? (And the Hermitage is huge: did you see the Impressionist collection or the Treasures rooms?) Even if it's just the two of you, though, you might find a private tour affordable. The company that we're touring with this summer (second-time around) had a list of possibilities here that I found useful: https://redsun-tours.com/two-day-second-visitors-shore-excursion/ If you liked SPB-Tours, I'm sure they'd be willing to work with you again to customize something.
  2. The one I recognize and have done business with before is the one with the dash in the middle of the name (SPB-tours.com). Which isn't to say that the other company is a scam or anything. Just that the SPB Tours that you'll see everywhere in the Baltic are the ones with the orange paddles.
  3. Guide Guru is one of those companies -- like Alla Tours or Best Guides or SPB Tours or etc. -- that offers visa-free tours. (Basically, they give you a tour ticket to show Russian Immigration that you are covered under their blanket visa.) You may have a brief delay getting off the ship compared to the ship tours, which have priority, but private tours can usually make up the time easily since they aren't trying to herd 30-40 people on and off buses.
  4. We toured with SPB in St. Petersburg last time, and yes, we had the same guide, driver, and van mates both days -- and I think they actually formed the groups carefully as we were travelling with kids and found ourselves in a group with other kids of around the same age, which was great. Our guide was also very good, and we tipped her without hesitation at the end of our tour. (Our driver too, who not only ably navigated the St. Petersburg traffic but also found us close spots near every attraction we visited.) Have fun!
  5. I haven't already gone -- we're scheduled to go next year -- but this incident doesn't affect our plans. If the frequency or severity of such incidents increases, it might (our deposits are refundable), but at the moment, I know that the statistical risk is still low. (Also, we're travelling with a private guide in for the two days we're in Cairo/Giza before heading on.) I figured if the risk of violence hasn't stop me travelling to the U.S. -- over 100 mass shootings already this year and over 5000 deaths from firearms -- even though I myself was once injured (very minor injuries) in an armed robbery of a store (midday on Capitol Hill in D.C.!), the risk shouldn't stop me travelling to Egypt.
  6. This is a useful port reference that includes many of the Baltic ports: https://www.whatsinport.com/
  7. Careful: if you start or end in St. Petersburg, you'll need a Russian visa. And yes, I agree completely that going one direction vs. having to loop is great because you won't have so many sea days *and* you get to spend your pre- and post-cruise days in different cities. (That's why I picked the NCL cruise that we're on this summer. If you're curious, it's this one. And there's one the two weeks before that that starts in Southampton and ends in Stockholm. I actually have not sailed NCL before, but I love the itinerary for the price!) I really liked Oslo, but I could skip "Berlin" for multiple days in other ports because "Berlin" is actually several hours from the port. (Copenhagen and Stockholm are both fantastic!)
  8. As CruiserBruce noted, one of the main advantages of 3 days vs. 2 days in St. Petersburg is that with 3 days, you can work into a visit to Moscow. However, visiting Moscow does require a long train ride or a plane flight, and is not cheap. 3 days also allows you the opportunity to tour at a more relaxed pace or work in a few more sights. For example, the typical intensive 2-day tour will include: St Peter and Paul Fortress Peterhof Lower Fountain Park Catherine Palace incl. Amber room Hermitage Museum Church on the Spilled Blood Yusupov’s Palace St Isaac Cathedral Subway ride and/or canal tour The Faberge Museum may be substituted for one of the above or visited as part of an evening tour. A 3-day tour allows for a little more time at some sights and may also include some time for shopping on Nevsky Prospect, some time in the Impressionist collection at the Hermitage, etc. Myself, I wouldn't pay an extra $2K just for an extra day in St. Petersburg (I can spend that money on another cruise that'll take me back again!), but you may have other priorities. (Do also look at the rest of the itinerary to make sure that you are not missing out on another port by spending an extra day in St. Petersburg.) Two things to remember as far as pricing: - The current cost of the cruise may not be the final cost of the cruise. I've seen a lot of sales on Baltic cruises. The NCL cruise I'm on this summer (15 days, starting in Stockholm and ending in Southampton) was originally about US$4K for a balcony when I booked it but it hit a low of about $2.5K right before final payment. If you're booking for 2020, you might check 2019 pricing now to see what's on sale. - Consider carefully how much various perks may be worth to you, given that you'll be spending the majority of your time off the ship. You can get better coffee and beer and etc. off the ship, usually accompanied by free wifi! In the Baltic, I don't even bother with a balcony room -- insides are just fine with me, especially in the summer months when the sunrises are really early! (And as you note, included tours are not such a perk when you can easily DIY in most of the ports instead of being herded.)
  9. Most of the large ships are very good about moving people on and off the ship efficiently. The ships aren't tendering, and except for St. Petersburg, there's no immigration: you just walk off and you're in the city. As for the city being able to handle the crowds, whether or not you're on a small ship won't make any difference as even if you are on a small ship, there are likely to be 2-3 large ships docked right beside you. The Baltic season is short, so all the lines are cramming in the same ports in the same couple of months! Fortunately, the cities have infrastructure -- such as public transport -- to handle the few extra thousand people. As CruiserBruce advises, if you generally like small ships, you may be happiest sticking with what you like, but don't feel compelled to choose a small ship if the itinerary or the price doesn't suit you. And yes, you'll find lots of advice about DIY and tour providers on threads here. One difference in the Baltic as opposed to many other places is that the Baltic has a number of companies, mostly based in St. Petersburg, who offer tours in multiple ports. If you go to the website for the Alla Tours that I mentioned before, you'll see what I mean, although Alla certainly isn't the only company with such offerings. (Last time we were in the Baltic, we toured a number of the ports with SPB Tours and all our experiences were positive.) Nor are all the multiple-port companies St. Petersburg-based (e.g. Nordic Experience is based in Tallinn).
  10. I don't recall ever having seen a comprehensive primer on Baltic cruising -- maybe you could write one after you finish your research! -- but I have seen a number of threads making the same point that you make here, that it's the itinerary that makes the cruise more than the ship itself. People prefer the sailings that maximum their time in ports, particularly St. Petersburg. A summary of the itinerary-search advice I've seen: Look for the cruises that feature few, if any, sea days (I'm on a 15-day cruise in August that has only 1 sea day!). It's not like you're taking the cruise so you can lounge by the pool. Look for the cruises that spend the most hours in port (e.g. usually not MSC), preferably at convenient hours (e.g. a 9-5 port stay is better than a 7-3 port stay). Look for the cruises that dock nearer the city centres (e.g. people prefer a ship that docks in Stockholm over one that docks in Nynashamn, particularly for the scenic sail in/out). Look for the cruises that embark from cities you want to visit for a few days (esp. since you'll need that long to get over jetlag). Even better if you can find cruises that embark from one city and debark in another (e.g. Amsterdam to Stockholm). You need at least 2 full days in St. Petersburg. Shoulder-season (e.g. May) will have fewer crowds but cooler temperatures. Otherwise, June, July, and August (all of which seem to be very similar, with June being slightly cooler) will have the best weather but also the most crowds. As far as excursions, most people here would recommend skipping the ship's excursions anyway, so the cruise line wouldn't make much difference there. The Baltic ports are typically very easy to DIY, and if you want a tour, there are usually well-reviewed tour operators (e.g. Alla Tours) running group tours. (You will have to book with a tour operator in St. Petersburg if you don't want to go through the hassle and expense of getting a Russian visa.) As far as the ports go, I don't think there are any duds on the itineraries, although you will have to do your research ahead of time and plan on a *variety* of activities if you don't want to have what we dubbed Old Town Overload at the end of our last Baltic Cruise. My favourite ports on our last cruise, not including St. Petersburg, were probably Oslo and Tallinn. My son (who's travelling with me this time again) says that his favourite was Copenhagen. Someone who's travelled with multiple lines may want to chime in about the differences between them. (I've only sailed with Princess and Celebrity in Europe and found the experiences on both lines very similar. This time we're on NCL.) Some people may prefer a small-ship experience, but I don't know that it would make much difference on a Baltic cruise as the ships and the cities handle crowds well. (For example, even though we were on the very large Regal Princess last time we were in St. Petersburg, we were only in line with Russian immigration for a little over 30 minutes.)
  11. It seems to make little difference these days as the credit cards have given over their fraud alert system to computer algorithms that they have little to no control over. Last time I tried to call the bank to warn them I was going to be traveling, they said, "Oh, you don't need to tell us when you're traveling anymore." Meaning that they had no way of inputting that information into the system.
  12. I very definitely wouldn't. Last time we flew into Rome, our flight was 2 hours late. The time before that, we were late *and* they lost our luggage and it took over 24 hours for them to find it and get it back to us. And, as noted by others, you want to give yourself some time to recover from jetlag and enjoy one of the world's most incredible cities. If you can't get to Rome sooner than the day of the cruise, consider dropping the cruise and just spending the vacation in Rome instead!
  13. We're on a private tour in August (with a different company) and have been told that we can pay when we get there, no deposit required, but on our last trip, I chose to pay in advance just because I know my credit card sometimes throws a hissy fit with foreign transactions (as it did when I tried to prepay for our Finnish tour last week) and I didn't want to have to be trying to call the credit card company from Russia. I may ask to pay in advance for this tour too. I think that as long as you're paying a well-known company and paying by credit card, you should be fine.
  14. Thanks for the advice! I did get my husband to agree to a trip, and we are looking at booking independent travel through a company. It looks fascinating from the photos, and I'm sure it will be a very different travel experience than anything we've experienced to date!
  15. I'm wanting to plan a river cruise in Egypt (from Luxor to Aswan). We would fly into Cairo and see the pyramids and the Egyptian Museum before flying to Luxor and boarding a river cruise to Aswan . . . providing I can get my husband to agree. He has (admittedly, valid) concerns about the security situation in Egypt. Our government's advisory website does say, "Avoid non-essential travel" (although it does make an exception for the Nile between Luxor and Aswan). So, anyone know the best way of convincing him that the risk, if we travel with a reputable company and stick to the areas described, is manageable? I think part of the problem is that we'd be travelling with kids (14 and 11), and risks that we'd take ourselves on our own, he's not willing to take with kids in tow.
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