Memeathome, here is some info we used for our last cruise. The tour we took included time on your own, not sure if P&O have this still available, check your tours brochure. We went last summer and at no time did we feel in any more danger than walking through any town/city in the UK. Russian dolls could be purchased from the market adjacent to the church of the Spilled blood, they were seriously cheaper than those in the shops we visited, especially those linked to the official sights. If you have doubts about walking around on your own you could join up with others on your tours/trips to give safety in numbers. Whatever you do enjoy as the Baltics cruise is fantastic.
Visas for cruise ship passengers
Cruise ship passengers visiting St. Petersburg - of which there are now almost half a million every year - do not need a Russian visa provided they are staying in the city for no longer than 72 hours. Therefore, if you book a cruise and St. Petersburg is one of the calls, you DO NOT NEED to get a Russian visa before you depart. However, travelling without a Russian visa does impose strict limitations on your time in St. Petersburg, so it's certainly worth considering the option of getting a Russian Travel Visa before you start your cruise.
The 72-hour exemption for cruise ship passengers does not mean that visitors have three days free in St. Petersburg. Not only will you have to sleep on the ship (not a problem for most cruise passengers), you will also have to be accompanied at all times on shore by a licensed tour guide. In other words, from the moment you leave the ship in the morning to the moment you step back on board in the evening, you will have to follow a pre-arranged schedule and will not have the opportunity to explore the city under your own steam. Cruise operators will expect their clients to book the St. Petersburg tours offered on-board or during booking. In fact, there are essentially three options for cruise passengers visiting St. Petersburg:
1. Book the tour recommended by your cruise operator
This is certainly the simplest option, the path of least resistance even. However, beyond the lack of choice in what you see and do in St. Petersburg, the tours offered by your cruise operator or booking agent are likely to be significantly more expensive than tours you book independently.
2. Book a tour independently
Though you may be encouraged to think otherwise, the tours offered by your cruise operator or booking agent are not the only options for cruise ship passengers to see St. Petersburg visa-free. There are a number of independent companies in St. Petersburg with the necessary licensing to offer shore tours for cruise ship passengers without Russian visas. Not only will this option give you much greater choice in terms of what you can see and do - as well as a wide range of more original and unusual tours, many companies will give you the option of designing your own itinerary - tours booked with independent local companies are in general considerably cheaper than those offered by your cruise operator.
3. Get a Russian Travel Visa
If you prefer to be truly free to do what you want while in St. Petersburg, the only option is to obtain Russian Travel Visas before you depart on your cruise. This is essential if, for example, you plan to meet up with friends or family in St. Petersburg, or if you want to enjoy the city's colorful nightlife (especially tempting if you're visiting during the White Nights). While getting a Russian Visa can seem a laborious process, our simple step-by-step guide will help to make it as painless as possible and, provided you apply for your visas in good time, the expense is likely to be no more than you would otherwise have to pay for guided tours if you chose to travel visa-free.
If staying out late is part of your reason for wanting a Russian Visa, then it's probably also worth booking accommodation in St. Petersburg as there are likely to be restrictions on returning to your ship after a certain point in the evening. If you book accommodation, then you should be provided with visa support documents free-of-charge (this is certainly the case if you book hotel or apartment accommodation through our website). If you are not planning to book accommodation in St. Petersburg, you will need to order visa support documents separately, which you can do from recommended providers here.