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Comparing SPB & Alla Tours in St. Petersburg


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Ditto to that fizzy! If we try to do everything the first time around, we will be left with no excuse to return for a second time around! When will you be traveling?

 

 

Dolfans from Miami

 

"When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do!"

Walt Disney

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Ditto to that fizzy! If we try to do everything the first time around, we will be left with no excuse to return for a second time around! When will you be traveling?

 

 

Dolfans from Miami

 

"When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do!"

Walt Disney

Middle of Aug, canrt wait, first cruise with Celebrity, infact first Port cruise, only been on two TA with Cunard and thats it !! scarry !!

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Middle of Aug, canrt wait, first cruise with Celebrity, infact first Port cruise, only been on two TA with Cunard and thats it !! scarry !!

 

Ahhh, you're a newbie! Celebrity is great. We have sailed with them several times and loved it. You sure picked a great 1st port cruise and you are in the right place to gather information. Before you know it, you will be hooked and putting together your own 4 inch binder! (I sent you a little message back on the other post you were on earlier)! Enjoy the planning phase. It is almost as much fun as the vacation itself! Best of luck.

 

 

Dolfans from Miami

 

"When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do!"

Walt Disney

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Hello Baltic-bound cruisers. I’ll be on a cruise to this area in May 2013 and have faced a similar situation in trying to choose the “best” tour provider, particularly for St Petersburg. I can understand how good tour experiences in the past have influenced the judgement of new searchers because the raving tourists keep posting some outstanding reviews for whichever tour provider they used. This is not such a bad thing because one would expect that the tour experience should be nothing short of excellent, but it muddles the ability to make a reasonable comparison. I took a different approach and decided to do a pseudo-scientific analysis. Using Trip Advisor as the data source I looked at the reviews for the St Petersburg offerings from Alla, SPB Tours and TJ Travel. They are put into five categories: Excellent, Very Good, Average, Poor and Terrible. The scores were as follows:

Alla: E = 297; V = 18; A = 1; P = 5; T = 2, for a total of 323 reviews

SPB: E = 164; V = 2; A = 1; P = 2: T = 0, for a total of 169 reviews

TJ: E = 118; V = 7; A = 2; P = 0; T = 1, for a total of 128 reviews.

 

On a percentage basis more than 97% of the tourists gave a rating of excellent or very good to all three providers. Now that didn’t help me much and so I looked more closely at the reviews that were below average. But I didn’t want to consider old gripes because everyone should be given a chance at redemption. So I focused on the reviews for tours taken in 2012 only. For Alla, 3 out of a total of 7 below average ratings were from 2012; 2 out of 2 for SPB and 1 out of 1 for TJ. But what were the details of these gripes and what was the tour provider’s perspective and response. Here is a summary:

 

Alla Poor #1: Not enough time in Hermitage; Visited tatty shops; Detoured to pick up hotel guests; Guide effusively irritating; No boat ride; Low standard food. Alla’s response: None.

Alla Poor #2: Late leaving port; Bus microphone not working, no spares; Guide difficult to understand; Alla wanted to change the itinerary. Alla’s response: None.

Alla Terrible #1: Spent an hour at Alla’s junk store. Guide full of propaganda; Lunch worse than prison food. Alla’s response: None.

SPB Poor #1: Disorganized; Late start; Problems with cheap headsets; Subway ride on dingy train; Late for lunch, provided with hamburgers instead; Waited one and a half hours to board the hydrofoil while other jumped the queue. SPB’s response: None.

SPB Poor #2: Guide’s English not understandable; Returned to the ship an hour and a half before schedule; Late starting the 2nd day; Returned early again to the ship; Driver aggressive (in traffic). SPB’s response: None

TJ’s Terrible #1: Visas were not obtained; Had to take ship’s tour. TJ’s response: The tourists contacted TJ five days before arriving in St Pete. Personal data for blanket visa application was emailed from the ship 2 days before arrival. Russian regulations require 3 days to process visa applications.

 

What I was looking at was the nature of the problems and how they were handled. So although the reviews were very good for the three tour operators I felt that my chances at getting better service would be with TJ Travel.

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Excellent research Trevsaq. As has been stated many times, you can't go wrong with either of the providers. I expect all of them to have some displeased customers, since everyone has different expectations. I really find it most impressive that all of the companies have such high ratings. Therefore in my research, which provided the same level of frustration since three were minimal differences, I went with the company that had the most experience and highest number of reviews, Alla. I also believe she has been doing this longer than the other two.

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Hi Trevsaq,

Although I am certain that TJ Tours will provide you with a quality tour in Saint Petersburg as will Alla Tours (we used Alla & loved her!) or SPB tours, I was cautioned by some wise Cruise Critic members to take what is posted on TripAdvisor with a "grain of salt".

Just thought I would "pass on" what I learned.

 

Bottom line: I was informed that the reviews on Cruise Critic are more reliable than those on TripAdvisor. Hope it helps. :)

BTW, TJ Tours receive excellent reviews on Cruise Critic!!

As MYP in Boynton pointed out, Alla Tours has been in business the longest and has the greatest number of reviews. Hence the greater possibity of people with an axe to grind. I would assume the same is true for SPB tours.

 

Link to Cruise Critic thread:

http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?p=31981346#post31981346

 

Quotes:

 

.PLUS, what you read on Trip Advisor can be taken with a grain of salt as who knows how many of the companies listed have been complimented by family member, or the company themselves. TA doesn't care who writes a review, over here, you are getting it from people who have been and are only looking to help others.

 

 

 

Cheers

 

Len

 

It has been noted in the past that anyone can post a review on Trip Advisor, even the tour operator, in different ways.

It has also been known that many hotels, tours, and any other things reviewed on TA, can, and have, been 'padded'.

Just because an operator advertises on TA doesn't mean that they are not good, just that the buyer should take reviews with a grain of salt.

 

I have used TA for several things also. I did a trip to Williamsburg last summer. After asking several questions, many of the answers where from some one who works for Colonial Williamsburg and was always pushing their agenda. Does that make it more desirable than a tip or review from others who have no 'axe to grind'??

 

All I meant was that the reviews on TA CAN be above what may be considered 'the truth'.

 

 

Cheers

 

Len

 

I am in total agreement.

I use the TA site a great deal (always with caution). One very important point to take into consideration is the number of reviews a poster has submitted. If there are a number of "one time" reviewers for a particular venue it may indicate the reviews are being solicited rather than spontaneous. Other times, someone may post a really horrible review because they have an ax to grind. If one uses the reviews and rankings in an informed way, they can be very helpful as one piece of infomarion in planning.

 

 

jill

 

 

 

Hello Baltic-bound cruisers. I’ll be on a cruise to this area in May 2013 and have faced a similar situation in trying to choose the “best” tour provider, particularly for St Petersburg. I can understand how good tour experiences in the past have influenced the judgement of new searchers because the raving tourists keep posting some outstanding reviews for whichever tour provider they used. This is not such a bad thing because one would expect that the tour experience should be nothing short of excellent, but it muddles the ability to make a reasonable comparison. I took a different approach and decided to do a pseudo-scientific analysis. Using Trip Advisor as the data source I looked at the reviews for the St Petersburg offerings from Alla, SPB Tours and TJ Travel. They are put into five categories: Excellent, Very Good, Average, Poor and Terrible. The scores were as follows:

Alla: E = 297; V = 18; A = 1; P = 5; T = 2, for a total of 323 reviews

SPB: E = 164; V = 2; A = 1; P = 2: T = 0, for a total of 169 reviews

TJ: E = 118; V = 7; A = 2; P = 0; T = 1, for a total of 128 reviews.

 

On a percentage basis more than 97% of the tourists gave a rating of excellent or very good to all three providers. Now that didn’t help me much and so I looked more closely at the reviews that were below average. But I didn’t want to consider old gripes because everyone should be given a chance at redemption. So I focused on the reviews for tours taken in 2012 only. For Alla, 3 out of a total of 7 below average ratings were from 2012; 2 out of 2 for SPB and 1 out of 1 for TJ. But what were the details of these gripes and what was the tour provider’s perspective and response. Here is a summary:

 

Alla Poor #1: Not enough time in Hermitage; Visited tatty shops; Detoured to pick up hotel guests; Guide effusively irritating; No boat ride; Low standard food. Alla’s response: None.

Alla Poor #2: Late leaving port; Bus microphone not working, no spares; Guide difficult to understand; Alla wanted to change the itinerary. Alla’s response: None.

Alla Terrible #1: Spent an hour at Alla’s junk store. Guide full of propaganda; Lunch worse than prison food. Alla’s response: None.

SPB Poor #1: Disorganized; Late start; Problems with cheap headsets; Subway ride on dingy train; Late for lunch, provided with hamburgers instead; Waited one and a half hours to board the hydrofoil while other jumped the queue. SPB’s response: None.

SPB Poor #2: Guide’s English not understandable; Returned to the ship an hour and a half before schedule; Late starting the 2nd day; Returned early again to the ship; Driver aggressive (in traffic). SPB’s response: None

TJ’s Terrible #1: Visas were not obtained; Had to take ship’s tour. TJ’s response: The tourists contacted TJ five days before arriving in St Pete. Personal data for blanket visa application was emailed from the ship 2 days before arrival. Russian regulations require 3 days to process visa applications.

 

What I was looking at was the nature of the problems and how they were handled. So although the reviews were very good for the three tour operators I felt that my chances at getting better service would be with TJ Travel.

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Hello Baltic-bound cruisers. I’ll be on a cruise to this area in May 2013 and have faced a similar situation in trying to choose the “best” tour provider, particularly for St Petersburg. I can understand how good tour experiences in the past have influenced the judgement of new searchers because the raving tourists keep posting some outstanding reviews for whichever tour provider they used. This is not such a bad thing because one would expect that the tour experience should be nothing short of excellent, but it muddles the ability to make a reasonable comparison. I took a different approach and decided to do a pseudo-scientific analysis. Using Trip Advisor as the data source I looked at the reviews for the St Petersburg offerings from Alla, SPB Tours and TJ Travel. They are put into five categories: Excellent, Very Good, Average, Poor and Terrible. The scores were as follows:

Alla: E = 297; V = 18; A = 1; P = 5; T = 2, for a total of 323 reviews

SPB: E = 164; V = 2; A = 1; P = 2: T = 0, for a total of 169 reviews

TJ: E = 118; V = 7; A = 2; P = 0; T = 1, for a total of 128 reviews.

 

On a percentage basis more than 97% of the tourists gave a rating of excellent or very good to all three providers. Now that didn’t help me much and so I looked more closely at the reviews that were below average. But I didn’t want to consider old gripes because everyone should be given a chance at redemption. So I focused on the reviews for tours taken in 2012 only. For Alla, 3 out of a total of 7 below average ratings were from 2012; 2 out of 2 for SPB and 1 out of 1 for TJ. But what were the details of these gripes and what was the tour provider’s perspective and response. Here is a summary:

 

Alla Poor #1: Not enough time in Hermitage; Visited tatty shops; Detoured to pick up hotel guests; Guide effusively irritating; No boat ride; Low standard food. Alla’s response: None.

Alla Poor #2: Late leaving port; Bus microphone not working, no spares; Guide difficult to understand; Alla wanted to change the itinerary. Alla’s response: None.

Alla Terrible #1: Spent an hour at Alla’s junk store. Guide full of propaganda; Lunch worse than prison food. Alla’s response: None.

SPB Poor #1: Disorganized; Late start; Problems with cheap headsets; Subway ride on dingy train; Late for lunch, provided with hamburgers instead; Waited one and a half hours to board the hydrofoil while other jumped the queue. SPB’s response: None.

SPB Poor #2: Guide’s English not understandable; Returned to the ship an hour and a half before schedule; Late starting the 2nd day; Returned early again to the ship; Driver aggressive (in traffic). SPB’s response: None

TJ’s Terrible #1: Visas were not obtained; Had to take ship’s tour. TJ’s response: The tourists contacted TJ five days before arriving in St Pete. Personal data for blanket visa application was emailed from the ship 2 days before arrival. Russian regulations require 3 days to process visa applications.

 

What I was looking at was the nature of the problems and how they were handled. So although the reviews were very good for the three tour operators I felt that my chances at getting better service would be with TJ Travel.

 

Excellent research. I hope these 3 tour operators read this thread and hopefully improve from there.

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Excellent research Trevsaq. As has been stated many times, you can't go wrong with either of the providers. I expect all of them to have some displeased customers, since everyone has different expectations. I really find it most impressive that all of the companies have such high ratings. Therefore in my research, which provided the same level of frustration since three were minimal differences, I went with the company that had the most experience and highest number of reviews, Alla. I also believe she has been doing this longer than the other two.

 

YES, a very good and interesting research summary by Trevsaq. Here is my take, experience and suggestion:

 

The honest truth is that there are a number of very good to excellent private firms in St. Petersburg. Most people liked their tour and will beat the drums and say theirs are the "best". Of course, they have only tried one and do not have much real sense of "comparison". It is my suggestion to write to four or five of the top firms, tell them exactly what you want, seek and love. (And before doing this step, you might have to do some of your own advance research to determine those priorities.) See what you get back and which one is the "best fit" for your specific personal needs and travel style. Some people are very happy and satisfied with the basic, standard "formula" tour that is offered up. I am NOT a big fan, however, of "one size fits all". Personal choice!!

 

Others, like us, want things to be a little more custom. In our "planning process", I asked lots of questions (after doing that advance reading and research) and got back many good replies (quickly) from Anastasia that helped me get my arms around the many options in St. Petersburg. Getting your trip "flow" and "pacing" is very important for St. Petersburg. We were super happy with how it all worked in having a great mix for what we saw and how it fit together. Another key factor is their "flexibility". Once in Russia and doing the first day, we asked about a couple of "schedule adjustments" and they got things done in a smooth and excellent manner. One item was a request to stop at a shop to buy a Russian-style military hat and I asked about getting an early admission at the Hermitage to avoid some of the bus/mass crowds at the regular hour. Making things custom and personal was very important to us. Some firms are flexible and very responsive. Others are not that way, nor interested or caring. That degree of custom/personal versus standard/more mass is part of the "choice" process. You need to determine what you want and need.

 

Clearly, a private, smaller tour is much better than being "forced marched" in a mass of 30-45 people through the Hermitage as the guide barks out the canned script for the various art works you are passing quickly past. We saw those types of ship tours while there and would hate to suffer under that type of less-than-desirable situation.

 

Just like there are many different sizes, styles and types of shoes, the same is true with private tour companies. We don't all wear and have same types of shoes for all needs, occasions and purposes. Below are a few of my visual samples to get folks prepared for the great glories that are there in St. Petersburg and why smaller tours can be best.

 

THANKS! Enjoy! Terry in Ohio

 

For details and visuals, etc., from our July 1-16, 2010, Norway Coast/Fjords/Arctic Circle cruise experience from Copenhagen on the Silver Cloud, check out this posting. This posting is now at 92,884 views.

http://www.boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1227923

 

 

Private, personal tours can be worth it, especially in St. Petersburg. Here our group of four, with our guide, Jane or Zhenya from Anastasia, we are viewing and learning more about one of the two da Vinci masterpieces (Madonna Litta or Madonna and Child) at the Hermitage after an early admission. There are only 14 such painting by this artist existing in the whole world. We did an early admission at the Hermitage, lessening the crowd battles and adding to the enjoyment in this spectacular place/set of five palaces AND museum. It is both! This Madonna and Child was probably painted in Milan, where the artist moved in 1482. The Madonna's tender gaze as she looks at her son, and the tranquillity of the distant mountainous landscape, reflect humanist dreams of Ideal Man and a Harmonious Life. Experts says the painting reveals great beauty in its coloring and composition. The painting came to the Czar's collection and museum in 1865 from the collection of Count Antonio Litta in Milan.:

 

1A-StP-HermitageDaVinciViewing.jpg

 

 

Inside Catherine's Palace in St. Petersburg with our personal guide from Anastasia, we view this spectacular reception “ballroom”, painted ceiling, gold, etc., at our pace and timing schedule, getting our personal questions answered, etc. This majestic setting requires a little time to “soak it up”.:

 

A-StP-CathPal.jpg

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Hi Trevsaq,

Although I am certain that TJ Tours will provide you with a quality tour in Saint Petersburg as will Alla Tours (we used Alla & loved her!) or SPB tours, I was cautioned by some wise Cruise Critic members to take what is posted on TripAdvisor with a "grain of salt".

Just thought I would "pass on" what I learned.

 

Bottom line: I was informed that the reviews on Cruise Critic are more reliable than those on TripAdvisor. Hope it helps. :)

BTW, TJ Tours receive excellent reviews on Cruise Critic!!

As MYP in Boynton pointed out, Alla Tours has been in business the longest and has the greatest number of reviews. Hence the greater possibity of people with an axe to grind. I would assume the same is true for SPB tours.

 

Link to Cruise Critic thread:

http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?p=31981346#post31981346

 

 

jill

 

I agree with you that TripAdvisor is helpful but that taking them with a grain of salt is good. I have booked Hotel Somandshjemmet Bethel for our pre and post cruise stay in May. I have been looking at reviews and most are excellent. In the past few days a new one came on that was complaining about everything. Some things that they would have known in advance had they done research. I went and looked at other reviews this person has done and they don't seem to be happy no matter where they stay.

 

Another example is the tour guides including the subway on tours in St Petersburg. Some people think it is a not miss opportunity and love it and others complain that it was a waste of time. Myself, I am looking forward to it since we don't have subways here. That is just a matter of personal preference.

 

Please don't discount a tour guide, hotel, etc. from a couple of bad reviews when the majority of their reviews are good. Some people are going to complain no matter what service they receive.

I chose Alla tours and have booked their 5 tour package. I got the best responses to my questions from Alla and have been happy with all correspondence so far.

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After perusing through the more recent posts on this thread, I could not resist the opportunity to commend the efforts of Trevsaq, dogs4fun, PC168 and TLCOhio in providing excellent points on this topic. I as well was in the same dilemma as others faced with the daunting task of figuring out who to choose as my tour guide for our 2 day visit in SPB coming up in June of this year. One might ask why this is such a difficult undertaking and I think I can safely answer that in the end, we all want to choose the tour company that provides exceptional customer service, professionalism, great value for the price and an overall comprehensive tour experience. In order to accomplish these needs, we must rely on information provided to us by other sources such as the Cruise Critic Boards and Trip Advisor. I also would like to note that in Rick Steves Scandinavia tour book, he also mentions not relying solely on the reviews on Trip Advisor as dogs4fun has pointed out (comments on this topic can be found on page 23 in his March 2012 Scandinavia guide book). In the end, IMHO, all 3 of the guides used in Trevsaq's research received exceptional reviews and I don't see how anyone could go wrong in choosing either one of them. For me the decision was easy after the many communication exchanges I had with Alla. She responded quickly and very eager to assist me with the many questions I had regarding the touring process. She provided excellent and easy step by step instructions for registering for the tour as well as explaining in great detail the differences amongst the various itineraries offered. In the end, I felt like all my needs were met with Alla and we are very much looking forward to our visit! Good luck to all of you and I wish you all the best!

 

 

Dolfans from Miami

 

"When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do!"

Walt Disney

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I agree with you that TripAdvisor is helpful but that taking them with a grain of salt is good. I have booked Hotel Somandshjemmet Bethel for our pre and post cruise stay in May. I have been looking at reviews and most are excellent. In the past few days a new one came on that was complaining about everything. Some things that they would have known in advance had they done research. I went and looked at other reviews this person has done and they don't seem to be happy no matter where they stay.

 

Another example is the tour guides including the subway on tours in St Petersburg. Some people think it is a not miss opportunity and love it and others complain that it was a waste of time. Myself, I am looking forward to it since we don't have subways here. That is just a matter of personal preference.

 

Please don't discount a tour guide, hotel, etc. from a couple of bad reviews when the majority of their reviews are good. Some people are going to complain no matter what service they receive.

I chose Alla tours and have booked their 5 tour package. I got the best responses to my questions from Alla and have been happy with all correspondence so far.

 

Hi Mysticks1

I apologize that I did not acknowledge you in my previous post. We must have been "typing" at the same time and you beat me to the punch! I hate when that happens! Anyway, thank you for providing us with your excellent points. I agree with you that some people are never happy no matter what. I refer to them as "Debbie Downers" and please, no offense to any Debbie's out there! Anyway, enjoy your trip and your 5 City "Five Star" tour package with Alla! Should be fabulous! Take care!

 

 

Dolfans from Miami

 

"When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do!"

Walt Disney

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Hello Mike: I quite understand the difficulty that the overabundance of rave reviews has caused when trying to pick a tour provider. You cannot be faulted for your choice and it’s really a personal thing. Alla started in 2005 while SPB and TJ got going in 2007. What gave me a bit of concern was that the more experienced tour operator was still generating less than average reviews last year for some matters that ought to have been overcome over the years. It made me wonder whether success has caused a bit of complacency although admittedly the sample pool was small. Methinks that everyone will have a good time . . . and then this time next year we’ll be reading a big new bunch of outstanding reviews for all of the tour companies. I can be reached at Trevsaq connected to @hotmail.com

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Hello Mike: I quite understand the difficulty that the overabundance of rave reviews has caused when trying to pick a tour provider. You cannot be faulted for your choice and it’s really a personal thing. Alla started in 2005 while SPB and TJ got going in 2007. What gave me a bit of concern was that the more experienced tour operator was still generating less than average reviews last year for some matters that ought to have been overcome over the years. It made me wonder whether success has caused a bit of complacency although admittedly the sample pool was small. Methinks that everyone will have a good time . . . and then this time next year we’ll be reading a big new bunch of outstanding reviews for all of the tour companies. I can be reached at Trevsaq connected to @hotmail.com

 

With all three of the previously mentioned companies receiving an over 90% excellent rating, they are all very good. I am sorry that the info was deleted from the thread; since I think it pointed out that fact. I have been very impressed with Alla, her website and numerous communications I have had with her. I think I have made a great choice in selecting her; and know we will have some wonderful tours in five ports we are using her for. I will be doing a very thorough review of those after our cruise.

 

It should be comforting to all of the cruisers looking for a tour guide in the Baltics, that they will have a good experience with any of the popular ones.

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I agree with you that TripAdvisor is helpful but that taking them with a grain of salt is good. I have booked Hotel Somandshjemmet Bethel for our pre and post cruise stay in May. I have been looking at reviews and most are excellent. In the past few days a new one came on that was complaining about everything. Some things that they would have known in advance had they done research. I went and looked at other reviews this person has done and they don't seem to be happy no matter where they stay.

 

Another example is the tour guides including the subway on tours in St Petersburg. Some people think it is a not miss opportunity and love it and others complain that it was a waste of time. Myself, I am looking forward to it since we don't have subways here. That is just a matter of personal preference.

 

Please don't discount a tour guide, hotel, etc. from a couple of bad reviews when the majority of their reviews are good. Some people are going to complain no matter what service they receive.

 

I chose Alla tours and have booked their 5 tour package. I got the best responses to my questions from Alla and have been happy with all correspondence so far.

 

So true, so true! There will always be some who expect champagne for beer price or complain about whatever is there to complain about. I am reminded of the joke (hearsay) about the tourist who picked an exotic place for his travels and it turned out to be an underdeveloped, impoverished nation. After touring for a day he told the guide that the place was awful as a tourist destination, the food terrible, the transportation unacceptable. He added: "This country is the backside of the world." The guide reaponded: "And you are just passing through!" :):D:)

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So true, so true! There will always be some who expect champagne for beer price or complain about whatever is there to complain about. I am reminded of the joke (hearsay) about the tourist who picked an exotic place for his travels and it turned out to be an underdeveloped, impoverished nation. After touring for a day he told the guide that the place was awful as a tourist destination, the food terrible, the transportation unacceptable. He added: "This country is the backside of the world." The guide reaponded: "And you are just passing through!" :):D:)

 

Now that is a very good one!! :D

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So true, so true! There will always be some who expect champagne for beer price or complain about whatever is there to complain about. I am reminded of the joke (hearsay) about the tourist who picked an exotic place for his travels and it turned out to be an underdeveloped, impoverished nation. After touring for a day he told the guide that the place was awful as a tourist destination, the food terrible, the transportation unacceptable. He added: "This country is the backside of the world." The guide reaponded: "And you are just passing through!" :):D:)

 

That's a good one. :D

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Hello Baltic-bound cruisers. I’ll be on a cruise to this area in May 2013 and have faced a similar situation in trying to choose the “best” tour provider, particularly for St Petersburg. I can understand how good tour experiences in the past have influenced the judgement of new searchers because the raving tourists keep posting some outstanding reviews for whichever tour provider they used. This is not such a bad thing because one would expect that the tour experience should be nothing short of excellent, but it muddles the ability to make a reasonable comparison. I took a different approach and decided to do a pseudo-scientific analysis. Using Trip Advisor as the data source I looked at the reviews for the St Petersburg offerings from Alla, SPB Tours and TJ Travel. They are put into five categories: Excellent, Very Good, Average, Poor and Terrible. The scores were as follows:

Alla: E = 297; V = 18; A = 1; P = 5; T = 2, for a total of 323 reviews

SPB: E = 164; V = 2; A = 1; P = 2: T = 0, for a total of 169 reviews

TJ: E = 118; V = 7; A = 2; P = 0; T = 1, for a total of 128 reviews.

 

On a percentage basis more than 97% of the tourists gave a rating of excellent or very good to all three providers. Now that didn’t help me much and so I looked more closely at the reviews that were below average. But I didn’t want to consider old gripes because everyone should be given a chance at redemption. So I focused on the reviews for tours taken in 2012 only. For Alla, 3 out of a total of 7 below average ratings were from 2012; 2 out of 2 for SPB and 1 out of 1 for TJ. But what were the details of these gripes and what was the tour provider’s perspective and response. Here is a summary:

 

Alla Poor #1: Not enough time in Hermitage; Visited tatty shops; Detoured to pick up hotel guests; Guide effusively irritating; No boat ride; Low standard food. Alla’s response: None.

Alla Poor #2: Late leaving port; Bus microphone not working, no spares; Guide difficult to understand; Alla wanted to change the itinerary. Alla’s response: None.

Alla Terrible #1: Spent an hour at Alla’s junk store. Guide full of propaganda; Lunch worse than prison food. Alla’s response: None.

SPB Poor #1: Disorganized; Late start; Problems with cheap headsets; Subway ride on dingy train; Late for lunch, provided with hamburgers instead; Waited one and a half hours to board the hydrofoil while other jumped the queue. SPB’s response: None.

SPB Poor #2: Guide’s English not understandable; Returned to the ship an hour and a half before schedule; Late starting the 2nd day; Returned early again to the ship; Driver aggressive (in traffic). SPB’s response: None

TJ’s Terrible #1: Visas were not obtained; Had to take ship’s tour. TJ’s response: The tourists contacted TJ five days before arriving in St Pete. Personal data for blanket visa application was emailed from the ship 2 days before arrival. Russian regulations require 3 days to process visa applications.

 

What I was looking at was the nature of the problems and how they were handled. So although the reviews were very good for the three tour operators I felt that my chances at getting better service would be with TJ Travel.

 

I've been reading this thread and your calculations are fascinating. But sometimes numbers do not tell the entire story of a company. As was said, I truly believe you get a more honest assessment from Cruise Critic than from Trip Advisor.

But, sometimes you have to go right to the 'horse's mouth' as they say and contact each of these companies on your own. I know that was what sold me on SPB Tours over some of the others. Yes reviews are fine, but, as has been said, there is always some people who just will never be happy.

When we were looking for a tour company, we wrote to all the major players. Some wrote back right away, some sent sort of form letters for us to fill out and others we didn't hear from for maybe a week. Obviously, we eliminated all that didn't respond right away, and all that sent us form letters. That narrowed it down to 3, and we decided on SPB because of Viktoria, the owner, and just the way she just seems to really take a personal interest in us truly having a good time with her company.

I worked in the service industry for over 30 years, and to us, that is the main reasons for choosing a particular company. A few dollars more or less didn't mean much to us. All the tour companies will show you St Petersberg and do an excellent job doing that. All have Russian guides that speak excellent English but there will always be one in the party that can't understand the accent. (in other words, your bad review) We value personal contact, the way Viktoria responded to all our questions and her replies made us feel so confident that we were doing the right thing. We just didn't get that from Alla and Red October. We decided on SPB and have never regretted it one bit.

I understand how you came about your decision, but you should, at least, try and contact the tour groups you are considering, and see how they feel to you that way.

 

Cheers

 

Len

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We will be visiting SPB in June/2013 sailing on RCI Brilliance of the Seas. We are very much looking forward to touring with Alla during our 2 day visit. Like others have posted, I don't think you can go wrong with any of the "top rated" companies. I do think it comes down to personal preference and who you feel will be the best "fit" for you. In our case, a member of our party has a slight hearing impairment from many years of flying small aircrafts. When this concern was presented to the several companies we contacted, Alla was quick to respond to our needs with several good options that she could provide for us. In addition, she has posted videos on you tube showcasing her guides which gave us the opportunity to listen to their commentary to put our concerns for potential communication issues to rest. For us, the special accommodations and fantastic customer service she has offered made our decision easy. She is the best "fit" for us!

 

 

Dolfans from Miami

 

"When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do!"

Walt Disney

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I understand how you came about your decision, but you should, at least, try and contact the tour groups you are considering, and see how they feel to you that way.

 

Cheers

 

Len

 

Hello Len: Your point is very correct. In my analysis of the past reviews I didn't mention my present actions. Initially was in touch with Viktoria of SPB for some special interest features and I got handed over to another person (whose name I shall not reveal) and unfortunately it took a few email exchanges with that substitute person for him to figure out an appropriate plan. But that plan as well as cost was not as attractive the one offered by TJ whose representative caught on to my needs in our first email exchange.

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We all have our reasons for choosing one tour guide or the other; and they are probably all valid. What really matters is when you come back from your cruise, that you think you got the best guide and experience. Those that have used all of these guides in the past think that theirs is the best. I am sure that I will feel the same way; as will the rest of us. Sounds like we will all have a great time.:)

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We all have our reasons for choosing one tour guide or the other; and they are probably all valid. What really matters is when you come back from your cruise, that you think you got the best guide and experience. Those that have used all of these guides in the past think that theirs is the best. I am sure that I will feel the same way; as will the rest of us. Sounds like we will all have a great time.:)

 

Thank you for sharing your wonderful perspective on this issue, fellow Floridian! I think it is safe to say that a majority of us cruisers will invest time and effort in conducting research prior to arriving at a decision on whom to book with. Therefore, some may feel the need to somewhat "defend" and/or "validate" their decision to others whom express their strong opinions on the company that one has chosen not to go with. A very natural instinct that we all posses. On a lighter note, I would like to wish everyone a safe and memorable journey!

 

 

Dolfans from Miami

 

"When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do!"

Walt Disney

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Thank you for sharing your wonderful perspective on this issue, fellow Floridian! I think it is safe to say that a majority of us cruisers will invest time and effort in conducting research prior to arriving at a decision on whom to book with. Therefore, some may feel the need to somewhat "defend" and/or "validate" their decision to others whom express their strong opinions on the company that one has chosen not to go with. A very natural instinct that we all posses. On a lighter note, I would like to wish everyone a safe and memorable journey!

 

Dolfans from Miami

 

 

HEAR, Here! I now propose a taste: To St Pete . . . with vodka!!

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