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St. Petersburg: Alla Tours vs. Viking Tours

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We are on the Viking Sky on April 26, 2019 for Russia and the Baltic Sea. I have already booked a spot with Alla Tours for their three day Grand Tour, and thought I was all settled with that plan. I know about the lower cost, the smaller group size, and the excellent recommendations. The schedule covers every single place we want to visit. 

 

Why am I having second thoughts? Viking has just posted the excursions, and it seems that at every location, the time allotted on a Viking visit is longer than on the Alla tour (even after deducting for travel time). We would see fewer of our desired sights, but spend more time at the ones we did get to see. This alternate plan to use Viking of course depends on our ability to book the excursions I am considering, and our willingness to pay the extra, and deal with the larger groups. The more limited Viking itinerary would include the Hermitage, a walking tour, the Catherine Palace and Gardens, the Faberge Museum, a canal tour, St. Isaac's Cathedral, and the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood. Alla does all that, and adds St. Peter & Paul Fortress and Cathedral, Peterhof Gardens, the impressionist collection of the Hermitage, and a subway ride. 

 

Does anyone have any input, just on the issue of more time at fewer places? I am pretty sure this will be the only time we get to visit this beautiful city, so I would appreciate any advice. Thanks in advance.

 

 

 

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The subway ride is quite unique. The Peterhoff Gardens are simply stunning. It’s a SPB landmark for us.  I was kind of peopled out at The Hermitage - so cant really comment on that. 

 

I always avoid large bus loads. Everywhere. I’d stick with Alla. Simply because of seeing Peterhoff Gardens. 

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While I can’t apeak on Vikings offerings, we used Alla for a comprehensive 2 day tour in St Petersburg and couldn’t have been happier.  We had more than enough time to see everything we wanted and loved we were in a group of 14 rather than a bus load of people.  The Fabrege museum is beautiful and just one of many highlights.  Enjoy your travels.

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Can't comment of the Viking Excursion, but we did a 2-day Alla Tour last year. Our ship had 20 people signed up with Alla, so they provided 2 buses, for 2 groups of 10.

 

The subway ride, especially the stations are stunning. You visit the deepest station. The Fortress is impressive, as are the gardens. Our Alla tour was one of the best ship excursions we have ever taken.

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14 minutes ago, Pushka said:

The subway ride is quite unique. The Peterhoff Gardens are simply stunning. It’s a SPB landmark for us.  I was kind of peopled out at The Hermitage - so cant really comment on that. 

 

I always avoid large bus loads. Everywhere. I’d stick with Alla. Simply because of seeing Peterhoff Gardens. 

We will be there May 1, 2, and 3. Will it be too early in the year for the Gardens to have much impact?

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6 minutes ago, suspaul said:

While I can’t apeak on Vikings offerings, we used Alla for a comprehensive 2 day tour in St Petersburg and couldn’t have been happier.  We had more than enough time to see everything we wanted and loved we were in a group of 14 rather than a bus load of people.  The Fabrege museum is beautiful and just one of many highlights.  Enjoy your travels.

The Faberge Museum is high on my wish list, but Alla only allows an  hour to visit, while Viking allows two hours inside. This is behind my confusion! I guess that the smaller groups may help speed things along with Alla!

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6 minutes ago, Heidi13 said:

Can't comment of the Viking Excursion, but we did a 2-day Alla Tour last year. Our ship had 20 people signed up with Alla, so they provided 2 buses, for 2 groups of 10.

 

The subway ride, especially the stations are stunning. You visit the deepest station. The Fortress is impressive, as are the gardens. Our Alla tour was one of the best ship excursions we have ever taken.

That's pretty high praise, given your experience. Thanks for the input.

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The gardens are always beautiful. It will be springtime!  Snow will all be gone. 

 

Faberge was high on my list too. With a smaller group it will be better I think. 

Edited by Pushka

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We went with Alla for two days and they were excellent. We went to the Faberge as part of the trip which Viking were not offering at the time and we had plenty of time there. We did not feel rushed at all over the two days and were delighted with their service. I would be reassured by all these comments - you will be much less rushed in the Alla small group and I am sure overall will see more.

Edited by robinhood1

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Go with Alla. Smaller groups move faster, see more. You can't spend hours and hours at each museum, you only have time for a taste if you want to see all the things that are included on the list.

 

PS, used Alla 10 years ago. Loved it. Loved our guide. Only regret was not limiting our group to 6 people rather than 12. Might have been cheaper per person but even 12 was too many for a small group tour.

Edited by Peregrina651

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I appreciate all your comments. Your unanimous support for Alla is reassuring, and has eliminated my second thoughts about what is, after all, a "first-world" problem.  I had lost track of the fact that this type of travel is only meant to offer a taste, and even three days in St. Petersburg will not be enough to see everything, but I am most grateful to have the chance to see it at all. Thanks for reminding me.

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We loved Alla. We booked it for 6 of us and she even made some extra stops for us...a local grocery/restaurant, a neighborhood...it was unbelievably good.

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Count me in with Alla provides the best tours.  I would not hesitate to book with them again.  We only had 6 people in our group and was very thankful for that.  Larger groups tend to have longer bathroom breaks, longer time to round everyone up at a meeting point on free time,  longer time boarding the bus.  You lose a lot of your time waiting for others on a ship sponsored excursion. 

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3 hours ago, jiminyC_fan said:

Count me in with Alla provides the best tours.  I would not hesitate to book with them again.  We only had 6 people in our group and was very thankful for that.  Larger groups tend to have longer bathroom breaks, longer time to round everyone up at a meeting point on free time,  longer time boarding the bus.  You lose a lot of your time waiting for others on a ship sponsored excursion. 

 

Thats a good point. The extra times at the various places might just be to allow for longer toilet breaks for so many extra people. And those who are always late. Get lost. Forget the time....I really don’t like larger bus tours do I? On our last trip one woman complained that the windows were dirty so she couldn’t take photos so wanted to sit where the tour leader was. There’s always one, or three in every group. 

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I'm sorry but that's just too funny.  Dirty windows and wanted the tour leaders seat......LOL.   I bet a million bucks all she wanted was a front row seat.  I mean, who wouldn't!   Sheesh.  I sure hope she didn't get her way.

Edited by jiminyC_fan

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1 hour ago, Pushka said:

 

Thats a good point. The extra times at the various places might just be to allow for longer toilet breaks for so many extra people. And those who are always late. Get lost. Forget the time....I really don’t like larger bus tours do I? On our last trip one woman complained that the windows were dirty so she couldn’t take photos so wanted to sit where the tour leader was. There’s always one, or three in every group. 

 

Sorry, the least  I expect on a tour bus is that windows get washed regularly so that people can see out of them and so that people can take pictures out of the windows. 

 

I'm not going to demand a special seat just so I can take pictures but I expect a certain level of cleanliness.

Edited by Peregrina651

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45 minutes ago, Peregrina651 said:

 

Sorry, the least  I expect on a tour bus is that windows get washed regularly so that people can see out of them and so that people can take pictures out of the windows. 

 

I'm not going to demand a special seat just so I can take pictures but I expect a certain level of cleanliness.

 

Well, the thing is the windows weren’t dirty. We surmised that her issue was more that she didn’t want to sit at the back as she was one of the last to arrive off the ship, and wanted a seat upfront. Couched in terns of a dirty window.  It wasn’t with Viking by the way. 

Edited by Pushka

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1 hour ago, jiminyC_fan said:

I'm sorry but that's just too funny.  Dirty windows and wanted the tour leaders seat......LOL.   I bet a million bucks all she wanted was a front row seat.  I mean, who wouldn't!   Sheesh.  I sure hope she didn't get her way.

 

Yes, that was exactly what she wanted. And no, it didn’t work. Everyone told her to take her seat as she was holding us up! 

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2 hours ago, jiminyC_fan said:

I can honestly say that I have never been on a ship's bus tour with dirty windows.

 

Up until this bus, I would have said the same. But, there is always a first time and you should have seen our bus in Algiers--and it was Viking. It had been a while since they were washed. It just wasn't up to Viking normal standards. The seat backs weren't very trustworthy either. DH had trouble with his and I kept waiting for the mechanism to let go and crush the knees and jaw of the guy behind. I didn't check out the other buses or ask anyone else about their bus, so I'm only talking about the bus I was on and not generalizing about all of the buses that were on the dock waiting for us.

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We did a two-day "comfort" tour with Alla this past September on Viking Homelands. Our tour bus didn't have dirty windows but because the driver was a smoker the entire bus reeked of stale cigarette smoke which was truly nauseating. Aside from that, the tour was fine but I will say that SPB is not for everybody. I personally found the city rather depressing and the places we visited were horribly crowded with people pushing and shoving to move through the areas. The lunch they served us on the first day of the tour was so disgusting I couldn't eat it and I generally can eat just about anything. The grounds of the Peterhof Palace were interesting but the inside tour was again ridiculously crowded, slow-moving and I just didn't enjoy it. Of all the ports visited on Homelands, SPB was by far our least favorite. 

Interestingly, we were chatting with the cruise director and assistant cruise director later and they both said that they always remain on the ship when they dock in SPB. In the end, to each their own and I'm glad we got to visit but would never again go on a cruise that stopped in SPB. But that's just me.

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9 hours ago, tsakishuman said:

We did a two-day "comfort" tour with Alla this past September on Viking Homelands. Our tour bus didn't have dirty windows but because the driver was a smoker the entire bus reeked of stale cigarette smoke which was truly nauseating. Aside from that, the tour was fine but I will say that SPB is not for everybody. I personally found the city rather depressing and the places we visited were horribly crowded with people pushing and shoving to move through the areas. The lunch they served us on the first day of the tour was so disgusting I couldn't eat it and I generally can eat just about anything. The grounds of the Peterhof Palace were interesting but the inside tour was again ridiculously crowded, slow-moving and I just didn't enjoy it. Of all the ports visited on Homelands, SPB was by far our least favorite. 

Interestingly, we were chatting with the cruise director and assistant cruise director later and they both said that they always remain on the ship when they dock in SPB. In the end, to each their own and I'm glad we got to visit but would never again go on a cruise that stopped in SPB. But that's just me.

We generally try to avoid hot weather and crowds, so we will be there May 1-3. I'm pretty sure it won't be hot, and I am hoping the crowds will be less intense. I think we will manage to enjoy ourselves even if it is crowded: Venice is one of our favorite cities and the crowds there can be overwhelming! Viking's own Karine Hagen claims St. Petersburg as her favorite city, so my expectations  and enthusiasm for this trip are quite high. I'm sorry your experience did not live up to the city's reputation.

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We visited SPB in mid-Sept, which is getting towards the end of the season. Attractions were busy, but no worse than we expected. With Alla, we had timed tickets for all attractions and only waited in 1 queue, which was outwith Alla's control.

 

Even though we were the only cruise ship in port, being a major tourist attraction, we expected crowds, but they were no worse than Venice, Rome/Vatican City, Petra, Giza, etc. With May being early season, my best guess is you would experience queues similar to our experience.

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12 hours ago, tsakishuman said:

Interestingly, we were chatting with the cruise director and assistant cruise director later and they both said that they always remain on the ship when they dock in SPB.

Not unsurprising, since Russian Immigration require a visitor's visa or going ashore with an approved tour provider. The new cruise terminal is also many miles from town.

 

After visiting a port many times and having been on most/all tours, I often did not go ashore. After completing 2 summers in Alaska, being in the same port on the same day every week, I also rarely went ashore. Not because of nothing to see, but because I had been so often.

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On 1/12/2019 at 4:19 AM, robinhood1 said:

We went with Alla for two days and they were excellent. We went to the Faberge as part of the trip which Viking were not offering at the time and we had plenty of time there. We did not feel rushed at all over the two days and were delighted with their service. I would be reassured by all these comments - you will be much less rushed in the Alla small group and I am sure overall will see more.

 

This was our experience also.  I would definitely book Alla again if we have the chance. We loved the Faberge and the subway ride.  Actually, we loved all of it.  And the price difference compared to Viking made it even better.

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