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Petronillus

St. Petersburg, Russia -- shore excursion tour operators

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DW & I are booked in the 14-day Baltic cruise in September of this year. We are traveling with another couple, although we are not constrained to book all shore excursions with them; for an attractive enough package we could be a party of four, or DW & I could go off on our own as a party of two.

Our itinerary includes two days in St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida!), scheduled to start at 7:00 am on Friday and to end at 6:00 pm on Saturday. The Russian visa, which is both expensive and complicated to obtain, is required but "waived" if a two-day shore excursion is booked through the cruise line or directly with a state-approved tour operator. In other words, Mother Russia discourages tourists from wandering around on their own and encourages them to submit to the watchful eyes of a selected minder.

My chief objective in this connection is to spend as much time as I desire in the Hermitage viewing as much of the collection as I desire and at the pace I desire. Sure, we can take a whirlwind tour of other "must see" attractions but I absolutely do not want to be rushed through the Hermitage or to miss parts of the collection that I am keen to see and see at my leisure.

Here's where I turn to the vast wisdom and experience of the CC community: does anyone out there in CC-land know about (ideally, have firsthand experience with) a reliable and reputable tour operator who will customize a private tour that will serve my needs?

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9 minutes ago, Petronillus said:

DW & I are booked in the 14-day Baltic cruise in September of this year. We are traveling with another couple, although we are not constrained to book all shore excursions with them; for an attractive enough package we could be a party of four, or DW & I could go off on our own as a party of two.

Our itinerary includes two days in St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida!), scheduled to start at 7:00 am on Friday and to end at 6:00 pm on Saturday. The Russian visa, which is both expensive and complicated to obtain, is required but "waived" if a two-day shore excursion is booked through the cruise line or directly with a state-approved tour operator. In other words, Mother Russia discourages tourists from wandering around on their own and encourages them to submit to the watchful eyes of a selected minder.

My chief objective in this connection is to spend as much time as I desire in the Hermitage viewing as much of the collection as I desire and at the pace I desire. Sure, we can take a whirlwind tour of other "must see" attractions but I absolutely do not want to be rushed through the Hermitage or to miss parts of the collection that I am keen to see and see at my leisure.

Here's where I turn to the vast wisdom and experience of the CC community: does anyone out there in CC-land know about (ideally, have firsthand experience with) a reliable and reputable tour operator who will customize a private tour that will serve my needs?

We did a tour with Alla and added extra time for the Hermitage. We also customized by adding a synagogue that one of the members wanted and when no one objected, it was added. I'm sure if you had a small enough group and wanted to basically spend your time in the Hermitage, that could be arranged.

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We also used Alla, you can hire them privately for just the 4 of you if you so desire or put a group together on your roll call.

 

there are other good tour operators too - too numerous to mention but all listed on the ports ports (TJ, Red October come to mind - but do check).

 

With any of these top operators they take care of the visa.

 

We also did a folkloric show in the evening.  Those in the group that didn't want to were returned to the ship while we waited in a little cafe for a bit of sustanence  and then we were taken there, picked up at the end and returned to the ship.

 

It went well.

 

We spent two lovely days and enjoyed it very much.  There is a lot to see besides the Hermitage so don't restrict yourself (unless you want to) and don't miss the little room at the back.  There is usually a special masterpiece there and many don't see it.

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The flip side of that... I love going to art museums and have been to many several times. On one trip to Amsterdam I went to both the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum twice each on different days. We took the ship's shore excursions when we were in St. Petersburg and I didn't feel rush in the Hermitage, nor did we follow the guide - we were simple allowed to meet at a specific time to get back on the bus. One thing to watch out for is arrival times - this was a particular PITA when we arrived at Peterhof along with 20 other tour buses... There you put on your blue paper booties and walk single file through. While interesting, it wasn't much fun - I would have rather just walked through the gardens. We did see a performance of Swan Lake with a live pit orchestra that was a nice evening off  the ship. Enjoy your trip!

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We have been twice, the first time on a Princess excursion we were very disappointed to not see the gold room in the hermitage or inside the churches.  The next cruise we booked a very custom tour with SPB tours who arranged for us to see the Gold room at the hermitage which was incredible,  behind the scenes fountains at Peterhof,  a canal cruise, visit Yusopov palace, a farmers market, subway ride, hydrofoil ride and no waiting.   Viktoria  will customize exactly what you are interested in seeing.

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You can't go wrong with TJ Tours. We found them excellent in all respects.

 

Rick

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5 hours ago, bennybear said:

We have been twice, the first time on a Princess excursion we were very disappointed to not see the gold room in the hermitage or inside the churches.  The next cruise we booked a very custom tour with SPB tours who arranged for us to see the Gold room at the hermitage which was incredible,  behind the scenes fountains at Peterhof,  a canal cruise, visit Yusopov palace, a farmers market, subway ride, hydrofoil ride and no waiting.   Viktoria  will customize exactly what you are interested in seeing.

I mentioned in an earlier post that we used the service of Alla. Our guide was actually Viktoria who opened her own agency SPB tours the following cruise season. Given our experience with her as a guide, I can safely also recommend her agency.

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I have been to St. Petersburg a few times, so last year I wanted to see things that are well off the beaten path for typical tours. My friends and I wanted a totally customized tour.

 

Every agency contacted, except one, either offered the usual tours, or had very little in the way of difference from the usual. Best Tours put together a two-day tour that met our specific requests. We went to a museum that looks, from ground level, like a monument only; the museum is below ground. We also went out to the summer home of a Czar, again not on any of the other tours.
The thing we wanted that was most different was a tour of the Hermitage from the point of view of the building itself as a piece of art; we wanted little emphasis on the art pieces in there. The tour guide did a lot of research, just for us!---talking about the building as she took us around. It was excellent.
I recommend that agency highly.

On my first trip to St. Petersburg I used Red October for the two days and evening. They did a fabulous job, taking us to every single place that all the HAL tours combined saw. It was expensive, but we saw everything! And, since we weren't a large group, we could see & hear the guide and the items as she explained things, and we had the opportunity to ask questions.

I have also taken HAL tours, but highly recommend using an agency, even if it costs more. You will get much more.
I suggest contacting several agencies, telling them precisely what you want, and letting them respond as to whether they can/will do it or not. That's the best way to get what YOU want.

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I am an art history major and if you really want to see St Petersberg with an art historian I would consider Tzar Travel. Natalia is amazing and was able to get us into places average tourists cannot see.  We were a group of 3 couples and reserved her for 3 full days.  Pricey! but amazing. Out tour was completely customized and she lets you stay as long as you like in each place you decide to visit.  

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We used an independent tour operator when we went on this cruise. They have a 12 passenger van, were very thorough and the tour guide was very informative and professional.

Tour Company “I ♥ TRAVEL SPB” Ltd.
Authorized Tour Operator MBT 005578
Tel: +7(812) 9318727 Fax: +7 (812) 6473418
http://www.petersburgguide.com http://www.itravelspb.com
e-mails: contrast@petersburgguide.com info@itravelspb.com

Do I require a tourist visa if I come by a cruise ship?

No. Those travellers arriving to and departing from St. Petersburg by a cruise or a ferry do not require a regular tourist visa to Russia if they book shore excursions with a licenced local tour operator. “I Love Travel St. Petersburg” is licenced to provide visa-free tours to cruise passengers. Our licence number is MBT 013246 (By clicking the link you will see our official registry entry with the Federal Agency of Tourism of the Russian Federation. The Russian name of our company looks as follows: ООО “Ай Трэвел СПб”). Our office is located at ST. Petersburg port “Marine Facade”, which makes service cruise passengers and cooperating with the Russian migration office easier and faster.

What is a Tour Ticket and how do I receive it?

Since cruise passengers do not have to have regular tourist visas to Russia if they book their shore excursions with a licenced tour operator, the passport control in St. Petersburg will ask for the confirmation that your tour is booked with such a tour operator. In other words, you will need to show your tickets for tours in St. Petersburg. Such a tour ticket has to contain
 

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We were very pleased with SPB Tours. We also used them in several other ports also.

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I am grateful for all the guidance. Based on your collective input, I'm inclined to go with SPB Tours. They offer packages that encompass almost all the other ports of call on our cruise. I was particularly struck by the negative reviews I read on TripAdvisor.com. First, that there were so few of them. And secondly, SPB took all of the complaints seriously and, it appears, bent over backwards in each case to make things right. 

Thanks to you all!

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We went with DenRus in 2009. Complete St.Petersburg Tour. They were excellent and arranged a private car to transfer us to a palace to view a folkloric show/reception the evening between.  They will do smaller private custom tours,  also. 

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17 hours ago, Petronillus said:

I am grateful for all the guidance. Based on your collective input, I'm inclined to go with SPB Tours. They offer packages that encompass almost all the other ports of call on our cruise. I was particularly struck by the negative reviews I read on TripAdvisor.com. First, that there were so few of them. And secondly, SPB took all of the complaints seriously and, it appears, bent over backwards in each case to make things right. 

Thanks to you all!

Good choice.  We used SPB in St. Petersburg and in Berlin.  We were thoroughly happy with them and I expect you will be too. 

 

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We used Anastasia's Travel. They completely customized our tour for our needs, and even tweeked it a bit on the fly when a few things took longer than we expected them to. They were willing to work with us to make sure we got to see what we wanted to see, and had some great information on all the sites we were seeing that was not in the guidebooks. 

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Personally I find it amazing how the reviews of virtually all of the licensed tour operators are virtually uniformly excellent, and I have been reading the No. Eur. board for a while.  The govt. must really keep an eye on them to ensure excellence.  To our benefit.

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Best Guides

bestguides-spb.com

 

tell them what you'd like to do. They can work something out for you. We had a private guide, driver, and a van for a party of 6. So accommodating and wonderful. I have recommended them to other friends and they've all come back raving about Best Guides. 

 

Have a wonderful time. 

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4 hours ago, Toofarfromthesea said:

Personally I find it amazing how the reviews of virtually all of the licensed tour operators are virtually uniformly excellent, and I have been reading the No. Eur. board for a while.  The govt. must really keep an eye on them to ensure excellence.  To our benefit.

 

I don't think the government has anything to do with it 😉

 

These are very lucrative businesses in St. Petersburg and some of the better paying jobs  here and highly sought after.  Guides enjoy what they do and their work ethic is quite high.  Based on my conversation with an owner I spoke to, they are all well aware of Cruise Critic, tripadvisor, etc and they very much want to provide a good service 😄 

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21 minutes ago, kazu said:

 

I don't think the government has anything to do with it 😉

 

These are very lucrative businesses in St. Petersburg and some of the better paying jobs  here and highly sought after.  Guides enjoy what they do and their work ethic is quite high.  Based on my conversation with an owner I spoke to, they are all well aware of Cruise Critic, tripadvisor, etc and they very much want to provide a good service 😄 

Although, I agree with your assessment,  I think the government does has something to do with the initial quality.

 

I base this on our experience with our tour back in 2007. We used Alla, and our very experienced guide Viktoria confided in us that she had gone through all the requirements to open her own agency the following season. (She is now the owner of SPB tours). It sounded like there was a lot for her to do to be able to open her own agency, so I believe that the government is at least somewhat involved as they make sure of the initial quality of those who wish to open their own agency.

 

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10 hours ago, ontheweb said:

Although, I agree with your assessment,  I think the government does has something to do with the initial quality

 

To an extent and somewhat indirectly, that is correct.

It's the (city) government that, years ago, saw an opportunity to increase tourist flows and offered lucrative terms to developers and operators to build a deep-sea port; it's the government that runs a tourism watchdog agency that is quite watchful (and dogged) when it comes to individual or corporate tour guide licenses; it's the government(s) that came up with the visa-free arrangement that effectively re-routes visa fees from federal coffers to the city economy, and it's the government that ultimately foots the bill for upkeep, maintenance, and restoration of the top attractions in the city (with the notable exception of Faberge museum, which seems to be a private collection).

 

That said, the government doesn't have any say in what individual tour companies decide to show their clients and what the guides can and cannot say during the tour. The market, which at this point is highly competitive, takes care of that. The downside, of course, is that millions of people over the years have done pretty much the same tour, tajen pretty much the same pictures, and heard pretty much the same jokes (raise your hand if you haven't heard "the tallest building in St. Petersburg" joke).

 

 

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Hi - we used SPB for our two day excursions and we were more than happy with the service they provided.

Everything was organized, in time, whenever possible no wait for tickets....

 

They had their own staff at the Eremitage with additional headsets and batteries in case they were needed.  They were prepared for everything.

 

Lunchbreak restaurants were nice.

 

There was really nothing to complain.

 

The price was reasonable, exchange rate during payment correct. The "Tourtickets" (instead of a visa) were provided and are included at their price.

 

I am sure most agencies provide the same good service (I have heard good recommendations about Alla, Red October and several others)

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It's been about eight years since my husband and I took this cruise, but we used a tour operator in St. Petersburg called "Red October"!!! I got a kick out of the name, but they were really wonderful.  They arranged the Russian visa and set up a great two-day tour of the area that included the Hermitage, a boat tour, Peterhof, Catherine's Palace, and many beautiful churches.  I'm a history teacher, and I knew what I wanted to see, and I could not get what I wanted with the ship's tours (either Peterhof or Catherine's Palace but not both with the ship's tours). Our guide was Irina, a Master's level student in English--she was wonderful.  Our driver (of our Mercedes!) was Sasha, a former KGB agent!  It was not cheap, but I doubt we will ever be able to do this again.  We had a wonderful time, and I highly recommend Red October.

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We used Dancing Bear as our tour guides. There were only 4 of us on the tour. Our driver dropped us off & was there when we can out.  We wanted to see as much as possible in the 2 days were were there but they would do what ever you want. We were very happy with them. 

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