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St. Petersburg Local Tour Operators


CrazyJess
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33 minutes ago, ontheweb said:

And what happens to them if the cruise lines persist in enforcing if you want to get off at a port you must use our excursions rule?

Yes, I've wondered this as well - most of these operators depend on cruise clientele as their primary source of revenue. I suppose that some of the guides, rather than the independent tour companies, could still eke out a living with land clientele but it would be a small slice of income in comparison to what was garnered from the cruise passengers.

Time will tell ...

Edited by dogs4fun
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4 hours ago, dogs4fun said:

Yes, I've wondered this as well - most of these operators depend on cruise clientele as their primary source of revenue. I suppose that some of the guides, rather than the independent tour companies, could still eke out a living with land clientele but it would be a small slice of income in comparison to what was garnered from the cruise passengers.

Time will tell ...

Our Baltic cruise would have been so much worse if we had not been able to book a private tour company. We ended up using Alla after I contacted several companies and found them the most compatible. I posted in our roll call and we ended up with a group of 10. Not only was the tour superb, but we became close with the others on our tour.

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Just now, ontheweb said:

Our Baltic cruise would have been so much worse if we had not been able to book a private tour company. We ended up using Alla after I contacted several companies and found them the most compatible. I posted in our roll call and we ended up with a group of 10. Not only was the tour superb, but we became close with the others on our tour.

Yes, I completely agree. Alla Tours are superb - that is also who we used on several of our trips via cruise. We have another Baltic cruise booked in August, 2021 (X Reflection) - it is a lift and shift from our booked cruise in September, 2020 that, needless to say, didn't happen. I am not at all confident that the 2021 cruise will be a "go". Our group is again booked with Alla and I am very concerned about the sustainability of these local tour companies if Baltic cruises don't commence in 2021 and/or passengers can't book independent tours. Very sad for the local tour businesses along the Baltic (and elsewhere).

I have visited Russia multiple times and have a Russian visa. If the cruise is a "go" but only cruise tours are allowed, our group has already agreed that we will cancel the cruise and book at another time. I, myself, will simply fly into Pulkovo to visit my friends (assuming, of course, that it is prudent to travel next fall). 

Although I may wish it were otherwise, there simply is no hurrying this pandemic. 😟

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2 hours ago, dogs4fun said:

Yes, I completely agree. Alla Tours are superb - that is also who we used on several of our trips via cruise. We have another Baltic cruise booked in August, 2021 (X Reflection) - it is a lift and shift from our booked cruise in September, 2020 that, needless to say, didn't happen. I am not at all confident that the 2021 cruise will be a "go". Our group is again booked with Alla and I am very concerned about the sustainability of these local tour companies if Baltic cruises don't commence in 2021 and/or passengers can't book independent tours. Very sad for the local tour businesses along the Baltic (and elsewhere).

I have visited Russia multiple times and have a Russian visa. If the cruise is a "go" but only cruise tours are allowed, our group has already agreed that we will cancel the cruise and book at another time. I, myself, will simply fly into Pulkovo to visit my friends (assuming, of course, that it is prudent to travel next fall). 

Although I may wish it were otherwise, there simply is no hurrying this pandemic. 😟

When were your Alla tours? Ours was in 2007 on a cruise for our 30th anniversary.

 

I am sure you have noticed that it is not only Alla who is praised in these boards, but also several other Russian tour companies. Every now and then someone asks to compare agencies, and it is generally hard to do as everyone who does go back seems to be pleased with the service they had and sticks with the same agency. I feel like one of the few who could recommend more than one. Of course our Alla tour was magnificent. And a good part of the reason was our wonderful guide, Viktoria. She confided in our group that she had done all she needed to open her own agency and would the next season. That turned out to be SPB. Having had her as a guide and after reading many extremely positive reviews of her agency, I would also feel comfortable also recommending them.

 

And unfortunately trying to hurry this pandemic by reopening too quickly has had only the opposite effect.😢

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18 minutes ago, ontheweb said:

When were your Alla tours?

Not all of our tours with Alla were group tours. Our first was in 2010 - it was the Grand Tour, group. Our last was in 2018 - there were a few in between. I prefer to DIY in Russia but do book tours when cruising with newbie family members/friends who want to sample the Baltics and don't want to go through the hassle of the Russian visa application. Have also done a Russian river cruise with Viking (my Bro & SIL are cruiseaholics) - not my favorite river cruise, to be sure. 

 

45 minutes ago, ontheweb said:

Every now and then someone asks to compare agencies, and it is generally hard to do as everyone who does go back seems to be pleased with the service they had and sticks with the same agency.

Yes, you have nailed it. Most people have experience with only one agency and, therefore, have nothing from which to compare. There are many fine operators that operate in the Baltic and many are recommended on these boards. I do find constant endorsements of any specific company tiresome  - particularly from those who took a tour years ago and continue to offer unsolicited praise of their favorite company (I think to myself, sheesh ... give it a rest already 🙂). I honestly don't think that there is a "best" tour company - it is a subjective choice and depends on your particular wants and needs. IMHO, one can't go wrong with any of the top companies (and even some of the secondary players) - the guides in St. Petersburg are among the best that I have found anywhere in Europe. 

I have also utilized excellent guides who work for companies other than Alla Tours. I have hired them to assist in visiting specific sites that would have been difficult to reach on my own (e.g. Kronstadt). These guides are independent but also work for Best Guides and a host of other tour companies (to my knowledge, I have not yet hired one that also works SPB but can't be certain). Each guide has been excellent.

 

Do you plan on returning to the Baltics in the future?

Hopefully, we will all stay safe & healthy and we will get back to travel in the not too distant future. Fingers crossed.

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13 hours ago, dogs4fun said:

Not all of our tours with Alla were group tours. Our first was in 2010 - it was the Grand Tour, group. Our last was in 2018 - there were a few in between. I prefer to DIY in Russia but do book tours when cruising with newbie family members/friends who want to sample the Baltics and don't want to go through the hassle of the Russian visa application. Have also done a Russian river cruise with Viking (my Bro & SIL are cruiseaholics) - not my favorite river cruise, to be sure. 

 

Yes, you have nailed it. Most people have experience with only one agency and, therefore, have nothing from which to compare. There are many fine operators that operate in the Baltic and many are recommended on these boards. I do find constant endorsements of any specific company tiresome  - particularly from those who took a tour years ago and continue to offer unsolicited praise of their favorite company (I think to myself, sheesh ... give it a rest already 🙂). I honestly don't think that there is a "best" tour company - it is a subjective choice and depends on your particular wants and needs. IMHO, one can't go wrong with any of the top companies (and even some of the secondary players) - the guides in St. Petersburg are among the best that I have found anywhere in Europe. 

I have also utilized excellent guides who work for companies other than Alla Tours. I have hired them to assist in visiting specific sites that would have been difficult to reach on my own (e.g. Kronstadt). These guides are independent but also work for Best Guides and a host of other tour companies (to my knowledge, I have not yet hired one that also works SPB but can't be certain). Each guide has been excellent.

 

Do you plan on returning to the Baltics in the future?

Hopefully, we will all stay safe & healthy and we will get back to travel in the not too distant future. Fingers crossed.

I have not really thought about it and would of course have to discuss it with DW. I consider it our best cruise ever and would not mind at all repeating it. Thinking about travel is very difficult at this time obviously. The cruise we had planned for this summer was a Norwegian Fjords cruise, and we booked one excursion pre-cruise---getting back to Heathrow from Southampton with a stop at Stonehenge. That would have been one off the bucket list. Right now if I had to bet on what we would do next it might be more domestic. DW is interested in National Parks. A company that we used for escorted tours twice, once in Central Europe and once for Peru (Machu Picchu came off the bucket list) has several such tours plus a Southern Music tour that interest me and DW says she also finds interesting.

 

As you are will aware you can modify group tours in St. Petersburg. On ours we added a synagogue when someone wanted that and no one objected. When we started the guide asked if there was anything we wanted to see that was not on the tours, and I mentioned the subways sounded interesting from what I had read, and she took us on a few subway stops having our driver meet us. DW is an art teacher and wanted lunch skipped for an extra hour in the Hermitage. That was one that no one else approved of, but did compromise taking 1/2 hour of lunch time and adding it to the Hermitage. If we did do another Baltic, we might consider an all day Hermitage tour, maybe even both days as I'm not sure you could cover all of it in even 2 days. 

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There are so many different local tourist offices in Saint Petersburg both legal and not. Its so hard to choose. You can also search the internet for independent guides who can give you a nice unforgettable tour around the city  and canals. Just search the internet or ask locals. I am sure they will help 

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2 hours ago, ontheweb said:

If we did do another Baltic, we might consider an all day Hermitage tour, maybe even both days as I'm not sure you could cover all of it in even 2 days. 

Well, if you decide to visit again, shoot me an email (address in signature). I am a font of information regarding Russia. 🙂

BTW - concerning domestic National Parks - have you visited Yellowstone or Grand Teton? I lived in Montana as a child and we would visit the park each year (sometimes more). Two years ago, I returned with a Russian friend who was visiting for a few weeks - we flew into Bozeman and then drove to the park's west entrance. Wow - I couldn't believe how much Yellowstone Park had changed in terms of tourism!! Still amazing but ... (probably the same thing that europeans say about overtourism in their areas).

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6 minutes ago, dogs4fun said:

Well, if you decide to visit again, shoot me an email (address in signature). I am a font of information regarding Russia. 🙂

BTW - concerning domestic National Parks - have you visited Yellowstone or Grand Teton? I lived in Montana as a child and we would visit the park each year (sometimes more). Two years ago, I returned with a Russian friend who was visiting for a few weeks - we flew into Bozeman and then drove to the park's west entrance. Wow - I couldn't believe how much Yellowstone Park had changed in terms of tourism!! Still amazing but ... (probably the same thing that europeans say about overtourism in their areas).

No, haven't been. The national park we last visited was quite different than those, the FDR park in New Hyde Park, NY.

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On 10/20/2020 at 10:55 AM, Roger88 said:

There are so many different local tourist offices in Saint Petersburg both legal and not. Its so hard to choose

You do realise that if you go with an illegal tourist company, you will have to go through all the hoops to get a Russian Visa. Good luck with that. 

Really bad, inaccurate advice.

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24 minutes ago, wowzz said:

You do realise that if you go with an illegal tourist company, you will have to go through all the hoops to get a Russian Visa. Good luck with that. 

Really bad, inaccurate advice.

 

Well said..... Excellent.

 

On the QV two years ago, we met two American couples, the evening before St Petersburg,  who boasted had booked (and paid for) "Really Cheap Tours" .  We asked the Visa question.  It appeared they "thought" the operator was responsible.  One couple went to their Stateroom to check the email exchanges, only to return with the bad news.

Cruise ruined....

 

Edited by PORT ROYAL
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1 hour ago, wowzz said:

You do realise that if you go with an illegal tourist company, you will have to go through all the hoops to get a Russian Visa. Good luck with that. 

Really bad, inaccurate advice.

 

Spot on! It is unfortunate that inaccurate or confusing advice is sometimes posted. You must book with a guide or tour company that is licensed by the Russian Federation otherwise you will not be allowed through immigration. 

You can DIY or use an unlicensed guide only if you have a valid Russian visa.

 

1 hour ago, PORT ROYAL said:

On the QV two years ago, we met two American couples, the evening before St Petersburg,  who boasted had booked (and paid for) "Really Cheap Tours" .  We asked the Visa question.  It appeared they "thought" the operator was responsible.  One couple went to their Stateroom to check the email exchanges, only to return with the bad news.

Cruise ruined....

 

What a shame - I can't imagine such a disaster on a cruise of a lifetime! As Saint Petersburg is usually considered to be the jewel in the Baltic crown, one would be very disappointed if they could not get off the ship in this fascinating city!

 

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If the policy changes for cruise excursions going forward...perhaps some of these private tour companies will be able to still take groups if vetted by the cruiseline . I would much prefer to be able to book private tours with just guide & driver and the two of us. We had an amazing two day tour of St Petersburg when we used TJ Travel. We've never been interested in large groups and prefer either two of us or a max of 6-8 people.

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2 minutes ago, Ashland said:

If the policy changes for cruise excursions going forward...perhaps some of these private tour companies will be able to still take groups if vetted by the cruiseline . I would much prefer to be able to book private tours with just guide & driver and the two of us. We had an amazing two day tour of St Petersburg when we used TJ Travel. We've never been interested in large groups and prefer either two of us or a max of 6-8 people.

Nothing to do with the cruise companies. It's the Russian government that sets the rules.

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AFAIK, the current Covid 19 mitigation policies set by MSC and COSTA cruise lines include mandated ship sponsored shore excursions - one cannot DIY or book with independent/private operators in ports of call. Most of the megaships operated by the lines that cater to US passengers (NCL, Princess, HAL, X, Oceania, RCCL, etc.) utilize the services of a very large tour operator in Saint Petersburg - IMHO, they will not be interested in working with one of the small independents (I suspect that there would be very little profit margin for the small players after the cruise line takes their cut).

I understand why the current shore excursion rules exist as cruises attempt to restart in europe while maintaining a relatively safe "bubble" for their cruise clientele (I don't know how effective this "bubble" will prove to be in mitigating Covid 19 - I have serious doubts about its efficacy). None of the cruise lines that I mentioned are currently operating in european ports and I sincerely hope that the cruise lines do not mandate ship only excursions when it is once again prudent and safe to cruise in the Baltics without fear of becoming a prisoner on a plague ship that is not allowed into port.

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2 hours ago, wowzz said:

We've never been interested in large groups and prefer either two of us or a max of 6-8 people.

I am sure you know that you can book private tours for just the two of you with the cruise line. Almost any tour is possible through the cruise line  if funds are not an issue for you.

Edited by dogs4fun
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59 minutes ago, dogs4fun said:

I am sure you know that you can book private tours for just the two of you with the cruise line. Almost any tour is possible through the cruise line  if funds are not an issue for you.

 

Your Winter Palace must include The Gold Room - Be prepared to be amazed 

Edited by PORT ROYAL
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25 minutes ago, PORT ROYAL said:

 

Your Winter Palace must include The Gold Room - Be prepared to be amazed 

 

Yes, the collection in the Gold Room is, indeed, amazing.

Personally, I am not sure that I would include a visit to the Treasury Gallery rooms on a short cruise port visit  - they simply take up too much time & there is so much more to see in this fabulous city. That is unless, of course, one has a particular interest in the items on display in one of the treasury galleries or you have previously visited the city and want to add new experiences.

 

For those interested in visiting the treasury gallery in the Hermitage, there are two sections - each section requires a separate admission in addition to your regular Hermitage admission and one can visit only by guided tour.  Note: the Gold Room is not to be confused with the Gold Drawing Room (spectacular) in the Hermitage Museum - the drawing room is included in your admission price to the Hermitage Museum.

 

The Treasury Gallery: 

the Gold Room - features a spectacular collection of gold from ancient Greek masters, Scythian gold (largest worldwide collection), Asian jewelry (China, Iran, India) and outstanding examples of Eastern ceremonial weapons.

the Diamond Room - features ancient gold objects discovered during Scythian barrow mound excavations,  royal jewelry (Imperial Romanov family) and jewelry from St. Petersburg's private collections, diplomatic gifts presented to Tsars & Imperial Court, ecclesiastical art and Faberge creations. 

The Diamond Room is very impressive (you will see lots of diamonds and other gems) but if you want to see the largest diamonds and jewels of the Tsars and Tsarinas, they are found in the Diamond Fund in Moscow - not the Hermitage. 

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Guys and Girls

Just to repeat that unless you go through an officially recognised (by the Russian Government) tour company, you cannot just hop off the ship and pick up a tour.

Roger88 has given so much bad information that people need to be aware of what actually happens in Russia.  You either go on an official tour,booked in advance, where the tour company sorts out  all the visa arrangements,  or you sort out your own visa in advance (good luck!), or you stay on board.

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 @wowzz Thanks for the reminder but I don’t think you need to worry. I am pretty confident that most of us posting on this particular thread are well aware of the requirements for visa free touring in Russia (with one notable exception) - AFAIK, most of us have previously visited Russia. 😎

For those unaware, I repeat, the information provided by Roger is incorrect. You must book with a company/guide that is licensed by the Russian Federation OR possess a valid Russian visa.You cannot book with just any guide or local that you find online.

Edited by dogs4fun
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Another thing that I forgot to mention regarding Russia ...

Unless you have a Russian visa, your passport data must be provided to Russian immigration 72 hours prior to your arrival in St Petersburg. This is required in order to participate in one of the visa free shore excursions provided by the ship or a licensed independent local tour company. You cannot book a tour upon arrival in Russia - not even a ship tour - it will be too late & you would be required to stay onboard. So, one must have one’s ducks in a row if planning on hiring an independent company or booking a ship excursion in Russia.

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We do hope we can make our Baltic cruise next summer  but have decided to put all bookings on hold until Feb-March. Right now it is very hard to predict if life will be back to normal by that time. 

Such an unfortunate situation for the tour companies! I try to review the websites regularly, to see if they are still alive, a it is quite obvious that cruise groups formed a significant share of their business. We try to stay in touch with the managers at Best Guides where we planned to book our private tour, and they still sound quite optimistic and full of new ideas, but I wonder if their passion can withstand another "empty" year. 

Does anyone know if they get any support from the government? Is it sufficient enough? 

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47 minutes ago, Fran2020 said:

I wonder if their passion can withstand another "empty" year. 

Yes, I wonder this as well.

47 minutes ago, Fran2020 said:

Does anyone know if they get any support from the government?

I suspect that this is highly unlikely. You could ask your contact at best guides but I don't think that Russia offers any financial support to these local businesses.

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On 10/25/2020 at 5:48 PM, dogs4fun said:

Yes, I wonder this as well.

I suspect that this is highly unlikely. You could ask your contact at best guides but I don't think that Russia offers any financial support to these local businesses.

This is my guess too, unfortunately. I did not want to ask directly, I understand it might be quite sensitive for them, but from what I heard I got the same impression, and it is very sad. I am not an expert but I feel these people are really passionate about what they do. 

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