St. Petersburg is different compare to any other cruise port. Ships usually stop here for 1,2 or 3 days, with options for lengthy day tours including trips to Moscow, Novgorod or evening tours. The complicated visa process, safety concerns, planning of your itinerary, travel distances and the need to maximize time ashore means that nearly everyone who gets off the ship does so on a group or private tour.
For many travelers, a cruise ship tour feels safer than going with an independent company. Booking with an unknown Russian company can feel risky to many travelers. You should know St. Petersburg licensed tour companies are fully responsible for getting to the Sea Port at time and can guarantee you will never get late for your ship. More than that, they really cherish their clients and reputation.
According to the Russian Federation Law, all cruise ship passengers, staying in Russia for up to 72 hrs, do not need a Russian visa if they book their tours with a licensed tour operator. A tour operator issues the travel vouchers ( or Tour Ticket) that you need to print out and have with you to disembark. You will need to provide your passport data for the tour operator.
About 72-hour stay
The 72-hour exemption for cruise ship passengers does not mean that visitors have three days free in St. Petersburg. Not only will you have to sleep on the ship (not a problem for most cruise passengers), you will also have to be accompanied at all times on shore by a licensed tour guide. In other words, from the moment you leave the ship in the morning to the moment you step back on board in the evening, you will have to follow a pre-arranged schedule and will not have the opportunity to explore the city under your own steam. Cruise operators will expect their clients to book the St. Petersburg tours offered on-board or during booking.
If the cruise line is trying to persuade you that you cannot disembark if you book a tour with a private tour company , THIS IS NOT TRUE.
While your cruise line will likely offer a variety of tour options, from half-day tours to three-day packages, St. Petersburg is a place where you might be better booking a tour independently of the ship.
If you book a shore tour of St. Petersburg with a local tour operator, you won’t worry about planning of your itinerary, documents and timing – a tour company will do that for you.
The private tour will be designed especially for you and according to your request. It will be definitely more flexible than a group tour, and you will see more sights as you will not need to wait for other group members. You will be able to do activities at your own pace. You will have full attention of your guide and also talk more about present everyday life of Russia. You also can have skip-the-line entrance to the main touristic attractions instead of waiting in the lines.
About private and group tours
Many of the popular Russian attractions are very crowded, and smaller groups can sneak around big ones so they can experience each place more quickly and efficiently, and squeeze more into a day. The bigger the group, the more time you’ll spend waiting for everyone to make purchases in the gift shop or use the restrooms, eating up your day.
If you need an individual tour, you can ask for just a guide and a driver, without any particular schedule. They will take you to the city center, and you will have a chance to walk around wherever you want and at any pace you wish. The guide will be with you, however, it feels more like just a pleasant walk with a local friend. If you suddenly decide to stop for a coffee or go inside a museum, that’s usually doable. Only the large venues like the Hermitage, Catherine’s Palace, Peterhof Palace require booking beforehand, and as you have been to St Petersburg already, you might want to see something different.
Many tourists are really worried about opportunities to use a bathroom. You shouldn’t worry, every 2 -3 hours your guide will offer a bathroom stop.
About tours diversity
Tours can be different in their intensity. If you feel you can survive two days of a very tight schedule with lots of places to visit and heaps of info to digest, you may go for a more intense tour. If you prefer seeing things in a more relaxed way, stick to the standard tour itinerary.
All big tour companies will feature the obligatory shopping stops, usually at tourist-focused overpriced gift stores, where you can find the standard matryoshka dolls, faux Faberge eggs, amber necklaces, Putin T-shirts, Russian-style colorful scarves and other trinkets. If you want artisanal crafts by St. Petersburg artists or high-end amber or other less touristy wares, you might need to book a private tour and find a smaller tour company focused on the needs of their clients.
Once you have an idea of what kind of tour you want, it’s time to compare the tour companies. If you select top rated tour companies, you should be ready to be one of 400 or 500 tourists from your ship what a company serves on that day. If you need more personal touch, go with a smaller tour company. All tour companies must be registered at the Federal Agency of Tourism in the Russian Federation and have a licensed number. Trip Advisor reviews can also help you in your choice.
Booking a tour
You can get on a Roll Call and get others to join your tour to split the cost.
To book a tour you should contact the tour company directly via email. They will be able to give you all information concerning the itinerary and pricing.
If you’re interested in seeing St. Petersburg’s highlights — the Hermitage, Church on Spilled Blood, Peterhof — a set-itinerary tour will include nearly everything you want to see. And there are often a couple of options; for example, one tour might offer the Faberge Museum visit, while another substitutes the Yusupov Palace.
It is always better to check beforehand what is included in the price and what is not, to know exactly what you are paying for.
If you come to St. Petersburg for 3 days, you can even take a day trip from St Petersburg to Moscow or Novgorod.
If you have a particular interest (such as wanting to see Jewish St. Petersburg or experiencing places where locals go rather than tourist attractions) or are a repeat visitor, you might do better with a private tour where you can customize your itinerary.
As soon as your tour confirmed you send passport info and get Tour tickets within a few days.
Don’t forget to print your tour tickets in advance. St. Petersburg immigration requires everyone to present their passport and printed tour tickets.
Tour company representative will be waiting for you outside the immigration control area with a sign. So it’s very easy to find your tour operator representative.
Some important details
Tour guides in St. Petersburg speak perfect English and process a broad knowledge of Russian history and art. Your driver will well know his way around the city, so you always will be just a step away from your van.
Tour operators of St. Petersburg offer a variety of evening tours: Russian Ballet or Opera performances, Russian Folk Show, Dinner with a Russian Family, Cooking class, Evening Canal Cruise or driver&vehicle arrangement. If you have a special arrangement let your company know and they will handle it.
Tourists have been known to fall victim to pickpockets while traveling in Russia. You will be safer in any kind of a tour, where your knowledgeable local guide can warn you about potential pitfalls. On an independent tour with smaller numbers, it’s easier for the guide to keep an eye on everyone, which can be reassuring to many travelers.
Cruise lines what offer Baltic Sea cruises: Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity, Costa, MSC, Fred Olsen ,P&O, Crystal, Silversea, Cunard, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Azamara.