1. Travel
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Star Princess Baltic Ports of Call - Touring on Your Own from the Star Princess

Touring St. Petersburg

By Ed Schlenk

Back in Helsinki, the underground "rock" church is very interesting, especially acoustically (there will be recorded music and occasionally a morning concert). Within walking distance of the church to the northeast is the national museum, which is also very enjoyable. A no-brainer is to hop-on-hop-off the 3T or 3B tourist trams, which travel in a circle past most of these sights, clockwise or reverse. Personally, I prefer to take regular trams and buses for the few sights not within walking distance. Buses 16 and 14B can take you back to the ship anytime.

I would have recommended the Arabia china and crystal factory located near the north end of tram line 6 in Helsinki as a great place to shop at the end of the day, but the prices in dollars have gotten so high since our previous visits that even their outlet is out of our price range now.

St. Petersburg: Visiting this great city by cruise ship is a very bittersweet experience. The good news is that one does not need a visa if one is with an approved Russian tour company (booked through the cruise line or booked independently). The bad news is that these tours are very expensive (plan on spending almost $200 per person per day for a comprehensive sightseeing tour whether booked privately for six people or booked through the cruise line for a busload).

A Russian visa costs US citizens about $200: $120 basic visa fee, more if expedited; $35 required support letter from a Russian agency, the cruise line will not provide these; $40 or more for a visa processing agency in the US if you do not deal directly with the Russians; $15 or more for fed-ex shipping. In addition, the ship docks at the industrial port (Kanonersky Island) which is isolated halfway between the city center and the summer palace (Peterhof), with a good two mile walk to the port gate and another mile walk to public transport. Special taxis are available from the ship, but these add about $30 each way to the city center. Regular city taxis are not allowed within the port complex, so it may take two taxi rides when returning to the ship independently.

In the end, I very, very strongly recommend booking a tour with a private Russian agency. These are much more personal (just a few passengers instead of a busload), they cover more territory in greater depth, they offer special options like lunch with a Russian family, and they cost about the same as the cruise’s busload tours. Princess does offer private vehicles and guides for touring St. Petersburg, but these are charged against the ship account of only one of the passengers and are non-refundable. The private tours charge each passenger a pro-rated fee which is payable near the end of the tour. No deposit is needed to hold the privately booked tours.

I recommend using the Internet to compare the shore excursion options and prices between the cruise line’s web site and the private agency web sites, then make your reservations accordingly.

We booked with DenRus (www.denrus.ru) and were very happy with their service. We did not want to pay the price for a private tour for two people, so we asked DenRus to put us in touch with a small group at a lower price. We joined two other couples, and together had a private driver and private guide in an 8 seat Toyota minivan (with 8 functioning seatbelts, which is important when traveling abroad). Our guide and driver were excellent, and we were able to get off the ship as soon as it cleared (almost an hour after docking) and sight see non-stop from 0730 to 1800.

Passengers who took the ship’s tours were disappointed when their waiting lines extended almost the entire length of the ship. There are only 8 Russian officials to stamp the passports of about 2,000 disembarking passengers, so consider an afternoon tour on your first day if you are taking any of the ship’s tours. Our tablemates later told us they waited for two hours to get from the ship to their tour bus that morning! The ship may hold back visa passengers until all tour passengers have cleared, but they cannot legally hold back non-visa Russian tour agency passengers. We simply waited out of the way in the alcove at the bottom of the stairs on deck 4 forward and walked off with the first ship’s tour group.

Since the St. Petersburg tours are so expensive and since we have visited St. Petersburg before on land tours, we opted to take a one day tour and spent the second day relaxing onboard the ship. In the end, we saw an amazing amount of the city in one day (Nicholas Church, Catherine Palace, city tour, family lunch, Peter and Paul fortress and church, Hermitage, and a quick Michael Palace visit) and were able to focus on the sights we found most interesting since we had our own guide. Because our group was only 6 people, we were efficient and did not have to wait for shoppers or stragglers.

Page 4 > > Tallinn and Gdansk > >

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.