You might be on a Baltic cruise with the Royal Caribbean or another big operator, and be considering whether to book tours and excursions in St. Petersburg with your cruise company or with a private company. If you come to St. Petersburg by Adventure of the Seas, Legend of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas ships, you’re only in Saint Petersburg for a couple of days and want to make the most of your stay.
Cruise-run tours can feel a bit like being herded around like cattle. There are no limits on numbers. Everything is run to the lowest common denominator, by people with a set script, using the same old cheesy jokes and lines for every party. You’ll get a sort of “Greatest Hits of St. Petersburg” tour, but nothing more. Where a choice is offered, cruise tour companies will cancel if there are not enough bookings.
There are, however, several advantages to booking a private company.
The first is size – the group you will travel with will be small enough to take into account individual preferences. So if you want to visit something more specialized, with a tour guide with specialist knowledge, this can only be done with a private tour guide.
The second is access. The mass market tours can get you to the big attraction like the Hermitage and the Catherine Palace, as can a private tour. But on a private tour you will enter these museums avoiding line-ups. Private tours can also get you inside the Yusupovs’ Palace, the Faberge Museum, and other attractions that will be off the radar of the cruise tourists. When activities are similar – like, say, a canal tour – the cruise tourists will be herded onto a big boat with the same commentary every other cruise tourists hears. Private tours generally find smaller, private boats.
Another example where private tours can be much better is that they’ll take you to better places to eat. You can lunch with hundreds of people appearing at the same restaurant that does the same mass produced lunch for every tour group every day. Or you can nip off in a minibus with a group of independently minded people and eat at a cozy local restaurant, and possibly stop at one of the markets to buy and sample food from all over the Russian Federation.
You might think that the catch is that private tours are far more expensive – actually, that isn’t the case. A two day tour costs around the same for a private company as does a cruise-run tour. Private tours can also be tailored to your budget, so it’s easy to find fantastic and unique things to do even if you can’t afford a night at the opera.
Cruise companies, of course, would prefer not to lose your booking revenue, so will try to tell you that passengers using independent tours must obtain a Russian visa to use a private company for their land tours. Actually, this isn’t true – the vast majority of cruise ship passengers can visit visa-free. In order to qualify, you will need to be staying in the city for 72 hours or less, your accommodation must be on board your cruise ship, and you must be booked onto an organised tour of the authorized Russian tour company. Start planning your ideal private tour in St. Petersburg Russia with Guide-Guru today!