PRIVATE TOURS vs. SHIP TOURS IN ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
Rather than cruise ship tour offerings in St. Petersburg, Russia, consider using a local tour company. While cruise tours are fine, you’ll find the cost can be higher and the sights fewer compared with a private tour.
Initially, there’s going to be that creeping fear of dealing with a tour company you know little about. Especially one in Russia that you might feel isn’t up to our standards of consumerism plus having to deal with them over the Internet. It’s understandable that a ship’s tour will seem a safer bet, sort of that nice, comfortable cocoon feeling.
Well, if you want safety, coddling, a no-worry experience, this is what you’ll get with private tours offered by companies such as Alla Tours, DenRus Ltd, and Red October, and others. But you’ll get more. You’ll enjoy more sights at a cheaper price, a smaller group (20 people or less), and very knowledgeable tour guides. Tour guides for these companies go through rigorous training, and it shows.
Alla tours, for instance, charges $300 for its two day “Complete St. Petersburg” tour compared to nearly $600 for the ship’s tours to see the same sights. Trouble is, you need three ship tours to see all of it but it’s impossible to do that in two days. Smaller groups also mean more personal attention and, usually, the private tour will get you into places before the crowds, definitely a plus when it comes to the wonderful Hermitage Museum. Private tours offer plenty of time at each stop and use Whisper Wireless headphones making it easy to hear the guide without crowding next to her.
Be assured, the cruise ship will play on your fears. Onboard newsletters may indicate that those taking the ship tours would disembark before private tours which might hinder your tour getting off on time. They’ll keep up this little charade until the day before landing. Just remember, they can’t do this and, in the end they won’t. Ship newsletters will also list all the good things with their tours, the big one being that if a ship’s tour doesn’t get back on time the ship will wait. It won’t for a private tour. This is true, but private tour companies are well aware of this and return in plenty of time.
All the above private tour companies are registered with the government (be sure the company you use is registered) and with all of them you don’t need a Russian visa because you’ll be in the country less than 72 hours on a tour. To be on your own, you do need a visa. Private companies offer a variety of tours from personalized city tours to shore excursions to the rental of a private car or van. They’ll provide an online quote for what you want.
Making reservations is simple. In the case of Alla Tours tickets arrive soon after the reservations are made online. There’s always a chance to ask any questions before signing up. Entering the country is no problem. All you need is a passport, a copy of your passport, and tour tickets. For Alla Tours there isn’t any money up front and you don’t pay the full amount until the second day. Mastercharge and Visa are accepted.
For any additional comments about these and other companies, check out websites such as Trip Advisor.
So put your fears aside and save money while seeing a lot more.