In the 1600’s, the ruling Swedish colonists, constructed a fort at the mouth of the Neva River. During the Great Northern War, Tsar Peter I, also known as Peter the Great, won those coastal lands, providing Russia with his long sought Baltic coastline. On winning control, he inaugurated the city of St Petersburg in 1703, with construction of Peter and Paul Fortress.
A very new city by European standards, its magnificent architecture, river and canal network has the city frequently referred to as, “Venice of the North”. A very apt reference.
During WWI, St Petersburg was deemed to sound too German, so the Tsar changed the name to Petrograd, which was subsequently changed to Leningrad, by the communists, after the 1917 revolution. In 1991, the citizens voted on renaming the city, with the majority favouring a return to St Petersburg.
Undoubtedly the highlight of our Baltic Cruise, we eagerly awaited our overnight and 2 full days visiting St Petersburg. For at least 8 months prior to the cruise, I thoroughly researched the city and available tours.
For any potential cruise ship passengers, let me dispel a common myth about visiting Russia – your cruise ship company will provide information that insinuates all passengers, not booked on a ship’s excursion, will require a Russian Visa.
The short answer is – “Rubbish”
Cruise ship passengers that book a guided tour, with an approved company, and are returning to the ship for the evening, do NOT require a Visa. Your tour ticket is considered your Visa. On proceeding ashore, provide your passport and tour ticket to the Russian Immigration Officer. We provided our passports (Judi used her Canadian & I used my UK passport) and our Alla Tour tickets; both passports were stamped, we had a quick photo taken and we received a landing card, which had to be returned at the end of the day. Total time with the Immigration Officer was a couple of minutes, for both of us. Both days we entered Russia, the immigration experience was easier than many of the others we have experienced on our travels.
With 2 full days in port and the ship docking close to the attractions, the risk of missing the ship was ultra low, so we wanted to avoid a ship’s tour at all costs. I extensively researched local tours, all of which were very similar in both price and deliverables, finally settling on Alla Tours. I started a “Roll Call” on Cruise Critic to contact other passengers, eventually getting 7 interested in joining us on an Alla Tour.
Meeting ashore on day 1, we discovered other passengers also found Alla Tours outside of cruise critic, as we had a total of 20 passengers. While the ship normally crams up to 50 pax into a bus, Alla Tours provided 2 buses, 2 guides and 2 drivers. The best part – an Alla Tour is also cheaper than the ship.
The pre-cruise experience with Alla Tours was excellent and the entire 2-days can best be described as spectacular. Absolutely “top-notch”. Our guide was a Professor of English Language at St Petersburg University, so yes, her English was exceptional.
Next posts – our 2 exceptional days in St Petersburg, with lots of photographs.