Cruising Tips for St. Petersburg
By Peter Kollar
No doubt a call to St. Petersburg is everyone’s highlight when doing a Baltic Cruise, and for good reason… it’s an incredible city to explore Russia’s history, culture, arts and ambiance. Having spent a decade organizing Shore Excursions here every season, there are some must knows about this fabulous port so that you are better prepared for your visit.
Tip 1: Make sure your Baltic Cruise has 2 or 3 full days in its schedule. 1 day is NOT enough to explore the many highlights the city has to offer. Main attractions are also quite spread apart, so exploring Peterhof and Catherine’s Palace in one day is quite rushed and logistically challenging. Viewing the Hermitage (the largest Museum in the World) in a couple of hours is like visiting the foyer at the Sydney Opera House…. it just doesn't do it justice.
Tip 2: Visa’s are required to get off the ship, BUT if you are doing an organized shore excursion or taking a private car option, you are covered by the ships documentation. So no need to pay that extra money for visas before you go (always double check with your cruise line or agent before you go just in case policies change). I can hear the independents cry out that they love exploring on their own, but to be honest, all those palaces and museums need transport to outer regions, and a guide is paramount to acquire the information you need to enjoy what you are experiencing. Those that want to explore the city centre, the ship normally offers small tour options where you can shop at the local markets outside the Church of Spilt Blood, and have some free time to explore.
Tip 3: My biggest recommendation is to do a Private Tour organized by the ship. A Private Tour consists of a car, driver, and guide, and it is one of the cheapest ports in the world to take this option (Mediterranean for example is way over priced). The guides here are TREMENDOUS, knowledgeable and skilled, with good English (though with the lovely Russian Accent!). Most ships offer half day or full day options, and have to be done AM or PM, as middle of the day means the cars and guides can not be doubled up.
The reason for this tour option is it is such a good option for flexibility. You get expert commentary on the highlights YOU want to see, attractions are accessible faster by car, and you can adjust your visits to your likes, unlike a coach tour. For example, you are enjoying the Hermitage more than you
thought you would, therefore wanted to see a little more of it before heading off for some shopping at Nevsky Prospect, so you ask your guide to adjust the schedule a little. You don’t have to stand at the back of a group when listening to commentary, and you can ask all those questions you like (even quirky ones) without the pressures of group limitations.
Tip 4: Read a little about Russian history before you arrive. I think it was my 3rd or 4th visit before I delved into some books of Russian History, and boy, did it make a difference! When I stood listening to the guide outside monuments and such, a whole different angle of understanding was appreciated for what was being communicated.
Tip 5: Water and Layered clothing. Many of the Palaces and Museums were built long ago, and due to the limited Summer Season in this region, air conditioning is not built into these buildings. The short summers can be searing, so lining up into a procession through the palace can be hot and stuffy, so carry some water. When boarding your coach, these can be quite variable in standard, so air conditioning which is available on most can be unreliable. Therefore, layers allow you to go up or down depending on the conditions that suite your comfort.
Tip 6: Be prepared for bumpy roads and raw conditions. Yes, there are many great and aesthetically appeasing sights to explore, but roads around St. Petersburg are generally not up-kept, resulting in bumpy rides, and some of the city outskirts are very raw. When Petrograd (oldSt. Petersburg &Leningrad – the other names used in this city’s history) was removed as the capital, no money was invested in the city for a long while, and it’s only recently that St. Petersburg (which was renamed from Leningrad in 1991) has started to have money back into its infrastructure; but all those years of being unkempt are still quite evident. So don’t be put off by the main pier area or surrounding roads. The best will evolve around you soon enough.
If you were ever thinking of a cruise in this region, then you won’t be disappointed. One last tip; try and incorporate Stockholm somewhere in a Baltic cruise, as the sail-in (3hrs through the archipelago) is my favourite of any location around the world.
Today's Cruising Specialist
With more than 150 countries visited across all 7 continents, Peter brings a wealth of travel experience to our Cruiseabout Brand. He spent 12 years at sea, the majority with Crystal Cruises as their Shore Excursion Manager, a role that allowed him to participate in-excess of 800 tours world-wide and and have a chance to experience a life-time that we can only dream of. Within that period, he also spent a year (c/o Steiner Pty Ltd) visiting ships around the world on all major brands, teaching crew on various customer service operations. At the start of 2011 Peter moved from his manager role at Cruiseabout Rose Bay… read more.