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As I posted quite a long time ago, this year’s main cruise will be to the Baltic. It’s not long now until we go, and last weekend we received the P&O excursions brochure. Which is where my dilemmas start…

I feel confident enough about all of the other destinations (Stockholm, Helsinki, Warnemunde, Copenhagen and Kristiansand) to be able to work out what we’re going to do there. The problem is St Petersburg – so much choice, so many options. We’ll be there for the usual two days so we have lots of time. We usually prefer fairly active trips ashore, by which I mean active in the sense of not minding walking, and not having problems with steps, etc – in the past we’ve done ‘walking tours’, for example. However, for the last 9 or 10 months Val has had a foot problem – plantar fasciitis – which at its worst has quite restricted her. The passage of time, plus the exercises she’s been doing, has eased it quite considerably, but we’re still a bit wary of launching into too much effort. The literature about the problem suggests that standing is worse for the condition than walking, and I’m a bit worried that there might be too much standing at some of the sites. However, I don’t think we want to just do coach tours, I think we’d find that very unsatisfying.

Then there’s the sheer range of the choices. Catherine’s Palace; Peterhof; The Hermitage; Peter and Paul Fortress; trips on a boat; trips in an old car…. One thing we’re pretty sure about is that we’re not interested in the ballet evening – we’ve never felt the least bit attracted to ballet or opera, and I don’t see us breaking the habit of nearly 40 years just because we’re in St Petersburg. Call us Philistines if you like, but there it is. Then there’s the Hermitage, which I gather is absolutely vast. Again, I have some reservations about that, both because of Val’s feet, and also because of this little snippet in the brochure: “Routes around the Hermitage are determined on the day by the museum curators so we cannot guarantee which works of art will be seen during your tour”. So you don’t actually know what you’re going to see as you expend all that effort…

So I’d like to ask the advice of my readers. If you’ve been to St Petersburg on a cruise, what did you do? Why did you choose those particular things, and what did you think about them afterwards? And, of course, was there anything that in retrospect you wish you’d done that you didn’t?

I’d be very grateful for any responses.

12 Responses to “Choices at St Petersburg”

  1. rosie says:

    I have/had similar problems to your wife. The best exercise I was given was stand with your feet together, stand on tippy toes. I hold on gently to a chair back. lift the good foot of the floor and slowly very slowly lower the bad foot.
    Besides which (I have had the problem for about 1-2 years now) I just find the most comfortable foot wear I can-on my last cruise it was reef flip flops…and set out. I may be slightly slower these days (I also have oesteoarthritus (sp) in the same knee that the bad foot is attached to) but I do manage to keep up with a normal tour..we did a walking tour round Venice this time.
    I will think of your wife….
    As regards to what tours we did in St Pete I think it was the Peterhof gardens (where the fountains are-but when they came on a bit of a scrum) and by the looks of the pix a coach tour that stopped at the church of the spilt blood-which was beyond amazing inside. We had free time there so went round a little museum close by as it was very very hot and round a market that was also close by.
    By the looks of the pix the cruise was with Fred.
    We loved the Vassa museum (sort of al la Mary Rose) in Stockholm(?)
    Enjoy it. When I pulled back the curtains the first morning in St P there was the most totally amazing church opposite us…onions and gold and everything. We loved it.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for the comment, Rosie.

      You said: “When I pulled back the curtains the first morning in St P there was the most totally amazing church opposite us”. Unfortunately I believe that the P&O ships, being larger than Fred’s, have to berth some miles out at a very industrial port. Some advantages there for small-ship cruising.

  2. Sueann says:

    We have taken the evening trip to The Hermatage twice, it is a wonderful experience. There are limited numbers and a guide for each small group, the evening ends with a concert by world class musicians that lasts about half an hour. I have some problems standing for long periods but this trip was fine as there is room to move around and seating for the concert. Some of our trips were subject to traffic delays and long queues but we enjoyed all of our experiences especially using the metro and a short walking tour. Enjoy your trip.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for the advice about the evening at the Hermitage. That did catch my eye, but I know from Val’s comments after a recent leaving-do for someone when she was standing for a couple of hours, that it’s not a good thing for her to do. But given what you’ve said that perhaps brings it back into play.

  3. Janet says:

    When we visited on Arcadia we did a private tour with Alla. Highly recommended we had two marvellous days. We were transported in a mini bus and by both through the city and to Peterhof. There was some walking but not arduous. They arranged the visas and refreshmentS during the day.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for the comment.

      You say the tour company sorted out the Visas – did you have to have one?

      • Janet says:

        We booked the tour on their web site and supplied the information they needed for the visas. We then communicated with them regularly via our log in on their web site. From there closer to the date we had a link to our tickets that stated we had a group visa the same as the ships tours. No problem at all going through immigration and they met us on the other side and took us to the tour mini bus. They had at least two tour buses of pax from Arcadia. Our guide was amazing, we bypassed the queues at every location, we even skipped past the ships tour groups on a couple of occasions. Really can not fault them. Not cheap for two days but we visited everywhere. We he are all sorts of rumours that they would not let you off the ship but we just said we had a pr I ate tour and went straight off.

  4. Hazel Herbert says:

    Tom, depends on your interests but I did Russian at university and always wanted to visit so I concentrated on my passions – the Hermitage tour (even the building itself is worth seeing inside, stunning) and we saw quite a bit, then had a tour of the main highlights of the city. Second day we did Peterhof and Catherine’s Palace, which I would not have missed for anything. If I ever go back all I need to see is the city in more detail just walking around and being see inside the buildings, we only saw the outsides. If you read up on this city in the DK guides, you can work out for yourself what is worth seeing.

  5. Neil R says:

    Hi Tom and other readers

    We’re considering booking X419 as a late deal in late August as we are a bit restricted on dates we can go. We quite like the idea of some of the Baltic ports on this cruise, but it also visits St Petersburg for 2 days as seems to be the norm. We’re not keen on the prospect of visiting Russia due to their human rights records so are considering staying on the ship for the duration of the 2 days in port.

    We can’t find any info anywhere online or on the P&O website about whether you only need a visa if you get off the ship or if you need one to physically enter territorial waters even if you have no intention of leaving the ship. Does anyone know ? If you have to have a visa even if not to get off the ship then we’ll write it off as a bad deal.



    • Tom says:

      Thanks for the comment, Neil. That’s an interesting perspective, and one that I’ve never heard mentioned before. Pretty much all of P&O’s Baltic cruises go to Russia, and they mostly feature 2 days in St Petersburg, so that’s a goodly chunk of the cruise gone.

      It’s not necessary to get a personal visa at all if you’re on a cruise – as long as you stay in a tour group, either run by the ship/line or by one of a number of approved local tour providers. Of course there are limitations on where you can go and do; you do have to stay with the group. We’re happy to do that. I suppose that there must be some cost for this limited access, and that must be built in to the cost of the cruise, but it’s not much and it’s not separately identifiable. Certainly there’s no extra hassle – we haven’t had to write to the Russian Embassy or anything like that, or give any details for this cruise that we would’t for any other.

      X419 – that’ll be Oriana won’t it?

  6. Neil R says:

    Hi Tom, yes it is Oriana at the end of August. I spoke with someone at P & O today and they confirmed that (a) you don’t need a visa if you don’t get off the ship (so unlike the USA where you need an ESTA even if you don’t set foot on terra firma); (b) a P & O shorex includes a group visa but only for the duration of the shorex – so if you do one on Day 1, you would need still need a personal visa for Day 2 if you wanted to get off yourself.

    I’ve looked at the site for obtaining a Russian visa and its a non-starter – the cost is about £100 per person (depending on duration) and one of the most complex (and personally intrusive) forms I’ve come across – P & said (as you might expect !) that they wouldn’t recommend trying to get a visa yourself and to do the organised P&O shorex

    The other option is Azura A423 to the West Med – we haven’t been on Azura for a few years and we have a few reservations about Oriana as another adult-only ship after our 17 nights on Arcadia over Easter

    • Tom says:

      My daughter recently visited Russia on a two-centre holiday, Moscow & St Petersburg, and she had to get a visa. She said it was fairly easy, and the tour company helped a lot with advice. But it was certainly expensive.

      That Azura itinerary looks good – in fact it looks quite similar to our cruise on Azura next year. I know what you mean about adult-only ships. We found Arcadia very quiet in 2012 (to the Canaries). I think that having some families with children aboard alters the tone of the ship considerably, out of all proportion to the actual numbers. We like it. I don’t think we’d go in the main school holidays, though.

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