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We were advised by our travel agents that getting visas were a pain in the **** but we plodded on regardless....big problem we had was language difficulties and the signs we couldn't fathom out.
The two couples at our table said their planned trips were excellent although not cheap and they had no problems at all as their trips had english speaking guides.
One big problem we had was when we came back to the port in a taxi...when stopped by the guards we had our bags searched and they took two bottles of Vodka from us before we could proceed to the ship..this is seemingly quite common.
We did St Petersburgh in 2003 and we did the tour via the liner which is the best bet.
Sorry, can't agree that the ship's tours are the best bet. We did a two day private tour with Red October last year, about the same price as the ship offered but we saw far more, had our own private guide who accompanied us into the palaces etc. and we didn't have to queue like the coach tours - we were ushered straight to the front. No waiting around for folks who have gone missing or are late back as they are queuing for the loo, so you have far more time to see the things you came to see. Also we didn't have to pay a deposit, only paid at the end of the first day. There were four of us and we were joined by 3 others - the mini bus takes about 9/12 easily and would make it a bit cheaper. So many people on board said they wished they had known about this type of guided trip, it was so comfortable and the driver took you right up to the palace/cathedral rather than having to walk from the coach park. We also asked to have our lunch at the sort of place the locals would use, and it was brilliant, much better than sitting in the restaurants which are in the palaces, eating sandwiches and having a cola. Do try it, you will not regret it.(and the travel company get the visa sorted for you included in the price).