Cruisers' Frequently Asked Questions:
May I go ashore without a Russian visa in St. Petersburg?
Yes, if you are a part of a tour, organized and operated by a local company approved by the Russian Immigration Service. We are such an approved company. You would need a Russian visa only if you want to stay in the city alone (without a guide).
Cruise Line warns that we can't disembark in Russia visa-free unless we book shore excursions with them. Is this true?
Very often cruise lines and their agents warn that you can't disembark in Russia visa-free unless you book their ship tour. A cunning move, isn't it? Please be informed that is NOT TRUE and that you should pay no attention to such warnings. This is nothing more than their attempts to confuse cruise passengers and sell poorly marketed ship tours. You are free to book your own private shore excursion and disembark in St. Petersburg VISA FREE dealing with a licensed local tour operator. If there is a gate for private tours through the ship, the line may be moving very slowly, please do not waste your time. There are no special lines, you are free to take any gate, Alex's Tours will be waiting for you to whisk you away in comfort for your private of group tour of St. Petersburg. We have been working in the cruise shore excursion business for more than 8 years and we know how to save your time and treat you properly.
Why should I book with Alex's Tours & Travel?
Actually the choice is really wide out there, you may book you shore tour with any tour operator that you prefer. Alex's Tours & Travel prides itself on the quality of our personalized service, privacy, comfort, freedom from crowds, flexibility and your free choice to change tour program on the fly. You will be able to visit sights, restaurants and stores "off the beaten path". We would be following not our wishes but YOUR wishes and interests, presenting St. Petersburg the way we see and love it, emphasizing quality rather than volume. Give us a try and we will make your trip memorable and enjoyable. If references in your country would be helpful, we will happily provide that contact information.
How and when may I book your shore excursions?
Every cruise season keeps us very busy, but we will arrange your shore excursions even if you give us short notice. However, if you get a chance PLEASE try to give us as much advanced notice as possible. "Rush" has never helped any business (except perhaps the Gold Rush!). It is very simple to book our shore excursions, just send us an e-mail with the following information: the name of your ship, your arrival/departure dates, size of your party, and your special requests.
What kind of currency should I have to use in St. Petersburg? What about credit cards?
The official Russian currency is the RUBLE accepted everywhere in Russia. Most of the big stores and restaurants accept major credit cards. Only souvenir stores and markets accept foreign currency. If you need RUBLES, there are many ATM machines to give you cash. Please remember: your private guide can assist you with everything you may need in St. Petersburg.
Is St. Petersburg a safe city?
It is indeed! Actually, St. Petersburg is safer than most big European cities such as London or Paris. Of course nothing and nobody is perfect so you should take the usual, common-sense precautions you would in any large city. Please do not keep your wallets, cash, cards, passports, etc. in the back pockets of your pants, front pockets of your coats or in your bags.. Try to keep all your valuables inside zippered pockets or when not using, you may leave them in your car/van/bus. Another warning: this one is about traffic. Please cross the street only when the light is green or do so very carefully in places without traffic lights and please use pedestrian crossings where provided. Of course, your personal guide and driver will be "watching your backs", but it would be even better if you helped them a little
What information is required by Alex's Tours prior to our trip?
To provide you visa-free disembarkation and tours we will need to inform Russian Immigration Service about your visit and issue the tour ticket for your visa-free disembarkation. We will need to know: your full names (as shown on your passports), dates of birth, passport numbers, and country of citizenship. Please advise of this information after your request to book with us is confirmed. We will issue and send to you your tour ticket with some simple disembark/meeting information.
Is disembarking procedure complicated in Russia?
No it is not. In order to pass Passport Immigration Control you need to have: a) your valid passport b) your tour ticket (we issue and send it to you by email).
At the passport control you'll be required to show your passport and tour ticket. Immigration control staff will stamp your passport and give you a special coupon. This coupon will be required while returning back to the ship. Simple as 1, 2, 3 isn't it?
Will your staff meet us at the ship?
Your private, fully licensed guide and professional, safe driver will be greeting you at Passport Immigration control, located right there, next to the spot where your ship is moored. We would be even happier to meet you right next to your cabin, but your ship Security and Russian Customs for sure won't be happy if we do that :)
We are on the ship now. We are booked with you for tomorrow. I have printed our tour tickets but can't find them in our luggage. What should I do? Can we disembark without the tickets?
Please find a way to print them once again on the ship. Luckily it's the 21st century and most of the cruise ships have internet and printers. Of course in case of emergency (for example, you were disembarking the ship and gripping the tickets in your hand, while a big mad Russian seagull swoops down unexpectedly and snatches them out of your hand) we will solve the problem and assist you through passport control but in all other simpler cases PLEASE try to find a way to solve the problem without overusing Immigration staff trust. Russian officials let ship passengers enter the country visa-free, saving your time and funds, let's at least try to follow some simple rules and regulations.
What's the difference between your group and private tours?
From our perspective the main difference is that when you are touring privately "the world is rotating around you". In other words we will be following YOUR interests, wishes and likes and only secondarily paying attention to itinerary, timing, and routes. You will be free to change your mind and program at any time even right on the fly. Unfortunately we can't provide the same flexibility working with the groups, otherwise it would be a mess when one person would be requesting for coffee break while another would be insisting on spending some more time in the museum. Even then we will try to fulfill all your travel wishes, but you will need to be more patient towards requests and needs of other members in your group. Another difference is that as a small party you will have a better chance to squeeze through the crowds in the city and save more time for sightseeing, your private van will be more mobile compared to a coach, from finding a parking spot to the ability to avoid traffic jams. To cut a long story short, exploring the city as a private party you will enjoy and see more, saving much time and energy, and will not depend on anybody else's wishes and needs but yours.
What's your payment, cancellation policy?
We DO NOT require any deposit (except for our special offers). You may pay on the last day after all your tours. That means that you may cancel at any time without loss, but please try not to do that at the last minute (we will need to book your museum tickets and do some other pre arrangements in advance) We accept cash (preferable), wire transfer and major credit cards (+3%)
A few times our potential clients have mentioned that it seemed suspicious to them that we do not require a deposit. They asked what would be the guarantee then that we appear in the port to pick them up. It seems to be a strange logic to expect those who have taken a pre-pay to have a strong will to meet with the client, but those who did not ask for any deposit to oversleep and never appear. From our point of view, the best guarantee of our appearance is that we did not receive a cent in advance. Isn't that the best proof of our intention to work hard and to be honest? Has the world become so materialistic that nowadays people who do not primary request for money seem to be suspicious? In our practice such examples are more r an exception than the rule. Luckily, the majority of our guests understand and appreciate our flexibility in this matter.
Can you provide "early admission" to the most crowded museums?
Yes we can arrange an "early admission" entering the museums earlier than the official opening hours or the "special opening" say a visit on a day when the museum is typically closed. However, please do not expect to be the only visitors there. It is not a reservation made by one company for one group of tourists. That's how some cunning agents will present it. Sometimes the museum is more crowded during "early admission" hours than after it's officially open for public. Usually museum occupancy depends on the amount of cruise ships in the port on any given day. In other words that depends on your luck. Even though we won't be able to avoid all the crowds inside the sights (most of the city must sees are crowded from May to September) please do not be concerned. We will be able to take you inside avoiding long lines.
What kind of vehicle will you provide for our party?
It depends on the size of your party. Mostly we use air conditioned late models Mercedes Benz sedans and vans. If you prefer something else, please let us know. We have a wide variety of vehicles to select from including luxurious limousines to retro Russian vehicles. For groups larger than 20 members we use modern comfortable European models of coaches.