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St Petersburg, the advantage of having two visas

by Véronique and Mike

5 August 2015 • St Petersburg is absolutely a magnificent city. Whenever you get the chance to go, grab it!

There is one practical turnoff. This is not the European Union and you simply need a visa to enter.

We had a group visa, kindly organised by our tour operator All Ways. The only thing we needed to take care of was a valid passport. For the rest: easy.

However, based upon our experience we would recommend an individual visa too.

St Petersburg was the highlight of our two-week Baltic Cruise with the VOYAGER, a ship owned by Voyages of Discovery and chartered for two months by Belgian tour operator All Ways. It was exceptional: most cruise ships only stay two days, and are berthed at the new terminal outside the city. By virtue of her small size our ship stayed three days (!) along a floating pontoon on the river Neva, within walking distance of, for example, the Hermitage. The official name of this berth is Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment.

The small terminal was basically a floating immigration office. After having berthed on the first day we had to wait until the authorities cleared our ship, and only then we could present ourselves with our passports and immigration forms (which were already filled in by All Ways). The first time took a bit longer but in general the passages through customs and immigration were easy.

We knew about visa requirements but since everything had been arranged we didn’t think there were additional possibilities.

Those visitors arriving by cruise ship enjoy a 72-hour visa-free regime, on the condition that an excursion has been booked at an officially recognized tour operator. However, that means that you can join the excursion and nothing else. You simply have to stay with the group. Your individual freedom is curtailed a bit.

Booking tours with a guide is certainly rewarding. On two major excursions we enjoyed the presence of Natalia, one of the best guides on this cruise. She had exeptional knowledge about the sites and the city, spoke excellent Dutch, and had a great sense for extra dry humour.

One of the surprises on this voyage was the fact that All Ways negotiated an early entry in the Hermitage museum, known for its long queues. Together with our guide we were the first to enter the museum, one hour before the official opening time. What an advantage!

In St Petersburg you simply have to see some of the architectural and historical highlights of the city. The Hermitage, the Church on the Spilled Blood, Catherine Palace, Peterhof etc… The choice is yours.

A city is of course much more than its monuments. We were eager to walk around freely and discover the city. This was not allowed, and on the first evening we were virtual (luxury) prisoners on our own ship, because we didn’t have an individual visa.

Luckily we did get a chance later on to walk on the Nevski Prospect, the main shopping street, as a prolongation of a shore excursion. 

Actually All Ways informs its guests prior to booking, and gives the possibility to purchase an individual visa, which at the time of writing was EUR 125 per person.

You can also arrange your visa with agencies such as CIBT.

Conclusion. If you do a Baltic Cruise pick up a number of excursions for the marquee points, and make sure you have spare time to discover on your own. And for that you need an individual visa.

If your ship would not be moored near the centre, do not worry: there are taxis and shuttle buses (sometimes organised for the cruise operator).

Text: Mike

Pictures: Mike and a touch of Véronique

We travelled on board VOYAGER with Belgian cruise tour operator All Ways, discovering the Baltic Sea and St-Petersburg. Mike often joins the excursion, while I mainly go explore myself. In the evening we gather our stories and share on the blog the things we loved most.