Scandinavia/Russia cruise -- suggestion for excursion

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snoopy

Guest
#1
Hello,

We will be taking the Star Princess for the Scandinavia/Russia cruise in June, and will be visiting the following ports: two full days in St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Gdansk, Warnemunde (for Berlin) and Helsingor. I have the following questions:

1) For St. Petersburg, we are thinking about either the Princess excursion or Red October tour. Any suggestion/recommendation about either one?

2) For all other ports, we are thinking about touring by ourselves, maybe at most taking a cruise arranged shuttle to town. Is this a good idea? Did anyone take a good excursion tour that you would recommend to us?

3) For Warnemunde, is it worth taking the long train ride to Berlin? Or is there anything good around the Warnemunde area?

4) For Helsingor, Princess has an excursion where we get off at Helsingor, and catch the cruise back in Copenhagen. Anyone took the excursion before? Is it any good?

Thanks a lot!
Snoop
 
B

BruinSteve

Guest
#2
We did a similar Baltic route with Princess in 2001 (The ports are great, but there are lots of reasons we haven't gone back to Princess since)...Here are my notes:

St. Petersburg: We did all of our excursions through Princess. I really don't think the Red October folks do anything all that different and I like the idea of having things arranged through the cruise line wherever practical...We did five excursions in the two days (in retrospect, maybe the full day excursions would have been more efficient--we kept finding ourselves rushed to eat something on the ship and then back off on the next excursion--but, we were travelling with our two daughters and the half day excursions ended up being quite a cost savings). We did the City highlights tour (for an overview), the Peterhof (a MUST-see), the Hermitage (again a must...make sure to get a tour where you see this in the MORNING...they let the ship tours enter before the public and you at least have some of your tour while the museum is pretty much empty...In the afternoons, it gets very crowded) and the Yusopov (where Rasputin was killed--we enjoyed this tour quite a bit)...In the evening between the two days, we did the Ballet excursion--the ship got us seats right up front...beware the Theater is extremely hot and not air conditioned...My wife and daughters really enjoyed seeing a Russian Ballet in Russia...but, when we booked a Baltic Cruise for my parents this past summer (a gift for my Dad's 80th Birthdat--on the Celebrity Constellation, we booked them into the night river cruise and show instead)...Just make sure you have all of your time slots filled because there is so much to see and you cannot go out on your own without a costly visa...

Stockholm: One problem with Princess is that, rather than dock right in Stockholm, they opt instead to dock in Nynashamn, a long bus ride away...This makes travel on your own difficult and ship excursions expensive...Since the "on your own" excursion (which is basically just a bus there and back) was so expensive, we opted to pay not much more for the tour that takes you to town, gives you a short city tour and a tour of the Wasa Museum and then on your own before meeting for a bus ride back...Turns out to have been an excellent choice...The Wasa Museum is a little out of the way, but, in my book, is the one "don't-miss" of Stockholm...this is the flagship of the Swedish Navy that sunk on its maiden voyage in 16-something and was pulled from the ocean floor some 300+ years later--in remarkably good condition...They built the museum around it...it is simply fascinating...

Helsinki: We opted to take the shuttle bus into town and found our own cheap tour...There is a hop-on-hop-off bus tour that you can pick up from a kiosk out on the Esplinade (near where the shuttle drops you)...cost us like $20 a person, with earphone commentary in your choice of languages...Saves a lot of money off the expensive ships tours...

Tallinn: DEFINITELY do this on your own...If Princess is still using the same dock, it leaves you walking distance from the Fat Margaret Gate (The ship's shuttle can't get you any closer, really, since the town is walled and vehicles aren't allowed)... There is an excellent walking tour itinerary outlined and detailed in Rick Steve's Scandinavia book...Buy a copy or go to the library and just xerox the pages...It's the same tour as the ship's walking tours take, but you can do it at your own pace...and it's easy...

Gdansk: Here again Princess docked, not in Gdansk, but in distant Gdynia...making taking an excursion almost necessary...we again opted for the partial tour with lunch and the afternoon on our own...These seem to have been the most econimical way of doing it...And the tour part was actually longer than we expected and lunch can be found cheaply enough in Gdansk...

Warnemunde (for Berlin): Our itinerary didn't stop here, going to Oslo instead, I guess...For my parents cruise, we researched it and ended up sending them on an excursion to Berlin--just so much more of interest there...

Helsingor: Didn't stop here either as we started and ended in Copenhagen (which I love) itself...We visit Copenhagen on our July cruise with Celebrity and we're strongly considering taking their excursion out of Copenhagen that goes up to Elsinore (Helsingor)...Sort of your tour in reverse...

Hope this helped...Good luck...
 
T

thomaseu

Guest
#3
Just two suggestions: [we did a similar tour on Celebrity]

1. Contact DenRus and see about their tour. We had a mini-van, driver and bilingual tour guide for the four of us. It was perfection. We planned the stops [with their help] and got in and out of places with no hassles and no crowds.

2. From Warnemunde we took a 15 minute train by ourselves to Rostock. This is a great little town with lots to do and see and eat. It was very simple. The trip to Berlin takes all day and the train ride is 2 and a half hours each way with five hours there.

[3] I said I had two suggestions LOL. We did the rest of the ports on our own and found city tours after we got off the shuttles.
 
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stanj

Guest
#4
Hi Snoop

Touring such a unique city as St Petersburg in a large tour bus is certainly not the best way to get a feel for the city. The cruise lines contract with tour companies which pays a substantial commission to the ship operator for each visitor so not only is the cruise lines sponsored tours more expensive than they ought to be but also a lot less appealing from tourism point of view than the small personal groups the smaller tour companies create. A 2-8 person group is a lot more flexible than a 45 passenger tour bus so there is a substantial difference in how much visitors using the two different style of tour get to see and how the program is molded around the interests and styles of the visitor.
I would suggest contacting one of the smaller but very experienced tour companies such as Den Rus( my own personal recommendation) or Red October to see how much more they offer.
On a purely practical matter,, the smaller tour groups get into museums and palaces before the large ship sold shore excursions and for very popular venues such as the Hermitage that is important. You will find that returning to the ship before absolutely needed is time wasted so get rest beforehand and do full day excursions.

If you have any specific questions I am very familar with St Petersburg having moved to the city from my native San Francisco after many years of frequent visiting.

Stan