Let’s set the scene with this comment from Cruise Critic and someone called Muffin.
“Heald will try to scare you about not taking Carnival excursions but I urge you not to listen to him. He said drivers in Russia were crazy and to stay with your Carnival tour guide. They are no crazier than Italians. He said Russian customs were nasty. They were polite and stern, but they gave us no grief. Heald said private tours might get off last and blamed it on Russian immigration, that was ludicrous because as far as the Russians are concerned, they don’t care who your tour operator is - it’s Carnival that makes the line longer for private tours than Carnival tours.”
Well, lets start with reminding this kind person that I have a first name ……….anyway, that aside I have to defend myself. At no point do I mention Russian drivers except when I talk about crossing the road ……..which yes, like in parts of Italy………..is a life changing experience. I do not………..I repeat not………..mention that the inspectors are rude…….that Mrs. Muffin is not true…………simply not true and I am sure other bloggers who have sailed recently will say the same.
And as you will see, the fact is that it is not Carnival that separates the lines. The facts are as follows.
There are two feeder lines into the eight Immigration booths and these lines are set up and ordained by Russian Immigration. Now, once inside there are eight booths……5 for Carnival tours and three for non-Carnival tours………again, this ordained by Russian Immigration. This means the 2,500 guests on Carnival tours have 5 inspectors and the 500 or so non-Carnival tours have three. The problem though is that the Carnival tour line does move quicker than the private tour line. This is because the Inspectors see guests with Carnival tickets and they know that contains the visa rights and they pass through quickly.
Meanwhile, guests on private tours have to show the authorities their proof of privately booked tours and this does take time so henceforth yes, the guest is correct the lines do move slower. Please do not think I am trying to dissuade anyone from taking a private tour……..far from it. We allow guests on private tours to disembark at the same time as ours and show no discrimination to those who have not booked onboard……you just need a large dollop of patience.
Anyway, I truly do not want you to think that I am being negative about this port ………… it’s amazingly jaw droppingly magnificent on a biblical scale…………it’s just that you have to endure the plutocratic stuff first.
I've been to St. Petersburg a couple of times (the Baltic itinerary is one of my favorites), but I wasn't on Carnival. This is a new itinerary for them.
The fact is guests in St. Petersburg HAVE TO HAVE visas when they get off the ship! Those are included in the process when you book a ship's tour OR by MOST private tour operators.
If you book private tours there (Which I have done on both visits) you just have to be sure they get you the paperwork necessary to show you are on tour with a "sanctioned" and licensed tour company. And you have to have patience in dealing with local bureaucrats.
I was quite happy on our May Baltic cruise on NCL. We used our tour tickets and itinerary and passed through Russian immigrations with no problem. We did use a licensed Russian tour operator. The process to get through the booth was about 30 seconds, each day. They had at least five booths open and we had a very short wait in line each day. The immigration officials gave us no problems. They just looked at the documents and gave us our tab and stamp and off we went and met our guide.
I did have a problem with NCL's notices and port lectures. They told everyone who was not on a ship's tour that they would not be allowed off the ship without a Russian visa, even if they booked their own excursion, but there was still plenty of time to book a ship's tour. This is basically a scare tactic for people to book their shore excursion. Luckily people did know that you could leave the ship with appropriate the tour tickets and itinerary from a licensed tour company.
There was misinformation like this on my '06 HAL cruise to China. They told folks that the pier entrance was two miles (It was fifty yards) and the tour guides would not be able to meet them. They held passports until the Hotel Manager was involved. I do believe that part of it is not knowing the ports and not wanting passengers to risk doing things on their own but a larger part is wanting to sell shore excursions.
__________________ Cruisemates Community Leader/Moderator
"There is a great difference between being well traveled and just having been to many places." ~Me
I saw some posts in John's Blog about people on non_carnival tours not getting into the country expeditiously and so I wrote to Red October and asked if things had changed. Laura said "Indeed no, if you are booked on one of our tours you should be admitted just like you have been for years - nothing has changed."
I wrote John H back and mentioned this and he replied privavtely to me that Red October and the other large tour company (I am not familiar with) are fine. It is smaller, less well-known companies that are causing the problems. Just passing that along.