There are a couple places for cruise lines to dock in St. Petersburg. Most ships will dock at a port with a typical cruise terminal with souvenir shops, however some smaller ships, such as the ones used by Azamara, can dock right in the center of St. Petersburg near the Hermitage. No matter where you are docked, it is important to know that you have to have a special traveler’s visa for Russia. This means you have to plan your excursions before you dock in St. Petersburg. If you are on a ship’s excursion, this is taken care of for you. However, this does not mean that more independent travelers cannot make plans. A group I met through the Cruise Critic Roll Call made plans with SPB Tours and we had a great time. There were eight people in our tour van for two days of seeing the sights, including eating in local restaurants and riding the subway. Our tour guide made the most of our stay, including a few things not on the planned itinerary. There were also options for evening trips.
Here are some of my highlights from St. Petersburg.
Cat Starr at Peterhof
Grand Staircase Hermitage
Russian Passport control
Because everyone needs a special Visa to visit Russia, it means going through Passport Control. I wrote about this experience in a previous post about Immigration.
Here are my posts about the St. Petersburg “marathon” as well as other past posts of this port.
I wish this post could move to April 15th, as that marks my ten-year anniversary as a landed immigrant to Canada! This is as close as I can get to celebrating my Canadian status as an immigrant and use this as an “I” word in the #atozchallenge. I do have other immigration stories to share from my travels, so I hope you enjoy them!.
Some immigration experiences are the same, no matter how you enter a country and, if you have come off a long flight, you are tired, hungry, etc. and this makes the experience very boring indeed. I’m sure we could find a more pleasant way to enter a country besides long lines to face someone sitting in a booth who stares at you and then stamps your passport. The immigration officers have to hear the same stories ad nauseum because they have to ask the same questions over and over again. They are probably bored, tired and hungry too!
Here are some of my more memorable immigration experiences.
Frankfurt, Germany airport When you plan flights and connections, do not book a connecting flight within an hour of your previous flight if you are going through this airport. Chances are very good you will not make the connection. To anyone who has done this and made the connection, BRAVO! If you are coming from North America to Frankfurt, chances are good that you are landing early in the morning – and that you have had a “marvelous” transatlantic flight with screaming children and snoring companions. When you land, they park large planes away from the terminal and load you into buses. But, instead of loading a bus and heading to the terminal, ALL passengers from one plane have to be loaded into multiple buses and then all the buses travel together to the main terminal. This has been my experience on two occasions. Once in the terminal, you “follow” multiple and confusing signs until you come to a dreaded line – everyone has to go through a security check & then immigration, even if you are connecting to another flight! You never leave a “secure” area, however you have to be scanned and checked again (and no liquids – so drink any water you have!). I now try hard to plan alternate routes that do not take me through the Frankfurt airport.
The Santiago, Chile airport is easy by comparison. When you arrive, there are two lines – one for people staying in Santiago and one for people with connecting flights. The connecting flights line includes a scan of your carry-on baggage and a check of your ticket and passport. The difference between this and the Frankfurt airport is the whole process is much smoother and faster. Then, once you arrive at your new gate – there are bars to get a pisco sour. Perfect!
Most places I arrived by ship are easy. Cruise passengers usually use their shipboard card or SeaPass as a “passport” to get in and out of the country (and very important to get on and off the ship) – and can leave your passport on the ship. I usually carry a copy of my passport and other photo id with me with me, in case there is a need. I had a panic moment in Venice while I was on the train that goes back to the cruise terminal — and I could not find my SeaPass. But, I did find it and all was good.
There are some ports that make do not allow usage of the ship’s card. In Tunisia, we had to take our passports and each person had to show the passport, but they did not stamp it unless you asked for it! In Alexandria, Egypt, I used my SeaPass card, but my passport was stamped on board the ship – it’s a cool stamp, too.
St. Petersburg, Russia was the most interesting. We had to fill out an immigration form and have a copy of either a visa or a information from the tour operator contact. If you book a tour, either with the ship or a private company like SPb Tours, your visa is taken care of. Without a vise, you cannot enter. Once off the ship, you go to a building and wait in one of several lines as one person at a time goes to stand between two sliding doors while the immigration officer (usually a woman) checks your papers and stamps your passport – without a word or a smile. Challenge – try making one of them smile. I think a got a little “smirk” but it was gone quickly!
My easiest experience was the Athens airport – there was no one to check any documents. I’m hoping it was because we had been doubly checked in Frankford, Germany. I will say it made me a bit nervous – that is until I got to me hotel and there was a little bottle of ozo waiting for me!
So, next time you are standing in one of the long immigration lines at the airport of sea port – take a book, keep your headphones on and bring a lot of patience. Maybe you can even get the immigration officer to smile!