We had arranged a two day private tour with Anastasia Tours here, but didn’t know how many people would be with us. The arrangements to disembark here were much more detailed than anywhere else.
We were asked to tell Guest Relations of our private tour details so they could ensure there was enough immigration guards in the terminal, which is logical. There was also a briefing session about the procedure for independent tours as opposed to the ship’s tours. We received a notice the night before we docked to say to meet in the Tuscan Grill Restaurant at 7.45am, and so dutifully headed off.
We had read much about this process – how the ships handled disembarking in Russia – on Cruise Critic, so I was curious to see how it would work. As we approached the restaurant, a large group of people were heading out. We found a seat, sat for a while, and then realised, if we waited until the ship ‘let us go’, we would be late for our meeting time for the tour.
Just as we had decided to go, we heard another group talking with the cruise officer, who said something like ‘we are not holding you here against your will, if you want to leave now, please do’, so we tagged on to that small group and headed off the ship – absolutely no problems whatsoever. No one stopped us, no one said anything. It occurred to us later that night that they only do this on the first day of the cruise, not the second, when you can just get off the boat without any meeting procedure – so it does seem a little bizarre to do it only on the first day.
We met Yulia, our guide, in the terminal and headed off – it ended up being a private tour with just the two of us – this was more expensive, but proved to be well worth it. As we settled in the van, Yulia suggested that, instead of the city tour, we go straight to St Catherine’s Palace to beat the crowds, and see the city as we were driving around over the two days. So we headed off into the countryside We arrived at the Palace to find the first sign of the International Economic Forum that was finishing in St Petersburg today – the usual road was blocked and we were dropped off to walk to the Palace.
As we walked along, the first amazing gold dome appeared. Walking through an arch, we entered the palace through gates and walked up a long path to the entrance. This was a BIG palace – long and narrow. The scale of this first place was quite breathtaking, but we were to see many similar places over the next couple of days.
The tour inside was good – we had missed the crowds, so it was easy to walk around. We had to put on disposable paper booties before we went in, which was a great look. Much gold here, and costumes.
Next, we headed for Peteroff and the Tsars’ Village.