Since we hold Indian passports and Schengen visas, nearly all our travels in recent years have been in and around Europe to countries that acknowledge the Schengen. (Do you want to check out all the lovely places we have been?!) We’d need a visa to visit Russia but that’s a pity considering how close it is – a flight from Stockholm to St.Petersburg is a mere 1 hour and 20 minutes! So we’d always fantasise about going there someday when we had more time to fix all the paperwork.
But one fine day Mr.A came across some new info – a cruise liner called St Peter Line that allows visitors into St.Petersburg without the hassle of applying for a visa, upon a ship named ‘Princess Anastasia’. It follows a fixed weekly itinerary docking at four ports around the Baltic Sea, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn and St.Petersburg. Of these, all but Russia accepts a Schengen visa, which we both hold on account of living and working in Stockholm for the past few years. We had visited Helsinki during an excruciatingly cold December a few years ago, and in spite of the weather, had managed to see most of the places that interested us, so we weren’t too keen on Helsinki again. Last year I was in Tallinn for the first time but for Mr.A it was the third, so we ruled that out, too. But then, St.Petersburg was a whole new proposition and we were both instantly saying, as we almost always do, ‘Let’s go!’.
In case you decide to take this route, here are some practical suggestions that might help with your planning:
- The cruise liner’s website provides you most of the information you need including visa free rules, day by day itinerary, etc.
- You don’t have to stick to the whole journey but can opt for any leg of the journey. Since our goal was St.Petersburg, we decided to fly to between Stockholm & Helsinki, and cruise between Helsinki & St.Petersburg.
- Need I state the obvious? Remember to carry your passport and any other resident permits that you hold.
- The cruise itself is on the average side but there are enough options to eat & drink & pass the time. The evening dance performance we watched was quite a good show. Taking bigger & better cabins on the higher decks might considerably improve your experience but the ones on the lower deck are obviously cheaper. Your pick!
- Since you stay overnight in the city, you can either book a hotel in the city or choose to return to the cruise for the night. We chose the latter option. Not only was it terribly cheap to add the extra night, it also eliminated the hassle of carrying our stuff back & forth and the time constraints of checking in & out of a hotel.
- Before boarding, you check-in at the terminal and they provide you with the boarding cards that couple as room keys as well as three other cards required for the visa procedures. The personnel explain all of this pretty clearly, bottom line being, carry them with you at all times & hand them over when asked to.
- When you get to St.Petersburg expect some rather longish queues (assuming the cruise was packed) at the terminal because this is where the border control happens and you get your passport stamped, yayie!
- Mini-buses transfer you free of charge between the terminal and a couple of drop off points the city – the one outside of St.Isaac’s cathedral brings you to the heart of the city. Bus schedules are provided when you board or you can simply ask for one at the reception on the ship. These seat 20 eager passengers at a time and ply every 15 mins, so it might be a bit of challenge to get on the first one that comes by – people don’t really follow the queues here, not even the Europeans, everybody is impatient to get their trip kicked off. Taking a taxi into town would be a quicker way out. Might be a good idea to check with the reception about the most suitable time to leave or return to the ship.
- Once in the city, we were off on our own. I’ll tell you the highlights of our trip in another post soon. Promise!
- Return to the ship in good time on the day of departure, since there might be a bit of queuing then as well, though I noticed it was way less than on the day we arrived. Watching the ship sail away from the docks with a refreshing drink in hand is very relaxing & enjoyable. Especially while leaving St.Petersburg, you get to watch the ship graze by inches below a bridge. They do this every week, but it’s nearly impossible to hold back a whoop & a cheer for the captain 🙂
Is St.Petersburg on your travel wishlist too? Then I hope you find this post helpful. I’ll be more than happy to share my two cent’s worth on this journey, in case you have any questions, fire away!