We chose Red October based on recommendations from friends. They use a van so that you are not in a large group. There were 10 of us, 3 couples from Singapore, 1 couple from Canada and we were from the USA (Florida). I found it interesting that we were from different parts of the world and chose Red October based on what friends told us. The cost of a two tour came to $646 or $323 per person. Cost is based on the number in the group. We were on a cruise with the Emerald Princess and the best I can figure is that seeing the same sites would have cost us about $600. The main difference is that with a small group in a van, we were almost always dropped off in front of the attraction and not in the tour bus area.We all stayed together so that you did not have to wait for stragglers. The other advantage is that there was lots of traffic in St. Petersburg and road construction which held up the tour buses while our driver was taking side streets to avoid the congestion. At dinner on the ship, some of our table mates complained that because of the congestion, they did not get to spend the allotted time at an attraction.
Helen was our tour guide. She spoke perfect English and had been doing tours for 20 years.She was friendly and knowledgeable We were given head sets and she used a microphone, so you could hear her every word. At the Hermitage, there were tour guides trying to talk by speaking loudly and it was obvious that folks in the back could not hear. We did not have that problem. She took us to all the usual attractions and because we were ahead of schedule she took us to a Holocaust Statue that the local residents had built. It was quite moving.
Again, because we were a small group, she took us to a non tourist restaurant for lunch. I assume that the patrons were office workers from their dress. She suggested the meat pies and told us to order the small size and try 2 or 3 of them. They were quite good and we were all pleased with lunch.
Because she was so familiar with the attractions, when we went to the Hermitage, it was extremely crowded, but she would take us to different areas and then back track so we saw it all but avoided the crowds. You can only do this in a small group. She had a schedule that she tried to keep taking us to the busy attractions when they first opened. She wanted us to meet at 7.30 AM and our group was early so she used the extra time to drive us around St. Petersburg.
At the end of our second day, she took us to a souvenir store that offered all the Vodka you could drink for free. Some of our group took full advantage. Of course the more you drink the more you might buy. Souvenirs are pretty much the same at each store but the store Helen took us to was much cheaper than what we saw elsewhere. You can go to their web site and see their tours and prices. Our group had a great time and St. Petersburg was wonderful. One of the couples from Singapore had traveled about everywhere in the world and said Helen was as good as a tour guide can get. The bottom line is that a small group with a knowledgeable guide makes for a great experience.
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