We have just returned from the Scandinavia and Russia Tour on the Jewel of the Seas. There were four in our group including my 15 year old daughter and 85 year old mother-in-law so quite an age range!
After booking our cruise we looked at the "captive" tours available through the ship and quickly decided that they were both costly and did not fit our needs. Research showed that visa exemption tours were available and, after consulting trip advisor, e-mails were sent seeking suggestions for our party. We chose MaxBaltTours as their outline took in most of the highlights with a schedule that looked best suited to the wide age range and previous TA reviews.
Booking is made through the website and mainly uses drop down boxes, there was a hiccup when the offered years in the date of birth section did not go back far enough for my mother-in -law. An e-mail got a swift response and the web page was equally quickly modified. The booking process was then easy and user friendly. Tickets and itinerary were printed off and carefully packed.
We docked at St Petersburg, presented our tickets along with passports and immigration cards and quickly cleared the system. Maria from MaxiBaltTours soon arrived, we were early, and we were off!
It soon was apparent that Maria both loved her city and was incredibly well versed in its history, architecture - in fact everything St Petersburg. I will not bore you with a list of what we saw on the first day but we had no queues, had time to enjoy the individual sites and the flexibility to change our schedule to reflect what we found particularly interesting. Due to the time spent enjoying Catherine's Palace and Peterhof gardens our lunch arrangements were changed with Maria suggesting a "Russian Pie Shop" near the Marinsky Theatre. The pies, and beer, were excellent and provided a reflection into local life.
Day 2 and it was off again staying more in the central area before arriving at the Hermitage. Again we were straight in, Maria had asked if there was anything in particular we wished to see but we opted for her to show us what she thought to be the highlights. This was a wise move as we were in the hands of a person who knows the collections well and equally importantly knew her way around the vast complex. In the time available we viewed a perfect balance of works from the amazing Impressionists to that of the master clockmaker with Russian history thrown in for good measure.
All too soon it was time to head back to the ship and say our goodbyes to Maria and our excellent driver Vladimir, who just seemed to appear whenever he was needed.
I did not fully appreciate the scale of St Petersburg until our arrival and MaxiBaltTours provided us with an exceptional 2 days with our whole experience being greatly enhanced by the friendliness and knowledge of our guide and driver.
We hope to go back to spend more time in this marvellous city and without doubt will call upon the services of Alexei and his team to assist in our arrangements.
Finally why "We saw so much, we saw so little"? Because that exactly describes our experience, St Petersburg just has so much to offer but MaxibaltTours ensured we got the most out of the limited time we were there and that is an awesome achievement.