Not counting the Star Cruise I went on when I was a teenager (which basically just brought us out to the open sea for about 3 days from Singapore iirc), our Disney Magic cruise from Copenhagen was my third cruise. And one thing I learned from planning 3 multi-city / multi-country cruise trips was that the official shore excursions offered by the cruise companies are notoriously expensive.
For our past two cruises, a Greek island cruise in 2010 before we had kids and a ‘Spice of Southeast Asia’ cruise with Royal Caribbean in 2012 with a toddler, I have tried to stay away from these overpriced shore excursions.
During our Greek Island cruise, we visited Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes and Kusadasi (in Turkey). We only joined the shore excursion at Kusadasi, because it seemed like the only way to visit Ephesus Archeological Site from a cruise ship. But at all the other Greek islands, we opted to go around on our own – via public buses or walking. And we saved LOADS of money doing so. LOADS. But we also walked A LOT, climbing up uncountable hills and stairs at various islands. And got lost trying to find the correct bus stop at some point and ended up walking a loooong ways back to our cruise ship. It’s all in the name of adventure – something we would do BEFORE we had kids.
During our Southeast Asia cruise, this time with a toddler in tow, we still decided to skip shore excursions and found taxis at various port of calls to bring us around for the few hours we were there. But we knew what we were doing, like how to negotiate for fares and where to go, because Southeast Asia was our territory.
Then came our Disney cruise from Copenhagen, which brought us to Stockholm (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), Saint Petersburg (Russia) and Tallinn (Estonia). A part of the world we were totally unfamiliar with as neither my hubby nor I have ever been to any of these countries. Heck, I haven’t even heard of Tallinn before booking the cruise. Plus we had two kids in tow this time. So it was very tempting to just pay and book the ‘Port Adventures’ (as Disney called it) and not think about the $$$.
But on the other hand, I couldn’t help thinking whether there was a way to save money. Some cities, like Stockholm and Helsinki, seemed safe and easy enough to go around on our own. Others like Saint Petersburg, right from the moment I booked the cruise, I knew we were going to take a shore excursion there. I had no intention of roaming around Russia with two young kids on our own. I’m adventurous but not THAT adventurous. Especially not after the Metro bombing 2 months before our trip. And even if I was that adventurous, we had to arrange our own visas to visit Russia and all. TOO MUCH EFFORT. So I considered joining an organised shored excursion in St Petersburg absolutely essential.
So I was all prepared to fork out hundreds of USDs to book our Port Adventure at St Petersburg. Until I logged in to my Disney Cruise Planner to realise that their full day excursion was SOLD OUT?? Crap!
They had a whole bunch of other excursions, which you can see below for reference.
But I wanted to most classic, comprehensive full day city tour of St Petersburg that I could get. Because I figured the chances of me ever being back at St Petersburg was VERY slim.
So I googled around for other shore excursion operators in Saint Petersburg and saw recommendations for SPB Tours. They were #1 on TripAdvisor for ‘Tours in St Petersburg’. You can’t go very wrong with #1 on TripAdvisor. I went to their website to check it out and man… It was impressive! These guys knew what they were doing!
On SPB Tours website, all I had to do was enter my cruise ship (Disney Magic) and sailing date (11 June 2017) and voila! The website auto-generated all the tours that were relevant for me! It was mad awesome. I didn’t have to scroll through all the tours on the website to figure out which ones would match the time I had at the various ports of call!
Their 11-hours St Petersburg Deluxe Tour was really reasonably priced at USD145 per adult. And best part…. Hold your breath…
Kids age 6 and below could go on their tours for free
I was like jumping for joy and so glad I booked this tour before MF turned 7!! I must had accumulated a lot of good karma in my previous life. This was working out PERFECTLY! If I had booked the Port Adventure from Disney Cruise, I would have paid USD111 for MF! Thank goodness it was sold out. MUAHAHA…. Disney Cruise, IT’S YOUR LOSS!
So with that, it was USD290 for our whole family for an 11-hours tour of St Petersburg. Versus USD415 for Disney Cruise’s 9 hours tour. So we got a longer tour for much cheaper. I was FREAKING HAPPY can??
And when I’m freaking happy, I tend to buy more than what I initially planned to. Like when I go to a restaurant and I’m super happy with the meal, I tend to order desserts. Similarly, I decided to see what else SPB Tours offered at the other ports of call for our cruise.
I checked out Tallinn first because I knew nuts about Tallinn. Like I didn’t even know they existed. SPB Tour’s 5-hours Old Town Tallinn and Kadriorg-Pirita Seaside tour was USD95 per adult. Yes, our kids FREE. And get this: We could get 20.00 USD discount per person if we booked it with the St. Petersburg tour. So it worked out to be USD150 for our entire family! Take my money. Really. USD150 to save myself the trouble to planning a day trip in Tallinn (a city that I never even heard about before booking the cruise) from scratch. I thought it would be money-well-spent.
So I was addicted. I went on to see what they had in Helsinki. They had a 5-hours Helsinki + Seurasaari Open-Air Museum tour for USD100 per adult, and a 3.5-hours Helsinki Panoramic Tour for USD70 per adult. We decided to skip the open-air museum to have some free time in Helsinki and opted for the Panoramic tour. There was a USD15 discount per person if booked with the St Petersburg Tour. So total for our family was USD110. USD110 for a guided tour of the city for our whole family, not bad at all!
Then I went to see what they had for Stockholm. Their 5-hours Stockholm highlights tour cost USD140 per adult before discount. Which I felt was rather expensive in comparison to the previous 3 tours?? Considering the 11-hours tour in St Petersburg cost USD145, and a 5-hours Stockholm tour cost USD140, it just didn’t make sense to the Mathematician in me. So I didn’t book their Stockholm tour.
After choosing my tours and adding them to my cart, I went on to confirm my booking. They had options for us to ‘Pay Now’ or ‘Pay Later’! Love the flexibility! I will advice you to ‘Pay Later’, and I’ll explain why in a while.
Few days after I submitted a booking, I received an email confirmation for our reservation.
Then came the main glitch.
I was told in the email that we could not join the 5-hours Old Town Tallinn and Kadriorg-Pirita Seaside tour as the stopover for our cruise in Tallinn was too short! And they had rebooked us for their Walking Tour of Old Town Tallinn. The price for the walking tour was USD45 per pax, AFTER the USD15 discount per pax for booking with the St Petersburg tour. I wasn’t very interested in the walking tour – which gave us 2 hours to just bum around old town on our own.
I was thinking, why did they include the 5-hours tour when we selected our cruise then? I was still raving about how awesome their website was to auto-select excursions relevant to us only. It didn’t seem right for them to include a tour that we wouldn’t have been able to make it for and simply rebooked us on another tour.
But it was really not a big issue. Especially since I haven’t paid for the tour. (This is why I recommend you choose ‘Pay Later’ during booking.) The good thing about SPB Tours was that it was very easy to remove the tour from our booking area. Which I did. I was really glad I had chosen to ‘Pay Later’ during booking. It made amendments and cancellations less complicated. By clicking ‘REMOVE’ for the Tallinn walking tour and clicking ‘Book changes’, the Tallinn tour was removed from my reservation.
The next thing you need to note is that you MUST submit passport details for all the travellers at least 1 week before the tour in order to take the Visa-free tour in Russia. So if your passport is expiring, renew it early!
Adding passport details is pretty straightforward. Just go to ‘Complete Booking’ in your customer area and key everything in and send… Done!
Anytime from booking till the excursion, you can log into your booking area to complete the payment. You can also opt to pay for your tours to the guide in St Petersburg, but I really don’t recommend doing so because they will charge you in Russian Rubles if you do that. It’s easier to just pay in USD online and go enjoy the tour when you are there.
Once you have completed your booking, you will then have to go to ‘Download your Documents’ and print out the tour documents. This is VERY important for St Petersburg tour, because your tour tickets are your visas to enter into Russia. Be sure to download, print out and bring your St Petersburg tour tickets!
In your tour documents, instructions on how to meet your guide when you have arrived at each port was also very clearly explained. You can tell these guys are really experienced from the detailed information they provide on the tour documents.
Following the instructions on your tour documents, it should be easy for you to find the tour guide at each cruise terminal. The tour guides are always holding up an orange ‘SPB Tours’ sign. There may be more than one guide with ‘SPB Tours’ sign, because some people may have booked private charters from them, or they may have more than one tour group. But you can just approach anyone holding an ‘SPB Tours’ sign and he or she would help you find your correct guide.
I will write a bit more about what we experienced in our St Petersburg and Helsinki tours with SPB Tours on separate posts. But on the whole, I would definitely recommend their St Petersburg tour. They deserved their #1 ranking on TripAdvisor.
However, I was not so impressed by their Helsinki tour and couldn’t help feeling that we should have just went around Helsinki on our own via a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus.
I was also very glad we didn’t sign up for organised tours in Stockholm and Tallinn. As these cities were easier than expected to go around on own own. Plus the fact that Disney Cruise arranged for FREE shuttle buses to bring us from the cruise terminal to each city centre. With these shuttles, I really felt there wasn’t a need to join organised shore excursions in Stockholm, Tallinn and even Helsinki. I’ll share more on our OTOT shore excursions in Stockholm and Tallinn next time!