According to the St.Petersburg Times officials are concerned about the lack of tourism to the city and measures have been put into place to address the problem. In early April of this year visa rules were changed to allow ferry passengers on the Princess Maria from Helsinki visa-free access on a stay of up to 72 hours. The city hopes that the new move will encourage up to 500,000 tourists to visit St.Petersburg annually.
With this exciting new discovery a few friends and I decided that we would check out the deal over our Easter break. We booked a cheap overnight cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki on the Silja line, spent the day in Helsinki and then boarded the Princess Maria for a 7pm departure. Our cruise with St.Peter line cost 120 euros each and we would be sharing a small cabin for 4 people. Our cabin was small but comfortable and included a shower/bathroom. The Princess Maria lacked the faux-grandeur of the Silja line fleet and the Duty Free shop was pretty small but it did offer a range of restaurants, from a buffet dinner to snacks of hot dogs and burgers. There is also a cinema, casino, various bars and lounges and a ball pool for the kids. The major drawback for me was that the wifi cost a further 10 euros. The crossing was generally smooth apart from a few patches where the ferry ploughed through large plates of floating Baltic ice whilst we were entertained by the colourful dance show in the Columbus lounge which featured traditional and modern russian singing and dancing. The show was professionally choreographed and the dancing spectacular, it was also free to enter unlike the cinema. Unlike the ferry routes from Stockholm to Finland this does not have a booze cruise atmosphere – eating and drinking is discouraged in the cabins – although the vodka is significantly cheaper. There is a nightclub on board but it was pretty quiet during our cruise. Other than the featured show, this boat is primarily for sighseeing in St.Petersburg, stick to the Silja line for partying.
St.Peter line promise that the trip will be free from the usual visa issues that have previously made would-be tourists apprehensive about visiting Russia. At check-in our passports were rigorously checked and our bags scanned through large X-Ray machines. We were issued with our boarding cards and Departure/Arrival cards that would serve in place our visa in the country whilst also doubling up as a bus pass for the ride in to the city centre. Once the ferry had come into port we were greeted by a small Salvation Army-style band playing ‘When the Saints Come Marching In’ as we came down the stairs welcoming us to Russia. Inside the port we had to go through customs which was a slow procedure but certainly as easy as St.Peter Line promised, with the exception of one of our party who was detained for almost 30 minutes because his passport looked ‘too old’. Had it not been for that incident we would have been in the city centre of St.Petersburg only an hour or so after our arrival – not bad for a country that always seemed so inaccessible.
I would certainly recommend a trip on the ferry to St.Petersburg if you want easy access to Russia. The company has also recently started a cruise from Stockholm to St.Petersburg stopping at Tallinn en-route. For more information and booking visit the website directly www.stpeterline.com
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