Without reservation, I highly recommend TJ Travel for small group tours in all Baltic Sea ports, particularly St. Petersburg. Agents were very knowledgeable and responsive to my queries, itineraries were well-planned and comprehensive (recognizing our time constraints in each port), and our guides were knowledgeable, enthusiastic, flexible, patient and well-spoken. The small-group format was high-value, reasonably priced and ensured nimbleness, with most tours capped at 16 participants.
If you are like us, you start with some initial apprehensions…
- Russian Visa Requirements – scare tactics to persuade you to purchase your tours from the cruise ships. TJ Travel provides you with a tour ticket that includes the required visa for your stay in Russia well in advance of your trip departure date. Same visa that the cruise ships provide to passengers taking their tours.
- Disembarkation (later, after folks who booked cruise ship tours) – TJ Travel has factored this into your tour departure time; we and the other 13 tour participants had no issues meeting up with our guide in plenty of time for our tour to begin on Day One (of two) as planned. Our nimbleness (compared to cruise tours of 50 people) and a slightly later Day One return time ensured our itinerary was not compromised.
- Missing the Boat (literally) – TJ Travel guarantees that you will return to your cruise ship in time for embarkation, or they provide transportation for you to the next port at their expense. Besides, given social media and travel forums, how long would any tour company stay in business if they stranded tour participants?
- Payment to a company in Russia in advance – TJ Travel prefers you meet company representatives at the end of the St. Petersburg tour for payment. For us, we paid for six (6) tours after completing tours in Stockholm, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg.
While our experiences were very good on all six Baltic Sea port tours (Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Berlin, and Oslo), we were particularly impressed with our experience in St. Petersburg, where TJ Tours and our guide Maria adjusted our itinerary to allow us to visit The Hermitage on the day of the week where it was closed to the public (Mondays). No queues for museum entry and we were able to experience the fabulous architecture and exhibits without the usual crowds (only a handful of other small group tours were allowed on this day and these groups moved from room to room to room on the same interval). Two long days that flew by, with minimum time spent on the minibus, as we also traveled by canal boat, hydrofoil, walking and subway. Included in our tours were lunches on both days – the restaurants we visited did not appear to be touristy; they were clean, the food was good and filling.