Scandinavian Splendors with Three EDays in St.Petersburg
Hubby and I decided to do this at the last minute to celebrate my birthday. We had been looking at various cruise lines who included St. Petersburg in the itinerary for months, thinking of doing it next spring, when we found this trip on the internet on Oceania. They are the only ones we found that gave us a full two nights and (almost) three full days in St. Petersburg. We only booked this 10 days prior to sailing date, so did not have time to get visas and knew we would only be able to take ship excurions without one. We had some misgivings but decided to just go for it. Oceania did not disappoint us!! Their excursions turned out to include things we could never have scheduled on our own. The first morning, we visited Peter the Great Palace in Peterhof, which was pretty much a standard tour with thousands of other people filing through the palace at the same time (but still incredible). We returned to the ship, had lunch, took a nap, then went on our evening tour. This one, title "Grand Imperial Evening with the Tsars", was an excursion to Catherine's Palace in Pushkin. We were totally stunned to find out that somehow the Palace was opened afterhours just for our group, which turned out to be about two busloads (probably 60 people)!! After walking through the carriage house (which was also incredible) our little group was greeted at the Palace entrance by about a 10-piece brass band, and as we walked through all the gorgeous rooms, they had a flutist in one room, and a musician playing a vintage keyboard (maybe a clavichord?) wearing vintage costume in another room. After touring all the rooms, we were seated in a grand ballroom, where
we were served champagne while a string orchestra played, then two people dressed as the tsar and tsarina entered, and the orchestra played while two more costumed dancers danced for us. We did indeed feel like royalty! After this we walked a short distance to a restaurant on the grounds and were served a Russian dinner while costumed musicians played Russian folk music while we clapped along with the music and shared a vodka toast. We returned to the ship around midnight totally awed by the incredible evening we had experienced. The next morning we took an excursion named "Highlights of St. Petersburg, which was enjoyable. That evening we had booked an excursion named "Musical Evening at the Hermitage" and were delighted to find that the Hermitage had been reopened just for our ship excursion group (about 75 people), so we again had a virtually private tour without the crowds. At the end, we were again treated to champagne then escorted into the beautiful The Majolica Room filled with more priceless artwork where we were seated and the State Orchestra of St. Petersburg performed a full concert for us. We returned to the ship around midnight again still in disbelief that we had been able to visit both Catherine's Palace and the Hermmitage without the crowds. Everyone we talked to later on the ship that visited these places during the day experienced the same huge crowds we experienced at Peter the Great Palace. Thank you, Oceania--I don't know how you pulled it off, but the two nighttime
excursions we had in St. Petersburg were sosmething we could never have experienced any other way, and were worth the price of the entire cruise!! On the third day we slept in then took an afternoon excursion named "St. Isaac's Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral & Spilled Blood Cathedral" which was also very good. This was our second cruise on Oceania and were already impressed by the high levels of service, courtesy, and friendliness of all the staff. We were particularly impressed by our waiters at the bar in the Horizon and in Tapas on the Terrace, the friendly guy who was always at the customer service desk, and the excursion staff. We like the port-intensive itineraries offered by Oceania and the smaller size ships that can go into places usually only seen from riverboats. We previously sailed on the Insignia and were delighted to find the Nautica had an identical layout. We loved all the teak wood furniture and decks. We alternated most of our time onboard the ship between Tapas on the Terrace for the great views from the back of the ship and Horizons to enjoy the panoramic views from the front of the ship. I am so happy that we were lucky enough to book this cruise at the last minute and don't think we could have possibly seen more if we had planned our excurions and books months ahead of time!!!!