Visiting St Petersburg was the main reason for taking this cruise. As I said earlier we didn't want to do ship tours. Buying visas was extremely expensive, so the only other option open to us was a private tour. I googled private tours in St Petersburg and came up with Red October, Denrus, Alla and Optima. All four companies had suggested itineries or you could choose your own. Because we were on an organised tour we didn't need a visa. It was Red October who suggested we try to contact other passengers through Cruise Critic. After considering all the companies we decided to use Optima. They came out cheapest and from what we could see, they were all offering the same standard of transport, guide and itinerary. I'm so glad we did it this way. We had tours of Yusupov Palace, St Catherines Palace, Peterhof Palace and gardens, The Hermitage, St Isaacs Cathedral, Church on the Spilled Blood, St Nicholas Church, a Synagogue. We visited a couple of shops, walked through a park, had a ride on the underground. (All marble and chandaliers). She took us to a typical Russian restaurant for lunch. She even took us to the post office to buy stamps for our postcards. A lot cheaper than the Â£2.00 the ship was charging to post them. It was a fantastic two and a half days. I really would recommend a small group. It is easier to hear, easier to keep up, easier to stop and take photographs, plus we didn't have to queue to get in anywhere. The highlights for me were Yusopov Palace and the Peterhof gardens, but it was all fantastic.