My family and I were blessed to go on a fabulous trip to the Baltic region a couple of months ago and the itinerary did not disappoint! We visited some truly beautiful countries—Denmark, Germany, Russia, Estonia, Sweden,and Finland—and each of them had so much to offer. It is hard to pick a favorite but, if I had to, I would have to say my absolute favorite was St. Petersburg, Russia.
There are many options for travelers when it comes to tours and shore excursions. Some offer tours of individual tourist attractions while others offer multi day tours that include several stops throughout each day.
For our trip, we chose to do a multi day tour simply for the convenience. I didn’t want to have to coordinate multiple tours and wanted to minimize the risk of being late for the next tour on our schedule. I selected a 2-day tour with Ulko Tours and we were very pleased with our experience.
Why We Chose Ulko Tours
As a travel agent, I look at a few different factors when selecting a tour operator. Price is of course one because most of my clients (including my own family) have a specific budget for their trips. In addition to price, I look at what they offer, the convenience with which my clients can access their tours, reviews, and optional add ons.
First, Ulko’s pricing was very competitive with other tour operators. They offered a wide variety of tours in St. Petersburg as well as other cities in Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Poland. If you are on a Baltic Sea cruise, Ulko Tours can be a one stop shop for all of your shore excursions.
Another factor that was important to me was having a tour that included a blanket visa for us. If you travel to Russia, you will need a visa which is a somewhat complicated process, and one that requires some time. You will NOT be able to get a visa upon arrival like you can in some countries.
EXCEPTION: Cruise ship passengers are allowed to visit Russian ports without a visa for a period of up to 72 hours but only if they are on an organized, escorted tour with a tour operator licensed by Russian authorities. (This do not apply to river boat cruise passengers and travelers coming to Russia on other package tours. You will need to apply for visas prior to entry.)
Ulko Tours is a licensed tour operator and therefore meets the requirements for cruise ship passengers. You are NOT required to book through the cruise lines unless you want to. One benefit though of booking through the cruise line is that most will wait for you if your tour runs late returning to the ship. Please contact your travel agent or cruise line representative for more information.
The tour we selected had an lunch option for an additional fee which allowed us the opportunity to enjoy some local cuisine. We had no idea what we would be eating but we knew we wanted something local and selecting the optional lunch made it easy for us.
Accessing the tour was super easy! Instructions were to meet up with a representative inside the cruise terminal after passing through immigration. We stayed there until the bus arrived, and then the representative walked us to the bus for boarding.
Last but certainly not least, Ulko Tours has experience organizing accessible tours. Our kiddo travels in a manual wheelchair so, even though she walks, we look for accessibility because she does have challenges.
One of my absolute favorite places is the Church of the Resurrection on Spilled Blood. The church marks the location in which Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt on March 1, 1881. His son, Alexander III, had the church built as a memorial to his father and today it stands in the beauty and glory of traditional Russian architecture. It was remarkably crowded (we went during high season) but it was well worth going in.
Because it was not initially built to be a church, there were no baptisms, funeral services, or other traditional church services held in the Church on Spilled Blood. The church become an official cathedral in 1923, closed in 1932, and no longer served as the memorial it was intended to be.
In 1970 it was brought into to be a part of the St. Isaac’s Museum complex and the restoration of the glorious cathedral began. It now functions as a Russian Orthodox church and you can find the worship schedule on their website.
The Winter Palace was built 1754 - 1762 and served as the residence for the Romanov Tsars. It now houses the State Hermitage collection which is said to have over three million pieces and artifacts.
During our visit we had to be strategic about the wheelchair because it was so crowded. We were able to see artifacts from ancient Rome and Greece, items from the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages, Renaissance art, and period furnishings. We saw just a very small part of the overall museum which I imagine would take more time than I have available to see it all.
So……that was just a taste of the culture, history, and beauty that we were able to experience in the three days that we were there. It was such a major bucket list achievement for me and I can’t wait to go back and visit Moscow!
Natalya and Denis were amazingly warm, friendly, and helpful. We didn’t bring Peanut’s wheelchair on day 1 because I didn’t think the tour was accessible however Denis brought a wheelchair for her on day 2 to make it easier on us (we used wheelchairs onsite when the locations had them available).
If you need some recommendations for tours and shore excursions, check out my list below:
Private Custom Guided Tour with Driver for a Day (not visa free);
Please remember to check for visa requirements before you book your tours to make sure you have everything you need to get through immigration, and to have the best experience ever. Feel free to email me if you need help getting the info you need.
2019 is running out of time so get out there! Make this beautiful day count!