A "Ferry" Good Trip to St. Petersburg
An elegant cruise ship passage to see the glories of St. Petersburg -- visa free
Travelers wanting to visit the gloriously restored Hermitage and palaces of St. Petersburg, but who are daunted by the hassle and $140-$200 fee for acquiring a visa, have a new fairy godmother. Well, make that ferry godmother. Thanks to a special rule allowing visitors arriving by boat to stay visa-free for 72 hours, St. Peter Line’s ferry/cruise ships is providing stylish passage.
Departing from Helsinki, the “Princess Maria” carries 1,600 passengers on the overnight voyage with far more sophistication than commercial boats that routinely ply the route. The world’s largest cruise ship when it was launched 35 years ago as the “Finlandia,” the vessel was renamed for the Danish-born mother of the ill-fated last czar Nicholas II, elegantly redecorated, and provided with a wealth of diversions and activities from fine cuisine to free Wi-Fi and TV.
There are six classes of cabins from maroon and gold deluxe suites with queen size beds, flat-screen TV and L’Occitane amenities, to merely “practical” rooms complete with ensuite showers and air conditioning. After boarding, passengers dine in the Seven Seas buffet or in the ala carte Explorer’s with its “picture window” forward hull. Menus designed by Jaakko Nuutila, a professor chef and veteran of Helsinki’s acclaimed Savoy Restaurant, are imaginative and delicious, featuring giant crayfish prepared in the Finnish manner and choices of fresh mushrooms, berries and other local delicacies. Tattinger Champagnes are paired with each course except for the blini, which are accompanied, of course, by vodka.
After dessert, passengers are invited to view movies in the cinema or to take in a nightclub revue starring polished members of the St. Petersburg Music Hall Ballet Theater, who wind up the show with a rousing Can Can. Late night drinks are served in the Cigar or XXXX Bars … and the Nemo Casino stays open until the last guest leaves. During summer white nights, dancing on the disco deck may last through breakfast.
Travelers who want to extend the voyage have the option of sailing from Stockholm for a day and a half on the somewhat larger sister ship “Princess Anastasia.” Massages and manicures are offered in the salon and the spa includes saunas and a mini swimming pool. The cuisine includes a popular lunchtime Swedish smorgasbord, which starts with Baltic herring and gravlax, followed by cold cuts and salads before the main course choices—hot meatballs, reindeer, tilapia—are served, and then finally cheesecakes and berry dishes for dessert.
After serving a full buffet breakfast, the “Princess Maria” docks around noon on St. Petersburg’s Vassilevsky Island. Tourists can explore on their own for the next few days, or arrange a shuttle to the affiliate Sokos Palace Hotel, a converted wine warehouse with a popular lobby bar, spacious swimming pool, and six choices of sauna—including one with drifts of actual snow. And passengers who prefer simple cabins can separately purchase a VIP option, which includes pre-boarding courtesies and a VIP lounge.
There are six cabin categories, ranging from $160-$950 per person and passengers who prefer simple cabins can separately purchase a $75 VIP option, which includes pre-boarding courtesies and lounge. Compared to the $300 one-way airfare, St Peter Line’s rates can be a savings even without the amenities, and a return boarding card which substitutes for a visa, is the ticket to a bargain holiday.