This trip was a five night journey from Helsinki by ferry to St Petersburg, with two nights on board the ferry. It thus avoided the need to apply for a Russian Visa. It was my first trip with VJV.
The hotels were comfortable in Helsinki and Russia, although not the best rooms. The hotel in St Petersburg was hot and stuffy and no-one able to adjust the heating. We were not in the rooms for long, happily!
We were surprised that there was no tour manager, and a consequent lack of information about what was happening at some times. Silly things like to put the Finnish clock back on our return journey as well as better information about what was happening.
The guide’s in Finland and Russia were both all right and personable, but unable to join things up . For example, no one knew when to get off the overnight ferry or where to meet. This meant some people disembarked early as soon as the doors opened and were then faced with an uncomfortable wait in the terminal as other people chose to stay on board until the last minute.
We noticed other groups on board organised this disembarking to avoid needless waiting. Having been to Russia before I was not surprised at the immigration process, and having to answer questions from the border guards, but a tour manager could have eased this process with a fair warning about how it works. VJV notes refer to the tour manager, for example, that this person would collect tips for guides and drivers, so it was a surprise not to have this assistance.
The ferry trip was unpleasant, our cabins noisy, the beds narrow and the pillows thin. Many passengers young and out to party rather than going to bed. Cheap Bailey’s in the duty free ! Their right, of course, but it was impossible to get a good nights sleep as much partying took place in the gangways. Some warning about this might have helped, if only to bring earplugs. Those cabins round us were four berthed and used by young people. I don,t blame them for enjoying the trip, but it spoiled ours and may have avoidable if say, VJV clients were block booked in an area of the ship.
Finally, we were disappointed that many of the sightseeing trips were only to the outside of buildings for photo opportunities. This was not clear from the brochure. In Helsinki we only went into a hotel and a church on our first day, in Saint Petersburg we only saw the outside of everything on the first morning tour, which consisted of driving round on the bus and then getting off at intervals to take a picture. If this is how Jules Verne operates normally I would hesitate to travel again. If its a feature of Russia then it would have been more honest to state in the itinerary that the sightseeing was outsides of buildings only.
On the positive side, as first-time with VJV we liked the freedom to eat when and where we liked, and we found restaurants – thank you Trip Advisor – in both cities which were pleasant and fairly priced.