Plenty of travelers want to visit Russia, but the hassle involved with getting a Russian visa—a long application, the lines, a high fee, and overall stress through the process—deter many travelers who might not want to go through that.
Happily, there's a gaping loophole that makes it possible for non-Russian citizens to visit Russia without having to deal with that visa process. The solution: Go by sea, and stay under 72 hours.
The popular cruise line, MOBY SPL (also known as MOBY St. Peter Line) exists to let visitors take advantage of this amazing loophole. Sailing to St. Petersburg on the line's two ships is the genius alternative to the trauma of acquiring a Russian visa.
Where to Board
Passengers can board MOBY SPL's M/S Princess Anastasia ship at three Baltic ports: Stockholm in Sweden, Helsinki in Finland, and Tallinn in Estonia. The voyage to St. Petersburg involves one night from Helsinki or Tallinn and two nights from Stockholm. Passengers may bring cars, which they park on Princess Anastasia's garage and cargo deck.
The MOBY SPL ships, Princess Anastasia and Princess Maria, sail the Baltic Sea, bringing passengers into the magnificent Russan city of St. Petersburg. Most passengers stay in St. Petersburg to tour its Tsar palaces, famous churches, and the spectacular Hermitage Museum and also catch an unforgettable Mariinsky Kirov Ballet performance.
How It Works to Go Without a Visa
There are two conditions for foreign passengers entering the Russian Republic at the St. Petersburg pier. One, the total time in Russia cannot exceed 72 hours (exactly three days). Two, passengers must be a part of an organized excursion. MOBY SPL's solution to this visa condition is to book passengers on a mandatory St. Petersburg city tour, at a cost of 25 Euros per adult (as of 2019). See the fine print of the visa-free rule.
Things to Know
Cost: M/S Princess Anastasia's fares vary tremendously by port of embarkation, room category, season, and weekday versus weekend trips. For a round-trip from Helsinki, fares begin around 200 euros. Here's a look at MOBY SPA fares and meal prices. A supplementary fuel charge is also levied on passengers. For the round trip from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, it is 16 euros round-trip, and from other ports it is 32 euros (as of 2019).
Cabins: Passengers en route to St. Petersburg aboard M/S Princess Anastasia are required to book a cabin. The ship's 834 cabins are available in a range of categories. The top-level suites feature windows, separate living rooms and bedrooms, and queen beds. Regular cabins are simple and compact yet comfortable. The bargain-priced Class B2V cabin is windowless and fitted with two bunk beds. All cabins have air-conditioning, plenty of storage space, and good-size private bathrooms and showers. Wifi comes at a cost on the ship.
Things to Do on Board
Eating: Dining is very good, with an unexpected bonus of spanking-fresh Baltic seafood that the chef has bought that day in port. Restaurants include a buffet, an Italian kitchen, a sushi bar, and an international eatery called New York City. Bake&Coffee serves pastries and java around the clock. Passengers can pay for shipboard meals onboard or pre-book them for a discount of around 10%.
Drinking: The ship has multiple bars: a sports and karaoke bar, a smoking bar done up like a pasha's palace, an outdoor bar, and an English pub. (Passengers can buy an all-inclusive liquor plan.)
Entertainment: There are two nightclubs on board—a dance club and a performance venue featuring amazing Russian dancers, acrobats, and magicians. The casino opens after dinner, and the roulette wheel spins 'til the last gambler departs. The casino tempts with both slot machines and croupier-led table games (blackjack is particularly popular). Gambling chips are bought and cashed out in euros, and there's an exchange window.
This is a full-service cruise ship. Additional diversions include Aquazone's pools, a spa, a movie theater (with a daily, supervised show for kids to give parents some along time), a supervised kids' club and playroom, art classes, and a large duty-free shop with global apparel and liquor brands, and more.