30.06.2012 - 04.07.2012 18 °C
So just a brief note on my travel agent and tour guides.
Nothing is as it should be.
Since most Americans arrive in St. Petersburg via cruise ship, and therefore do the usual group touring, You need to know what you want, have a consultation/ interview with a potential agent to discuss your needs and expectations. I know this from reading Wendy Perrin and Joesentme.com. We had a great initial consult and I was actually excited that we were on the same "page". I eagerly awaited for the proposed itinerary- and so disappointed that he gave me a generic activity list. I should have found a new agent, however, I wrote him a nice nice expressing that there must have been a miscommunication because the itinerary was unacceptable. You must do research prior to using an agent. I knew there were private access tours and if we didn't need someone with connections, I would have created my own itinerary.
I had to constantly check on each activity; correct time mistakes; ask for times. In this day of loyalty programs, he should explain why he advised one hotel over another. And if he has upgrade perks with the recommendation. I decided to add to my Starwood points and use my platinum Amex which usually gives upgrades upon arrival. We choice the W St. Petersburg. Perfect location for our needs.
We arrived at the train station waited for our ride. Of course they were not where they said to wait. We were without Rubles and trying to figure out our next move. Finally, we spotted them, wrong name on sign.
This was the start of wrong place with wrong name; watching endless phone calls; walking back and forth; and figuring out alternatives.
Every musuem; boat ride; food tastings- all arranged 2 months in advance- after the first day, I emailed my agent, he did not respond to me, however, he must have contacted the sub contracted agency, because the next day she came to the Hotel- chatted with the driver and assured me, she straightened out the problems. Not so.
The next issue, was the actual guide. As the tours went on, WE caught factual errors made on her end; we would ask questions and other tour guides would step in to correct her- even other tourists. I would have my St. Petersburg book in hand and correct her. The driver corrected her. She did not want to listen to our requests- not like Reuben's; want to see French art; interrupting our viewing of paintings for her prepared speeches. I called her outsource. I relate it to calling "India" and every time you go off script they put you on hold to find the place in the manual to continue.
I did not realize- how misguided she was and that I leave the city wondering how much I actually missed. Boutique shopping, communist history, unique archetecture, markets.
The driver eventually took more of a role in making our experience better. Seems that the agency, has not used her prior, and she would have been fine for people not in the know; I suspect she hasnt been challenged much and people just want to see sights. Also, the woman liason was new. Unfortunately, her boss came to meet us the last day. He said, there was another mix up with your reservations and we were lucky he pulled some strings to make this special interest tour happen. Service not a priority. trained 2 new people under my plans. New guide- who constantly gave wrong information and was surprised Lincoln and I knew as much as we did.