I did the Star Princess cruise to the Baltics (Scandinavia & St. Petersburg) in July of 2007.
Usually an excursion isnt necessary, unless you like to be on a tourbus and seeing historical sites. We didnt do a excursion in Finland, Sweeden, Poland, Copenhagen, & Latvia. All these countries are clean and safe to travel. When you get off the ship, you are in close distance with the center of town. Taxi's arent expensive (thats the ideal way to get around).If you want to explore churches, shop, etc, an excursion isnt needed.
ONE excursion that i would suggest (and wish we did) was in Stockholm. The ship offers a trip to the ice bar, where everything (even cups) are made out of ICE!! We went to the icebar by ourselves, and they were booked, so we couldnt get in. IT LOOKED AMAZING! That would definently be an excursion that would be well worth it!
When we went to Oslo, we were on an excursion to the Viking Museum & the Ski Jump. That was well worth it.
In St. Petersburg, one needs a visa/or to be on a excursion, in order to get off the ship. Many people would tell you to book an excursion in St.Petersburg with the ship. There are many positives and negitives to the 2 day exursion in Russia.
Positives- In this excursion package, transportation, a guide, and food are provided. Once you leave the ship and go through customs, you are led to a tour bus. The excursion offers many places to see such as: Peter I palace, Catherine the Greats palace, museums, churches, and much more. Throughout the day, you are fed Russian food. Let me warn you that the food is HORRIBLE, and once returning to the ship you will realize how good the food is on board. For the next day (2 day trip), you repeat the same thing. Although I am a teenager, I have a love for history. Im thankful that we did the excursion (because we were able to see palaces and churches), but my family wasnt.
Negatives- Every palace looks the same. Although the tour guide is knowledgable, this tour is like seeing the same thing hours on end. You spend more time in the bus than you do exploring St. Petersburg. To get across the city of St.Petersburg, it takes 1 hour (to cross a bridge!!!!)
The tour allows you to see the historical parts of Russia. The churches were BEAUTIFUL. The palaces on the other hand were not great. I was upset because these palaces are not original. They have been refurbished since WWII. In my opinion, if you want to see a real palace, go to Versailles.
Another option is getting a visa that will allow you to see Russia yourself. You may be dissappointed with the city, they are still very far behind in technology and the way of life. It was quite depressing if you ask me.
My friend on ship had a 2 day visa in the city, and loved it! At night he attended an opera, while we were on the ship. There is one simple way to see if you want to book the excursion. It depends on how interested you are with seeing historical sites. Believe me, you cannot see all of these things by yourself, and thats why the excursion is ideal (they provide transportation and a tour guide). If your in Russia to see the city, get a visa. It allows you to do whatever you please.
The excursion was LONG and according to my family, not worth the money. I was pleased to have seen these great sites, but as a teenager, it was boring and there was alot of walking involved.
Good luck on choosing!
Also, be very careful when crossing the streets! We saw a person get hit and killed by a car. And the police didnt do anything! Ever since then I have no real desire to go back to Russia.