This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed
Russia is the world’s largest country and has everything from sunny beaches, snowcapped mountains, warm seas and dense forests, to magnificent architecture, authentic culture, museums and theatres. However, its centuries-old architecture, picturesque landscapes and rich cultural heritage remain a mystery to many people.
Moscow is the country’s administrative capital and the seat of the government, but Russia’s real cultural and historical capital is St. Petersburg, which has plenty of attractions to suit the tastes of every tourist.
Originally founded as the Russian Empire’s new capital by emperor Peter the Great in 1703 and over the next three centuries, became the ‘Sea Capital’ of Russia. Today, St. Petersburg is one of the country’s most popular cities, welcoming more than six million tourists annually. Dubbed Russia’s ‘northern capital’, St. Petersburg is like an open-air museum with its numerous bridges, rivers and canals, parks, palaces, museums, theatres, bars, nightclubs and restaurants. In 2016, it was named one of the top 10 most popular European destinations by TripAdvisor.
Until 2006, most visiting cruise vessels had to berth in the old cargo port because there was no dedicated cruise terminal. However, in 2006, some of Russia’s best architects and engineers started to construct Passenger Port St. Petersburg on the reclaimed land of Vasilievsky Island in the city centre. Just over two years later, the port hosted its first cruise ship and when it became fully operational in 2011, the city’s government took ownership of the port, renaming it Passenger Port St. Petersburg Marine Façade.
Today, the port consists of four terminals that can handle up to seven cruise ships of up to 340m in length, 42m in width and 8.8m in draught, and around 18,000 passengers per day. Every year, more than 200 cruise ships bring around half a million travellers to St. Petersburg, meaning that a total of more than three million have passed through the port since it officially opened in 2011.
The port’s modern infrastructure, innovative engineering solutions and new equipment allows it to provide a safe and comfortable environment for visiting passengers. Each person spends less than 40 seconds at passport control, which means that port staff can completely disembark passengers from up to seven cruise ships in less than two hours.
Passenger Port of St. Petersburg is the most modern facility in Russia and also one of Europe’s largest contemporary cruise ports. To date, its services and facilities have earned it several awards, including Best Passenger Terminal from Russia’s Association of Commercial Seaports.
Each year, port administrators implement various practices to improve the quality of services. Feedback from a 2015 survey conducted by an independent expert showed that satisfaction levels for passengers and the cruise line or tour operators had increased since 2014, hitting 88.7% and more than 85% respectively. These annual surveys help the government to gauge the quality of port services and develop action plans to improve services, the infrastructure and brand promotion.
Highlights of the 2015 season included calls from major operators such as Royal Caribbean International, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Costa Cruises, as well as inaugural visits from 13 ships. The port also hosted three simultaneous calls from three 330m vessels, each carrying 4,000 passengers.
In 2016, the port is scheduled to host 12 maiden calls. Meanwhile, 2017 is expected to be a record year as the port has already received berth reservations for more than 260 vessels and around 550,000 passengers. Plus, MSC Cruises’ 333m MSC Fantasia will become the biggest vessel to ever call at the port when she visits next year.
To ensure it can accommodate these increasingly large cruise ships, the port has started to construct mooring dolphins that will extend the quay by 102m, enabling it to simultaneously berth two 330m vessels in Berths 6 and 7. It will also open a new sports centre for visiting crew members at the start of the 2017 cruise season.
Next year, the port will also reconstruct its border checkpoint infrastructure to enable it to provide year-round ferry services, which will allow it to handle up to 500 vessel calls and one million passengers annually.
Another aim is to make Passenger Port of St. Petersburg a turnaround port to create new cruise routes and increase the overall demand for cruising in Russia. To facilitate this, the city authorities have launched several projects to develop St. Petersburg into a transportation hub with direct links between the port, local airport and railway stations. In addition to building a new Western High-Speed Diameter highway, the government will carry out infrastructure improvement projects at the port and Pulkovo airport, and on the high-speed railway between St. Petersburg and Helsinki in Finland. Not only will this position St. Petersburg at the centre of Russia’s marine tourism industry, but it will also make the city an ideal starting point for both domestic and international river and ocean cruise itineraries.
Passenger Port of St. Petersburg will also continue to promote the port and city at various international cruise events, and collaborate with neighbouring ports to promote cruise and ferry tourism in the Baltic Sea region. The port is also an active partner of international organisations such as Cruise Europe and Cruise Lines International Association.
Today, the port is not only a key element of St. Petersburg’s tourism industry, but also a notable enterprise that helps to develop cruise tourism across Russia by sharing its best practices and experience with other key players in the market.
The welcoming waters of Passenger Port of St. Petersburg are always open to cruise visitors.
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