Natalia wrote a wonderful post about attending the Maryinski Festival. We're re-posting it here. Please note that this information was originally intended for American (US citizen) travelers. Not all 'steps' may apply to citizens of other countries. In particular, you should check with the Russian Consulate in your country about specific requirements for a Tourist Visa.
HOTEL: Travel to Moscow or St Pete without an agency has become a lot simpler during the past 3-4 years, due to the proliferation of reliable on-line local discount-hotel agencies which supply visa documents & airport pick-up as part of their services.
Two of the more reliable, which my friends have used without problems, include:
www.hotelsrussia.com [I've used this one if my destination is outside of Moscow or St Pete...they're super-fast & reliable, faxing your documents within 24 hrs of hotel reservation]
There are others but I have good personal experience on the above two. *Their daily lodging rates are SUBTANTIALLY LOWER than those of Orbitz, Travelocity or other major travel agents. For example, there are a number of good B&B-type properties at the $75 - 80 range per night, in walking distance from the Mariinsky Theater (between the theater and lower Nevsky Prospekt...an address lower than the number 50).
AIRLINE: I'd use Orbitz/Expedia/Travelocity just for the airline ticket....which should not cost more than $700 r/trip from eastern US during Festival time (late winter/early spring).
DOCUMENTS FROM HOTEL: Once you make your on-line hotel reservations (must be purchased in total with credit card), then you'll receive your faxed 'Voucher' (payment confirmation) & 'Visa Support Letter', which you must include in your application for a Russian Tourist Visa.
VISA: You then apply for Russian Tourist Visa at Russian Consultate (in DC, NY, Houston, Seattle and...1 other place I've forgotten). You can download the Visa Application & instructions -- with payment schedule...$100 for 2-week turn-around is cheapest, if memory serves...at the following website: www.russianembassy.org
THEATER TIX: The good news is that folks can now easily purchase tix online, via the Mariinsky Website www.mariinsky.ru (English or Russian options; a quick registration is necessary). If it's your first time in St P, I'd suggest you do that...although there are usually tix available to purchase on the street, outside the theater, CASH only...but there's an ATM in the Mariinsky Lobby for Cash-from-Credit-Cards! By no means should you use a hotel or tourist agent for theater tix, as the mark-up is outrageous; you can buy tix at the base price for foreigners on the Mariinsky website.
BALLET SCHEDULE: The initial posting of the Mariinsky Schedule happens around December. I would book as soon as I have the dates of the Festival. Those do not change...but, as we all know, the actual ballets are never set into stone...not even on the day of the performance. However, you are pretty well assured of a great performance on any day during the Festival period. During other periods you run the risk of a ballet evening being substituted for an opera or orchestral concert (or a different ballet than that announced).
FINALLY - Next year's Festival would be a GREAT time to go, as that will be the last one that happens in the old theater, as it currently looks. The Mariinsky shuts down for 2-3 years of renovation following the 2005/2006 season. Yes - it's officially announced as a two-year shutdown but those of us who've spent any time in Russia know what really happens during "ремонт" of buildings... Even after the theater reopens, certain sections will be 'jazzed up.' Those of us who are nostalgic types want to breathe-in that 'Petipa Dust' one last time!
Great Info for Attending the Maryinski Festival
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