The stand out feature was the quality of the guides. They made the experience a real education. Russia was a bit of a surprise for these two Aussies. Viking/Russia had been recommended by fellow passengers on the Pandaw on the Irrawaddy (their 8th river cruise). They listed this Viking cruise as their best experience. Their recommendation was based on the quality of the guides. They had not warned us about the complexity (or expense) of obtaining a Russian visa!
Be prepared for the traffic in both St Petersburg and Moscow. Chaos! It can take several hours to do the short trip from the St Petersburg airport to the ship. The Moscow airport we used (Domodedovo) was a long way out of the city. We had a lot of time there and it was EXPENSIVE. The plane to London was overbooked by about 50 passengers and they had to bump some of us up to business class (thank you British Airways).
It would appear that not many Aussies travel on Viking. I assume that they go on Scenic. There were only about 8 Aussies and two Kiwis. The great majority were Americans and about 20 Canadians (appeared to be from a card club). There was one young family from Canada - dad (an ex-Russian ballet dancer), his wife and two teenage children.and added interest. It was not a bad mix. We have been on cruises before (Cambodia) where passengers were predominantly from Canada and gave the impression they dad graciously allowed us to make up the numbers on "their" cruise.
Food was great. The Silver Premium service (wine package - a gift for early booking) was great. The staff were every attentive. Dining room was adequate. Most people stayed in the same area (but did join other tables).
The Helgi was good in most respects. Some of the common areas were inadequate, such as the meeting room (but you could watch on TV from your room). The communication (daily etc.) was good. Everything was well organised (getting onto buses etc. for daily excursions). The walking tours were good but occasionally some members were slow and not up to the physical exertion.
The cabin was very good and service was unobtrusive and good.
We did not attend the evening entertainment much and believed it was sub-standard. However, other Ausies described it as fantastic. We were really too tired to attend anyway. The day trips are very full and often we got back to the boat late. Meals were always ready but we were happy to retire to the cabin and our own veranda. It was light until about 11pm so we were happy to sit on the veranda with a bottle of wine.
We prefer a smaller boat but, on balance, the Helgi was excellent.
Weather was great.
Some of the hospitality staff were exceptional. They knew your name from day 1! Although tips are included we felt we would like to give extra to some staff/guides. The boat had a disembarkation system where you could leave an envelope with the staff member's name. I don't have any confidence that these tips ended up with the individual staff member.
We felt safe everywhere.
I have no hesitation in recommending Viking's Russian tours. I think that they represent value for money and will look at their expanded presence in the Mediterranean.
The cabin was clean and adequate.Veranda was spacious