This cruise provided an excellent opportunity to see and experience new and different places from our previous adventures and being our 7th Viking cruise (river and ocean combined), we were confident that it would be done well. Our expectations were met and exceeded in many ways. We have cruised with others on the oceans and Viking continues to provide an outstanding experience. This is not to say that everything was perfect but Viking clearly strives to meet an "outstanding" standard throughout.
We began the adventure with the pre-cruise extension in Helsinki, primarily to take the opportunity to ride the train from Helsinki to St Petersburg. We did a similar train trip from Oslo to Bergen on another Viking cruise and I would have to say that the trip to St Petersburg was not nearly as picturesque as the one in Norway. Having said that, the stay in Helsinki was well worth the time and money. Helsinki is a beautiful city with lots to do and something for everyone. We used the Hop on-Hop off bus to gain an appreciation for the city and then returned to several places to spend additional time. Places not to be missed are the Helsinki Cathedral, the Uspenski Cathedral, the University Library (next to the Helsinki Cathedral), and the Temppeliaukio Church (more commonly known as the Church of the Rock). A boat ride in the harbor and on the canals is also a great way to see the city (note: we bought tickets for the bus and boat at the same time for a small savings in the total cost). Each of the places provides a unique look into something different and elements of history. Like so many cities, a few days were not enough to really get to see even all the highlights but we really enjoyed the time before we began the trip in Russia. One evening, we ate at the Vltava Restaurant (Czech cuisine) and found it to be quite good. It is located across the street from the train station and since our hotel was close by, it was also very convenient. The bottom floor was a bar and we went to the third floor for our meal.
The train trip was fast and efficient (if somewhat devoid of beautiful scenery) and we were check by both Finnish and Russian security personnel. No issues and all the process took place while riding the train.
Once in St Petersburg, we boarded the Viking Helgi but stayed docked for several days before actually getting underway on the rivers. All of that was expected as the Helgi provided our "hotel" in St Petersburg while we had the opportunity to visit the city's attractions, which are many. We did the tours at Catherine's Palace, the Hermitage, St Petersburg from the Water, and the St Petersburg Ballet, which was performed at the theater in the Hermitage where Catherine would intertain guests. The performance, Swan Lake, was beautifully done and made even more special because of the venue where it was performed.
Not a criticism but just a comment to be prepared for crowds at the Hermitage. We were able to get inside quickly but found it quite crowded going through the exhibitions. Our guide kept us moving so we could make the best use of the time we had available. They did provide some "free time" at the end of the tour to enable people to visit the numerous gift shops available in the building. Note that you will not be able to take backpacks or jackets while on the tour in the museum. They do provide coat rooms where you can check your coat and backpack but if you don't need them at that moment, best to leave them on the bus or on the ship. This happens several times during the different tours and you just have to just to the circumstances at each location.
I would like to mention that throughout our cruise, Viking had three Russian guides that stayed with us the entire trip. Not only did they lead some of the tours, they provided ship-board lectures on the history of Russia. When they needed additional guides, they used local personnel to meet the requirements. The three guides we had were outstanding. We were fortunate to have Julia as our guide on several occasions and she was always very knowledgable and open about the information. She answered all questions with candor and was very willing to "tell it like it is." I attended the lectures by the other two guides and they were equally as knowledgable and open in their discussions.
As we cruised the rivers, canals, reservoirs and lakes, we took advantage of the included tours and found them to be very interesting. Of special note was the visit to the Governor's House in Yaroslavl where the local guides were in period costume and spoke as if they were describing the house as their own. Very well done.
Our time in Moscow was filled with very interesting tours including the optional tour of the Sergiev Posad, Russia's Greatest Monastery. The only caution I would provide for Moscow is that the traffic is horrible and that adds to the time required to get from the ship to any other place of interest. You can, of course, go out on your own and use the subway but we stayed with the tours as we thought it would be the best way to see as much as possible. Clearly the highlights from Moscow were visiting Red Square, the Kremlin, the optional tour of Moscow by Night, and the optional tour of the monastery already mentioned.
The Viking ships in Russia are not the same as the longships used in Europe. They are older but have been redone by Viking. Understandably, I prefer the longships but they are not available in Russia. The rooms are adequate (we had a veranda) but the drawer space is quite limited. Certainly not a "deal breaker" but just anticipate less storage space than what you would see on the longships.
The crew was outstanding. There was a medical emergency one night and that caused a slight delay in our transit but we were informed of the situation and kept informed.
The restaurant was good but a bit limited in choices. Food was also available in the Panorama Bar and provided an alternative when you we're looking for just a light meal.
Oveall, Viking continues to provide good value in their cruises. The tours are outstanding and the optional ones very worthy of your consideration. The included Moscow City Tour ends with a concert of traditional Russian music and certainly provides one of the real highlights of the cruise. This cruise provides a real opportunity to see some of the reality of Russia from the large cities to small villages and it will most likely change at least some of your opinions of what Russia is today.
Only real comment is the minimum available storage space for clothing. A bit more space would have made it easier but we managed.
Good tour but terrible traffic. Included short trip on Moscow Metro. Nothing you can do about the traffic.View All 38 City Tour Reviews
Visit to the churches inside the Kremlin. A bit crowded but not as much as the Hermitage.View All 39 Kremlin Reviews
Part of history not to be missed. Includes St Basil's Cathedral, GUM shopping mall and more.View All 35 Red Square Reviews
Beautiful palace and gardens.View All 226 Catherine Palace Reviews
Part of St Petersburg from the Water tour.View All 210 Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood Reviews
Good overview of city.View All 378 City Tour Reviews
Wonderful museum but quite crowded.View All 377 Hermitage Museum Reviews