We chose Viking on the recommendation of a friend who had done the Waterways of the Tsars some years ago. It was everything that we had hoped that the cruise and experience in Russia would be and a whole lot more. The country is changing so rapidly. The grey impression of the Soviet Union is gone and in its place is a vibrant country that will challenge your perception of it.
We elected to pay a bit more to get a cabin with an outside deck and would recommend it if you can. The public areas in the ship are a little limited in size and we would have felt a little claustrophobic after 13 days if we hadn’t had our small private balcony. That said, the Panorama Bar in the front of the ship was always a little quieter. The ships are comfortable and the food and bar service excellent.
We also chose to purchase the add-ons in St Petersburg and Moscow. As Russia and the cruise are such a full-on experience, we’d recommend doing this if you can afford the time. While a little pricey, having the extra two days in both cities allowed us to explore a few more places in both cities at our pace and get a better feel for them. We would have missed the Faberge museum in St Petersburg, the Tretyakov Gallery and Pushkin Institute of Fine Arts in Moscow without them. And being in the hotels in town gave a different perspective from being out of town on the ship.
We’d recommend the cruise and Viking as a great way to see Russia.. They literally took care of everything from the moment we arrived at Pulkovo Airport in St Petersburg and were met even though the flight was two hours late to the dropoff at Domodedovo in airport. In addition to the two amazing cities the cruise visits parts of Russia you’d never otherwise see such as the wooden churches in Kizhi, the home visit in Uglich or the school and monastery at Kirillo-Belozersky. The banya experience at Mandrogi is authentically Russian.
The crew on board were fantastic and part of the experience. We got to know the Russian stewards in the restaurant well and learnt something of the Russian we came from.. The three on-board guides who were with us from the time we joined the ship were knowledgeable. We’d heard that their lectures were a highlight and they did not disappoint.. They were joined by local guides at each stop along the way which added to the experience and the range of views.
We hadn't know what to expect in terms of the meals but were very happy. With somewhat simple tastes, the menus offered enough choice with Russian components. The service was attentive and quick and the three Russian stewards in our part of the dining room really made the experience.
There are a couple of things to look out for. While the ships were modernised about five years ago and are comfortable, the cabins are not well sound or light insulated. A number of passengers had to move cabins to counter noise so we’d recommend having effective earplugs and light masks – especially if your visit as we did during the “White Nights” period of summer. Also, the traffic in both St Petersburg and Moscow is wildly congested so expect to spend a lot of time in the buses getting to and from town. The ships berth some distance out of both town centres but the days are planned to take account of this. Also note there are no fitness facilities on the ship but you're active enough in the day this should not be an issue.
And finally, do as much as you can in terms of the excursions and trips. You’ll meet more Russians that way and that is such a part of the whole experience. Russia has so much to offer. It has a rich history and the combination of the contrasts of St Petersburg and Moscow set against a country reinventing itself is fascinating. There’s something for everyone. But you get the most by meeting the people, and Viking offers a great way to do it.
Well appointed comfortable cabin. A highlight was constant water pressure in the shower. The walls were not as soundproof as we would have liked and the drapes were a bit thin for the 24 hour daylight.