The last time i was in Russia, it was the USSR and I was 20 years old. This was our second river cruise, the first on AMA Vietnam/Cambodia and service wise, that was my reference point. Russia of 2017 is an entirely different country with a developing middle class, outrageous traffic in Moscow and a renewed sense of nationalism and attachment to the Russian orthodox church. Surprisingly - given the current political climate, our trip 9/26-10/8 was a shipload of mostly older Americans with a few Canadians and Australians mixed in. The Viking Helgi is an older ship, Russian owned which has been refurbished every so often. It is basically plain, functional and as I learned can even navigate through one foot of ice which sometimes occurs in their early Spring river cruises. The Viking Russia trip was as advertised an excellent introduction to Russian culture and history. Starting out in St Petersburg you visit major sites such as the Hermitage and spend a number of days visiting smaller towns/villages on the way to Moscow where you see more culture and history. On the plus side, the service on the boat is excellent and the boat is kept clean. Food in the restaurant is mostly western style, somewhat sophisticated with a few Russian items showing up mostly at dinner. There is plenty of bottled water and I am unaware of any participants suffering stomach ailments. There are televisions in the rooms but the offerings are sparse and the wifi is poor so streaming is difficult to impossible.The boat has NO sound proofing so if you are a light sleeper, be forewarned. Some complained on noise from adjoining rooms or the music in the bar above their staterooms. Russia has excellent cell phone coverage so you almost always have service. You do a lot of walking so the lack of fitness facilities is not missed. Most of the touring is done at a relatively slow pace so participants with physical limitations did pretty well although the tours of Moscow and St Petersburg using Metro required much more walking, about 5 miles over several hours. we were a bit surprised by the weather in late Sept early October, expected 50 and received low 40s with rain the last few days, weather that caused many to develop respiratory colds.There is a doctor on the boat who had plenty of business toward the end of the cruise, cost about $100 including meds. Many folks wore winter coats. The tour guides were almost all outstanding professional, well informed and protective of cruise participants. The guides also offer lectures on russian history which were entertaining. They did not spend much time discussing Russian interference with the American election in 2016. There were 2 highlights of this trip for me, one a visit to a Russian school english language class with a student presentation and an opportunity to peruse a Russian english language text book. The opportunity to meet the 8th grade students was wonderful. The other highlight was a musical performance in Moscow which was enervating and excellent. Viking partners with various cultural and history venues along the route who benefit by having the opportunity to sell their wares to participants.
My criticism of Viking is their endless marketing of options and add ons.. The cruise director essentially functioned as the chief salesperson. My AMA Vietnam/Cambodia cruise had none of this and I very much dislike this Viking practice which leaves holes in the itinerary so that participants can spend additional funds, in our case about $600 more for assorted tours which should have been included in the price of the cruise, but were not. In the case of Russia, Viking is the only major international river cruise company doing this tour. My concern was that I needed the organization and safety that being on a tour would bring. As it turned out, a number of participants did well on their own in Moscow and St Petersburg taking in sights or even a hockey game with no issues. Nevertheless this itinerary which required complex logistics justified using Viking, but I would look carefully at their competition on other routes.
Cabin was about 220 square feet, never used the outside balcony because it was too chilly and preferred the top deck for sightseeing. There is no soundproofing, walls are thin so noise can be an issue on this ship. Cabin is modern, well designed, good storage, decent toilet/shower, small television with sparse offerings, poor slow wifi. Viking does an excellent job servicing the cabins and they are kept clean with bottled water replenished daily. The bed is pretty basic, queen size, pillows latex/foam with sheet and comforter. Towels changed daily.
Basic tourView All 226 Catherine Palace Reviews
Close in tour is excellent opportunity to get a feel for the city, using metro and walking in the city center among sitesView All 378 City Tour Reviews
This tour is very basic for the Hermitage with its large collections. Viking uses this as a teaser with an "add on" tour which offers a far more detailed experience.View All 377 Hermitage Museum Reviews
Excellent tour of this lovely palaceView All 231 Peterhof Palace Reviews
Close in MoscowTour was undertaken during miserable chilly rain which made for a poor experience.View All 38 City Tour Reviews