A week ago I returned from my first ever cruise, my first ever time in Russia. I felt that river cruising seemed like a safe bet from both the cruise point of view (no waves!) and the foreign-ness of a land whose language I couldn't even guess at. And I was right.
The Amakatarina is a Russian river boat (MV Mstislav Rostropovich) built (I think) in the 1980s and completely refurbished last year. We chose a cabin on the very top deck - the sun deck - and very much enjoyed the elevated view of the country through which we passed from our balcony, though in the first week of October I only actually sat out on it once, when a warm afternoon in St Petersburg had me out in a thin Tshirt for well over an hour. The cabin was roomier than I had anticipated, though we visited a slightly larger one on the deck below us. The window and glass door took up the whole of one wall, so when the sun shone the whole cabin was lit up - if you choose a starboard cabin for the St Petersburg-Moscow trip, you face south much of the time. The shower room was small but surprisingly user-friendly because of the large mirrored cabinet above the basin, which itself was quite large and could hold toiletries (supplied) on its sides. The shower curtain worked efficiently, and the hot water was piping hot and the pressure amazing. The beds were extremely comfortable - even though I initially thought the pillow somewhat robust - and the gentle vibration from the engines when we were sailing was soothing. (I never found out if it was more apparent on lower decks)
One point to note is that there is only one internal and quite steep stair to the top deck, and the lift doesn't go as high as that, so if you find steep stairs a problem choose a lower deck).
Before I went on the cruise, I read a good deal of negative comment about the food on this ship. When I was on it, there was one American chef and a Russian one, and I found everything I ate tasty and beautifully presented. They soon cottoned on to the fact that not all of us wanted a full 3-course lunch and excellent salads and lighter lunches were made available on a self-service basis in the upper dining room. I had asked for soya milk, and this was provided along with a small laminated card explaining in Russian and English the need to avoid cream and shellfish, which I could show to waiters if necessary. Breakfast was self-service and lavish; we could have had champagne and salmon every morning if we'd wanted.
The trips ashore were a marvel of organisation and hugely interesting. We were well-served by knowledgeable local guides with an excellent command of English, and the young on-board guides (our fave was Julia) who made sure we were all where we ought to be were wonderful. I wanted the cruise never to end - part of me is still gliding down silent waterways in the dusk, with the golden forests slipping past in the light from our bridge.