This was our first Viking cruise, actually first river cruise ever. We would definitely consider taking another Viking cruise. We have repeatedly heard from passengers who have taken other Viking cruises that this ship, and particularly the food, is significantly lower quality than the other Viking cruises. If that's true, I would be delighted to take another tour with Viking because I found the Rurik to be comfortable and the food perfectly satisfactory. Not great mind you, but satisfactory. And the staff was excellent.
The Cabins: Decks 3 and 4 have new balconies, which are quite spacious with 2 chairs and a small table. We enjoyed ours, even though it was quite cold outside. It was nice to be able to take photos outside. We were in cabin 401. There is significant, constant noise that sounds like rushing air. Cabin 400 had the same noise, but others on the same deck didn't. After the first night, it was just white noise, but I can see how some people might have objected strenuously. The soundproofing between cabins is good. We never heard our neighbors. The cabin has 2 closets and 2 cabinets with shelves. It's not a lot of space until you consider the storage space under the bed. The refrigerator has 2 shelves but no freezer. Although there are lights on either side of the mirror, they are useless. And the bright lights in the ceiling light the room, not the mirror. As a result, it's really hard to see yourself in the mirror other than to comb your hair. Bring a lighted makeup mirror. The television is a modern flat screen with remote control. We didn't have time to turn ours on until the last day. The bathroom is small, but at least there is unlimited toilet paper and tissue, and the shower doesn't flood the rest of the room. Huge bottles of water are delivered daily in case you are worried about drinking the tap water. The bed is hard, no doubt about it. That should be improved. Each cabin has its own temperature control, which works effectively. There is a clothesline in the shower. A hair dryer is provided but it takes an eternity to dry thick hair. There isn't a clock in the room.
Public Areas: You just have to keep in mind that the Russian ships are, well, spartan. The decor is simple, not opulent. Think Danish modern. Everything is spotlessly clean. The stairs between decks are extremely steep, but by the end of the trip you have great quad muscles! And there is an elevator. Oddly, you have to push the 3 button to get to deck 4. And you push the "San Deck" button to get to the Sun Deck. The dining room is sufficient size to serve all passengers at once, however some tables are under vents that focus cold, blowing air on the diners. That makes some tables more desirable than others. The Sky Bar can get loud at night, and I heard that the noise on the dance floor resonates in the cabins directly below.
Tours and lectures: Tours were reasonably priced. It was also nice to start out at 8:45 or 9:15 am instead of the 7:30 am we've experienced on ocean cruises. I totally appreciated that Viking immediately announced that it would not charge for the Cossack show when it became evident that we would miss Kizhi Island due to huge waves. I attended most lectures, which were good to excellent.
Staff: The difference between Viking and ocean cruising that I noticed immediately is that the Viking staff were on their best from day one, learning the names of their frequent guests and their preferences for beverages with ease. They didn't wait to improve until the last day in hope of better tips. Service was constantly good to excellent. The tour escorts and Program Manager (cruise director) were excellent.
Food: Well, it was different. Strange, but good. For example, beef stroganoff with pickles and beets on top. I wish there had been more pure Russian options, instead of the Russian take on American food. The one dinner that offered all Russian food on the Sun deck was excellent. The coffee was terrible. We found out after a few mornings that if you asked for "strong" coffee, they would use the espresso machine and call it coffee. If you ask for decaf, however, you get instant coffee, which is stronger than the brewed coffee. Go figure. If I were to do the Russian cruise again, I would bring my own coffee grounds and a french press.
Guests: Most were American, plus quite a few Australian and English. At home, I'm usually the only gray-haired woman in the crowd because everyone seems to dye their hair. On the Russia cruise, I was one of many! Does that mean that gray-haired women are more likely to want to go to Russia or what!!!??? There were 2 guests in wheel chairs who seemed able to handle most tours. There were very few guests in their 40's. No children or teens, but then it was October.
Bottom line, if you want to see Russia, Viking has the experience to give you a great trip. But if you want luxury accommodations, gourmet food, and dressing up, you will be disappointed. I really do recommend going in October because the crowds are smaller and you get the bonus of seeing some great fall colors. Be aware, however, that if you want to see the magnificent fountains at Peterhof, they will be shut off by the end of September, so book accordingly.