Viking's Waterway of the Tsars river cruise is one of the most interesting trips I have ever taken. The few days we were in Moscow, we went to the Kremlin, saw the changing of the guard, went into Stalin's bunker (now the WC), took a river cruise by night, walked along the Moscow River, and walked through GUM. All of these were led by Russian/Viking guide who knew the history as well as anecdotes to amuse the American visitors. The few days were we in St Petersburg were equally wonderful, visiting the Hermitage, touring the city, going to see ballet "Swan Lake," and touring Peterhof and Catherine's Palace. Again, with our Russian/Viking guide and headsets, we learned history and enjoyed Russian humor. These two cities were, not surprisingly, the reasons for going.
Surprises in between were the small stops along the way: medieval city, monastery, trading center, samples of early architecture, hand-made crafts, and school visit. The waterways were serene and quietly beautiful, interrupted occasionally by a lock, each one interesting to me for its uniqueness. Most days we spent a few hours docked with pre-arranged or extra-cost excursions and the rest of the day relaxing on the boat or going to a class (both interesting and humorous). I must say, I like the self-deprecating humor of the Viking/Russian guides.
Things to do for sure: home visit with teacher (and hope you get Russian moonshine to sample), Russian ballet performance (surprised myself by loving this), Moscow folklore show (amazed by the talent . . . this is not your typical folklore show), classes on-board ship (I am now sorry that I missed some), painting my own matroishka doll ($$ excursion in Mandrogi kept me from spending too much in the shops), and a kommunalka visit (most dramatic excursion of the trip, giving insight into the way of life in Soviet times).
Viking does an excellent job with its cruises. The food on-board ship was very good, especially the typical Russian offerings at every meal for us to try or not. The crew and staff have made this trip many times and have everything organized to the finest detail. They made our trip memorable from beginning to end. To see the cities and rural Russia, to learn her history after years of animosity between our two countries and to see the modernization now in progress was worth every minute and every dollar/ruble.
UlkoTours was wonderful. I booked them months in advance and they customized a tour for us. They were quick to respond to emails, were waiting for us at port with our guide and car, sent us a wonderful guide who was knowledgeable and humorous, and took us to a local restaurant where we had delicious chicken Kiev. I recommend UlkoTours very highly.