My husband and I and three other couples recently sailed on the Viking Helgi from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Here is the good, the average, the bad and the ugly.
The good: The food was consistently very good to excellent. The lectures by the guides on the boat were also very good, as were the ports of call. We enjoyed both St. Petersburg and Moscow as well as all the stops along the Baltic-Volga Waterway. The weather was amazing, with the only rain coming on the very last afternoon. Everyone is in a better mode when there is good weather! The Wi-Fi was great everywhere we sailed. Our housekeeper was amazing. The room was always made up and ready when we out. We tipped her generously, although we never saw her!
The average: Our guides gave great lectures on the ship, but they rarely led us off the ship. The local guides were very uneven. We were suppose to tip our Viking guides $10 per day per person, but at the end of the cruise, we only did this for days we were actually with her. Some days we never saw her or any other guide from the ship, only local guides. Somedays she just rode on the bus with us. Unlike our China trip, our Russian guides had no interest in the passengers. One of the three main guides got on the bus everyday and promptly fell asleep! Very unprofessional.
The bad: The ship docks in both cities are far from the center and main tourist sites and since the traffic is horrendous you will spend a lot of time on buses traveling, even in the evenings. In St. Petersburg you cannot even walk to a metro station. In the ports along the river there is rarely time to go off on your own unless you skipped the guided tour. The exception was Mandrogi. Service in the dining room was very uneven and not friendly. The crew often acted liked the passengers were inconveniencing them. The cruise director was poor in that he did not have answers to many questions, and on several occasions he turned out to be wrong. I gave up asking him anything as his answer was usually "I don't know." Not "What is your cabin number and I'll check for you?" The A/V equipment on the ship rarely worked so the presentations were often done without a visual. They said (as they did about many things during the cruise.), that it was "the end of the season." The wine for lunch and dinner was okay, but it never changed for 12 days. We did a river cruise with a different cruise line in Holland and they changed the wines all the time. Viking has too many optional excursions. You spend a lot of time figuring out what you want to do. Viking should include more and charge more if necessary. There were numerous days when no excursions were included. Yes, we knew this going in, but didn't realize how difficult this would actually be. Again, comparing Viking's China trip, where the only optional were evening events. Also, there is no exercise room or walking track, so on the days along the river there is no place to walk on the ship. (I've noticed Viking did not put exercise rooms or bikes on any of there new "longships", which is a deal breaker for us in the future.) The remodeled cabins are still small and the walls paper thin. We were lucky because our neighbors were quiet, but our friends complained. We did hear the music every night from the lounge above our room, but it did not usually keep us awake.
The ugly: When the Viking ships in Russia were renovated last year, they did not enlarge the lounge area (Sky Bar) and it could only hold about half of the passengers on board. Most of the talks and parties were there, but unless you came early there was no seating. Everyone on board complained about this.
There was only one table for eight in the dining room, so one of our party had to be early to line up for dinner or we would not get it. If we did not get it, we had a waiter make a table for six into a table for eight. If Viking wants us to bring friends and/or a group they should have more larger tables. Also, we were told tables could not be reserved, which was an out right lie. One night my husband and I were the first ones in line. We went to a table we knew was "reserved" and sat down. We were immediately told to get up that someone was sitting there. We said we the first ones in the door! The server was embarrassed, but said we had to move. 30 minutes later the "usual group" came and claimed their "unreserved" table. It was apparent that you had to pay off the dining staff to get a specific table. It became very ugly at dinner. The singer on the ship was outright awful. Our group was thinking of paying her to not sing!
In the end, we felt that while we throughly enjoyed Russia, we will look elsewhere for any further river cruising. The unprofessional staff on all levels, the layout of the ship, the lack of an exercise room and/or bikes, and numerous optional tours will not have us returning to Viking River Cruises or recommending it to friends.