I have to admit that my husband and I chose this cruise because of a vacation time slot first and the destination second. Russia was not one of those places that I had a longing to visit. And in fact I must admit that I had a certain concern about what it might be like, all the way from what airline the Viking folks may have put us on (Aeroflot?) and what we might get for food onboard (borscht and boiled potatoes?) My husband remarked that for me, a successful cruise would mean simply surviving it. But my misgivings were all unjustified (well, with the possible exception of the cabin, see below) and I count myself lucky to have gone on this adventure. I would go back in a minute.
We arrived in St. Petersburg on a cold rainy day. As promised we were met at the airport by the Viking folks, our luggage gathered up, and we and a number of other fellow cruisers were bused to the Pakhamov. We found a money exchange place right at the luggage area of the small airport so were able to convert dollars to rubles very conveniently. If you plan to buy anything at a souvenir stand or out in the countryside, have rubles. You can find an ATM in some towns but it isn’t too convenient to spend your time trying to find them and seeing whether your card will work.
We checked into our Category C room (90 square feet), which appeared to be a pre-fab style room with 2 sleeping pallets. We were told that the ship was built in East Germany during the Soviet era. We were lucky that our configuration allowed us to have one suitcase at the foot of one of the “beds” and we had enough room to move a table from between them to an area next to the closet. The “beds” were attached to the wall, so when someone in the next cabin got into theirs with gusto, you could expect yours to have a kind of rebound effect. Only one of us could get dressed or move about in the room at a time. The “yacht-style” bathroom was interesting but worked for showers just fine. It was not a great place for anything to dry, however. There was plenty of storage space in the cabin and a nice window. There was no in-room safe. We quickly adapted to the cabin and spent little time there at any rate.
The ship was advertised as having been renovated but we could not see evidence of that. The common rooms were clean and comfortable, although not large. The dining room for our part of the ship was bright with windows on three sides. We had an Austrian chef, and the food was very good. There was a breakfast buffet and a menu from which you could order a few options. At lunch and dinner there were always choices and one could order more than one choice or multiples of the same choice. On our cruise we had complementary wine, red or white, of a very reasonable quality and as much as we wanted. The service was very good. Most of the crew spoke very good English; those that did not did their best to understand and if necessary went to another crew member for help. These young people were a highlight of the cruise for me.
The destinations are described on the web site so I won’t go into them here. We missed Kizhi due to dense fog.
I was fascinated with everything. I was delighted that we arrived at about the same time as celebration of the Great Patriotic War, or World War II. For the first time American, French and British troops marched in the parades. This war is very much in the close memories of people, and those in St. Petersburg and Moscow had very different experiences of it than anyone in the US. On the outskirts of Moscow our guide pointed out a tank trap at the side of the multi-lane street, indicating where the barriers had been set. Seeing Red Square was something I could not imagine, having grown up watching the military parades on May Day with the tanks and missiles and goose-stepping soldiers. Moscow was most surprising to me with its constant traffic jams and cars everyone would recognize, high rise buildings and the very extensive metro system.
Most of the port excursions were included in the trip. The Russian English-speaking guides were excellent and the audio system the best I have seen. Some onboard lectures on Russian history, language, and souvenirs were well-done and interesting. I for one was glad to have been given some time to shop and pointed at places where Russian objects and souvenirs of higher quality were available. I fell in love with the traditional Russian shawls and bought several. If you want souvenirs they will be lowest cost in the countryside, more in Moscow, higher on the ship and highest at the airport.
The end of the trip arrived all too soon. We were transferred to the airport very efficiently.
If you envision this trip as an adventure rather than a high-amenity opportunity you will have a wonderful time. I learned a lot, met many interesting people and did a lot more than just survive this trip!