We had a lovely time and would happily sail with AMAWaterways again, but in this review I am going to be very specific re pros and cons.
Route was great but we would have liked 1 more day in Moscow, which Viking does offer on its similar cruise. Cabin very comfortable; beds good, balcony spacious, nice flat-screen TV, turn-down service till last couple of days (not sure why it stopped). We loved sitting on our balcony but know that some people with balconies had 4 nights out of 12 sandwiched in against another ship because they line up in a row to dock; our cabin on the starboard side never did back up against another ship but I don't know if that's always true. Docking and hydrofoil in St Petersburg wonderful, as was lunch in the city. Wifi terrible and very frustrating.
Food offered many opportunities to try different Russian dishes (which our friends on Tauck did not experience); do not expect the ice sculptures and food orgies you find on an ocean cruise, and try More
to eat like a European rather than expecting a juicy sirloin and you will be happy. It's very possible to eat healthily on this cruise -- soups, salads, lots of very good fish. The dining rooms offer tables of various sizes, which makes it easy to either sit with a large group or a medium group or even have dinner for two if you like. Transfers worked out beautifully.
Entertainment was mostly simple but enhanced the cultural experience -- a very popular lecturer on history, a folk group, a talent show that included staff and guests.
Excursions excellent -- fascinating and beautiful -- except for Yaroslavl, an island that offered shopping and assertive panhandlers. Cruise manager and associate manager very responsive to requests for transportation to specific sights and to the city center in St P for free time.
One difference from our Viking cruise in China last year was the quality of the tour guides. With Viking in China we had our own extremely informed and articulate group leader throughout who was assisted at various ports by local guides. With Amakatarina each group had a young staffer, mostly student age, responsible for making sure no one got lost, but except for one of them these young ladies did not provide any information; instead, at each destination we had a different local guide. The quality of the local guides varied way too much. Some of the older ones (middle-aged) were outstandingly knowledgeable and on a par with our China group leader from last year. On AMAKatarina, several of the local guides were poorly informed and spoke very little English; they insisted on remaining "on script" and most of us found them tedious to follow. As a result there was a fair amount of jockeying for position in the groups with the better guides. AMAWaterways needs more uniformity in this very important aspect of the trip.
Sometimes, as I've mentioned, when the ship is docked you get a chance to see the other cruise ships. Most of them smelled bad and had miniscule cabins resembling sleeping compartments in European trains. AMAKatarina is a massive step up from these. You can't compare it with an ocean liner but it is a very comfortable way to see varied parts of Russia. We really enjoyed our cruise, fell in love with Russia, and would recommend this trip to anybody. Less