Took the waterways of the Czars trip that boarded in Moscow of July 29, 2011. Here's the good: Our flight to Moscow was 7 hours late and a Viking rep was still at the airport to meet us and we were driven to the boat at about 2:00 AM on the 30th. What a relief. There was a sandwich and fruit waiting for us, well done. Throughout the cruise, the meals were superb, the cabin cleaned very nicely and staff courteous and efficient. Announcements were clearly heard an understood. Bars were well staffed, restaurant (only 1) clean, nice linens and silverware. Wine included with dinners was rather good for generic red and a chard. Here's where it gets a little rough:
The Surkov and all other Viking ships, anchor far from the city center and for that matter, any location or attraction that we were taken to experience. At least once a day and up to three times, depending on the excursion options you select, we were driven by bus to the location in and around Moscow. Most of the sights were in Central Moscow and we spent countless hours loading, unloading and riding buses. The same goes for St. Petersburg, so I won't go into to detail.
We have taken their long China trip and the Budapest to Amsterdam trips. While the Surkov staff and food exceeded either of these, endless bus rides of up to 1 hour and 45 minutes one-way were a serious disappointment. We did enjoy seeing the country side between Moscow and St. Pete, but the 'cruise' could be shortened to 6 days, with 3 nights each in hotels in Moscow and St. Pete. Viking arranged top hotels for us in China (Shanghai, Xian and Beijing), in fact the best we had every experienced. They should do the same in Russia, putting us in the center of the principal towns and busing only to the distant sights (Peterhoff in St. Pete for example).
Otherwise, they executed everything rather well. They are experimenting with guest lecturers on-board and they should do more. The guides tended to have little depth on matters such as the economic and political situations and had blank expressions when asked rather relevant questions.
Be careful of the routing that Viking air offers and check on-time ratings before agreeing to a routing. We took the extension to Helsinki (well worth the price), but were booked home with less than a one hour connection between Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA. One of our bags is still in the system somewhere...
We are probably done with Viking, not because of this trip, but we've done their big three. My advice for Russia, have a tour company book you into hotels in Moscow and St. Pete, arrange your tours and flights. Skip the boat trip.