Arrived one day early in SPB. Stayed at Alexander House, which I highly recommend. Amusing atmosphere, very nicely serviced, small restaurant with good food at a reasonable price. They also sent a car to get us at the airport which was inexpensive and fantastic! Staff speaks English, free WIFI, great breakfast and quiet location. Anna at the desk is wonderful.
AMA KATARINA :Generally enjoyable. Room smaller than expected but immaculate and well kept and supplied by Daria. extra towels pillows toilet tissues were always full. Rooms aft of the lobby suffer vibrations, engine noise and fuel smells. Very nice bedding and comfy bed. Bathroom adequate. One night of rough seas. Rooms without opening balcony doors and windows suffered greatly with uncontrollable heating & air conditioning..we had a balcony (235) so were fine.
The doctor on board does the massages and does not show much expertise in that field, although kind and accommodating.
The food was mediocre. Soups and salads were great, assortment of cheeses and breads quickly vanished from side table. Pastry and desserts were less than acceptable. Breakfast porridge is a highlight. Seating in the big dining room is noisy, difficult and cramped. Special requests are mostly ignored. Unimaginative and dull menu....Russian rules and regs have nothing to do with limited varieties and too many fried entrees. Think root vegetables 3x a day.
On board entertainment: limited.
Public areas: Uncomfortable furnishings consider the age of the travelers and every chair,couch is low- slung and sits too hard. I don't know how to manage space hogs and allowing groups to dominate these rather limited areas.
The music in the bar is too loud for a small space and prohibits any conversation.
Tours and excursions: Excellent
Marina does a good job of handling issues and keeping things moving. We LOVED our on board guide, Inna, and were very sorry to hear she is leaving the ship. SPB guide, Elsa, was the best guide we have ever had anywhere. Tours and visits went smoothly (except for stragglers) and I feel we got an excellent overview of all places visited. Do the Yusupov Palace Tour, it is wonderful, and of course Pushkin and Peterhof. We loved visiting the Tsar's burial sites and much time was saved in transport by the use of hydrofoils for transport. Nevsky Prospect uninspiring, but I live in a big city where all this shopping is available every day. The shops at Pushin are fantastic and offer the best quality in amber jewelry that I found. Evening at the Ballet was less than expected. Go to the Marinsky on your own.
The small stops along the way were pleasant and relaxing. Uglich and the home visit are not to be missed. Lots of fur items to be had. Souvenir shopping gets more expensive the closer you get to Moscow, but Uglich had some good quality items and a very nice market.
Moscow:Unexpectedly, loved it. A beautiful, cosmopolitan city, panoramic views from Sparrow Hill. Red Square...."Swan Lake", St Basils....all unforgettable.
GUM is a shopping mall with overpriced and glamorous shopping...wander thru the food court on the first floor. Smaller than Harrod's but just as much fun! On Arbat Street, do go to the "Pushkin" souvenir store (right next to Pushkin House...it's a "better " tourist trap!) I paid less than half of price on the tag.Remember ..prices are negotiable, especially if you are paying cash ( dollars, rubles and euros accepted almost everywhere)
This is a city where money can buy you anything...but that's not always a good thing.
Port transfers: Went smoothly and without incident. Duty-free shops at Domodevo
not so good.
Weather: Changes from minute to minute. Rains most days at least once. Take layers (silk undies, sweater, jacket) and good rain gear, sturdy umbrella that stows easily. Good, sturdy walking shoes.
Overall, we had a very good time and feel we have seen what we wanted to see in Russia. For anyone wanting to see the two major cities and a little country life, this is the way to do it. Based on what we saw and heard, AMA KATARINA IS the best boat doing the Russian WATERWAYS, but know in advance that Russia is Russia and things will be different.
Boat 4+ ( By Russian riverboat standards)