We chose this cruise as it was something outside of "tourists everywhere" which seems to be the case with most popular cruises. We also prefer the intimacy of River Cruising ships with their small number of passengers. WE also much prefer cruising where ALL excursions, gratuities etc are included in the overall price. We had traveled with Scenic once before and knew they were a high class operator.
Whilst the travelling between Australia and Russia (or for that matter, anywhere except SE Asia) is always an issue, the cruise itself (plus the several days in Moscow at the end) was an eye opener. I am not sure just what we expected, but it was not what we got. Friendly, helpful people (particularly those under 40 - we saw only one example of heavy handed officialdom), modern cities (although many had some run down areas) with all levels of shops from basic food shops and local markets through to luxury fashion goods, reasonable public facilities (but nothing at all for those with disabilities ) very efficient and frequent public transport, very good accommodation (we only personally used the higher end (4 star). Costs in Russia were similar to what we would pay in Australia, some a bit higher, some a bit lower eg. petrol started at about $1.15 AU per liter. Moscow Metro is about $1.40 AU per trip (anywhere to anywhere, so long as you stay on the stations), The main problem (particularly along the Volga River) was STEPS, steps and more steps as it seems the cities are almost always built on the "high side" of the river. Not only that, but many of them had no handrails. The (post Soviet) Russian people have a very deep sense of religion - many of the churches and cathedrals destroyed by the Soviets are now being rebuilt), and of their history, particularly the very high human costs in the various wars and conflicts throughout their history. The younger people we spoke to (all in the travel industry) had no hesitations in answering questions truthfully (as far as we could tell) about all aspects of living in Russia, it's more recent history (1900s ) and where they would like to see the future .
There appeared to be no restrictions on where we could travel, we were not required to carry any specific documentation (this said, the extent of our (costly) visa was exactly for the time we had pre-arranged, there was no provision for extending our visit.
Very few Russians speak English, there is some English on railway station signage etc, but museum explanatory signage etc is only in Russian. We saw very little evidence of the seedier side of life in cities, i.e. homelessness, graffiti, begging, There appears to be a high police (in cars) presence, but we had no first hand experience of dealing with them.
One little thing of note - There was a huge variety and price range of "souveniers" almost all of it made in Russia.
On the ship, all staff were Russian, those in direct contact with passengers having reasonably good English. The trip included (optioonal) Russian History talks and Introduction to the Russian Language, both presented by the ship's Cruise directorate staff, both were excellent as was the efficiency of excursions etc , passenger welfare and general information provided by the Cruise Director (Arty).
All in all, a very enjoyable trip which I would have no hesitation in recommending
Ample Room, adequate (but not ample) storage, Very comfortable bed, good size balcony, shower a little cramped (but then we both carry a few too many kilograms)