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Sail Date: September 2007
My river cruise was from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Sukrov which wasn't the ship that I expected from the brochures. Very few if any, amenities on board to entertain the guests which were 168, not a full ship. Other than ... Read More
My river cruise was from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Sukrov which wasn't the ship that I expected from the brochures. Very few if any, amenities on board to entertain the guests which were 168, not a full ship. Other than lectures, nothing else on a daily basis except Russian themed movies which were decades old. The dinner service was adequate but preparation was definitely lacking...no spices, bland food though the herring was great for me! No exercise activities onboard nor no spa type equipment. Without ones' books you'd be hardpressed to find something to do after dinner. This ship will be totally renovated into a deluxe all suite ship for the 2008 cruising season...let's look forward to many changes. A suggestion to all Russian river cruise companies: due to the heavy traffic in Moscow and St. Petersburg, all the passengers should be put up in local hotels in these two cities to cut down on the 2 hour drive from the boat to the city for sightseeing...so much wasted time and extremely tiring. There is an operator of river cruises that does exactly this..shouldn't be a big problem and very good for the passengers. Thanks see you on the river!!! Read Less
Sail Date: August 2008
Be careful - when reading the brochure. Torstein Hagen says in the intro that " no time is wasted with lengthy coach excursions as most of our cruises moor in the centre of towns and cities". This does not apply to the ... Read More
Be careful - when reading the brochure. Torstein Hagen says in the intro that " no time is wasted with lengthy coach excursions as most of our cruises moor in the centre of towns and cities". This does not apply to the "Waterways of the Czars" cruise;the boat in Moscow is between 60 and 90 minutes by coach from the city centre;it is a 20 min walk then 25 min metro journey to the centre. In St Petersburg it is 45 min min to the centre by coach;or 20 mins bus then 20 mins metro to the centre. The cabin details are incorrect.In the 2008 brochure the cabin has a plan showing a table abd two chairs by the window;these do not exist. There is a photo also showing this;in the 2009 brochure the plan has gone but the photo is still there (with a note saying it isn't an actual photo!) We booked the boat partly because we thought we could sit in our cabin looking out onto the waterways whilst sitting at our table reading,drinking etc etc.No. Other cabins were close to the engines,had a pillar AND a column (making easy access impossible);and ours had a set of steps and a table/chairs outside when the diagram did not show this. All in all,a MISLEADING brochure. Be careful - when booking.The booking staff are charming - and inefficient.On four separate instances mistakes were made in the documentation (no cabin allocated,wrong date on the visa application,wrong names on the transfer sheets,no documentation for transfer hotel provided etc). Doing it yourself is cheaper and more sure. Be careful - when at dinner.It is supposed to be open seating but some passengers can reserve seating;we never found out how (we had the most expensive cabin) but it would have been nice to avoid the twice daily bunfight for a couples table.Order your drinks BEFORE food if you want drinks with your meal rather than after.A couple of senior restaurant staff patrolled the dining area but never appeared to put right the clear deficiencies (the actual serving staff were fine but let down by the management/system). Be careful - in your interpretation of 5 Star.The other reason we booked this boat. In no way is this a 5 Star experience;the food was poor (re-formed calamari rings for god's sake!) and we would have expected 24hr availability of (at least) snacks. A really awful and nonsensical (and highly priced) wine list (when you could access it) just added to the disappointment. Be careful - when going on excursions.In Moscow the time taken to get anywhere lead to us having an evening meal at 23.30 (I kid you not);very little time anywhere. In St Petersburg we ended up at the back of every queue even tho' we set off at 07.30 to beat the rush;we were taken to a really awful "Russian" restaurant the NO ONE wanted to be at that really disrupted a reasonable day. A night at the (poor) ballet was followed by a very dangerous 40 min attempt on the part of a thousand or so people to get out of one door;and another late night back. Viking Cruises are on notice that this particular night could lead to deaths;the couriers say they have told Viking of this but they don't care. If you ignore this review and book with Viking (there are other agencies that use other lines at much cheaper rates) do not go on this excursion - you could die. Be careful - if you try to arrange for a special occasion to be celebrated (as they advertise in the brochure).We went on this excessively priced holiday because it was supposed to be the best (it can't be) and it was my wifes 60th birthday - a real treat. Despite pre-notification Viking ignored my wifes birthday,and half-heartedly did something for our 38th wedding anniversary a week later. Other cruises have managed to sort something from the passports,not ignored specific requests. So,Russia is super;the waterways are fantastic;Moscow and St Petersburg are tremendous. If you want a cruise,however,choose a different line to Viking - they don't deliver. If you want to see the cities,go to each separately as Viking really don't allow you to see them properly (if at all). Conclusion;Viking hugely disappointing and way over priced (did I get into the crap arrangements meeting us at Moscow airport - no,didn't have time). Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
The Viking River Cruise "Waterways of the Czars" (July 31 - August 12, 2009) was our first cruise experience, and will likely be our last. While we enjoyed Russia and its many attractions, we were very disappointed in most ... Read More
The Viking River Cruise "Waterways of the Czars" (July 31 - August 12, 2009) was our first cruise experience, and will likely be our last. While we enjoyed Russia and its many attractions, we were very disappointed in most aspects of the cruise itself. Specifically: • Overall value for money: Most people we met on the cruise paid several thousands of dollars less than we did, and for supposedly better cabins. This knowledge lessened our enjoyment considerably. We advise others to book as late as possible for Viking river cruises, if you must take one, since they discount heavily closer to the sailing date to fill up the boat. • Food quality: Despite claims in Viking advertising, the food was of consistently poor quality, e.g., every fish dish I ate was tasteless, mushy, and obviously frozen not fresh. Other passengers with previous Viking experience agreed with us, but said that Viking cruises in Western Europe have much better food and service. Several other passengers also spoke with the "hotel manager" to note their unhappiness with food quality. • Service: The dining room staff was mostly young Philipinos, who were all eager to please but clearly not sufficiently experienced, properly trained for efficient service, and too few for a fully booked boat. Dinner normally took well over two hours, and we and many others had to cut short dinner in order to attend other scheduled events on board. • Our cabin: The cabin (227) was comfortable enough, except that it seemed to be directly above the engines used to stabilize the boat when going through locks. These engines were so noisy and vibrated so much that when lock passage occurred at night sleep was impossible. Viking should warn potential customers about this noise in main deck cabins, and advise them to bring ear-plugs to cope with the noise or select other cabins. • Doctor: The Kirov's Russian doctor, whose English skills were very limited, had a remarkably diffident manner when my wife banged her forehead on one of the Sky-Bar's glass doors. The clinic had no proper ice-bag, so to reduce the large swelling he recommended using a plastic garbage bag or laundry bag. Given the average age of Kirov passengers, shouldn't an ice-bag or two be among the clinic's supplies? The doctor also failed even to stand up during her visit to his office, declining as unnecessary a suggestion that he examine her forehead. Bottom line: We wrote to Viking about these problems, to which they responded with an offer of a $500 credit for a future Viking cruise. Our response to that will be "nyet." Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
Just Returned We just returned Sunday from the Moscow to St. P on the Surkov and it was a most pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable trip. You do get your fill of churches though, it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." ... Read More
Just Returned We just returned Sunday from the Moscow to St. P on the Surkov and it was a most pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable trip. You do get your fill of churches though, it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." I thought perhaps we could have done with a few less Churches and some more time in Museums. Only spending 3 hours in the Hermitage is ridiculous.....you can't even begin to get a taste of it....more like a lick! I would like to see them offer a full day there and skip the city tour half of the day because you see the city when you are doing other tours like the Peter Paul Fortress or the Canal Tours. - We were in cabin 402 (very near the back of the Upper Deck) It was a very quiet room because the hall is a dead end. We could at times very clearly hear the women in the next cabin talking but fortunately that usually didn't last long as they must have been as tired as we most nights. The cabin looks very nice, window opens and had an unobstructed view. Beds were very comfy, cabin was always clean and no strange smells from anywhere. My only complaint on the cabin is that they need to some how in-corporate another chair. There was only the one straight back at the desk and it would be nice for the other person to be able to sit comfortably (I was usually hogging the desk chair using my lap top.) Other only major complaint was the slow, slow, slow internet connection but when we got to St. Petersburg they worked on it for several days so maybe it will be better. At least it's free and having your own lap top is a good idea as it's hard to get on the ship's two free lap tops. If you are taking this cruise for gourmet food you might be disappointed. That is not to say that the food wasn't adequate and plentiful. The breakfast and lunches are quite good and the dinners were a bit more hit and miss, some strange offerings but nicely presented. My husband opted for the steak about half the nights because he's not a very adventuresome eater and the steaks were well cooked smallish but tasty, always served with a baked potato which I thought they could have varied. I had the steak only one night and one night I choose the chicken breast (both the steak, chicken breast and Caesar Salad are always available.) I tried the other options the rest of the time. Only the Lake Perch was inedible.....the rest were just sort of mediocre but with the salads, soups and desserts you never go away hungry....just not fantastic food. The steak was quite nice the chicken pretty dry and chewy so probably best to not opt for that. I do wish they would be a bit more inventive in the dessert area. The service by the Filipino waiters was fabulous. We usually opted for a table for 2 and were served by Leith and Jun and they were so very very attentive, pleasant and made dining, even with not always such great food fun. Breakfast was probably the best meal of the day, the buffet had lots of wonderful options and you could order omelette's, Eggs Benedict, French Toast, pancakes and hash-browns served to your table. There was always Russian Champagne on the buffet and several options for juice.....it was a great breakfast. Lunch was always green salad with many choices for toppings, several cold salads and sandwiches and two or three hot dishes plus soup and dessert (two options one always being ice cream) was served at the table. The 24 hour coffee and tea bar was really nice as well and was directly below our end of the ship. They serve a light tea most afternoons in the Panorama Bar. The tours were good, we had Tatiana for our guide and she is fabulous. So look for her, pretty blonde lady in her 50's. Whom ever you choose at the beginning is your guide for the whole time and whom ever is on your bus the first day is with your group for the entire time as well.....your new family for the next 13 days. The boat itself is very nicely laid out, good viewing areas on the top deck and in the Panorama Bar on the front of the Upper Deck. It would be nice if there was more comfortable seating somewhere on the boat but I guess you can't have recliners on a vacation ;-) I should add that the dress on the ship was very informal and I probably wouldn't pack a lot of dressy clothes. Men mostly wore jeans, khakis and polo shirts and the woman wore more slacks and jeans than anything else. There were lots of men and woman in jeans at dinner and even some in sweat pants (which I thought was a bit too much) but what ever. I didn't wear about 1/2 of the dressier outfits I brought, because I would have felt over the top except for the Captains dinner and one other night and I really don't bring that fancy of things as dressing up for my husband is nice pants and a sweater he is not a suit guy so if he was comfortable you know it was informal. I think Viking does a good job of making your time as pleasant as possible and I don't have any big earthshaking complaints.....it was an overall success. We were not as taken with Russia as we have been with Asia and New Zealand but it was good to check it off the bucket list. Pictures from the cruise (including room & photo's of food) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/quiltsa...7622305559005/ First stop on the river was Uglich and it was very interesting as well. Toured the Cathedral where Ivan the Terrible's son was murdered. Walked to it from the boat (easy walk through a very good street market.) Unfortunately the guide had told us that their would be better shopping on the last stop of the river cruise portion and wait to buy our souvenirs there.....that turned out to be bad advise unless you were looking for very high quality hand crafted things as every thing at the last stop fell into that category. If you are looking for trinkets for the grandkids or small things for friends...stick to the street markets the prices are much better than the craft shops. The first port was Moscow......what a mess that city is. Absolutely horrendous traffic. Two hours from the airport to the boat dock, and a good hour and a half to two hours into town from the dock (about a 20 min drive in normal traffic I would think.) So for a day trip to town a good 3 to 4 hours or more was in snarled up traffic.....and then if you signed up for a night excursion add another couple of hours. I really think that Viking should feed people at a restaurant in the city on days that their are all day tours and then night events. We skipped the folk music concert because we couldn't face getting in the bus again for yet another drive into the city. We had the opportunity to use the bank ATM in Moscow to get Rubles. We were charged $105 for 3000 Rubles (this turned out to be a much better deal than the next ATM in a smaller city were we were charge $136 for the same 3000 Rubles so plan ahead and get your rubles in Moscow.) We did do the Moscow by night but it was really beautiful seeing Red Square after dark (even though it poured rain, luckily it was only one of two rainy episodes on the whole trip.) We enjoyed the tour of the Armory and the Kremlin and took the optional 1/2 day tour of the New Maiden Nunnery and Cemetery on the day of the Moscow by Night tour. The New Maiden Nunnery was really lovely and the cemetery where Kruschev and Gorbachev's wife were buried was fascinating as well. Yaroslavl was the next port and it had some gorgeous churches and cathedral's as well (go figure) and we were bused into the center of town and did a walking tour from their. After touring the churches we were given about an hour and a half to shop. Very interesting local fruit and food stuffs market that I really enjoyed taking pictures of but we were warned to not eat anything (they offered dried fruit and nuts at the stalls.) The guide said it might be our last place to get Rubles till St. Petersburg so we found an ATM machine and got really taken because of course unless you read Russian you have no idea what it says about exchange rates or fees for using the machine and our guide was off doing her own thing, not where we could ask her to translate. Goritsy was the next stop where we were bused to Kirrilov where we visited the Monastery of St. Cyril. It is known for it's remarkable collection of icons but frankly we were iconed out so we spent the time strolling the grounds which were really beautiful and enjoying the flowers and the local parishioners who were coming out from church services. I wished we had more time to just soak up the ambiance of the little towns and less time being lectured to about the icons and their significance (but that's just me....not very interested in religion.) Then it was on to Kishi Island on Lake Onega. It is the famed open-air Museum of Russian Architecture. The beautiful Church of the Transfiguration an ornate structure of wooden ribbons and 22 domes in 3 tiers built entirely with out nails. It was really cool and the examples of local life from the early 10th century that were being acted out were fascinating as well. Great stop. We also had one more stop on the river the next day and that was Mandrogi which was suppose to be the big place for buying souvenirs but for the most part we all felt it was very expensive although their were some lovely things. Unfortunately it was pouring rain at this stop and not much fun to tromp around and look at the buildings....it is sort of a Russian Epcot Center for life in the olden days. There was a pavilion with berry pies that were quite tasty. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
This review will not cover the stops on the trip as those can easily be reviewed on Vikings web site and the company's descriptions are an accurate depiction of the place you will see. In fact, I think it is safe to say that all ... Read More
This review will not cover the stops on the trip as those can easily be reviewed on Vikings web site and the company's descriptions are an accurate depiction of the place you will see. In fact, I think it is safe to say that all information on their web site is honest and forthright. The scheduling of our trip with Viking could not have been smoother. Our documents were accurate, arrived as scheduled, and the flights and transfers went without a hitch. We were very surprised to see our transfer guide still there waiting for us after our delayed flight and long customs entry. We fully expected to have to find the ship on our own in Moscow- but no - she and the van were still there! We knew it was going to be a good trip after that kind of service. What I will tell you is that the staff was friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, and available at all times. They were very organized and did what they said they were going to do. The food was good, presented well, and served by staff who were pleasant and anxious to serve well and learn more about their guests. We were also anxious to learn about them and so it was always a time to look forward to for us. Our daily shore excursions were wonderful and better than the Viking descriptions of course. And the opportunity to follow-up with questions at the daily lectures on Russian history was great. You will not be impressed with the ship if you have taken their other upgraded ships and you are touring in 2010 but it is comfortable, clean and will be upgraded for 2011. We found that it was exactly as they described it so no surprises there. In summary, a great trip that we highly recommend. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
Although Viking states that the Pakhomov has been remodeled, it's hard to find evidence of any renovation on this 20-year old vessel. The standard cabins have very small beds that are uncomfortable even for a normal sized person. The ... Read More
Although Viking states that the Pakhomov has been remodeled, it's hard to find evidence of any renovation on this 20-year old vessel. The standard cabins have very small beds that are uncomfortable even for a normal sized person. The cabins have a "yacht style" bathroom with a shower incorporated into a very small space containing a lavatory (usually cracked) and toilet AKA-a Wet bath. Storage is minimal with but a single small drawer per passenger and insufficient space to store empty luggage. Standard cabins have no TV and even the few deluxe suites that have a TV have no TV service except in Moscow or St. Petersburg. News aboard was handled via a "daily newspaper" with as much space devoted to sports scores as was devoted to news. These four-page papers were produced in Brit, American, and Aussie editions. Housekeeping service was good. Food service and quality was average to good although the breakfast buffet was underwhelming. The shipboard staff was usually able to handle routine requests without difficulty. Anything more than a routine request was generally met with a blank stare and a nebulous quasi-promise to "look into the matter". Shipboard cleanliness is good, but there are few amenities aboard these Russian river cruise vessels. The six guides travel aboard and are augmented with local guides in each port. Our guide was very difficult to understand and consistently spoke in a low monotone so that it was hard to differentiate the important information from the general patter. She also seemed to have somewhat of an "attitude" problem with some of the passengers in our tour group. Choose your guide wisely because the guide you choose on the first day's tour will be your guide for the duration. Having taken and been very impressed with the Viking China Cultural cruise previously, we were big Viking fans coming to this cruise. Now - we would be hesitant to recommend this cruise to anyone other than a person with a strong interest in cathedrals and religious icons. The museums, palaces, ballet, and symphony were interesting, but many of them charge an additional fee to take photos or videos. There are also 6-8 optional excursions to fill in "free time" in Moscow and St. Petersburg. These optional tours are expensive and they offer poor value for their cost. Viking seems intent on wringing every nickel out of each passenger on this Russian river cruise. All in all, we found this cruise to offer inadequate value and this opinion was shared by a majority of the other passengers we spoke with. Bottom line - even with a 2-for-1 deal, nearly free air transportation, and complimentary dinner wine, you will likely not get a "warm, fuzzy feel from this Viking river cruise. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2010
The purpose of this review is to explain why, after our recent cruise in Russia, my husband and I will avoid Viking River Cruises in the future, and why we will advise others to avoid Viking, too. We are experienced travelers, and we ... Read More
The purpose of this review is to explain why, after our recent cruise in Russia, my husband and I will avoid Viking River Cruises in the future, and why we will advise others to avoid Viking, too. We are experienced travelers, and we understand that no trip is going to happen exactly as planned. We do, however, expect that as conditions change we will be kept informed. The number of variations between what was sold and what was delivered, coupled with the failure to keep us informed of significant changes in the itinerary (detailed below), were significant enough that the term "bait and switch" kept coming to mind. A certain amount of trust between the travel vendor and the traveler is necessary for a good travel experience. After this Russian cruise, we do not believe we can trust Viking River Cruises. In addition, in spite of three attempts to contact Viking about these issues (twice via e-mail and once by letter), no one at Viking has responded. This leaves me feeling that, once they have your money, they lose interest in you. First: The condition of the ship was not as described in Viking brochures. When I made the booking with Viking in November 2009, I was advised by the Viking agent that the Pakhomov was an "excellent choice because it has just been renovated," something which figured heavily in my decision to book this cruise. In fact, per Stephan Busch, Hotel Manager, the Pakhomov had been scheduled for renovation in late 2009, but this renovation was not done. Mr. Busch told me on June 13, 2010, that he and others had made Viking Cruise Lines aware of the discrepancies between the ship as it was and the ship as it was described in Viking literature, but that "nothing had been done." In my view, therefore, we were sold something that did not exist. Second: Viking withheld information from us. In November 2009, I also booked the Helsinki extension, mainly for the "scenic ride though the rolling landscape," described in the Viking literature. Two or three days before that extension was to start we were informed that there would be no trains running between St. Petersburg and Helsinki on the day the extension began, and that we would be flying from St. Petersburg to Helsinki. Since our primary reason for booking the extension was to see more of the countryside, we would have preferred to fly home instead of going to Helsinki, but by the time we were informed only very costly alternatives were available. However, our air tickets for St. Petersburg to Helsinki were purchased by Viking BEFORE WE LEFT THE U.S. TO BEGIN OUR TRIP. In addition we were finally told, again just before the Helsinki extension began, that we would be in Finland during a National holiday, and almost all museums and restaurants in Helsinki would be closed. No optional tours were offered to take advantage of the holiday: we were simply left with a lot of free time in a virtually empty city. We were told in Helsinki that this Holiday had been celebrated for over 50 years - so Viking should have been well aware of it, but they didn't share that information. Third, there were numerous small things that, individually, would not have been of much concern but added up to irritation: • The "Itinerary & Departure Information" brochure states on page 6 that "Porters will...take your luggage to the transfer buses. Instead, one of the Viking guides pointed to luggage carts saying that we would have "a ways to walk before we got to our bus." When the bus finally came, one of the Pakhomov sailors loaded our luggage into the bus as we brought it to him. When we were in the bus, the Viking guide reminded us to tip the sailor. • The brochure states on page 25 that dinner is "generally" at 7:00 p.m. In fact, dinner was at 7 p.m. only once. Dinner was at 7:30 seven times, 9:30 once, 8:00 once, 7:20 once and 5:00 once. • The brochures states on page 26 that smoking is not permitted indoors on the ship. This apparently does not apply to the crew area. Heavy cigarette odors almost always emanated from the crew's quarters. Happily, this often served to cover-up the smell of raw sewage that wafted through the ship on a regular basis. • Again on page 26, the brochure indicates that staterooms aboard the Viking Pakhomov have safes and telephones. They don't. • From page 27, "staterooms aboard...Viking Pakhomov have televisions featuring channels with some U.S. or English programming." There was a television in the room, but most of the time - even in port - there was "no signal" and nothing on the television except the channel advertising Viking cruises. • Per page 28 of the brochure, "when possible, we will notify you of changes to your itinerary prior to departure; when not possible, your Program Director will advise you of changes. See discussion above about the Helsinki land extension. • The on-line description of the Category A Deluxe stateroom (the kind of room we booked) says that each has, "hotel-style beds (can be separated); large picture windows that open; private bathroom with enclosed shower; air conditioning; space under bed for storing suitcases; roomy wardrobe with wooden hangers; converter in the bathroom outlet." In fact, most hotels would be ashamed of the beds, which were small and furnished with thin mattresses. There is a large picture window, but we were advised never to leave it open because of the mosquitoes. There is a private bathroom in the stateroom, but the only thing that "encloses" the shower is a plastic shower curtain; thus it is nearly impossible to take a shower without getting the rest of the bathroom wet, too. There is an air conditioning unit in the room, but the desired temperature can only be approximated. There is space under the bed for storing small suitcases, but the "roomy wardrobe" isn't very roomy, and we had to sign for extra hangers if we wanted more than the few supplied with the room. There is no converter in the bathroom outlet; in fact, there is no outlet in the bathroom at all. And one more thing: there are only two public rest rooms on the boat. That was not an issue until the last day when all of us were required to leave our rooms early in the day, but many of us were not taken to the airport until late afternoon. I do wish to emphasize that the crew of the Pakhomov were friendly, helpful, and well-organized. I do believe that is very unfair to the crew to expect them to deal with a number of customers who have promised something by "the head office" which the crew cannot deliver. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2010
Being children of the cold war, we had mixed feelings about visiting Russia. Needless to say, our concerns were unfounded. Not only did we have a great time on the Viking Kirov, but we updated our image of Russia and the Russian people. ... Read More
Being children of the cold war, we had mixed feelings about visiting Russia. Needless to say, our concerns were unfounded. Not only did we have a great time on the Viking Kirov, but we updated our image of Russia and the Russian people. Plus, we met may wonderful people on the cruise some of whom we'll add to our friends list. As for the ship and the crew, they were very professional and accommodating. The food and service were excellent with plenty of variety including local dishes. The guides were exceptional, all native Russians, mostly from St. Petersburg. Their English was excellent and, along with local guides, they provided us with reams of information about Russian history up to the current day. They were open about their recent history and the transition from Soviet to modern day Russia. After may years of propaganda on both sides of the Iron Curtain, it was refreshing to experience the openness. We were impressed with how clean and friendly both Moscow and St. Petersburg were. You've read about the heat and the smog. That was a challenge but we worked around it, thanks to an air conditioned boat and tour buses. This is an education trip, not one that you kick back and snooze ... although you can to that, but you would miss the best parts. When the trip is over, you brain is full and needs a rest. At least mine does. Not everything was perfect. Viking advertises WiFi. It worked sporadically and when it did, the bandwidth was very narrow. I took my new iPad which does not have an Ethernet connection, which was a problem so I had less access than those with net books or laptops. I wish Viking was fix the connectivity or set expectations better. Several people complained of feeling ill. Nothing serious but certainly took the fun out of the trip. We're not sure if someone brought a virus on board or maybe the ships water wasn't purified enough. Although hand cleansing stations were available, Viking was not as diligent as other lines in encouraging their use. I don't know if that would have helped. All in all, the experience was well worth the money. It gets four thumbs up from us. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2011
Waterways of the Czars Viking River Cruise July 5 - 17, 2011 ~~Welcome to Moscow! July 5th~~ By noon today, July 5th, we had deplaned our Delta flight 46 from Atlanta - a 10.5 hour flight, had passed through Russian ... Read More
Waterways of the Czars Viking River Cruise July 5 - 17, 2011 ~~Welcome to Moscow! July 5th~~ By noon today, July 5th, we had deplaned our Delta flight 46 from Atlanta - a 10.5 hour flight, had passed through Russian passport control, retrieved our checked baggage, and were collected by Viking personnel at the exit of Sheremetyevo International Airport, and transferred by bus to our ship, the Viking Surkov, docked on the Moscow-Volga Navigational Canal at the Northern River Boat Terminal. After a brief check-in we were invited to a buffet lunch in the dining room while our cabins were undergoing final preparations for an estimated 3 PM occupancy; another group had just left the ship earlier this morning. So now I am sitting in the Panorama Lounge, enjoying a glass of cold white wine, and sending this first email to all of you. Wireless internet is available throughout the ship and is free! The ship, having been fully refurbished only a couple of years ago, is absolutely beautiful! I look forward to the next 13 days and 12 nights aboard. More later. ~~A Cool Damp Morning in Moscow: July 6th~~ After sleeping from 6 PM last night until 3 AM this morning, I now am showered, shaved, shampooed and feeling almost human again. Yesterday and the day before were FULL days of travel with very little sleep and last evening it all caught up with me; I just could NOT stay awake! Even missed dinner. Now I feel rather good, especially after a few cups of coffee. There is a 24-hour coffee service available: coffee, tea, cappuccino, espresso, etc. - machine, but not that bad. This morning has a relaxing schedule with our afternoon city tour beginning at 1:30 PM: Red Square, Metro, St. Basil's, etc. Then tonight there is a special concert we will attend, getting us back aboard at 9:45 PM for a late dinner. Our Delta flights from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and then nonstop on to Moscow, went without incident - just LONG! The Economy Comfort seats we had from Atlanta to Moscow were well worth the price: $80. Lots of legroom and special treatment: drinks, etc. Can't say too much for the food, however, but it was eatable at least. On arrival at Sheremetyevo International Airport around 10:40 AM, we were met by Viking personnel who took our luggage, next to be seen in our cabin, and our rather short bus ride brought us to the Viking Surkov by noon. It was very good to finally get into our Category A Deluxe cabin, #433, on the Upper Deck, near the front, just steps from the Panorama Lounge, at 3:00 PM, and relax. While Jim went shopping locally for wine and flowers, I treated myself to a nice glass of cold sauvignon blanc in the Panorama Lounge, and wrote the email sent yesterday. As mentioned already, wireless internet is free and seems to work very well so far on my little Apple iBook G4. There was an embarkation lecture in the Sky Bar, just above us on the Sun Deck, at 5 PM during which I just could NOT stay awake! Returning afterward to our room, that was it for me for the night. Next to us is the Viking Kirov, and behind us is the Viking Pakhomov, both almost identical ships to ours - with different schedules, of course. Breakfast in the Neva Dining Room begins at 7 AM, just a few minutes away, so I will end this for now and add more comments later. It looks like an "umbrella day" for sure, although the temperatures are quite pleasant. ~~Wednesday in Moscow: July 6th~~ This was our first day for tours and the included Moscow City tour was extensive and interesting. A driving tour took us all around the major sites in Central Moscow, now a mega-city of around 20 million: Red Square, St. Basil's Church, Moscow River, etc. The traffic in the city and surrounding areas is unbelievably congested; it is common for 8 lane expressways to come to an absolute standstill with bumper-to-bumper cars, trucks, vans, etc. The absolute worst I have ever seen! Our first stop was near the Moscow State University, a massive complex of high-rise buildings surrounded by acres and acres of dense parkland, for a toilet stop. Then we had another brief stop nearby, overlooking much of the city. Moscow State University sits atop Sparrow Hills and the views from there are panoramic. The main building is in the Stalinist "wedding cake" style of architecture, topped by a spire with a star, and the huge building houses much of the University as well as housing for faculty, staff and students. As a retired educator, it was of interest to me, of course. The next stop was at a Metro Station where we entered and descended deep, deep down to the underground train station, spectacularly and ornately decorated, for which the gigantic Moscow metro system built by Stalin in the 1930s is famous. We were instructed by our guide to quickly enter a subway car - which were already at near capacity - and then to ride on to the fourth stop before exiting the train. Miraculously, our entire group successfully accomplished the task and then we ascended up and up to the surface Metro Station "Ploshchad Revolyutsii" near Red Square. It was quite an experience, especially for me - being an aficionado of trains and subways. Entering Red Square through the Resurrection Gate, demolished by Stalin in 1931 in order for his tanks to enter the Square, and rebuilt in 1995, the cobblestone surface extends from St. Basil's Church at one end to Historical Museum at the other end, and from the Kremlin walls on one side - including Lenin's Mausoleum - to the GUM Department Store on the other side. This is the site for many parades and celebrations of military might during the Soviet era. The Kremlin walls are of red brick and towers are located at corners and several other locations along the wall, the largest being the Saviour's Tower. After walking the entire length of Red Square towards St. Basil's Church, we had a short tour of the GUM Department Store, one of the largest buildings in Moscow. (Gosudarstvennyy Universalnyy Magazin) Consisting of three separate arcades, of three or more levels, and almost a half-mile in length, it is now a gigantic shopping complex of shops, restaurants, etc. Many upscale stores are here and if you have the rubles, they have the goods. By the way, ATMs are located almost everywhere and are the best source for us tourists to obtain local currency, rubles. One US dollar will buy 27.84 rubles, or about 4¢ per ruble. Moscow is also one of the most expensive cities in the world now. I bought nothing. The end of our Red Square tour was at St. Basil's Church from which we walked further on out to our waiting buses; lots and lots of walking! Finally sitting down in the seats of our bus was a welcome treat! The last stop of our afternoon/evening Moscow City tour involved a walk across a bridge over the Moscow River, studded with metal "trees" on which young married couples attach a locked padlock, ensuring a long marriage; there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of the padlocks adorning the trees. On the other side of the River we walked further on to a concert hall where our Viking groups were presented with a special concert of classical Russian music - including much folk music - but performed by young musicians with authentic Russian folk instruments: balalaikas, bayans, domras, guslies, flutes, accordions, drums, and a xylophone. The music was uniquely beautiful, especially performed on these native instruments. Several solo performances were featured by these superbly talented young musicians. A female vocal soloist also enhanced the performance with a wonderful operatic voice. The audience reception by our Viking groups was most enthusiastic. It was quite an experience! Then it was back onto the buses - 6 in all - for our return to the ship, the Viking Surkov, where a late dinner was awaiting us. It was a full afternoon and evening to say the least! By the way, Viking now serves complimentary wine with dinners, of which I gladly partake! We also kept bottles of local wine in our cabin's refrigerator. With an early tour departure scheduled for this morning, Thursday, July 7th, getting into bed and to sleep last night was no problem at all. My poor feet and legs will never be the same! ~~Sergiyev Posad Monastery: Thursday, July 7th~~ Again trying to catch up with my reports, here is a description of our FULL DAY optional (surcharge) tour for yesterday, out from the city of Moscow to a small town where located is the Sergiyev Posad Monastery. It was a full day tour, beginning at 8:15 AM, and again the bus ride there was complicated by horrific traffic congestion, requiring over an hour to reach our destination. As usual, the first stop was for the toilets, at the hotel restaurant where we would later have our lunch before returning to Moscow and our ship. A short walk away brought us to the entrance of the large monastery, a large gate in the surrounding walls, prolifically adorned with ancient frescoes. Inside the walls of the monastery were lush gardens with lots of flowers, grass and trees - a very tranquil, relaxing setting. There were several chapels and cathedrals included in our visit, along with many other tourists, some more from our ship as well as many local worshippers. The exteriors of these buildings were resplendent with light blue painted walls and gold leaf covered onion-shaped domes. A bell tower dominated the interior square, taller than even the bell towers at the Kremlin in Moscow. Also of interest was a natural well, or water source, considered holy, and the local worshippers were filling water jugs with this "holy water" with faith that it would bring them healing results. Being the skeptic that I am, I feared more diarrhea from the holy water than its healing powers, so I declined. After our extensive guided tour of the monastery we were given an hour and a half on our own, which I thought was entirely excessive; I had already seen as much and as many details as I thought necessary, so I ventured out of the Monastery and across the busy street into a local shopping area, looking for a nice cool place to sit: a bar! Finally finding one I ordered a glass of beer which turned out to be "Baltica" from St. Petersburg, and it was quite good - SO I had another; at 40 rubles a glass - about $1.50 - it seemed a meager expense. Meeting the rest of the group at the appointed time in front of a statue of Lenin, next to a large square in front of the monastery, we then walked back over to the restaurant for our scheduled lunch at 1 PM. The dining room was quite clean and airy and the tables & chairs were modern and comfortable - Danish design, I concluded. Lunch consisted of a rather Spartan salad with no visible dressing - nor offered, followed by a delicious chunk of salmon, cooked in a foil pack with some vegetables, served with rice. Wine was extra - 150 rubles ($5.40) and dessert was a type of crepe with a dollop of jam, served with coffee - made from a powder. The salmon was excellent, making the entire lunch "acceptable." Then it was back on the bus for the return to Moscow through severely congested expressways, finally getting back on board our ship at 3:45 PM, only 15 minutes late, as it turned out. I was exhausted and immediately opted for a glass of cold white local wine, and a nap. Awakening at 10 til 7, our dinner hour, I scurried to dress and rush to the Neva Restaurant, right on the dot. Our second optional (surcharge) tour of the day was "Moscow by Night," from 9:30 PM until midnight, so after a short rest after dinner, we again found our bus and returned to the city center, this time with MUCH LESS traffic - a major relief. Since it doesn't get very dark here, lights were late in coming on along the downtown streets. We had a brief stop at a monument for Peter the Great, a HUGE statue of questionable taste, out in one of the rivers; lighted it would have been much more impressive, but the lights had not yet been turned on. The last stop was again near Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral with a short walk up to the Square itself that was very brightly lighted. The GUM Department Store was covered with white lights outlining the building and windows and floodlights illuminated the Kremlin Wall; the tallest of the towers in the Wall, the Saviour's Tower, contains a big clock that always shows the correct time. The evening was dry and fresh with a slight breeze, making the outdoor experience most pleasant. Our speedy return to the ship at midnight ended a VERY busy day. ~~Friday Morning in the Kremlin: July 8th~~ Our last day in Moscow started with a morning tour inside the Kremlin, after we FINALLY negotiated the heavy, congested traffic just to get there! It was a beautiful day - we have been quite lucky with weather - and our entrance through the Trinity Tower gates immediately revealed a beautiful, unexpected complex of ancient cathedrals and lush gardens of flowers nestled among thick stands of trees, along with many government office buildings. It certainly was NOT what I expected to see! We soon passed in front of the very modern building (1961), the State Kremlin Palace, which at one time housed the Communist Party Congress - but we not permitted inside, and then strolled the grounds along a certain prescribed route. We came upon The Tsar's Cannon - gigantic, which had never been fired - and then an enormous bell, the Tsar Bell - largest in the world at 200 tons, from which a large chunk had broken free; it also had never seen use. Then it was inside one of the cathedrals, the Cathedral of the Assumption, in which walls were covered with exquisite "icons" (paintings) of various historic Russian Orthodox deities: no photos. We were also permitted to enter and view two other cathedrals, the Cathedral of the Archangel and the Cathedral of the Annunciation, but the most impressive were the exterior adornments: gold leaf coated onion domes, etc. It was a photographers' paradise. Our last attraction was a park area with flowerbeds resplendent in the colors and design and a tree planted in honor of Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian in space. Reluctantly we had to depart this beautiful setting and return through the Trinity Tower Gates to our waiting bus, and back to the Viking Surkov. It was certainly an unexpected exposure to the inside the Kremlin. After lunch aboard our ship, we departed Moscow, cruising up the Moscow Canal towards the Volga River. Once out of the metropolitan area our cruising was along a smooth waterway lined with lush forests and many local families and children could be observed along the banks enjoying a warm summer afternoon, camping alongside the Canal, swimming, cooking, etc. It was quite a contrast from the city. Our journey soon brought us to the first of several large locks, dating back to the early 30s, which lowered our ship substantially. The lock mechanisms and designs were especially interesting in contrast to what we usually see in the Panama Canal. Supposedly Stalin had commissioned the construction of the Moscow Canal, which was completed in record time, to provide a navigable access to St. Petersburg and the Baltic Sea. Essentially, the Canal connects several natural lakes in its path toward the Volga River. Cruising along the calm waters of this Canal was a most pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Later on, however, an approaching storm caught up with us and a heavy rain descended, accompanied by spectacular lightening and thunder. Safe and dry in the ship's Panorama Lounge, it was quite a show for us. That evening was the Captain's Reception at 7 PM in the Sky Bar on the top deck with complimentary champagne and introductions of the officers and managers of the Viking Surkov. With 210 passengers in this room which accommodates only 160, it was crowded, to say the least; NOT a good arrangement. Then it was a special Captain's Welcome Dinner in the Neva Restaurant and most passengers - as did we - dressed for the occasion. There will be a second Captain's Farewell Dinner near the end of our cruise in St. Petersburg. ~~Report: 2 dead, more than 100 missing after ship sinks in Russia - CNN.com - NOT THE VIKING SURKOV! Monday, July 11th~~ http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/07/10/russia.boat.sinks/ Evidently this was an older Soviet-era 1955 riverboat, the Bulgaria, which was greatly overloaded with passengers and seriously overdue for maintenance. The event occurred far down river on the Volga in Central Russia. The Viking Surkov on which we are cruising, departed Moscow northward along the Moscow Canal, joining the upper Volga River near Uglich; then yesterday we left the Volga River by means of a huge lock, into the Rybinsk Reservoir, and on northward toward Kuzino, today's port, on our way to St. Petersburg. A huge statue of "Mother Volga" marked the entrance/exit of the River and the Reservoir. ~~Saturday in Uglich: July 9th~~ With a lull in activities today while cruising across the huge Lake Onega, one of the largest in Europe, I will try again to catch up on my journal entries: Saturday morning, July 9th, began with bright sunshine and clear skies after the storm the previous night and our included walking tour of the charming town of Uglich was a pleasure with the cool, forested parks and gardens of beautiful flowers. Our group "Bus 46" with guide Sasha, was also accompanied by a local guide who narrated to us by means of individual receivers and earpieces, now standard procedure for Viking excursions; it makes hearing and understanding much better in crowded venues. Of course, there were the obligatory cathedrals, the Cathedral of Our Savior's Transfiguration, containing numerous "icons" (paintings) covering the walls and an impressive altar, and also the Church of St. Demetrios on the Blood, where it is said that young Tsarevich Dmitry, son of Ivan the terrible, had been murdered by order of Boris Gudunov. During the Soviet era, most churches were closed down and many were actually demolished, so currently there is resurgence in religion, Russian Orthodox, and cathedrals have reopened and undergone restoration. One such small church had not been reopened as such but serves as museum and small concert hall. Inside we were treated to a vocal performance by 6 young men - a cappella - that was truly outstanding! So much so that we purchased their CDs which were offered for sale - conveniently. At the conclusion of our included tour of Uglich, we chose an optional (surcharge) "Home Hosted Visit," and it was uniquely delightful. About 10 of us boarded a small bus and were taken into a residential section on unpaved streets, to the home of a lady school teacher who welcomed us into her lush garden - flowers and vegetables, and into her modest home where we were tightly seated around a large table. We were each served a shot of her homemade vodka - delicious! - followed by blueberry-topped pastries - also delicious! The vodka was accompanied by slices of brown bread and pickles; the pastries were accompanied by cups of tea served from a beautiful samovar in the center of the table. With our guide Sasha translating, many questions and answers were exchanged among the 10 of us, and our hostess. It was with reluctance that we had to leave such a hospitable home. It was then back on the Viking Surkov by lunchtime and continuation down the Volga River; from Moscow we had been on the Moscow Canal, descending by means of a large lock to the River level. These locks along the canals and rivers are quite impressive by their shear size and unique mechanics - quite unlike those in the Panama Canal. The Hammer & Sickle emblem is still sometimes evident on the very large structures housing the lock's mechanisms. We have been told that there will have been 19 locks on our journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Stalin is credited for much of the construction in the 1930s. The "Waterways of the Czars" route is an ancient one, well before the canals' construction, when it was necessary for the riverboats to be "portaged" over connecting landmasses by man. Today we see all kinds of boats and barges making the Volga-Baltic Waterway a busy commercial route. ~~The Viking Surkov: July 11th~~ We are now cruising along the Svir River, approaching Lake Lagoda and the town of Mandrogy, our last stop before St. Petersburg tomorrow. So I thought I would share some details about our ship, the Viking Surkov. Viking River Cruises owns four essentially identical riverboats: Kirov, Surkov, Pakhomov, and Peterhof, the first three of which have been fully refurbished by Viking to their European standards. The Peterhof is due for refurbishment next year for the 2012 season. These four ships were constructed in 1984 as part of a Soviet project for 80 river boats, built in Eastern Germany, and almost every one of the river boats seen on the Russian waterways today are among these essentially identical ships, although Viking's ships are among the few that have been so modernized by substantial refurbishment. The ship's capacity is 210 passengers in 96 "deluxe" staterooms, 2 suites, 6 "standard" staterooms, and 2 single staterooms, all beautifully refurbished with spacious bathrooms, flat panel TVs, refrigerators, wonderfully comfortable twin beds that can form a double bed: 158 square feet for the deluxe category. The older configuration had much smaller (90 sq. ft.) cabins that were replaced - 3 to 2 - with the current size. I would compare the current deluxe stateroom with a Princess ocean view stateroom on ocean cruise ships in size and amenities. Two complaints I had were with the soundproofing and the very steep stairs; sounds from adjoining cabins seem to come OVER the walls by way of the false tile ceilings, common throughout the ship - not THROUGH the walls. The two stairwells are STEEP and have rather narrow risers, and the vertical distance between steps is more than what is comfortably climbed. The dining room (Neva Restaurant), the Panorama Bar, and the Sky Bar are all beautifully decorated. There is a library and computer center and wireless internet is freely available in most areas of the ship. In many locations, scattered throughout the ship, are comfortable chairs and sofas, with tables for secluded rest, reading or computing. There are about 115 crew and staff aboard, mostly Russian serving staff, along with many Filipinos; the Program Director is Russian, the Restaurant Director is German, as is the Head Chef. Many of the Russian girls are absolutely beautiful, and ALL of the serving crew are typically Viking-trained to be personable, efficient, friendly, with good English; very quickly they learn everyone's names and greet you warmly on every contact. So far my expectations have been greatly exceeded and this may well be one of the best Viking river cruises I've taken. ~~Yaroslavl: Sunday, July 10th~~ Still trying to catch up on my journal emails, the following describes our visit to one of the Golden Ring cities, Yaroslavl. A beautiful city on the shore of the Volga River, we visited the Church of the Epiphany, another restored Russian Orthodox Church, containing a wealth of treasured, ancient icons (paintings) on the tall walls and ceilings. Instead of visiting the second Church of Elijah the Prophet, our alternate tour took us on a visit of the Governor's Mansion, which was a great choice. Greeted at the entrance by the beautiful young daughter of the Governor, dressed in a period gown, we were escorted by her to the upper floor rooms displaying works of art and exquisite furnishings: desk, cabinets, tables, etc. On return to the main hall on the ground floor, we were treated to a concert performance with piano, violin, and cello, highlighted by Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto on the concert grand piano. To top it off, three couples - all dressed in period costumes, and including the Governor's daughter, danced for us the minuet to the strains of Rachmaninoff. It was SPLENDID! I am happy that we chose this alternate tour. Then it was back on board our boat for lunch and the continued cruise to our next stop at Kuzino on Monday. ~~Kuzino and Kirillov: Monday, July 11th~~ Docking at the remote, newly constructed river dock of Kuzino, we were transported in buses to the nearby village of Kirillov where the included tour went to the Kirillov-Belozersky Monastery, and the alternate tour - ours - first stopped at a children's day school where we were greeted by volunteer teachers and young children who come to this facility for arts and crafts instruction and development. We observed many of their activities and items of their creation, many for sale. In an upstairs studio a young girl, singing beautifully and professionally, also treated us to a splendid performance. Staffed by volunteers and funded by contributions, this school serves an important part of the local children's lives and education. Then it was back on the bus to another nearby venue where restoration of older buildings is taught and practiced using very basic and ancient tools. We observed the reconstruction of classic wooden buildings; one such is destined for transport when complete to Fort Ross National Park in Northern California. The smells of the fresh woods were intoxicating. Following that visit we were then transported to the Monastery for a brief tour of only the grounds; the included tour had also had an extensive interior visit. The Monastery once served as a fortress but is little used today. It's location next to the beautiful Lake Siverskoye made the visit even more enjoyable. Back to the dock at Kuzino, time permitted my enjoyment of a couple of Baltica beers in the beautiful wooden pavilion-type "bar" while others perused the nearby souvenir shop. Obviously these facilities were built to service the river cruise ships. ~~Lake Onega and the Island of Kizhi: Tuesday, July 12th~~ During the morning we cruised across the huge Lake Onega, the second largest fresh water lake in Europe, which is littered with over 1300 islands. In many places the navigable channels are clearly marked with poles, indicating that shallow waters need be avoided. Besides several riverboats, we also encountered many barges using this busy Volga-Baltic waterway. There were also tours of the bridge of the Viking Surkov, with each of our 6 groups being given a 20-minute session. Very modern equipment: control panels, computers, GPS units, and scopes were in evidence, monitoring every function of the boat. In the middle of the afternoon we approached the Island of Kizhi on which exist several all-wooden buildings: homes, barns, chapels, windmills, and the magnificent Church of the Transfiguration, together with the Church of the Intercession and a nineteenth-century bell tower, all constructed of wood without the use of a single nail. It is an open air architectural museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On a lengthy included walking tour from the dock area, we extensively toured the Island with visits inside two of the ancient home-barn combinations, fully equipped with furniture, stoves, tools, and farming and fishing equipment. Local ladies in period dress demonstrated yarn spinning and other crafts. They are splendid museums of historic Russian life. We were even treated to a concert of bells from one of the bell towers, much to our enjoyment. And of course, CDs were available for purchase. The view of the Church of the Transfiguration is the icon for Viking River Cruises in Russia, the Waterways of the Czars. Its unusual, curved adornments and 22 timbered onion domes are unlike anything I have ever seen; it is truly a structure of incomparable beauty representing ancient Russian culture. ~~Svir River, Mandrogy and Lake Ladoga: Wednesday, July 13th~~ Departing Lake Onega we cruised along the Svir River during the morning, stopping at the "resort" of Mandrogy. This village is a recreation of a typical Russian village. It was revived in 1996 and today is a stopping point for cruise boats. There are wooden houses that operate as hotels, restaurants, museums, and craft workshops. Even a Vodka Museum (over 3000 different vodkas) caught my interest - and a few rubles. After sampling 4 vodkas in the Museum for 100 rubles, I finished off my visit with a stop at the bar near the dock for another Baltica beer. Set in a park-like environment, it is popular for tourists and even conferences. By the way, it was a beautiful day! Back on board there was a special lunch, "Taste of the USSR," served on the Sun Deck featuring a buffet of typical Soviet food - and beer, of course. The many items were surprisingly delicious; I certainly was dined to satisfaction! - so much so that I had to pass on the many tasty dessert offerings. The remainder of the day and evening were spent cruising across Lake Ladoga, the largest fresh water lake in Europe. It is SO huge that no land is visible for most of its transit, and a strong wind created waves that caused considerable motion of our ship, quite unexpected for me. Exiting the Lake into the Neva River brought us to St. Petersburg very early the next morning where we temporarily anchored along the bank before approaching the docking area, the Salt Pier. The Captain's Dinner this evening in the Neva Restaurant began with a receiving line lead by Captain Nikolai, Program Director Constantin, Hotel Manager Hilbert, Restaurant Manager Oliver, Head Chef Andreas, and the 6 guides, with flutes of champagne offered for toasts. A special menu featured Prime Fillet of Beef with Truffle Crust or Grilled Fillet of Salmon, preceded with an hors d'oeuvre, soup and a warm appetizer of sautEed scallops, and followed by Baked Alaska "Surkov," presented "a fire" in a parade about the dining room by the servers. It was a splendid meal! 10 PM brought the Guest Talent Show in the Sky Bar, a farcical play mimicking a Russian fairy tale (I played the "Evil Robber" who kidnapped the Princess), preceded by a humorous skit by the Guides: Sasha, Andrei, Natasha, Tatiana, Galina and Natalie, and a "Dance of the Virgins" featuring 6 male guests costumed in traditional dress. The finale was a rousing rendition of "Kalinka" by the entire cast and audience. ~~St. Petersburg: Thursday, July 14th~~ We are at dock on the Neva River in St. Petersburg, having arrived very early yesterday morning after exiting Lake Ladoga, the largest fresh water lake in Europe. During its crossing no land was visible on the horizon, it is so large; also there was sea motion, which we had not expected on this river cruise. The Salt Pier is the docking area for the many river cruise boats and is quite a distance up river from the city center of St. Petersburg, discouraging very much independent touring - as if there were any time for that! The first excursion (included) of the day was to the Winter Palace, the "Hermitage," leaving the Viking Surkov at 10:45 AM and returning around 3:30 PM. Of course the traffic was heavy but nothing like the gridlock congestion of Moscow. There are wide 4 to 6 lane boulevards on either side of the Neva River, with many bridges (405, to be precise) crossing the River. It is interesting to see left-turning traffic adding to the congestion, brought on by the absence of left-turn lanes or left-turn signals; cars and buses turning left from any one of the three lanes is an unusual sight to me. I was amazed by the few accidents we saw. Finally reaching the Hermitage and quickly exiting the bus, briefly stopped in mid traffic, we were lead into the huge museum complex, the largest in the world - contested by the Louvre in Paris. Security is tight with no liquids or large handbags or backpacks allowed. Our Viking guide for the day was Natasha and she was expert in keeping our Bus #42 Group together and navigating through the many rooms to observe the remarkable exhibits. There were literally thousands of tourists, and on our departure at 2:30 PM, there were many more thousands waiting to enter: what a throng! Having been to the Hermitage once before in the year 2000, I knew basically what to expect, but the splendor of the interior rooms - especially the walls and ceilings, with matching designs in the parquet floors, was breathtaking. Our earpieces worked most efficiently in receiving information provided by Natasha, including keeping the group together - much UNLIKE the situation in the Louvre last August that was utter chaos. Returning to our riverboat was a pleasant relief from the very warm day and huge crowds and we took the opportunity to rest before our early dinner at 5:00 PM in anticipation of our evening excursion (included) to see the ballet performance of "Swan Lake," departing at 6:30 PM. Again, the heavy traffic slowed our approach to The Conservatory Theater, and again we were discharged from our bus quickly in front of the theater so that the driver could find parking elsewhere during the performance. An older theater, The Conservatory of Opera and Ballet is uniquely interesting; we ascended the grand staircase to the second level where our reserved seats were easily found. Floors were of parquet wood and appeared to be quite old, as were the wood-framed seats, although comfortably padded. We were on Row 8, seats 22 & 23, on the main floor, directly in the center of the theater on the center aisle, which were wonderful seats. Two balconies were above and behind us. The full orchestra began Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" promptly at 8 PM with the well-known overture and the three-act ballet was nothing less than brilliant. The lighting and sets enhanced the dancers' costumes and the entire production was an absolute joy. Intermission allowed a flute of champagne for me (100 rubles, about $3.50), and the performance concluded shortly after 10 PM. It was a unique experience to see such a high quality performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet in the city of his birth, death and burial. Return to our ship at 11 PM was easily accomplished through very light traffic, although the sun was still low in the sky, and the full moon was just rising. A late supper was available to us but I was ready for bed! Today's excursion to Pushkin and Catherine's Palace leaves the boat this morning at 8 AM so I must end this and get ready for breakfast. ~~Rainy Morning at Catherine's Palace: July 15th~~ Well, it was bound to happen; our good luck with weather for the past two weeks finally came to an end this morning. As we were departing on our regular Bus #46 for Pushkin and our visit to Catherine's Palace (included), rain began to hit the bus' windshield and by the time arrived in Pushkin, the supplied Viking umbrellas came into use. Of course, inside the Palace all was fine and dry - just a plethora of tourists, not just from our ship but from all of the several ocean cruise ships also in port. Fortunately our passage through the many spectacular rooms, heavily gold-leafed, went routinely. Security is now very extensive and all coats must be checked at the clock room, including our umbrellas. Every room has a "sitter" keeping an eye on everyone in the room, insuring that no one touches any item nor leans against any column. Before entering the rooms, all persons are required to don stretchy plastic "over shoes" to protect the magnificent inlaid wooden floors; when we were last here in 2000, the "over shoes" were made of carpet scraps. Only in the restored "Amber Room" were photos prohibited. Exiting Catherine's Palace, with umbrellas in tow, we then toured the beautiful grounds and gardens, viewing the special sections dedicated to different purposes. The rain then was only a slight drizzle but increased in intensity as we returned by bus to our ship for lunch. Then at 1:30 PM we again got on our Bus #46 for the included afternoon city tour of St. Petersburg, and at first the rain poured down steadily. However, by the time we made our first photo stop, the rain had almost gone away and it was briskly pleasant. One highlight of our afternoon city tour was St. Isaac's Cathedral and square, with the famous old Astoria Hotel just adjacent; Hitler had planned to hold his victory celebration in this hotel BUT, it never happened because St. Petersburg never fell to the Nazis. During our June 2000 visit to St. Petersburg, we had enjoyed an exquisite lunch in this landmark hotel. There was also a photo stop at the Smolny Convent and also a stop across the Neva River from the Peter & Paul Fortress, burial place of the Romanovs - among others, including Peter the Great. Other highlights included the Nevsky Prospekt, the city's main street, as well as a "shopping stop" offering a complimentary shot of vodka and a cup of delicious brewed coffee; I bought nothing! It was the Russian equivalent of "Diamonds International" so famous in Alaska and Mexico, and heavily promoted by the cruise lines. Then it was an excruciatingly long bus ride back to the ship through unexpected traffic congestion, due to an accident. Now it is dinnertime so that will be all for now. ~~St. Petersburg, Peterhof Palace and Yusupov Palace, July 16th~~ Our last day in St. Petersburg was for optional (surcharge) tours and our first was in the morning to the magnificent Peterhof, the Summer Palace of the Czars, Peter the Great's "Versailles by the Sea." Again it was raining lightly but our Viking umbrellas weren't needed until after our tour of the interior rooms, ablaze with gold-gilded ornaments, statues and frames. Near the center of the palace are huge windows looking out onto the Grand Cascade, made up of three waterfalls, 64 fountains and 37 statues, and a canal leading out to the sea. Its system of waterworks has remained unchanged since 1721, conveying water over a distance of nearly 12 miles without pumping stations. We then toured the extensive gardens with more fountains and statues along the scenic walkways until it was time to return to our riverboat for lunch. The afternoon optional (surcharge) tour we chose was to the Yusupov Palace located near the center of St. Petersburg. A true aristocratic mansion, the palace's beautiful interiors are decorated in a variety of styles and showcase the family's immense wealth. The Palace is also famous as the scene of Rasputin's murder in 1916, which is recreated in a mock display in a basement room. Our Farewell Dinner was held this evening in the Neva Restaurant, again featuring a special menu; my choice was the "Surf & Turf" - a medium rare steak with a broiled prawn for me that was delicious. Again, ice cream seemed to be the most popular dessert, as it has every evening of the cruise. Sadly, this was our last opportunity for goodbyes to our favorite servers: Norman, Julia, Jefrena, Rommel, Sofiya, and others, in addition to the several guests with whom we had become closely acquainted. Many would be leaving the ship VERY, VERY early in the morning for their flights home. Luckily, our departure from the ship is not until 6:45 AM with our flight to Moscow at 9 AM. And then it was time to pack, the most unpleasant task of any cruise. Having packed rather conservatively this trip in one suitcase and one carry-on, filling them with mostly dirty clothes went fast and it was to bed for the last time aboard the Viking Surkov; 5 AM would come early. ~~Homeward Bound, Sunday July 17th~~ Sitting here in the St. Petersburg Airport, I was curious about the availability of wireless internet; as you can see, it is freely available. I have received emails so now I will see about sending emails. Our Aeroflot flight #830 on an Airbus 319 to Moscow departs at 9:05 AM and is only about an hour flight; it is now 8 AM and we are all checked in, awaiting our 8:25 AM boarding - enjoying a cappuccino. When I checked us in last night on Aeroflot's website, where I was able to select our seats: 6A & 6C, and printed our boarding passes, it appeared that our flight would not be full - we shall see. The Airport is quite modern and new but seems very small for a city of 7 million. On our river boat, the Viking Surkov, our luggage was to be placed in the hallway, just outside our cabin, at 6:15 AM to be carried off to the dock, and only we two departed the boat at 6:45 AM by private car to the airport, along with a Viking crew assistant - part of our transfer. It was only about a 30-minute ride to the airport and we were through the TWO levels of security with little delay. So now it is almost time to go to the gate area. Making our way to Gate 2, we had to pass through a very long tunnel beneath the tarmac from the main terminal building to a satellite building; fortunately, the moving sidewalk was working, unlike the escalators. "?? ????????, St. Petersburg!" ~~Last Hour in Moscow: July 17th~~ Yes, only another hour of wait here in Moscow before flying on to New York. We are now sitting in Sheremetyevo Airport, waiting for our Delta flight #31 to JFK, departing at 12:55 PM - loading at 12:15 PM, about an hour from now. The flight to New York is around 10 hours but we have upgraded to Delta's Economy Comfort seats, so it won't be so bad. The Aeroflot flight from St. Petersburg was less than an hour, and was just fine. The Aeroflot flight attendants wear traditional uniforms with hats - in ORANGE! Very pretty, all of them. In New York we have to pass through Customs so the several hours of layover will be well occupied. Then we fly nonstop from JFK to LAX, arriving tonight at 10:25 PM where SuperShuttle will meet us for the transfer back to Jim's apartment. It will have been a FULL day of travel. ~~"Live from New York! It's Sunday Afternoon!" July 17th~~ The free wireless internet in airports ended with our arrival here at JFK in New York. I am sitting in a large common dining area behind Starbucks and had to PAY $7.95 for 24 hours of access. We have almost 4 hours layover here before our 7 PM flight on the Los Angeles, but were lucky to get through Passport Control and Customs in record time, due a nice black lady official asking me if I needed special assistance; I guess I looked pretty exhausted - and OLD! She ushered us around the other 5,000 people into a short line, and we were out of there in no time at all. As it turns out, she is a Delta employee. Time to find our Delta Gate 23 for the flight to LAX, where we arrive at 10:25 PM tonight, exhausted but drunk from the wonderful experiences we have enjoyed in Russia. ~~HOME! July 18th~~ Yes, I am now home; the word says it all. I found everything just fine after my two-week absence and now I just have to concentrate on returning to "normal" - biological clock, laundry, bills, mail, etc. There were a few more journal entries that I have now included; I got way behind during the trip, so these will fill in the blanks. ~Ron Read Less
Sail Date: July 2011
What a wonderful river cruise in Russia. We started in Moscow, where we lived on the boat for 3 days and did local tours, then cruised for 5 days, with stops each day, then spent 3 days in St. Petersburg with local tours. What a fabulous ... Read More
What a wonderful river cruise in Russia. We started in Moscow, where we lived on the boat for 3 days and did local tours, then cruised for 5 days, with stops each day, then spent 3 days in St. Petersburg with local tours. What a fabulous experience. Room was comfortable, windows open widely to take in fresh air, the beds were a bit hard, WiFi very basic but worked fine for email, TV with news stations in many languages and movies. The ship has two bars, a sun deck, seating on all deck levels outside and inside, a very nice restaurant, 24-hour coffee/tea/hot cocoa bar. But we were so busy, little of it mattered.The first day in Moscow we took a city tour where we were assigned our regular tour guide, and met a local Moscow guide. Wandered Red Square, rode the subway, and got oriented to the city. The boat is docked quite a ways out of town, and we spent a fair amount of time stuck in traffic. But never fear, Maria, our fearless leader, entertained us with Russian language lessons, poetry, history snippets, and always entertaining chatter. Subsequent days took us to the Kremlin (fabulous) and various optional tours. Most of the cruising stops were wonderful. We visited Uglich, a small town; Yaroslavl, a medium sized city; monastery at Kuzino; wonderful wooden historical structures at Kizhi; craftsmen at Mandrogy. It was a good variety of activities to break up the sailing days. And I can't say enough about St. Petersburg. Palaces, art, and canals - an unbeatable combination. Truly an embarrassment of riches. Very difficult to take it all in.Food was generally very good, soups were excellent. Fellow travelers were all delightful and very experienced travelers. Lots of wonderful long mealtime conversations. We spent much of our free time up on the sun deck or seated on the outer deck reading and watching the scenery. Sun didn't set until about 11 p.m., so we had lots of time to look!We had wonderful history lectures, and the guides were very honest and sometimes emotional about their lives in the transition to democracy. A very real, enriching, exhausting experience. We never thought we'd visit Russia. Thanks to Maria and all the Kirov staff for the best trip ever. Read Less
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