As with most river ships, Viking Rurik's fares include a daily city walk or excursion, which you take in groups with your program director or a local guide. At times, groups are designated for slower passengers. Personal headsets are issued at the beginning of the cruise, and you bring them along on group excursions.
Besides typical city tours, unusual excursions included with the cruise took passengers into a Russian home in Uglich, gave them a ride on the Moscow Metro, allowed them to see a ballet in St. Petersburg and took them to an outstanding folk symphony orchestra in Moscow. Exciting optional excursions were also available, particularly in the two large cities, where passengers had plenty of choices.
For cruisers used to leisurely port stops along the Rhine or Danube, the pace of a Russian river cruise will require an adjustment. The beginning and end of the cruise, about three days each in St. Petersburg and Moscow, are packed with activities so people can get the most out of these world-class cities. The rest of the itinerary is light on time spent in port (highlights include the Golden Ring city of Yaroslavl and Kizhi, both UNESCO World Heritage sites) and heavy on cruising along the Volga, Neva and various lakes. That's because the ships must traverse approximately 1,000 miles of waterway and stick to a strict lock schedule on the Volga-Baltic waterway.
The ship does its best to fill these hours with things to do. Lectures on different segments of Russia's long history are held every day at sea, as are cooking demonstrations, visits with the captain on the ship's bridge and language lessons.
The ship's main lounge, the Sky Bar, is on the Sun Deck level and is not big enough to accommodate all passengers at once. It has a small dance floor and a piano, where the onboard musician performs during Happy Hour and after dinner. As with most lounges, the bar is a big draw, and drink prices range from 3 to 7 euros. While traditionally river ships don't attract a late-night, partying crowd, on our cruise, convivial groups of travelers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand kept the bar open longer than we've seen on similar trips, especially on days that weren't as port-intensive.
The Panorama Bar on the Upper Deck provides a secondary lounge and bar for passengers who want to enjoy a floor-to-ceiling view. During the day, several people used this area for reading or surfing the net on their personal devices.
The ship's hotel-style front desk on the Main Deck is open 24 hours; passengers check in and out there when they leave the ship. A boarding card system allows the crew to keep tabs on who is onboard. (The cards also provide the ship's St. Petersburg and Moscow berths in both English and Russian, a boon to those who might need a cab to get back.)
The Main Deck also houses the ship's computer room, where four laptops and a printer are available for public use. The ship has some of the best satellite-based Internet services that we've seen on the water, and free Wi-Fi is almost universally available. The Main Deck also houses a library with games and books about Russia, as well as a shop where you can buy Russian trinkets like nesting dolls, amber jewelry and vodka flasks, in addition to toiletries and logowear.
The second half of the Sun Deck is an outdoor space, with both covered seating and loungers in the sun. This is the only spot on the ship where smokers may indulge.
Unless you count the steep stairs that connect the decks (which give your quads quite a workout), Viking Rurik has no fitness or spa facilities. The ship does have a doctor onboard; a visit costs 30 euros.
Viking is an adults-only cruise line; passengers must be 18 to sail. Multigenerational families consisting of adult children and their parents are common, however.