In the world of river cruising, Viking is considered middle-of-the-road, in terms of amenities and value. We would rate the food similarly, neither outstanding nor offensive.
The ship's main dining room, on the Middle Deck, is known as the Neva Restaurant. Unlike kitchens on most river ships, Rurik's kitchen sits in the middle of the room, a layout that provides more privacy for diners and also reduces noise. A fair number of tables are set for two, with the majority being four- and six-tops. A handful of eight-tops are available for larger groups. The walls are decorated with original artwork, evoking Russian monuments.
Meals are held at set times during the day, with the schedule varying slightly, depending on the day's itinerary. Breakfast in the Neva Restaurant consists of a buffet, complete with an omelet station and plenty of hot and cold choices. Sparkling wine is set out for mimosas. (While hours are usually 7 a.m. to 9 am., continental options are available in other parts of the ship for early risers.) Lunches, generally running from noon to 2 p.m., are also buffets, with a salad bar, a pasta choice and both hot and cold entrees that you can order from the kitchen.
For those who don't want a full buffet, an alternate breakfast is served in the Panorama Bar, a light and airy space at the fore of the Upper Deck. Typical breakfast offerings there include rolls, fruit, yogurt, meats and cheeses.
Beginning at 7 p.m. and lasting two hours, Neva Restaurant dinners consist of a cold appetizer, soup or a hot appetizer, a choice of entree (including vegetarian) and a dessert. Regional Russian specialties, such as beef stroganoff or piroshky, are noted on the menu, with at least one option per meal. The rest of the choices, including seafood, meat and a vegetarian option, appeal more to a North American palate, with Caesar salad, salmon, chicken or steak always available for less adventurous eaters. A typical menu might start with a tomato and cucumber salad and roasted garlic soup, followed by pan-seared perch or roasted duck breast, ending with several dessert choices or a cheese plate (or both, if you desire). Lunches and dinners include unlimited beer, house wine (which, unfortunately, is not that great) and soft drinks; you can order premium wines from the bar.
The dining staff is mostly Filipino, while the dining manager and chef are both German. The servers are friendly and prompt, although on my cruise -- the first of the season -- a few kinks in timing were still visible. All servers, as well as the bar staff, make an attempt to learn the passengers' names -- a homey touch.
Coffee, cappuccino, tea and hot chocolate are available 24/7 at a station outside the main dining room. (We found the coffee there better than that served in the dining room.) The station also has cookies in the afternoon. Passengers are discouraged from drinking the tap water in their cabins, so complimentary large bottles of water are placed in cabins daily, and small bottles are given out before excursions. While room service is not available, all cabins have refrigerators, and passengers are allowed to bring alcohol bought on shore -- usually vodka on this itinerary -- into their cabins. Nuts and snacks are available at Happy Hour, although we found we needed to request them.
* May require additional fees