26 Viking River Viking Helgi Europe - River Cruise Reviews

I chose thiis cruise because I have always wanted to see St. Petersburg because of the history of the Romanov dynasty. I was not disappointed. Embarking and disembarking was smooth and efficiently handled. We were greeted promptly at ... Read More
I chose thiis cruise because I have always wanted to see St. Petersburg because of the history of the Romanov dynasty. I was not disappointed. Embarking and disembarking was smooth and efficiently handled. We were greeted promptly at the airport and traveled by bus to the ship where we were greeted with a typical Russian beverage and shown promptly to our cabin, The Helgi,a large but homey ship, had several cozy areas where one could sit by a window on the landings of each staircase. In addition, there were 2 gathering areas (each with a bar and tables): a nice cozy cafe where one could grab a quick continental breakfast in the fore of the ship and a larger area in the aft where the talks and nightly entertainment were held. The duo piano player and female singer were a highlight of the evening and played a variety of music that we could dance to. The staff were exceptionally attentive to our needs for the entire cruise.The restaurant staff were friendly and catered to our needs.One of the nice surprises was a luncheon party on the large outdoor deck where the crew served typical Russian food and drinks including beer and vodka. The Hermitage Museum, the winter palace of the Romanovs, was an included tour not to be missed as was the Peterhof Palace, Moscow also exceeded my expectations. Don't miss the night tour of the city. It was amazing. Read Less
Sail Date July 2017
We had taken 4 Viking River cruises previously, but we had never been to Russia. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting Russia, and learning about the history of that country. We especially enjoyed the concerts and dance performances, and the ... Read More
We had taken 4 Viking River cruises previously, but we had never been to Russia. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting Russia, and learning about the history of that country. We especially enjoyed the concerts and dance performances, and the on-board seminars about the history of the country and the present life in Russia. We also enjoyed the on-board entertainment very much, especially the opera singers from the Marinsky Theater. As always, the food selection at the buffets was very extensive, and complemented the menu listings. The food was well prepared and we were happy to see some Russian foods listed on the menu, and also available on the breakfast and lunch buffets. We enjoyed all of the included and optional excursions that we took. We were really enthralled with the performance of "Swan Lake" at the Hermitage. That is a show that is not to be missed. We were happy to see that in addition to the walking tours of cities, a "Panoramic" bus tour was also available, for those of us who need a more leisurely sightseeing adventure. Read Less
Sail Date July 2017
I had been to St. Petersburg before and consider it the most beautiful city I've visited. I wanted to see more, though, so I chose a Viking River Cruise and traveled from Moscow to St. Petersburg and everywhere in-between. This was ... Read More
I had been to St. Petersburg before and consider it the most beautiful city I've visited. I wanted to see more, though, so I chose a Viking River Cruise and traveled from Moscow to St. Petersburg and everywhere in-between. This was a truly fantastic trip -- very educational, informative, and beautiful in every way. The food onboard was terrific, and the whole experience gave me a lasting memory of this beautiful country. The room was comfortable, the beds small but comfortable, and plenty of storage. What I liked the best were the excursions. The ones provided as part of the cruise were top rate and provided much more education and information than I expected, with a nice mix of music, dance, art, and history. The extra excursions I added were exceptional as well. A hightlight of the trip was the Faberge museum, with the thousands of exquisite gems and, of course, the faberge eggs. If you're thinking about taking this cruise, by all means TAKE IT! Read Less
Sail Date June 2017
We have always wanted to travel to Russia and see the sites, meet the people and learn about this incredible country. We started n St. Petersberg and loved that we didn't have to stay in a hotel, but went straight to the ship and ... Read More
We have always wanted to travel to Russia and see the sites, meet the people and learn about this incredible country. We started n St. Petersberg and loved that we didn't have to stay in a hotel, but went straight to the ship and just had to unpack once. Our tour guides were fabulous and also provided lectures about Russia history on the ship. Each small town we sailed to had its own personality and wonderful souvenirs. There was free time and good free Wi-Fi. The cabins were perfect with comfortable beds and nice size bathrooms. The verandas had comfortable chairs. Food was good and a good variety. The ship staff was remarkable and work so hard. The wait staff knew your name the first day and called you by name immediately, They remembered what you prefer to drink whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic. It was amazing! Moscow was wonderful and we signed up for Moscow at night which was incredible. Red Square and the Kremlin during the day and then at night walking and by boat. This cruise was amazing, informational, and we met great people from around the world. Read Less
Sail Date May 2017
This cruise provided an excellent opportunity to see and experience new and different places from our previous adventures and being our 7th Viking cruise (river and ocean combined), we were confident that it would be done well. Our ... Read More
This cruise provided an excellent opportunity to see and experience new and different places from our previous adventures and being our 7th Viking cruise (river and ocean combined), we were confident that it would be done well. Our expectations were met and exceeded in many ways. We have cruised with others on the oceans and Viking continues to provide an outstanding experience. This is not to say that everything was perfect but Viking clearly strives to meet an "outstanding" standard throughout. We began the adventure with the pre-cruise extension in Helsinki, primarily to take the opportunity to ride the train from Helsinki to St Petersburg. We did a similar train trip from Oslo to Bergen on another Viking cruise and I would have to say that the trip to St Petersburg was not nearly as picturesque as the one in Norway. Having said that, the stay in Helsinki was well worth the time and money. Helsinki is a beautiful city with lots to do and something for everyone. We used the Hop on-Hop off bus to gain an appreciation for the city and then returned to several places to spend additional time. Places not to be missed are the Helsinki Cathedral, the Uspenski Cathedral, the University Library (next to the Helsinki Cathedral), and the Temppeliaukio Church (more commonly known as the Church of the Rock). A boat ride in the harbor and on the canals is also a great way to see the city (note: we bought tickets for the bus and boat at the same time for a small savings in the total cost). Each of the places provides a unique look into something different and elements of history. Like so many cities, a few days were not enough to really get to see even all the highlights but we really enjoyed the time before we began the trip in Russia. One evening, we ate at the Vltava Restaurant (Czech cuisine) and found it to be quite good. It is located across the street from the train station and since our hotel was close by, it was also very convenient. The bottom floor was a bar and we went to the third floor for our meal. The train trip was fast and efficient (if somewhat devoid of beautiful scenery) and we were check by both Finnish and Russian security personnel. No issues and all the process took place while riding the train. Once in St Petersburg, we boarded the Viking Helgi but stayed docked for several days before actually getting underway on the rivers. All of that was expected as the Helgi provided our "hotel" in St Petersburg while we had the opportunity to visit the city's attractions, which are many. We did the tours at Catherine's Palace, the Hermitage, St Petersburg from the Water, and the St Petersburg Ballet, which was performed at the theater in the Hermitage where Catherine would intertain guests. The performance, Swan Lake, was beautifully done and made even more special because of the venue where it was performed. Not a criticism but just a comment to be prepared for crowds at the Hermitage. We were able to get inside quickly but found it quite crowded going through the exhibitions. Our guide kept us moving so we could make the best use of the time we had available. They did provide some "free time" at the end of the tour to enable people to visit the numerous gift shops available in the building. Note that you will not be able to take backpacks or jackets while on the tour in the museum. They do provide coat rooms where you can check your coat and backpack but if you don't need them at that moment, best to leave them on the bus or on the ship. This happens several times during the different tours and you just have to just to the circumstances at each location. I would like to mention that throughout our cruise, Viking had three Russian guides that stayed with us the entire trip. Not only did they lead some of the tours, they provided ship-board lectures on the history of Russia. When they needed additional guides, they used local personnel to meet the requirements. The three guides we had were outstanding. We were fortunate to have Julia as our guide on several occasions and she was always very knowledgable and open about the information. She answered all questions with candor and was very willing to "tell it like it is." I attended the lectures by the other two guides and they were equally as knowledgable and open in their discussions. As we cruised the rivers, canals, reservoirs and lakes, we took advantage of the included tours and found them to be very interesting. Of special note was the visit to the Governor's House in Yaroslavl where the local guides were in period costume and spoke as if they were describing the house as their own. Very well done. Our time in Moscow was filled with very interesting tours including the optional tour of the Sergiev Posad, Russia's Greatest Monastery. The only caution I would provide for Moscow is that the traffic is horrible and that adds to the time required to get from the ship to any other place of interest. You can, of course, go out on your own and use the subway but we stayed with the tours as we thought it would be the best way to see as much as possible. Clearly the highlights from Moscow were visiting Red Square, the Kremlin, the optional tour of Moscow by Night, and the optional tour of the monastery already mentioned. The Viking ships in Russia are not the same as the longships used in Europe. They are older but have been redone by Viking. Understandably, I prefer the longships but they are not available in Russia. The rooms are adequate (we had a veranda) but the drawer space is quite limited. Certainly not a "deal breaker" but just anticipate less storage space than what you would see on the longships. The crew was outstanding. There was a medical emergency one night and that caused a slight delay in our transit but we were informed of the situation and kept informed. The restaurant was good but a bit limited in choices. Food was also available in the Panorama Bar and provided an alternative when you we're looking for just a light meal. Oveall, Viking continues to provide good value in their cruises. The tours are outstanding and the optional ones very worthy of your consideration. The included Moscow City Tour ends with a concert of traditional Russian music and certainly provides one of the real highlights of the cruise. This cruise provides a real opportunity to see some of the reality of Russia from the large cities to small villages and it will most likely change at least some of your opinions of what Russia is today. Read Less
Sail Date May 2017
We choose this river cruise as a 40th wedding present for ourselves, and anticipated it with excitement for months. We did not know what to expect, coming from the Midwest USA, and traveling to Russia, but it would be impossible for us to ... Read More
We choose this river cruise as a 40th wedding present for ourselves, and anticipated it with excitement for months. We did not know what to expect, coming from the Midwest USA, and traveling to Russia, but it would be impossible for us to leave the experience more pleased! Travel from Chicago to Moscow was grueling, but we expected that. What we did not expect, to this level, was the exceptional attention to detail when we arrived at Moscow airport, and for the next 13 days. EVERYTHING, (yes, everything) was designed to give the traveler every opportunity for the best experience ever. From the handling of our luggage, our boarding experience, the large and wonderfully appointed cabin, the excellent food (every meal!!!), to attentive housekeeping, and wait staff, both kitchen and the lounges, were magnificent. A sidebar about our luggage: one piece was lost by British Airlines, arriving to our room 48 hours later. The Helgi front desk pestered the airport/airlines several times each day, nagging, I think, like a grandmother whose child lost her doll, to make sure that it was found and delivered before we left Moscow. In the meantime, we received toiletries, robes and clothes, and free 3 hour laundry service. I believe that it is through adversity that the excellent prevail, and the Helgi crew did just that. Everyone had a smattering of the English language, with most speaking better than me. Absolutely no communication issues. The extra, unexpected events, like champagne in the hall to meet the captain and our new, temporary neighbors, to the daily briefings, cocktail hours was amazing. The exceptional service of Frank, the hotel/ship manager, Roland, the maître d'hôtel, Natred, our exceptional waitress whom we would have adopted in a heartbeat, to my new Siberian best friend Demetri, to Alvin, Jay, Tin, the excellent musicians, and others of whom I have forgotten their names but not their service, I tip my fedora. The vetting process of the Viking HR to find and retain such incredible staff (read: Family) must be outstanding, as they have employed the best of the best. While accommodations are important, it is the people who make the trip, and these folk certainly did this for us. We have traveled rather extensively over our many years, but this trip and experience climbs to the top of the list. Thank you, thank you!! Read Less
Sail Date May 2017
We did hear so many good things about Viking that we simply had to book a cruise and Russia was our first choice of destination. Everything about the cruise was fantastic.We Spent 3 days in St. Petersbourg, and then sailed the waterways ... Read More
We did hear so many good things about Viking that we simply had to book a cruise and Russia was our first choice of destination. Everything about the cruise was fantastic.We Spent 3 days in St. Petersbourg, and then sailed the waterways of Russia to Moscow. One of the best onboard activates and experience was an outstanding Vodka tasting. We learnt so much about food and culture too. The Chef did an excellent job, he was always present and introduced us to the real Russian cuisine including a live cooking demonstration and a local market visit. Our onboard guides been fabulous . Moscow was brilliant the red square, and the Kremlin, been just some of the highlights. All aspects been far above our expirations. We had fantastic food, great service and everything else was very well organized. This was defiantly not our last cruise with Viking. We looking forward to explore more water ways in comfort.. Read Less
Sail Date May 2017
It was a wonderful exposure to the county of Russia, the history, and the current climate. Having three tour people on the ship full time, really helped. And everything went off like clock work. We were fortunate enough to have one stop ... Read More
It was a wonderful exposure to the county of Russia, the history, and the current climate. Having three tour people on the ship full time, really helped. And everything went off like clock work. We were fortunate enough to have one stop canceled because the ice was too thick, so we followed an ice breaker through the ice. Never expected that and it was quite an experience. Once the Russia security made us line up and wait forever to get OFF the boat, even being there several days. Getting on the boat is one thing, but none of us could understand why we had to wait. And all they had was one "portal" for everyone get off and on to go through. A little thing, but having coffee always available, with cookies!, was really nice. I was very impressed with the way it was all organized. I didnt feel we would be left in Russia, except on the underground Read Less
Sail Date May 2017
We had a wonderful experience on the Viking Helgi just recently from Sankt Petersburg to Moscow. It was was our 3rd Viking cruise and we have been spoiled so far in France and on the Danube, no sure what to expect we made our way to via ... Read More
We had a wonderful experience on the Viking Helgi just recently from Sankt Petersburg to Moscow. It was was our 3rd Viking cruise and we have been spoiled so far in France and on the Danube, no sure what to expect we made our way to via Helsinki. The Cities been stunning and the tours are really great, nevertheless what really made our trip was the crew onboard. Smiling, friendly and attentive and by far more authentic than any other Viking Cruise. Well it is not always perfect and one can see that they are not up to the standard of the European crew but they are honest and sincere. The weather was still cold and grey in Sankt Petersburg and so we could not make it to the famous Kizi Island but what we got instead was even better. The Captain had to order an ice breaker which we followed through the lakes. Amazing experience. The crew also made a ice breaker party on deck serving drinks with the ice of the lakes. Just funtastic. Well the ship itself is not compareable with any other Viking ship but we informed ourself before hand so there was no surprise. Those are real ships and once they move you feel and hear it. Like the good old days. Well it was for sure not our last Viking cruise and we would like to thank again the Team around Hotel Manager Frank who really made this trip special. Also a big thank you to the Chef and Captain. Read Less
Sail Date May 2017
This was my second Viking River Cruise, and it was just as well-run as the first. The staff was amazing - I can't say enough about them, from the cleaning people to the restaurant staff to the guides to the cruise director. Perfect. I ... Read More
This was my second Viking River Cruise, and it was just as well-run as the first. The staff was amazing - I can't say enough about them, from the cleaning people to the restaurant staff to the guides to the cruise director. Perfect. I do wish the ship had a fitness center, and I find the food on the ships perfectly fine but unexciting. I realize you've got all kinds of constituencies to please so it's probably the best it can be, but I'm from New Orleans where we like every meal to be thrilling! That said, I have no complaints about the food; I just find it somewhat bland and boring. My only other suggestion would be to include more, even if it bumps up the price, in the offshore activities. For example, I'd have liked to have had the option to spend more time at the Armoury, and found what we did see in our brief visit there to be something that should have been included for everyone. I'm so glad I went and hate to think how many people missed out on it because it was an add-on. Oh, and I do have one more suggestion - the music in the Skybar was way too loud and intrusive and repetitive! It would be great if it changed more often and I think would have felt less obtrusive if it had been quieter, and/or all classical. Much of it was pretty lounge-lizard/cheesey! All this said, I had a wonderful time and think Viking really knows how to run things. I'll do another cruise for sure! Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
Make sure your passport is good for at least six (6) months after dates of travel. This is required by Russia for Visa as well as Viking. Visa for Russia is a pain and needs to be taken care of well in advance. It is meticulous and EXACT. ... Read More
Make sure your passport is good for at least six (6) months after dates of travel. This is required by Russia for Visa as well as Viking. Visa for Russia is a pain and needs to be taken care of well in advance. It is meticulous and EXACT. Use a service unless you are an expert and do it well in advance. You cannot change dates once you get the Visa. This was our first River Cruise with any line. Viking knows how to do a river cruise and do it very well. Passport Control in St, Petersburg took over 2 hours, Customs was a walk through. Viking met us at the exit from Customs in St. Petersburg and everything was great from there until we were flying out in Moscow. Luggage was taken by the crew from the airport to the ship and delivered to our cabin, in Moscow we did have to drag our suitcases from the bus to check in, but... Flights arranged by Viking were very tight for us and we missed our last flight on return home by less than 5 minutes. On return home you wind up going through TSA Screening leaving Moscow, leaving Zurich, and leaving the airport in the USA. Between Customs and TSA, you may miss your flight in the USA of you have an hour or less. OKAY, the cruise itself! Fantastic is too gentle a word. We have traveled extensively on Ocean Cruises on HAL (3 star), NCL, Carnival, and Princess. None of the ocean cruises treat you as good as this. The cabins are much smaller in each class than on an ocean liner, but still large enough to be comfortable and larger than some of the interior cabins on some Ocean Liners. Bathrooms are the same as any Ocean Liner - Control central - you can reach everything while sitting on the commode - yet 2 sinks, not one. Shower only in most of the cabins. Balcony, not just a French Balcony on this ship. Meals: Our chef was from Germany and made very memorable meals. Breakfast and lunch were Buffet, but you could also order special items from the waiters. Dinner was sit down and menu items, always special meals every night and changing every night. If you did not like the special offerings, there were standard items which included Salmon, steak, salads, etc. Salmon was fresh, not frozen, or seemed to be. Steak was cooked to perfection. Wine, Beer, and Soft Drinks (unlimited) were available at lunch and dinner- and I do mean unlimited and you were encouraged to have as much as you wanted of any or all of them. The days in St. Petersburg were wonderful, only optional tour we took was the "Storage" of the Hermitage and well worth it. We also attended the Cossack Show, where Vodka flowed freely during intermission and they tried to sell us souvenirs at 4 to 10 times the price of the other shopping areas. But the show was great fun. All other tours were included and really good to take. Viking did it right here. As we went down the river we stopped at different ports and had tours in each. The ships tours were well worth doing and we did not bother with optional tours at all until we got to Moscow. the regular tours kept us busy and informed. Each little town had it's own charm and just like Ocean Cruises, we could have spent a lot more time in each town. I am not going to spend a lot of time oin the towns because the Viking site does a good job. Moscow. Once again most of our tours were the standard ships tours during our three days. Let me say something about our "three days" in Moscow. The third day is actually departure day and most flights leave in the early morning so there is no third day. We actually left the ship at 0200 - yes 2:00 am for our 6:00am flight. The reason for this is because the airport is an 1.5 hours away and Moscow Traffic is atrocious - traffic ams almost 24/7 is the norm. In fact our plane left over an hour late because our Swiss Flight Crew was late due to traffic. Tours of the Kremlin, Kremlin Armory (optional and worth it) and other ships tours were so good, do them all if you can. One of the best was also the tour of the Metro, WOW!. Shopping at GUM. Let me know if you find the DOWN escalator, please. By the time you return home you will be ready for your net river cruise. We are and Viking is the first one we will be looking at for our next. YOU DO NOT NEED SUITS OR JACKETS - I had a sweater and that was more than enough.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
This was our second Viking River Cruise and while we preferred the cabin aboard the Helgi to the new Viking longship Aegir from Budapest to Bucharest that we took in September 2013, the service was worse. It seemed the wait staff was ... Read More
This was our second Viking River Cruise and while we preferred the cabin aboard the Helgi to the new Viking longship Aegir from Budapest to Bucharest that we took in September 2013, the service was worse. It seemed the wait staff was mostly inexperienced so perhaps the poor service was not their fault but that of Viking itself for poor training. One night I ordered turkey and was served fish, which actually turned out to be better than what I originally ordered. Another night I requested ketchup and received barbeque sauce. Most of the dining room staff were either Russian or Filipino. They were very friendly and tried to do things correctly but just seemed inexperienced and poorly trained. In addition to preferring the Helgi cabins, we also liked the dining room set up: Instead of one large room with low ceilings and a table for 6 the smallest size on Viking Aegir, Viking Helgi had two separate rooms, table for two and tables for four so that you were not forced to socialize and the noise level was much less so you could actually carry on a conversation. On Aegir, this was almost impossible. Plus, on Aegir, they never served anyone until all tables were full, meaning sometimes you did not receive any food until 7:45. On Helgi you could order as soon as you sat down at 7:00 and courses were served promptly. The quality of food left something to be desired. In one way this was positive since there is little chance to exercise on board (no gym) so I actually lost weight on both cruises. The best food was the lunch salad bar which was help-yourself and was quite good, if repetitive, with the same food served each day. Entrees were less appetizing. Free internet service both at the two computers provided and in your cabin is a Viking plus. The Russian River cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow was better than the Danube cruise in Eastern Europe in that we did not have long bus rides to towns and villages but docked right in the town generally. Our included tour of the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg was excellent and very informative. Our cabin had two poles coming out of a box-like structure which was near the bed. I could put small items on it and never ran into it but those booking these ships should be aware than many of the cabins on all decks had one or more poles not pictured in the brochures--nor does anyone tell you there will be one in your cabin. I still prefer the space on ocean cruises and the variety of activities available to river cruises. Giving the poor service (cabin service wasn't great either) and food on board Viking river cruises, I doubt I will take another river cruise--certainly not with them. Read Less
Sail Date May 2014
An incredible journey along the inland waterway from St Petersburg to Moscow in the lap of luxury. The ship was well appointed and the crew made us feel at home. The entire experience was beyond our expectations. Our cabin (311) had an ... Read More
An incredible journey along the inland waterway from St Petersburg to Moscow in the lap of luxury. The ship was well appointed and the crew made us feel at home. The entire experience was beyond our expectations. Our cabin (311) had an obstructing column and we were offered a complimentary upgrade. Full marks for the meals, very tasty, exceptional presentation and service. Quite an adjustment on returning home to do-it-yourself meals. The tour guides had a very good command of english, were personable and knowledgable. The on-board lectures on history, economics and politics were quite informative and well done. The daily activity sheets kept us well informed and where helpful in preparing trip journals and organizing our trip photos. We have already recommended Viking River Crusies to many of our friends and will continue to do so. Thank you Viking for a most memorable trip and 45th wedding anniversary. Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
The greeting at the ship was efficient and very quick. Luiggage moved immediately to our room and a short tour of the public areas (all 4) provided. We then hasd a nice buffett and unpacked. The dinner was good with some interesting ... Read More
The greeting at the ship was efficient and very quick. Luiggage moved immediately to our room and a short tour of the public areas (all 4) provided. We then hasd a nice buffett and unpacked. The dinner was good with some interesting choices. The good part was a wonderful filet of beef was always available. The problem was several dinners including overcooked salmon and lamb that was not ebidle were served. That combined with what seemed to be a continual overuse of salt made dining a challenge. Viking included many wonderful port tours. Catherines Palace was good despite pouring rain. The optional journey to Peterhof should not be missed. The exclusive tour to the Hermitage conversely was sort of a yawn. Spend the rest of the day there touring on your own instead. Generaly try to make all of the included tours. The ships guides were well informed and educational. the local guides were uneven. Some excellent and others not so good. The ship as other have said has a bar on the upper deck at the bow and another bar and sun deck at the rear. Both areas are fairly small and could only accomodate about 1/2 the cruisers at any one time. The front dsk was always staffed and very helpful answering any questions. The main issue with the cruise is spending several nights in a "floating hotel" in both St Petersburg and Moscow. The docking point in St Petersburg is far from anything and getting to town is either an expensive cab ride or a bus and metro ride. With no signs in English this is more than most would care to do. The main issue was we went to sleep with a view of the river and woke up looking into another cabin about 10 feet away. This was repeated in Mocsow. I understand the limited places to dock but did not ever imagine I would be looking into another cabin from my balcony for about 1/2 the nights on board. If this is what river crusing is all about then I will go elsewhere in the future. Read Less
Sail Date August 2013
The Viking Helgi has too many cabins and too little public space and the open air deck is adjacent to the exhaust fumes and engine noise so passenger amenity has been sacrificed to packing in as many paying customers as possible. That is ... Read More
The Viking Helgi has too many cabins and too little public space and the open air deck is adjacent to the exhaust fumes and engine noise so passenger amenity has been sacrificed to packing in as many paying customers as possible. That is not the most promising of starts and as you voyage along the Moscow drainage canal on a small boat and contemplate the joys of Red Square for the third visit (we declined to go on the fourth) you might conclude that you wished you were somewhere else. Moscow is short of tourist attractions but the voyage along the canals and lakes to St Petersburg suggests that the problem is not limited to Moscow. Russia has not quite worked out what to do with tourists and the unrelieved flat landscape of canals forests and lakes is not one of the great jouneys of the world. There are distractions along the way and the amazing wooden orthodox church was worth the stop although, since it was covered in scaffolding, the impact was somewhat reduced. Other stops include very forgettable and forlorn small towns and an arts and crafts village devoted to parting tourists from their money. And then you arrive at St Petersburg which makes up for all of the shortcomings of the effort to reach there. It is one of the most amazing culturally and architecturally luxuriant cites on earth and a must see. Viking park their boat a 20 minute ride from the centre - no doubt mooring fees are high in such a place - but it is truly wonderful. We will return to St Petersburg but not with Viking and, on this performance, to nowhere else either. Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
Viking River Cruises have won many travel awards but after our recent Viking Helgi experience Im wondering why. Unfortunately, the plus points (refurbished interior, pleasant crew, good food) were overshadowed by the negatives. Although ... Read More
Viking River Cruises have won many travel awards but after our recent Viking Helgi experience Im wondering why. Unfortunately, the plus points (refurbished interior, pleasant crew, good food) were overshadowed by the negatives. Although one hopes never to have to use the lifeboats, it would have been reassuring to have had agreement amongst the crew (including Senior staff and the Captain) about the correct, safe way the jackets should be tied: and lifeboats that looked up to their task. Lifeboat drill was sloppy. Having paid the extra required to have a stateroom with balcony, we didnt expect to be staring at the balcony of the Viking Truvor (and others) for 50% of our stay. The occasional night perhaps, but ..? The Helgi is not a young ship and this is particularly evident in the noise, smell and soot belching out when we went on to the Sun Deck. The noise made conversation difficult. The smell of diesel was most unpleasant. The black, sooty marks on clothing were not amusing. Regrettably, the problem of noise wasnt confined to the Sun Deck. Neither did it occur only when the ship was under way. There was a constant throb which was exacerbated, when the ship was cruising, by the squeak, squeak from the joints above certain Staterooms. Obviously, this had a detrimental effect on ones ability to sleep. We are aware, personally, of other passengers who were forced to leave their Staterooms during the night, in order to get some rest. We have been regular river cruise travellers in recent years and this was our first Viking experience. It is not a holiday we shall remember with any affection. Come on, Viking all the ships should be worthy of those awards.   Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
We have just returned from a trip to Russia on the Viking River Cruises Viking Helgi ship a holiday ruined by mechanical noise, which ensured I was entirely unable to sleep in the stateroom we had booked. There was a consistent, loud and ... Read More
We have just returned from a trip to Russia on the Viking River Cruises Viking Helgi ship a holiday ruined by mechanical noise, which ensured I was entirely unable to sleep in the stateroom we had booked. There was a consistent, loud and incessant humming noise and vibration in our cabin present whether the boat was moving or docked, making it unpleasant to be in the cabin in the daytime, and impossible to sleep at night. I reported this noise and vibration as soon as we entered the cabin but was told there was nowhere else to move us to. I emailed Viking cruises and the only suggestion they made was to put in a complaint when I got home. Others were offered earplugs but I didnt even get that it would not have not helped anyway because the mechanical vibration being transmitted through the bed and pillow to my head was almost as bad as the noise. The whole of the front end of the boat was subject to this vibration and humming but in our room, 226, these were amplified by a boxed column resonating with the floor and the bed. The noise and vibrations were so bad that in desperation a couple of times I took a blanket and pillows up to the Panorama Bar and slept on the floor. Another passenger in a cabin almost opposite ours spent some of her nights reading and dozing in the library while her husband walked around. Our entire holiday was ruined by lack of sleep. I fell asleep in the lectures, I fell asleep on the coach and my mind was so befuddled by lack of sleep that I couldnt enjoy the excursions either. The Helgi is an old boat almost 30 years old that has clearly had a fortune spent on beautifying it cosmetically; however it is very apparent that, underneath, her engines and other mechanics are in dire need of updating. The daybeds on the sundeck had soot on them, puffed out by the old engines, ruining my white trousers. I assume that the noise and vibrations that we experienced were from an ancient generator that was never turned off. I am sure we would have enjoyed the whole cruise if we had been lucky enough to have a different cabin though not the ones other guests on our cruise were allocated, such as the one with the sawing noise overhead when the boat moved, or the one where the bed got wet when it rained or one of the staterooms with balconies that ended up moored against other Viking boats in St Petersburg and in Moscow thus making them useless. This was our fifth cruise with Viking and we have enjoyed all the others but this trip, and the response to our complaints both during the cruise and so far since our return really showed me that Viking arent quite the caring company I thought they were. Maybe I have just been lucky in the past.   Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
The stand out feature was the quality of the guides. They made the experience a real education. Russia was a bit of a surprise for these two Aussies. Viking/Russia had been recommended by fellow passengers on the Pandaw on the Irrawaddy ... Read More
The stand out feature was the quality of the guides. They made the experience a real education. Russia was a bit of a surprise for these two Aussies. Viking/Russia had been recommended by fellow passengers on the Pandaw on the Irrawaddy (their 8th river cruise). They listed this Viking cruise as their best experience. Their recommendation was based on the quality of the guides. They had not warned us about the complexity (or expense) of obtaining a Russian visa! Be prepared for the traffic in both St Petersburg and Moscow. Chaos! It can take several hours to do the short trip from the St Petersburg airport to the ship. The Moscow airport we used (Domodedovo) was a long way out of the city. We had a lot of time there and it was EXPENSIVE. The plane to London was overbooked by about 50 passengers and they had to bump some of us up to business class (thank you British Airways). It would appear that not many Aussies travel on Viking. I assume that they go on Scenic. There were only about 8 Aussies and two Kiwis. The great majority were Americans and about 20 Canadians (appeared to be from a card club). There was one young family from Canada - dad (an ex-Russian ballet dancer), his wife and two teenage children.and added interest. It was not a bad mix. We have been on cruises before (Cambodia) where passengers were predominantly from Canada and gave the impression they dad graciously allowed us to make up the numbers on "their" cruise. Food was great. The Silver Premium service (wine package - a gift for early booking) was great. The staff were every attentive. Dining room was adequate. Most people stayed in the same area (but did join other tables). The Helgi was good in most respects. Some of the common areas were inadequate, such as the meeting room (but you could watch on TV from your room). The communication (daily etc.) was good. Everything was well organised (getting onto buses etc. for daily excursions). The walking tours were good but occasionally some members were slow and not up to the physical exertion. The cabin was very good and service was unobtrusive and good. We did not attend the evening entertainment much and believed it was sub-standard. However, other Ausies described it as fantastic. We were really too tired to attend anyway. The day trips are very full and often we got back to the boat late. Meals were always ready but we were happy to retire to the cabin and our own veranda. It was light until about 11pm so we were happy to sit on the veranda with a bottle of wine. We prefer a smaller boat but, on balance, the Helgi was excellent. Weather was great. Some of the hospitality staff were exceptional. They knew your name from day 1! Although tips are included we felt we would like to give extra to some staff/guides. The boat had a disembarkation system where you could leave an envelope with the staff member's name. I don't have any confidence that these tips ended up with the individual staff member. We felt safe everywhere. I have no hesitation in recommending Viking's Russian tours. I think that they represent value for money and will look at their expanded presence in the Mediterranean.   Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
I can't say enough about the guides on this Viking tour. They were friendly, very knowledgeable and fun to be with. We probably could have chosen a better time of year to have done this trip, as the weather was what we are used to ... Read More
I can't say enough about the guides on this Viking tour. They were friendly, very knowledgeable and fun to be with. We probably could have chosen a better time of year to have done this trip, as the weather was what we are used to here in New England (drizzly, chilly), and we felt sorry for those folks from warmer climes who had packed shorts. Anyway, where to begin: St Petersburg is a beautiful city. The Hermitage, The Winter and Summer palaces are just amazing. The boat - Viking Helgi - was very comfortable. Meals were great (but I did pass on the reindeer meat) and the onboard lectures were very informative. Every stop along the way had its own story. We especially liked Uglich, a town I'd never hear of. It's a trip I wouldn't mind taking again, it was that good. Thanks, Viking, for a terrific experience! Read Less
Sail Date September 2012
What a fabulous trip! Would highly recommend starting in Moscow. We had a AX room on the 4th floor which was small but efficient. It was quiet with very little foot traffic on the outside walkway. Our cabin steward magically made ... Read More
What a fabulous trip! Would highly recommend starting in Moscow. We had a AX room on the 4th floor which was small but efficient. It was quiet with very little foot traffic on the outside walkway. Our cabin steward magically made everything perfect each day. On arrival we had a small problem with the window blinds not fully closing and mentioned it to the front desk staff on the way out the first touring day and it was repaired immediately. The daily lectures given by the guides were informative and well attended. I had no problems viewing the screen. Neva Restaurant staff were attentive, particularly to my need for immediate coffee in the morning so we, like others, soon found a favorite area we wanted to sit in. My husband is a very picky eater with a sweet tooth and always found something to meet his needs at every meal. On our entire trip there was only one issue - an undercooked piece of fish that a colleague received at dinner. I loved the portion sizes as we were eating (and drinking) more than we would at home, but returned home not having gained an ounce..an indication of the amount of physical activity you have during the daily tours. If anything I wished we had more "down time" but I guess that is our fault since we signed up for many optional tours and onboard activities - after all who knows when we shall be back in Russia? This was a very physically demanding trip, lots of walking, cobblestones, uneven surfaces and climbing of stairs. Our guides were excellent in giving us a "heads up" on the next stumbling point. We took the optional walking tour of Moscow (approximately 11 klm) and loved it. The audio receivers used by the guides were awesome..so nice not to have to crowd around a moving guide trying to catch information while moving forward. It really did allow one freedom to move around and look at items while listening to the information. On the few times when there was a mechanical failure (once for me) - the guides always had a back up set available and transitioned smoothly. The free on board WIFI worked well with our ipad. Initially I went down to the library area but soon learned the Panorama Bar offered the strongest signal and best views. I must comment on the Port Talk briefings by Program Director Konstantin the Sky Bar. Do make a point of attending. First, he is a wealth of information and provides you with insights not included in the daily Viking News. Second, his presentation style is so up beat you cannot possibly leave the briefing without being in a good mood. Viking is fortunate to have so many management and staff members that clearly enjoy their jobs. If we were to express any disappointment in the trip it would be in the "Hermitage Behind the Scenes" tour which we signed up for prior to arrival. We were fortunate to take the Supplement Armory Chamber Tour which was fabulous and certainly enjoyed the included tour of the Hermitage which covered a lot of territory and was done at a high pace. Our expectation was the Behind the Scenes Tour would deal with restoration of items and discussion with the Curator on processes. Instead it was a slow moving, highly secure exhibit of items that were either too big or not important enough to be included in the Hermitage. Likely we would have been more impressed had we not taken the Armory Tour. It was a slow afternoon after a fast paced morning. As first time river cruisers we can only thank the staff of the Viking HELGI for making our first trip such a memorable experience. Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
It's unclear whether Viking management exercises too-strict control over operation of the dining room, the Hotel Manager is incompetent, or both. I rather suspect that it's a combination, i.e., that the staff hide behind the ... Read More
It's unclear whether Viking management exercises too-strict control over operation of the dining room, the Hotel Manager is incompetent, or both. I rather suspect that it's a combination, i.e., that the staff hide behind the operating standards to avoid fixing easily manageable problems: responses to suggestions for improvement were met with "not my responsibility" or "it's not in the standards". Here's an absolutely ridiculous example: there were numerous slide shows in the Sky Bar, and the projector is not optimally aligned. Adjusting the tilt of the projector to move the image to the very top of the screen would make it easier for those at the back to see, but the suggestion that this be done was met with, "That would have to be approved by Viking corporate"! The suggestion that it was inappropriate to serve hot dishes on room-temperature plates at breakfast and lunch, and that there was a simple solution to the problem (caused by Viking's moving the egg and pasta stations to the end of the buffet lines) was brushed off by the restaurant "manager" with "that would require another waiter" when in fact, as noted below, the waiters are seriously under-employed. Whatever the cause, the result was 2-star food and service at 4-star prices. Baked goods, and much of the other food, were obviously purchased rather than freshly prepared from scratch and the so-called "omelette" offered a breakfast is no such thing: it's a scramble cooked in vegetable oil and dumped onto a room temperature plate. The waitstaff were extremely friendly and, like their supervisors, utterly incompetent. Their training obviously focuses on the former rather than seeking opportunities to be of service. Typically, when the attention of a waiter was finally obtained to, for example, get a cup of coffee or glass of wine, the waiters provide the requested service and then return to their stations without looking around to see if there are other any cups/glasses on the way that need attention. Note to management: Viking is a US company, and in the US the very first thing which happens upon taking a seat for breakfast is that a waiter appears with a coffee pot (the coffee, incidentally, is better from the instant dispenser outside the dining room). Our last breakfast aboard was typical: one of two table settings missing a fork and an empty milk jug. The poor service may also have something to do with Viking's tipping policy which, unlike any other vessel I've been aboard, recommends a single tip to be shared among the entire crew (stewards, waiters and crew). Tipping is for personal, not routine, services and the policy does not differentiate between the (exemplary) cabin stewards and (incompetent) restaurant staff. Another example of an easily remedied issues is the sorry (and unsafe) state of the computers in the Internet Cafe, the two computers provided apparently having never been updated since the were installed (auto-update off, 192 updates available for the obsolete Windows Vista and IE7 operating environment). Despite the fact that there are wired Ethernet cables available at both stations, the computers both utilize the overworked WiFi network aboard ship. Yet another is the fact that although the beds are not reconfigurable, the double beds are two twins with separate sheets. This doesn't work if you sleep together, rather than in the same bed. Switching to a single bottom sheet would help, but "gap fillers" are inexpensive. There's also an obvious lack of environmental consciousness: the 24-hour coffee dispensers encourage the use of paper cups and provide plastic spoons instead of wooden stirrers. Adding insult to injury, having charged an additional $200 to schedule our return on a different date from the end of the cruise, Viking dinged us $40 for the transfer to our hotel. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
My wife and I had never been to Russia. We had been to China, the Caribbean, South America, Alaska, and all over the U.S. but Russia was a new experience. We flew from Seattle to St. Petersburg. Our flights to and from Russia was via ... Read More
My wife and I had never been to Russia. We had been to China, the Caribbean, South America, Alaska, and all over the U.S. but Russia was a new experience. We flew from Seattle to St. Petersburg. Our flights to and from Russia was via Air Canada and Lufthansa. I will say I was impressed by the service and if and when we travel abroad again, we will choose foreign carriers over U.S. carriers. Better food, better service, less hassle, etc. As advertised, Viking River Cruise staff met us at the St. Petersburg airport and transported us to the ship. On board the ship, the Viking staff was wonderful. From our stateroom, the meal service, tours, entertainment, etc. it was evident that we were their focus. The food was excellent..well prepared and presented. Unlike many cruises, Viking did not try to overfeed us. The portions were adequate and if we desired more, it was there but there was not 15 meals a day like other cruises. The tours were well planned and the guides were excellent. Our guide (Natasha) was a true joy. She was like a member of the family with our group. Her knowledge of the tour venues, her sense of humor, and her obvious enjoyment of her job made her the perfect guide. My only regret was that the cruise was only 13 days. I would like to have more time in Moscow. Perhaps someday we will go back and spend more time exploring the city. I realize that time was short and Viking really packed a lot into a short time. A great cruise and I would recommend Viking to anyone who wants a guaranteed good time and an excellent value. Read Less
Sail Date October 2011
We are experienced travellers and what happened to us on this trip has never happened before and the problems we experienced ruined what should have been an enjoyable expereince. Our difficulties started in the air routing selected by ... Read More
We are experienced travellers and what happened to us on this trip has never happened before and the problems we experienced ruined what should have been an enjoyable expereince. Our difficulties started in the air routing selected by Viking River cruises (we had chosen to purchase both the air and cruise portion from Viking something we normally do not do). For some reason they chose to route us from Vancouver (the closest major airport) through Toronto and Frankfurt to St. Petersburg using Lufthansa airlines (codeshare with Air Canada to Frankfurt). A direct flight from Vancouver to Frankfurt was available with Lufthansa and other passengers on our cruise who started in Vancouver were booked on this flight. This meant we had to stay overnight in Vancouver the day before our flight as it left in the morning (the more direct flight did not leave until the afternoon). This in itself was not a major problem until things started to go wrong. This happened about 20 minutes before our flight was to leave when Air Canada announced there was some problem with our plane and that it was going to be replaced with another smaller one which would not accommodate all the passengers. For some reason we were told to go to another gate where we would be given further instructions. We were not surprised to find a long line when we got to the new gate. At first we were told to sit down and we would be called to the desk when the agents could help us, a few minute later we were told that those who had connecting flights in Toronto which they would miss should get in line. My wife stood in line while I checked out flight schedules on my laptop. After over an hour wait we eventually got to the front of the line. We asked to be rerouted to St. Petersburg and the agent refused to do this saying she only had time to get reroute us to Toronto. By past experience we knew this would just mean more time in a line in Toronto and we insisted that our complete rerouting should be handled now. Eventually another agent agreed to do this. When we talked to this agent we first requested the direct Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt as there was space on it. Instead we were routed via Calgary on Air Canada flights. The agent did contact the baggage handlers and told them the new routing for us. We sent an e-mail to Viking telling them our new arrival time and flights. Viking did reply to us and told us there would someone to meet us when we arrived. Unfortunately when we did arrive in St. Petersburg (6 hours after originally scheduled time) our luggage did not arrive with us. We went to lost luggage where we were given a raft of paperwork to complete. There was another couple who were taking the cruise filling out the forms too. The agent told us our luggage was in Toronto. After about an hour of doing this we eventually got to meet with the Viking rep. She had sent on the other passengers already but had a van for us (this was really well handled as I am sure the others were happy to get to the ship right away and not have to wait for us). When we got to the ship we gave our luggage paper work to reception and asked for copies. We were told we could have our clothes cleaned overnight and they would be available before breakfast. We decided to do this. The next morning when breakfast was announced our clothes had not come back because there was no one in housekeeping yet. The clothes did arrive 15 minutes later and we were able to get a quick breakfast before our first excursion. When we got back to the ship at lunch we were told our bags had not come with those that were delivered. Now we were going to have to get some toiletries and clothes so we asked the cruise director if there was anywhere nearby where we could do this. He told us of some places in the centre of St. Petersburg where we could go but said there was nothing local. We asked if we could be dropped off there on our way back to the ship and were told to talk to our tour guide about this. When we did this she was concerned that we would we would not have time to shop, have dinner and catch the ballet performance that evening. So we had to got in our travelling clothes while many of shipmates wore jackets and dresses as we had planned to do. That night we sent our clothes to the laundry again since our bags still had not come and all we were able to buy on the ship was shaving cream and deodorant they did not even have any t-shirts in our size. We now felt that somehow we would have to go do some shopping the next day and asked to see the cruise director to discuss how we could do this. He had gone home so we asked for him to call us when he arrived in the morning. In the morning reception told us the cruise director was stuck in traffic and could not meet with us. We asked if someone else could help and were passed to the hotel manager who agreed to come to our cabin and talk to us. He was very empathetic and helpful and told us there was a large mall 10 min. away by taxi and said he would arrange for us to go there when we got back at lunch. As our bags were still missing when we returned a taxi and boxed lunch were waiting for us. However we were charged 60 euros for the cab. The next morning we were told our luggage had been found in Moscow and should arrive in the afternoon. At lunchtime we were told we would have to forego our afternoon excursion and go to the airport to get our bag and that we would have to pay another 60 euros for a taxi. At this point we were quite frustrated and calmly suggested that Viking should pay for the cab. A man in a suit interjected without introducing himself and said this was not Viking's fault and we would have to pay for the cab and claim from Lufthansa. I asked who he was and was told he was Viking's Manager of Russian Operations. I reviewed the facts with him but he was still adamant that this was not Viking's fault and they had no responsibility. while this was happening the hotel manager had arranged for us to go to the airport and back with the Viking reps who were going to meet passengers coming in to join another Viking Cruise. When the time came to leave for the airport we were told our bags had not arrived. Half an hour later we were told that one bag had arrived and did we want a taxi to go to the airport (yes it would cost us 60 euros). Although it was tempting to tell them to keep the bag I decided to go to the airport and get the bag while my wife went back to the mall to buy some more things since no one knew where her bag was. I finally got my bag and my wife had enough clothes to get her through until we arrived 6 days later in Moscow. All our spare time during this 6 days was spent talking about, writing letters and e-mails about the lost bag. This meant we always had anger and frustration boiling under the surface and left us very little time to enjoy the passing scenery or take in the lectures and lessons offered. When we arrived in Moscow we were told a)the bag was there b)we would have to go to the airport to get it at our expense and c)that trip could take up to 3 hours each way. We gave instructions for the bag to be returned to Canada. This did not happen and after more effort on our part showed up 4 days after we got home. Now for the actual cruise. Ship and Cabin The ship was pleasantly finished and comfortable but offers little in the way of amenities. There was a bar and a small library equipped with 2 computers and the dining room. The free Internet came in handy and the speed and access were quite good unlike the slow speed and expensive service on ocean cruise liners. There was a small and poorly stocked store that offered little other than souvenirs you found everywhere you went in Russia. Our cabin was small but comfortable except for the pillar between the bed and the desk which made it hard to get by if someone was sitting at the desk (a common occurrence for us due to the above). Dining Room: The food was okay not outstanding and definitely below the standard of the ocean lines we have been on. Breakfast consisted of a buffet set up on both sides of the dining room. It had a good variety of cereals, fruits, breads, cold meats and egg dishes and other than the pancakes (hard and doughy) was fairly good. The service was quite good and the staff very pleasant and helpful. Entertainment: Practically non-existent, there was a piano player in the bar but we never heard him play but then we were rarely in there. Excursions: This is where Viking does deliver on its promises. All the guides we went with were excellent. They knew their Russian history and added in their opinions on Russian politics past and current. All excursions were interesting and we found St. Petersburg to be one of the best European cities we have ever seen for architecture. The palaces are incredible especially since they were so badly damaged during WW II. We went to the optional Cossack show which was fun but overpriced (mind you that seemed to be the case in most of Russia). We also did the optional home visit in Uglich. This was worth it as it was our our only chance to meet an ordinary Russian and see how they lived. Overall: The wors trip we have taken thanks mostly to Lufthansa. We think Viking could have done a better job in support i.e. paid for taxis and phone calls to insurance providers, offered t-shirts and toiletries when luggage delayed so long and some compensation for tours we had to miss since we paid for these as part of the package. Without the luggage problem I would have to rate them at 2 stars on a 4 star system when I would rate Holland America/Princess at 3 and Oceania 3.25. Service: Most of the staff were very good especially the Hotel manager. However the chief receptionist was one of the worst people I have every dealt with on a cruise ship. She even told my wife to wait until she got home to deal with her lost bag. The cruiseship director was not really that he even said all he was responsible for were the excursions and refused to help with anything not related directly to that. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
We went on the Viking Waterways of the Czars cruise aboard the Surkov. The cabin was roomy enough that we did not feel cramped. The bed was comfortable, and the air conditioning worked well. The food from beginning to end was very good ... Read More
We went on the Viking Waterways of the Czars cruise aboard the Surkov. The cabin was roomy enough that we did not feel cramped. The bed was comfortable, and the air conditioning worked well. The food from beginning to end was very good and plentiful. The staff satisfied our needs and answered any questions that we had about the cruise. Although some reviews have expressed the idea that the traffic in St. Petersburg and Moscow was very crowded and time consuming, we found that this is not always the case, and it did give the opportunity to see more of the city or countryside. In addition, we enjoyed the cruising that stopped off at different ports along the way. The scenery along the way was well worth the water travel. Many tours are part of the package, but there are optional tours which are worth their while. We were able to get all of our optional tours, but be aware that a few tours have a limited amount of participants that can attend. Just make sure to get your wish list in early instead of waiting around until it is too late. The places we visited in St. Petersburg and Moscow, as well as other stops, were memorable. We would recommend this trip to other travelers, and we heard from those on board our ship that they really like the Viking China trip too. Read Less
Sail Date August 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 ... Read More
***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 each. 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 Restaurant 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! 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 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 worshipers. 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 worshipers 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 onboard 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 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 that 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" marks 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 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 Godunov. 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 "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. ***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 Chopin's Polonaise Militaire Op. 40 No. 1 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 Chopin. It was SPLENDID! I am happy that we chose this alternate tour. Then it was back onboard 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 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. ***The Viking Surkov: July 13th*** We are now cruising along the Svir River, approaching Lake Ladoga 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 have rather narrow risers and the distance between steps is more than 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 Manager is German, and the Head Chef is Austrian. 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. ***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 onboard 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 Herbert, 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 a hors d'oeuvre, soup and a warm appetizer of sauteed scallops, and followed by Baked Alaska "Surkov," presented "a fire" in a parade 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"), 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 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 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, rain began to hit the bus' windshield and by the time we 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 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 tours (surcharge) 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 tour (surcharge) 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 is 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
Viking Helgi Ratings
Category Editor Member
Rates 3.0 3.4

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