Sorry I am late posting this, but we were on the Viking Helgi for the first cruise of the season, which left St Petersburg (SPB) at the beginning of May. We also took Viking’s hotel extensions, in both SPB and Moscow and flights were ... Read More
Sorry I am late posting this, but we were on the Viking Helgi for the first cruise of the season, which left St Petersburg (SPB) at the beginning of May. We also took Viking’s hotel extensions, in both SPB and Moscow and flights were included (as they are when booking in the UK). Our flight out was OK and the transfer driver was waiting to pick us up on arrival in SPB.
The hotel used in SPB was the Corinthia, were we stayed there for two nights. It is in Nevsky Prospect and very near the Faberge museum and the start point for Anglo Tourismo canal boat tour of St Petersburg, which meant it was very easy for us to ‘do’ those things independently. The museum was very good and it was easy to visit in the evening, when it was very quiet, and we saw a lot of very interesting Faberge eggs. It was easy to tour the museum without a guide as there were booklets in each room which described the eggs and the reason they were made. The canal boat tour was the one which was recommended to me as it has a good English commentary, not multi lingual. As it is run on a hop on hop off basis we were able to leave the boat on the Neva River by The Hermitage and get on another boat at a later time. We used the time there to just walk along the banks of the Neva, taking in the beautiful view of Peter and Paul Fortress on the other side and having a drink in one of the cafes by a boat pier. The canal cruise was really good and the weather dry and sunny, so we could sit outside on the boat, which gave better visibility then inside. The hotel was also near a number of other tourist places. As we walked down Nevsky Prospect and along side roads from there we saw a lot. There was also a metro station about 5 minutes walk in the out of town direction, which could take us anywhere else in the city very quickly.
We were extremely impressed with the hotel itself. The room could not have been better and was very quiet as it was in the inside well of the hotel (we had asked for a quiet room). The room was well furnished, had a very big, comfortable bed and a good bathroom, all of which were in very good condition and spotlessly clean. We only had Breakfast in the hotel, but again, that could not have been better, with excellent food and service. For dinner we went to a restaurant opposite, which served Russian food and again that was very pleasant and served good quality food at a reasonable price, so we returned the next day. There was also a small supermarket opposite were we could easily pick up drinks and some snacks as required. The hotel reception was always quick, efficient and very helpful, as was the Viking concierge (Maria). This hotel could not have been better for our St Peterburg stay.
There was an included walking tour with the hotel stay and that took us on the metro, which gave us the confidence to use the metro on our own after that. My husband had learned the Cyrillic alphabet before we left home, so it made it easier to recognise names of metro stations. The tour took far longer than it should have done as the hotel base had been changed, but not the tour, so unfortunately, we returned incredibly tired. Our transfer to Helgi was delayed as there had been an error and another person who needed to be transferred with us had been put on the wrong tour that morning and had not returned to the hotel. This was not good as we had been asked to be ready for the pick up quite early anyway, so we could have had longer exploring SPB, rather than waiting around in the hotel, then being taken to Helgi so early. These two problems were added to the next day when we were taken on a Hermitage excursion and were left waiting outside for the return coach in the cold wind for a whole hour, because the rehearsal for the May parade stopped our coach arriving. This rehearsal is an annual thing on the preceding Sunday to the parade and was scheduled, so our arrangements should have been made around it. That was not a good start, but I must say that after that Viking’s planning worked very well, for the time on the boat. Hopefully those problems we encountered will have been sorted for later cruises (there is always a risk when on the first cruise of a season).
Regards the boat, it was in very good condition, the food was good and luckily the boat was quiet as there was very little sound insulation between the cabins. Our cabin (304) was one with a post, which in itself was manageable, but what was not manageable was a very stupid item of furniture that was placed next to it. This item looked like a stool with a padded top, but was about 2 foot square and was of no use nor ornament, and made it extremely difficult to move round the cabin. I had tried leaving it on the balcony, but it kept re appearing in the cabin, then I asked reception for it to be removed a few times, to no avail. Eventually I raised my voice on the phone to reception telling them I was leaving it out in the corridor and wanted it taken away. At that stage they got the message (that was 2 or 3 days after we embarked and several bruises on my legs later). The cabin was fairly small and not well designed so there really was no space for a useless item. After that things improved and the cruise generally went as planned, though we became increasingly annoyed that information which needed to be passed on to us was not written down and delivered to our cabin as has always happened on ocean cruises we have experienced. Instead we were expected to go to a bar about half an hour before dinner time and be ‘talked at’ by the cruise director. No need at all for this as the schedule of the cruise was quite rushed anyway, so it would have been much better if we had been allowed to get ready for dinner or have a peaceful pre-dinner drink.
We only did the included trips and used the ‘free days’ docked in SPB and Moscow for independent travel or free time. The docking locations for both SPB and Moscow was quite a long way out of the city centres, but it was possible to go in on public transport. In SPB we got a local bus to a metro station, and then the metro, whilst in Moscow a longer walk across a park took us to a metro station. Reception provided details of both those routes, along with maps of the cities. They were also very helpful with information of how to get to specific locations using the Metro.
The staff on board were good, as were the tour guides, who also gave some interesting talks during the cruise, though a combination of their accents and the speed of speaking, it was difficult to follow everything that was said. Some of the younger restaurant staff were not very fluent with English, but we could normally make ourselves understood.
As previously mentioned the trips went well after the first day, so we saw and did a lot, but were left quite tired at times. We enjoyed all the ports, though we could not go to the first one as the ice had not melted nearby.
We had drinks included with the meals as standard and apart from that we largely just drank the self service tea/coffee, which was very well placed near our cabin, so easily taken back to the cabin. We had gone to the observation bar one night only to find that it was closed after dinner - strange. So we are extremely glad we had not paid for a drinks package as the house wine/beer/soft drinks were fine.
The post cruise stay was in The Marriot Grand in Moscow. This was also fairly well placed and very near a metro station, but there was a lot less that was walkable. We had some problems with the hotel Concierge who were far from good, but I will not dwell on that as the hotel sufficed in other ways. One more snag was Viking’s return transfer to the airport as they took us there to arrive more than five hours before the flight time, yet the people form the boat which was departing that day, were only taken to the airport about 3 hours or less before the flight.
Again, we were able to do/see a lot independently when in Moscow and we are convinced the cost of the hotel package was a much better spend than the very high prices that Viking were asking for their optional trips. The entrance charges and cost of the canal cruise in SPB was very little. It was great to be able to go into the centre at night and see Red Square lit up, for instance and after being ‘tripped’ and talked at by guides for so long, it was great to just be able to go to places like The Armoury or quieter churches and view them at leisure. Overall, we took a lot of memories home from the cruise and it was very worthwhile, but we are very glad we also had some free time when we could do our own thing at a slower pace and had the chance to have a number of Russian meals. We particularly loved the beautiful city of SPB and have already arranged a return on a Baltic cruise next summer.
I have said below we have been on more than 10 cruises, but this was only our second river cruise. Read Less