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49 Viking River Baltic Sea Cruise Reviews

My husband & I just got home from our Viking Christmas Rhine Cruise. We're experienced travelers in our 60s who used to do most of our European travel by train, limit our itinerary to 3 cities at most & stay at least 2 nights ... Read More
My husband & I just got home from our Viking Christmas Rhine Cruise. We're experienced travelers in our 60s who used to do most of our European travel by train, limit our itinerary to 3 cities at most & stay at least 2 nights in each city to minimize packing & unpacking. However now that we're older my husband wants to take more cruises because the tour companies handle luggage & airport transfers for us. This was our 1st Viking cruise. (A yr & a half ago we took a Tauck French Art cruise. The price for our Viking cruise was much less than the Tauck cruise.) Overall our Viking cruise was enjoyable & went smoothly, but there were a few things that could have been improved. We took a 3 day Brugges, Belgium extention, which began when we landed in Brussels. Unfortunately no one was at the airport when we arrived to take us to Brugges. We waited 45 mins. & the driver eventually showed up, said he was in a traffic jam due to rain & apologized. When we arrived at our hotel, the Duke's Palace (a real Medieval palace in the center of Brugges) at 11 am. they said our room wouldn't be ready until 3 pm. They had a rigid policy & refused to let us go on a waiting list if a room became available. We were exhausted from our flight, but we knew of a nearby reastaurant, Lizzies that serves excellent waffles, so we had lunch. Then we returned to the hotel lobby around 12 noon & met up with 3 other couples from our tour. We got acquainted & then commiserated about having to wait so long for our rooms. Eventually all 4 couples fell asleep in the hotel lobby on the sofas & armchairs. In all other respects the hotel was very nice including their bar & restaurant. Finally at around 2:45 pm 4 rms became available all at once. The hotel clerk tried to give us a room opposite an elevator, but the desk manager eventually found us a new room. It was nice with copies of old Flemish portraits & had a hi-tech bathroom with a huge shower. So we fell asleep, caught up with our jet lag then had dinner nearby later. The 2nd day an excellent guide took us on a walking tour of Brugges & the following was a free day. The last day we were loaded on a bus with an amusing guide who told us all about Belguim & Holland. We arrived in Amsterdam at the Bragi around 5 pm, so we didn't get to do any Amsterdam sightseeing, but we were tired, so it didn't matter. The weather was unseasonably warm, in the 40s & down around the 30s for the rest of the cruise, except when we were in the Black Forest on Christmas Day when there was a pretty snowfall. The passengers were a mixture of people on their 1st European trip & travel veterans. The majority were in their 60s, but there were a few college-aged, some as old as their 80s & a few disabled people traveling with family members. (Viking does a excellent job of accomodating for the elderly & disabled.) I would guess that most passengers were middle & upper-middle class with a good number of teachers, college professors, ex-military & civil servants. Since the theme of the cruise was Christmas Markets we visted cities with markets & took walking tours of Cologne, Heidelburg, Strasbourg & an optional tour to Colmar. Along the way we saw castles on the Rhine. Viking offered optional tour groups for slower walkers & photograhers. There were other tours & attractions as well, but jet lag & short, dark days made me feel lazy & require an afternoon nap, so I took a pass on some of the scheduled afternoon events. At night there was a fantastic pianist, Emil who could play just about any request. On Christmas Eve there was a sing-a-long of Christmas music & some people got up & danced. All our meals were provided on the boat, which was convenient, helped save money & the time required to figure out where to eat while ashore. At breakfast they served a buffet with all sorts of sausage, cheese, fruit, potatos, breads, veggies etc. plus omlettes & French Toast. At lunch there was a choice of soup, cooked dishes & a fantastic salad bar. There was also a casual dining restaurant in the bar with soup, sandwiches & a less extensive salad bar. At lunch & dinner there was always nice dessert choices. There was a free coffee bar with cocoa, espresso & afternoon cookies. Dinner was a multi-course, more formal event. Many fellow passengers raved about the refreshments at the Christmas Markets, such as Gluwein but I was more focused on chocolate & marzipan. Most passengers we spoke with agreed that the food was somewhat bland, became repetitive by the end of the cruise & was often not hot enough. The wine was good, but they kept serving the same red & white with each dinner. Some variety would have been nice. I think the Christmas tour is more of what I would describe as a "beginners" tour--more low-stress for people who are timid about mixing in with real Europeans, but it was great for people who like to sit on the boat & watch the scenery. Life on the boat is like living in a North American bubble & I felt cut off from real Europeans, except for the Viking staff. I love art & had to break away from the tour & go on my own at one point, so perhaps this wasn't the best cruise for me. I think I'd do better on a specialist art tour, but If you just want some jolly Christmas fun & a chance to make some new friends it was great. Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
It was fantastic on so many levels. It was more than I ever expected. The crew was so professional and personable. Loved the meals and the wine to go with. Loved the tour guides on the ship. They were very well informed on the history of ... Read More
It was fantastic on so many levels. It was more than I ever expected. The crew was so professional and personable. Loved the meals and the wine to go with. Loved the tour guides on the ship. They were very well informed on the history of the country as well as being fun and personable. Same with the Russians hired to do the tours. Loved the smaller amount of people that the Rurik ship could accommodate. I really do not think any other Viking cruise could top this one. Hopefully, I am wrong about this. Room was perfect. Always kept very clean.   Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
I really enjoyed the cruise because; It was small The food , service and ambiance was great The meals were excellent and I appreciated the the many choices and the portions were just right for me. The lectures were informative The ... Read More
I really enjoyed the cruise because; It was small The food , service and ambiance was great The meals were excellent and I appreciated the the many choices and the portions were just right for me. The lectures were informative The tours were good, however, it depended on the expertise and interest of the guides leading the tour. I would have liked to have had some input in what I wanted to see especially in the Hermitage and Armory. The rooms were very comfortable and I appreciated being able to watch lecures on the room TV.   Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
After a stress free flight from London Heathrow my wife and I enjoyed 12 days of luxury cruising between St Petersburg and Moscow. The ship was very well appointed and spotlessly clean. The on board staff were very friendly and very ... Read More
After a stress free flight from London Heathrow my wife and I enjoyed 12 days of luxury cruising between St Petersburg and Moscow. The ship was very well appointed and spotlessly clean. The on board staff were very friendly and very helpful especially as my wife was disabled, they were always there to assist. The food was excellent with a wide variety of choice. The Viking Daily was very informative giving details of what was happening the following day. Having 4 days in St Petersburg at the beginning of the cruise and 3 days in Moscow at the end gave us ample time to see the main attractions. The organised excursions were well planned and had excellent guides, nothing was rushed. We will have no hesitation in booking another Viking Cruise.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
My husband and I just returned from the 2 week cruise on Viking Ingvar. We sailed spent 3 days in St Petersburg, then sailed on the Volga River stopping in Mondrogy, Kitzi, Uglich and Yaroslavl then 3 days in Moscow. We had cabin 219 which ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from the 2 week cruise on Viking Ingvar. We sailed spent 3 days in St Petersburg, then sailed on the Volga River stopping in Mondrogy, Kitzi, Uglich and Yaroslavl then 3 days in Moscow. We had cabin 219 which is a regular cabin without a balcony - the size of the cabin & bathroom were ample for the 2 of us. We used the Panorama Lounge & the top outside deck when we wanted to be somewhere else besides our room. We loved this arrangement. Viking does an excellent job with choosing guides, tours, bus drivers, etc & making you feel part of the culture of Russia. We felt that Viking used local guides that were very familiar and knowledgeable on all the tours that we attended. Guests have headsets to be able to hear the commentary of the guides and this works great when you are in group tours. In St Petersburg we chose the optional tour of Peterhoff, St Petersburg by Water tours & Cossack Dance show which were wonderful. We attended all of the other tours offered by Viking on the regular itinerary which were all very worthwhile. In Moscow, we chose Moscow by Night and Kremlin Armory tour which were also wonderful. For our free day in Moscow, we hired a private local guide from Happy Moscow Tours (Ludmilla who one of the best private guides we have ever had) to take us on a full day private tour. We did not feel like we were able to see some of the more important sites in Moscow with Viking tours so we were thrilled to have the private guide on our free day. Ludmilla took us to Lenin's tomb to see his remains, gave us a detailed tour of St. Basil's cathedral, revealed some of the interesting history of the GUM Department Store, showed us a number of the more interesting & beautiful subway stations and guided us through the Statute Park (discarded soviet statutes in a beautiful park setting) as well as choosing a traditional Russian restaurant experience for our lunch. The first 3 days in St Petersburg are very busy & we were ready for the 5 days of cruising and relaxing that sailing on the Volga River afforded us. We were rested when we arrived in Moscow & ready to tour and experience Moscow & tackle the long trip back to the US. We traveled from August 9-22 and the weather was just about perfect - 60s-70s during the day. We had 2 days of misting weather while we were cruising in the north which were chilly but the rest was pretty perfect! The food, service, cleanliness of the ship, attention of the Viking staff were all top of the line & made this cruise so enjoyable and pleasant to be on. We would recommend this cruise/tour to anyone traveling to Russia. We don’t speak Russian or understand the Russian alphabet so traveling on the Viking cruise made for a very easy and pleasant experience. We will always remember our wonderful trip to Russia.   Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
Just returned from the trip that started in Moscow on August 24. About a week before leaving I finally read the reviews of this trip posted on this site and found them to be very mixed. Along with the political situation, some of the ... Read More
Just returned from the trip that started in Moscow on August 24. About a week before leaving I finally read the reviews of this trip posted on this site and found them to be very mixed. Along with the political situation, some of the reviews added to my doubts about whether this was the right trip to take. I have never posted a trip review before but wanted to address the concerns I read about, some of which I found to be accurate and others not of consequence. Some of them really depend on your expectations. Reading the reviews did help to properly set my expectations. Getting around Yes, the boat is docked quite a bit away from the center of both Moscow and St. Petersburg. In Moscow my husband studied the metro system (which is a sight in itself to tour!) and when we wanted to go somewhere during free time, we used the metro which was a 10-15 minute walk from the ship. It made me nervous at first but turned out to be quite safe and a pleasant way to get around. In St. Petersburg we never used the metro. Because of the timing of excursions and free time, on 2 out of the 3 days we chose to not return to the ship with the tour group but to stay in St. Petersburg after the Hermitage so we could visit the Faberge Museum and on the final day we took the hydrofoil from Peterhof back to St. Petersburg for more touring on our own. (Viking plans excursions so that you always return to the ship for lunch even if there are morning and afternoon tours. This does waste time.) The ship We have been on one other river cruise, not Viking, and that ship was newer and nicer. These ships were built in Russia and are rather old. Even with refurbishing they look a little run down in some of the common areas. But that was okay with me. Having read the reviews, my expectations were set. Our cabin was mid-ship, perfectly clean and beautiful, no special noise (yes you can hear some noise from adjacent cabins but the people travelling on this type of cruise are not really party people so no problem there). Twice a day the staff replaced towels, cleaned, everything sparkling. I cannot complain about the ship. Some said the bar areas were small and one was used for lectures and could not fit al the people. That is true, but they always gave 2 sets of the same lecture dividing the population so not a problem. Just once there was a welcome type of reception and the room was overflowing. The other river cruise I was on had a bigger bar/common area. But the Helgi had a number of smaller seating areas that were really a nice concept. You could go there and read, or sit with a small group of people. I liked these areas although they could use some sprucing up. Food Some people complained it was awful. I thought it was quite good. Someone complained that the wait staff were not properly trained. Maybe that was at the beginning of the season - don't remember the review. I found them to be quite good with a few exceptions here and there where it seemed my table was forgotten! Mostly though they were right there when you needed them, very pleasant and accommodating. Tours and tour guides Very good. The 3 tour guides were a wealth of information on all aspects of Russian life. They gave multiple lectures on Russian history. There was a final round table at which they answered questions. It was interesting to hear their opinions of Russian life. Some reviews said they could have done without the stops and tours between Moscow and St. Petersburg. This depends on what you are looking for. They do give a slightly different view of Russia but some were really just fill ins. There is a trade off between taking this river cruise and doing a land tour of Russia. On the river cruise you sacrifice more time touring areas that might be of more interest to you vs having some more relaxing time while the boat cruises (and this is the time when they had the lectures which I found very valuable). It really depends on what you are looking for. I looked at the itineraries for some land tours and other than St. Petersburg and Moscow which are always multiple day stops, they then visit other areas (Latvia, Estonia, etc) generally for one day at a time. So you are always packing up. Again, it is personal preference. Overall I am glad we did this trip. I learned a lot, saw some incredible sites, have lots of pictures, ate too much, enjoyed a mix of group and free time. This was my first Viking cruise and I think they did a very good job. Would I have preferred a land tour of this area? Will never know! Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
Warren and I thoroughly enjoyed our trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Russia in July 2014. So much so, in fact, that we put together a booklet containing historical facts, our insights, and pictures of the sites we visited for our ... Read More
Warren and I thoroughly enjoyed our trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Russia in July 2014. So much so, in fact, that we put together a booklet containing historical facts, our insights, and pictures of the sites we visited for our friends and relatives. We have heard back from many of them about how they would like to take a cruise with Viking too. We were helped every step of the way, from obtaining our visas to arranging for our airline tickets. We were met by our tour guides at the airport after we had arrived in Moscow, and were assisted by them when it came time to leave. The tours were educational as well as well planned. We not only learned about the history of the places we visited, but gained an appreciation of the culture of the Russian people. The accommodations exceeded our expectations.. The staff were friendly, the rooms were clean and the beds were very comfortable. The food, however, was good enough for royalty!!! Our tour guides not only knew their stuff, they had a sense of humor. That makes touring a real pleasure. We loved our trip so much, we are already planning our next one. Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
Wow, where to begin. We would have never travelled to Russia on our own. After seeing how Viking handled our two week "Grand European" tour in 2013 from Budapest to Amsterdam during the "500" year flood, we knew that we ... Read More
Wow, where to begin. We would have never travelled to Russia on our own. After seeing how Viking handled our two week "Grand European" tour in 2013 from Budapest to Amsterdam during the "500" year flood, we knew that we would always be safe and stress free with Viking. We were right. It was a marvelous trip to a country we would have never put on our wish list if Viking was not hosting it. They continue to amaze us. The staff, the service, the food, the cleanliness and the tours are all 5 star. They offer us interesting places to visit not only stress free but with a feeling of security. In addition, their teams are friendly, helpful and full of fun and enjoy their work. Great service is the norm. As I said before, "Viking rules the rivers". Gord Haddock, Saskatchewan, Canada PS We are already booked on Vikings first ocean going ship the Star on their maiden voyage. I already know that we are going to have a wonderful trip. It's Viking........that's all we need to know. Read Less
Sail Date June 2014
Three friends and I booked a 12 night Viking cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Viking advertises that their motor coaches have restrooms. Unfortunately, the restrooms were locked the entire length of our cruise. I spoke to the program ... Read More
Three friends and I booked a 12 night Viking cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Viking advertises that their motor coaches have restrooms. Unfortunately, the restrooms were locked the entire length of our cruise. I spoke to the program director, about it the first day and she couldn't have cared less. I also reminded her of Viking's Service Guarantee, where a customer within the first 24 hours of the cruise, may register a complaint, the cruise line has 24 hours to rectify the situation. I also spoke to the hotel manager about the lack of bathroom availability and the Viking Service Guarantee. He told me that they had had problems with bathroom availability on the coaches and that I should write it on my survey. I waited the 24 hours to see how Viking would rectify the situation and they never did. No one on the Viking staff ever got back to me. With the exception of breakfast, the food on the ship was horrific at best. The chicken was dry and rubbery. They even messed up a BLT sandwich and I didn't think that was possible. The food was so bad that we ate three days in a row at McDonald's in Moscow and loved it. I asked a server for Diet Coke twice and she told me, "No." Nik, the maitre d' and the Filipino wait staff were good. The in room movie schedule didn't coincide with the actual time the movies began. How hard is it to get the schedule accurate? The lady working at the ship's store asked my sick friend if her need for cough drops was an emergency because she was off duty. The cabin size was nice. The air conditioning didn't work on two occasions, but was corrected. A night stand fell of the wall and it was also repaired. I asked for a top sheet on the bed and I was left a top sheet to make the bed myself on two occasions. Not what I would expect on a ship at this price point. The in room ice buckets should have had a plastic bag liner for sanitary reasons. Tea, coffee and hot cocoa were complimentary on deck 3, but you had to pay for it in the Panorama Bar and Sky Bar. Complimentary soft drinks should have been available. The days cruising along the river were boring. They should have recorded the tour guides lectures to be available in your cabin. DVD's and DVD players would have been nice in the cabin. When I wrote to Viking Cruises to complain, they sent us a $1000.00 voucher off a future cruise. None of us want to go on another Viking cruise even if they gave it to us. I have tried for six months to resolve this amicably with Viking to no avail. Viking is not assuming any responsibility for their horrible performance on this cruise. They expect the passengers to assume all liability, while they accept none. I have never seen a company with such poor to nonexistent customer service. I would encourage everyone to never sail with them.   Read Less
Sail Date June 2014
My husband and I wanted an immersive experience of Russia, and we decided that a river cruise would be the best way for us to experience it. We have sailed with Regent and Crystal previously (3 ocean cruises in total) and this was our ... Read More
My husband and I wanted an immersive experience of Russia, and we decided that a river cruise would be the best way for us to experience it. We have sailed with Regent and Crystal previously (3 ocean cruises in total) and this was our first time on a river cruise. From our first interactions with Viking sales representatives at the London cruise show in March 2014, we were confident we had chosen a good cruise line. The traffic in Moscow and St. Petersburg was terrible, but we used the time to listen to the tour guide, gaze out the window and watch the world go by, people watch, and occasionally we would read books that we had borrowed from the Viking library. This is a key consideration for some people, and we knew about this in advance, so I think it helped to have our expectations set. A key difference between this cruise and our previous ocean cruises was that there were three Russian tour guides who were on board with us the whole time, and all three of them were highly regarded. They were assisted at some ports by additional local guides, but most of our tours were hosted by one of these three guides (who was exceptional). Our three host tour guides also delivered outstanding lectures, as well as fielding questions at a round table Q&A, to finish off the lecture series. The overall standard of the lectures and excursions was much higher than they have been on the ocean cruises, which can be more hit and miss, and we felt that we learned a lot more and had a better experience overall due to this consistency and the very high standards that Viking has for their staff. We were not expecting the food to be exceptional, but it surpassed our expectations. We were pleased that there were a lot of Russian menu items to choose from, as well as more standard fare. We had a German head chef whom the Russian tour guides said had varied the recipes, so if you are looking for 100% authentic Russian food all of the time, be aware that you may have variations, but in our view, this was a good thing. Beef Stroganoff served with spaetzel (small dumplings) was simply perfection. The crew were very friendly and the management were very professional. Entertainment was more "local", with Viking taking us to music and dance performances, and even bringing two local performers onto the boat for the farewell evening show. This was a refreshing change for us, as we have not particularly enjoyed the larger ship production shows on our previous cruises. A few things to mention that might be helpful for first time Viking cruisers: We managed to walk through all of the other Viking Russian cruise vessels, and they all looked the same to us, except for the Akun, which had more/brighter lighting in the corridors. The stairs on the boat are very steep. Be very careful, and watch your step at all times. One of our fellow passengers slipped on staircase upon embarking, and sprained her wrist. She had to wear her arm in a sling for the entire cruise. Bottled water was provided free of charge. This saved me a small fortune, as I drink a lot of water! The walls between staterooms are thinner than on a larger cruise vessel, so be prepared to hear your neighbours. Our neighbours were very polite and did not speak loudly in their rooms, and we tried to be equally respectful. As there are no exercise facilities on board some of the river boats (including the Helgi), you'll need to find other ways to get your exercise. Fortunately, the boat was docked in safe areas (including the outskirts of Moscow and St. Petersburg) and it was possible to walk/jog/run in each of the dock areas if desired. On embarkation day, we initially sat in the front of the restaurant for our first meal, then we decided we weren't happy sitting there and we moved to the back of the restaurant. The key difference is the amount of natural light. Some people preferred the more "clubby" ambience in the front, and others preferred the windows and light available in the back. This is an important choice to make, because you will be encouraged (but not required) to sit in the same section of the restaurant for all of your meals. This helps the wait staff to learn your names and your preferences, and it also enables you to sit with the same people more easily, or to move around and sit with other people at meal times. I am only focusing on the positives, because the cruise was overwhelmingly a positive experience for us and we look forward to our next river cruise with Viking. Read Less
Sail Date May 2014
We took the Viking Tulips and Windmills cruise this spring and enjoyed it tremendously. We had a veranda suite with a small living room, and enjoyed it very much, although we spent so much time in the very pleasant public gathering rooms ... Read More
We took the Viking Tulips and Windmills cruise this spring and enjoyed it tremendously. We had a veranda suite with a small living room, and enjoyed it very much, although we spent so much time in the very pleasant public gathering rooms that we really didn't have to have the suite. We might save money next time and just get a regular room. The Delling is a brand new ship and very well designed. The service of all the staff was really quite extraordinary--the best we've ever experienced. One particularly helpful person was a young man named Galen, but all went above and beyond. The food was very good--at times excellent--but always good. The main point of our going on this trip was to see the tulips at Keukehof , and on the day we visited there, we were blessed with a bright sunny day with the tulips at their best--truly a magnificent garden which we'll never forget. On a cruise, I think you may not see as much of a country as one would if you were traveling by yourself, but we greatly enjoyed sitting in the lounge with a drink in our hand and seeing the picture post card landscape roll by. We'd definitely recommend this Viking tour. Read Less
Sail Date April 2014
We had a long flight to Amsterdam, we were met in the airport by a clearly marked tour guide, which was a greatly appreciated help with customs and baggage. The transport to the ship was on a clean, climate controlled bus right to the ... Read More
We had a long flight to Amsterdam, we were met in the airport by a clearly marked tour guide, which was a greatly appreciated help with customs and baggage. The transport to the ship was on a clean, climate controlled bus right to the pier. The people of the ship greeted us warmly and immediately it was clear this was a well planned, well trained crew, that were doing everything they could to make our cruise a great one. We were shown to our cabin that was spotless and very well appointed, with a balcony, a cafe table and two chairs that we came to love sitting in to watch the beautiful sunsets as well as the cities along the river. The dining was great with a varied selection of entrees and wine served with the meal, included with the cruise price. The housekeeping staff was very professional and never interfered with our privacy. The tours in the various cities and towns from the ship were planned and even rated as to the amount of stamina required to complete. One highlight of the trip was an exclusive visit to a local family in their home which allowed us to learn a great deal about the lifestyle and life in their own words. It was a delight to have this opportunity that was completely out of the ordinary for a cruise. The cruise could not have been any better planned or carried out. The places visited were interesting, the food was superb, the crew, polite, knowledgable , and dedicated to making every aspect of our cruise memorable, and they exceeded all expectations. The entertainment on board was great and again allowed us to get to know a little more about the local culture. Overall, this was the best cruise we hav been on, hands down! Thank you Viking, we will be back! Read Less
Sail Date March 2014
My husband and I and three other couples recently sailed on the Viking Helgi from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Here is the good, the average, the bad and the ugly. The good: The food was consistently very good to excellent. The lectures by ... Read More
My husband and I and three other couples recently sailed on the Viking Helgi from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Here is the good, the average, the bad and the ugly. The good: The food was consistently very good to excellent. The lectures by the guides on the boat were also very good, as were the ports of call. We enjoyed both St. Petersburg and Moscow as well as all the stops along the Baltic-Volga Waterway. The weather was amazing, with the only rain coming on the very last afternoon. Everyone is in a better mode when there is good weather! The Wi-Fi was great everywhere we sailed. Our housekeeper was amazing. The room was always made up and ready when we out. We tipped her generously, although we never saw her! The average: Our guides gave great lectures on the ship, but they rarely led us off the ship. The local guides were very uneven. We were suppose to tip our Viking guides $10 per day per person, but at the end of the cruise, we only did this for days we were actually with her. Some days we never saw her or any other guide from the ship, only local guides. Somedays she just rode on the bus with us. Unlike our China trip, our Russian guides had no interest in the passengers. One of the three main guides got on the bus everyday and promptly fell asleep! Very unprofessional. The bad: The ship docks in both cities are far from the center and main tourist sites and since the traffic is horrendous you will spend a lot of time on buses traveling, even in the evenings. In St. Petersburg you cannot even walk to a metro station. In the ports along the river there is rarely time to go off on your own unless you skipped the guided tour. The exception was Mandrogi. Service in the dining room was very uneven and not friendly. The crew often acted liked the passengers were inconveniencing them. The cruise director was poor in that he did not have answers to many questions, and on several occasions he turned out to be wrong. I gave up asking him anything as his answer was usually "I don't know." Not "What is your cabin number and I'll check for you?" The A/V equipment on the ship rarely worked so the presentations were often done without a visual. They said (as they did about many things during the cruise.), that it was "the end of the season." The wine for lunch and dinner was okay, but it never changed for 12 days. We did a river cruise with a different cruise line in Holland and they changed the wines all the time. Viking has too many optional excursions. You spend a lot of time figuring out what you want to do. Viking should include more and charge more if necessary. There were numerous days when no excursions were included. Yes, we knew this going in, but didn't realize how difficult this would actually be. Again, comparing Viking's China trip, where the only optional were evening events. Also, there is no exercise room or walking track, so on the days along the river there is no place to walk on the ship. (I've noticed Viking did not put exercise rooms or bikes on any of there new "longships", which is a deal breaker for us in the future.) The remodeled cabins are still small and the walls paper thin. We were lucky because our neighbors were quiet, but our friends complained. We did hear the music every night from the lounge above our room, but it did not usually keep us awake. The ugly: When the Viking ships in Russia were renovated last year, they did not enlarge the lounge area (Sky Bar) and it could only hold about half of the passengers on board. Most of the talks and parties were there, but unless you came early there was no seating. Everyone on board complained about this. There was only one table for eight in the dining room, so one of our party had to be early to line up for dinner or we would not get it. If we did not get it, we had a waiter make a table for six into a table for eight. If Viking wants us to bring friends and/or a group they should have more larger tables. Also, we were told tables could not be reserved, which was an out right lie. One night my husband and I were the first ones in line. We went to a table we knew was "reserved" and sat down. We were immediately told to get up that someone was sitting there. We said we the first ones in the door! The server was embarrassed, but said we had to move. 30 minutes later the "usual group" came and claimed their "unreserved" table. It was apparent that you had to pay off the dining staff to get a specific table. It became very ugly at dinner. The singer on the ship was outright awful. Our group was thinking of paying her to not sing! In the end, we felt that while we throughly enjoyed Russia, we will look elsewhere for any further river cruising. The unprofessional staff on all levels, the layout of the ship, the lack of an exercise room and/or bikes, and numerous optional tours will not have us returning to Viking River Cruises or recommending it to friends. Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
I've just returned from the September 17-29 Viking Rurik Waterways of the Czars cruise. The ship was a pleasant surprise, considering some of the reviews I'd read here. It has been remodelled and is more attractive than its ... Read More
I've just returned from the September 17-29 Viking Rurik Waterways of the Czars cruise. The ship was a pleasant surprise, considering some of the reviews I'd read here. It has been remodelled and is more attractive than its sister ship, Viking Truvor, in the areas I saw. (We were tied up with Truvor on several occasions, and walked through.) Our BX cabin in the mid-range of the 300 range was quite well-appointed and comfortable, with excellent housekeeping by Rosa. The only downside is that the walls are thin, and on two or three nights, neighbors were obviously Skyping family in the literal middle of the night, and we felt we should say hello as well. I also heard from fellow passengers that some cabins on the 200 level are very noisy and prone to vibration, particularly EX classes. The dining room was arranged with a good choice of small and large tables, and one could be social or not as one desired without being constrained by the set-up. The food was much better than I expected from other reviews, and included a number of excellent Russian specialities. Our waitstaff was excellent and personable. Norman, in particular, was a joy with his youthful ebullience. The bars were small, and the Sky Bar could not accommodate all passengers for events such as meeting the staff. Lectures were given twice for half the clients at a time. Panorama Bar was lovely, but also small. Bar staff Charlene and Jefruna (?) were charming. Included excursions were very well organized and passengers were escorted in groups of about 30 by permanent staff and local guides. Staff member Alexey and local guide Dina did a miraculous job of not losing any of us on a Metro trip to the center of Moscow for a walking tour! Guide Sasha made the initial trip from airport to ship in Moscow bearable, but the traffic was incredible every day, and a lot of time is wasted getting to venues in Moscow because of this. I would recommend a pre-trip hotel extension, or one of the cruises that starts with a central hotel stay, though this is only done on sister ships that are probably not as nice as the Rurik. Lectures on history and politics by guides Alexey, Elena and Sasha were interesting, and available on internal TV if you wished to stay in the cabin rather than go to the Sky Bar. TV reception of BBV, CNN, Bloomberg, etc. was generally excellent, and wireless worked reasonably well, particularly early and late in the day (unfortunately so, in view of the Skyping!). We arranged for an evening at the ballet in St. Petersburg, and the taxi and restaurant reservations made by the management staff worked flawlessly. On the down side, we could not get to Kizhi due to rough weather on Lake Onega, and we also had to set a sea anchor for 12 hours on Ladoga due to rough weather. This delay was compensated for by taking the passengers into St. Petersburg by hydrofoils as soon as we got into the Neva, and giving us a brief but good tour of the Peter and Paul Cathedral and exterior of Spilled Blood while the Rurik got itself into port. The Peterhof excursion, usually optional and extra cost, was subsequently provided free of charge to all passengers. The major disappointment has to be the time spent in horrendous traffic in Moscow, with the rough weather a second. The unusual cold snap was the third, but Viking, of course, was not responsible for any of these. I would certainly advise doing the trip in the Moscow to St. Petersburg direction, to leave a better aftertaste, and to consider June or late August. All in all, though, a wonderful time.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
We enjoyed the Russian river cruise on the Rurik in September 2013 from Moscow to St. Petersburg. We were impressed with cruise director Kris and hotel director Caroline and how well they ran the cruise, particularly when nasty weather ... Read More
We enjoyed the Russian river cruise on the Rurik in September 2013 from Moscow to St. Petersburg. We were impressed with cruise director Kris and hotel director Caroline and how well they ran the cruise, particularly when nasty weather threw in some real challenges. They were more than up to the task and we hardly missed a beat, despite arriving in St. Petersburg more than 12 hours late. Major kudos to them and their staffs! Viking’s bottom line on that trip took a real hit, I’m sure. Cabin: Very nice: Our cabin was nicely appointed and the veranda was lovely, though rarely used due to time of year. The L’Occitane bath products were impressive. Lubow, our cabin attendant, made sure it was always clean and straightened up. The television was good and having the safe was a big plus, as was having bottled water replenished whenever it was running low in the cabin. Need more hangers? Call the front desk and someone brings you the number you request. Everyone was responsive to requests and inquiries. Staff: Superlative. The Filipino wait staff was superb. We found Chester, Jefrena, Gabriel, and Cherilyn in Panorama and Sky Bar incredibly personable. We arrived at 9:30 p.m. the first day and they still knew our names the second day. Rommel, Norman, Rosie, Djober, and others were really good wait persons in the Neva Restaurant and made the dining experience fun. Viking would be lost without the Filipino staff. They have a work ethic that is beyond impressive. Speaking of dining, let’s give a hand to Julian and Sofia, in charge of the dining room. Oh, and they put on a pretty mean Vodka Tasting, too! And by ‘mean,’ I mean hilarious. Definitely one of the premium onboard events worth the money and I don’t usually do shots of anything! The food was good, and we appreciated and enjoyed the Russian specialties that were regularly featured. We found the food a bit bland, though. We wouldn’t expect the chef to make it to our tastes, but the addition of some condiments other than salt and pepper would have helped. Meals offered another bonus: Meeting fellow passengers. We chatted with quite a few over the course of the first week and then settled into a table with four other passengers for about the last week. We forged nice friendships and hope to see them again one day. Silver Spirits Package Not Recommended. My husband is not a wine lover, but he is a beer snob. I showed him the list of possible premium beers to be offered onboard such as a hefe weissen and several British and Belgian ales , so he insisted we pay for the Silver Spirits package. I am not a big drinker, but if one person in a cabin gets it, the other must be charged for it, as well. Imagine his surprise and massive disappointment when the ONLY beer served the entire 12 days was Baltica 7, a Russian lager. That was about $300 pretty much wasted on the Silver Spirits package. And Baltica was served at dinner and lunch. That is something to note: house wine and beer are served with dinner and lunch without charge. Silver Spirits is, apparently, for those who drink hard liquor . . . and a lot of it or who want to choose bottles of wine from the separate wine list. I managed to drink two bottles of wine off the list during the 12-day cruise because we had paid for the package, but it was not necessary. Lectures and Tours: Applause. The tour escorts, Sasha, Alexi , and Eleyna were extremely knowledgeable and their lectures, which we watched from our cabin, were informative, interesting and entertaining. Alexi and his rolled Rs always made me smile. Sasha has a wicked, dark and dry sense of humor that we loved. And local guides provided entertaining and enlightening insight into their hometowns. The home visit at Uglich was definitely a highlight of the trip. Cabin Noise: GRRRR. Please! Do Something! We were on Level 4 in a Veranda cabin toward the back of the boat directly above the Neva Restaurant. The noise and vibration were, at times, teeth-grindingly annoying, particularly when trying to sleep. One night I got up about midnight, turned on my phone to video, which also has audio, and recorded the noise. I’ve seen other comments about the vibration and noise and want to emphasize something needs to be done about it. Moscow Drivers: Great. Traffic: Awful. Moscow traffic is a nightmare. Sorry. I have to complain even though Viking is not at fault for the traffic. It is beyond anything I have seen anywhere else in the world. I will say, however, the drivers are the most considerate I’ve ever seen in a large city. Horns are not honking and cars and buses are allowed to change lanes and merge without being cutoff. But, every time we left the boat for a tour, it was at least an hour ride to get wherever we were going and at least an hour back. Not enjoyable. Also, please, please, please, tell the tour escorts to tell the guests they meet at the Moscow airport BEFORE they board the bus that the trip will take 2-to-4 hours so that they can make a bathroom stop beforehand. We were met outside baggage claim (after our flight and waiting an hour+ for luggage that did not arrive and then dealing with filing complicated lost luggage claims) and told to "stay right here; I’ll be right back.” The 2-hour bus ride we were warned of AFTER boarding was actually 3 ½. Miserable does not begin to describe the ride. I second (or third) the suggestion to take the Moscow-St. Petersburg cruise. Moscow is interesting and there are great things to see but, other than the gold onion domes, most of it struck me as being all the same gray color. We were very happy to begin sailing toward what can only be described in comparison as a Spring flower: St. Petersburg. Fantastic city. Truly breath-taking.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
VIKING RIVER CRUISE WATERWAYS OF THE TSARS This was a holiday which included some unforgettable experiences; not only in St Petersburg and Moscow, but also in places like the delightful Yaroslav and Uglich which we visited en route. But ... Read More
VIKING RIVER CRUISE WATERWAYS OF THE TSARS This was a holiday which included some unforgettable experiences; not only in St Petersburg and Moscow, but also in places like the delightful Yaroslav and Uglich which we visited en route. But there were some disappointing elements too. Overall we thought the cruise provided relatively poor value for money. Although some of the cruising along the Volga, particularly on the approach to Moscow, was very enjoyable more of it, near to St Petersburg, was monotonous with little to see other than miles and miles of unchanging birch forest. The fare we paid would have allowed us instead to stay in very good St Petersburg and Moscow hotels and travel between the cities on the vary fast (4 hour) express train. The Ship (Viking Ingvar) Although being recently modernised with the additions of balconies this is still an old ship. Built in 1989 it shows its age, not least in the considerable vibration to be felt, even on the upper deck, in the rear of the boat. It's terribly bland with the public areas more closely resembling a decent cross channel ferry than a cruise liner. It's also very small and those who aren't happy reading or otherwise making their own entertainment will sometimes be bored, particularly when poor weather forces you in from the sun deck or balconies. There are two bars - one generally open during the day and the other during the evening. They're functional but dull. There's no gym and nowhere to walk (the decks having been given up to accommodate balconies). The rooms are fine, albeit small. There are no stewards and no room service although the housekeeping is of a very high standard. We would have found the journey altogether too claustrophobic without a balcony and it was significant that those in rooms only with windows struggled to find somewhere quiet and comfortable to sit during the day. It's important to be aware that the boat is a riverboat, certainly not equipped for poor weather. Unfortunately, crossing Lake Lugado (the biggest lake in Europe) at night we met a strong wind hitting the port side and waves of about two metres. The boat pitched from side to side in dramatic fashion and a number of people were ill and quite a lot of damage occurred in the kitchen. The Captain told us that such weather was not particularly exceptional and they cross the lake even when the waves hit three metres. Dining The food ranges from the very good to the mediocre. Breakfasts are generally excellent with eggs and omelettes cooked to order as well as a full range of bacon, sausage and so on along with continental alternatives. Lunches and dinners were variable. Salads were somewhat monotonous and the fish generally uninspiring. But the steak -available every day - was very good indeed. In comparative terms we would place the standard of food as significantly below, say, Cunard or Holland America and a little below Princess. There is no fixed seating which we regretted. It meant that waiters did not generally have the opportunity to get to know us, and us them. The service was generally very willing but inconsistent and it was sometimes necessary to be very assertive to get a waiter's attention. Obtaining anything out of the ordinary took some patience (initially, about fifty per cent of our requests for hot milk to be served with our coffee were unsuccessful). Other facilities The library was very poor indeed amounting to no more than a single bookcase of books almost all left by previous customers. In addition there was a selection of board games. The shop was worse, selling almost nothing other than the usual Russian souvenirs (stacking dolls and Amber jewellery) all extravagantly priced. Excursions These were mixed. Stops in Yaroslav and Uglich, both "Golden Ring" cities were particularly good and with the visit to a Russian home in Uglich, for breakfast, particularly fascinating. The island of Khizi with the Church of the Transfiguration - a World Heritage site - was also really worth seeing. But Mandrogy is no more than an entirely synthetic tourist market with innumerable stalls selling the same mass-produced trinkets, which they pretend to manufacture in various faux craft rooms. It's pretty insulting. And a visit to a school at another intermediate stop just seemed like laziness on Viking's part when the visit was on a Saturday in August and to a school more or less deserted other than for builders. Excursions in St Petersburg and Moscow were variable. We found many of our fellow passengers - particularly the Americans - to be very nervous travellers and so, for example, we spent quite a lot of time near Red Square waiting for fellow passengers to pay a visit to the bathroom. Some of them needed the guide to provide them with the necessary Roubles, being surprised that the attendants were not much interested in accepting US dollars for their admittance. But it's generally easy to detach yourself from the guides - essential at places like the Hermitage - and the transport to and from the various venues was very good with lots of coaches and lots of space. In Moscow, a folkloric concert - of which we expected very little - turned out to be outstandingly good with talented and skilled young people playing Russian instruments both individually and in orchestra. But the visit to the Ballet in St Petersburg - an expected highlight of the trip for my wife - was very disappointing. My own experience of ballet is extremely limited but even I could see that some of the performers were past their best and much of the dancing of the corps de ballet poorly synchronised. The only other customers at this performance (in a Theatre you will not find listed in any St Petersburg guide book) were other River Cruise and Ocean Cruise customers. There were no Russian spectators. Entertainment and Lectures There's a singer in the evening bar after nine and she was quite good although generally ignored by the handful of customers. On one evening there was a brief and enjoyable operatic performance by visiting singers and on another one of the cleaners gave an enjoyable if somewhat hesitant piano recital. Lectures - which used to be delivered on Viking Cruises by experts in their field - were delivered by the three resident tour guides. They were poor and characterised by some tendentious interpretation of recent Russian political history. Conclusion Overall, this represented poor value for money. Those who enjoy the relative luxury and facilities of a mid range cruise liner will find the accommodation and facilities on the Viking ships to be very basic and, in poor weather, claustrophobic. We will be most unlikely to use Viking again. Read Less
Sail Date August 2013
We just returned from a wonderful trip on the Helgi! We recommend starting in Moscow, because the days of touring seem to be longer and later in Moscow and could be tiring at the end of the cruise. Also, if you have any leeway, see if you ... Read More
We just returned from a wonderful trip on the Helgi! We recommend starting in Moscow, because the days of touring seem to be longer and later in Moscow and could be tiring at the end of the cruise. Also, if you have any leeway, see if you can select an itinerary that has you in Moscow and St. Petersburg over the weekend, when traffic delays are not as common or lengthy. Our AX cabin on the upper deck was very clean and comfortable. All cabins on the middle and upper decks now feature private balconies, with new chairs, a small table and plenty of room. The Panorama Bar was just down the hallway and was very convenient for a quiet, continental breakfast in the morning or a quick beverage when returning from a shore excursion. Wi-Fi connections were good throughout the ship, including our cabin and balcony. We found the food to be excellently prepared with a wide variety of selections throughout the cruise. Table wine and beer are available to everyone at lunch and dinner. Also, wines from a separate wine list are available for an additional cost. (Definitely consider the Silver Spirits package. For one set price, it provides soft drinks, juices, sparkling water, special coffees/teas, beer, wine, sparkling wine, cocktails etc. throughout the day, not just at lunch and dinner, including most selections from the optional wine list and drink menu. Remember, there is a lot of time spent on the ship when you are cruising between the two big cities. It's very pleasant to enjoy a beverage while listening to the Viking escorts present their very informative and entertaining briefings.) We thought the staff members were very friendly and helpful. We were routinely greeted in the hallways by everyone from the cabin stewards to the head chef. As another critic wrote, Viking is fortunate to have so many management and staff members who clearly enjoy their jobs. Unfortunately, the oft-mentioned Konstantin was not the Program Director on this cruise. Our PD seemed to be pretty new to the business and had little to offer that was not in the daily Viking News or on the prepared Power Point screens. We were very pleased that Viking now offers alternative tours to the standard motor coach tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg. These alternative tours involve significantly more walking and include most of the sights included in the standard tour. (For instance, the alternative tour in St. Petersburg does not include the Peter and Paul Fortress, which was a deal-breaker for some people.) These tours use the subways to get you into the city (potentially avoiding long traffic delays) and return you to the ship by motor coach. We really enjoyed these additional opportunities for exercise. (We're in the 55-60 age range and relatively active.) A note on two optional tours. We were able to book the tours to the Moscow Kremlin Armoury and the Peterhof in St. Petersburg directly with Viking when we made our original cruise booking. The Armoury is the only place on this trip that you will have the opportunity to see the famed Imperial Faberge Easter Eggs. Tickets are very limited for the Armoury and some people were disappointed that they were unable to acquire tickets when they attempted to sign-up on the ship. So, if you're interested, you should definitely try to book this tour ahead of departure. Concerning the Peterhof tour, although it is optional, I can't imagine missing it. The palace, gardens and fountains are just amazing. This was our second cruise with Viking—our first was the Imperial Jewels of China in 2011. In both cases, we were impressed with Viking's attention to detail and quality. Thank you for another trip of a lifetime! Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
I went on this trip with a travel friend of mine, we spent over a year planning this vacation. We wanted to take our time, since we just retired and had no kids with us, we expected to take everything in. With that, we have a lot to say, ... Read More
I went on this trip with a travel friend of mine, we spent over a year planning this vacation. We wanted to take our time, since we just retired and had no kids with us, we expected to take everything in. With that, we have a lot to say, unfortunately its mostly negative. First impression upon embarkment: Negative and cold Reason: No music on board, never, no plants for decoration other than 3 small orchids in the dining room, the walls were paneled from the 1970's, no decorations or painting on the walls, one common bathroom outside of the rooms which was located on the 3rd floor (there are 4 floors, 3 for vacationers), so if you are in a rush to make it to the bathroom--good luck! The Bedrooms: cramped in size, each room has a support pole in the middle of the room which is next to your bed so watch your feet because there is metal at the bottom of those poles and you will get hurt. The sheets had some very questionable stains of wish I don't want to imagine what they were! You could not open your window/port hole in the room, no place to put your suit case other than under your bed, just expect a small room that doesn't have a view you can truly enjoy. The Food: The food was subpar, breakfast was the best meal of the day. They took the same recipes and ingredients and changed them up a bit but basically you were eating the same versions of one meal. You don't feel like you had a lot to look forward to when it came time to eat, nothing to leave an impression on your palette! The Servers: all Filipinos' on the ship were very nice however even they would complain about Viking and how poorly they were treated as employees. The Crew: They were German crew that were cold to the vacationers, they made an announcement over their PA system which was heard throughout the ship expressing how we need to tip them!! Unbelievable and very unprofessional! That would be like going to a restaurant and your server is telling you how to tip him or her! This is a cruise, why are we being treated like pigs going to a slaughter house!? Also, we were refused to be allowed to go to the Armory, the crew allowed some to go but not everyone which is not fair and not right. The Tour Guides: Wow, talk about rude people! We were less than 10 minutes late getting back onto the bus from visiting sites and we were scolded in front of everyone. We were told we were late, everyone is hungry, they called the Captain on the ship, also that they've been waiting for you and pretty much forced to apologize to everyone for being such terrible untimely people. Seriously, we were less than 10 minutes late and were treated so poorly, as if we were children who did a bad thing not adults, seniors at that. Activities: There was a couple, who sang and played a piano; non of the guests danced because it wasn't exciting. The singer attempted to sing a Whitney Houston song and it was so bad, so off key the boat could have gone done like the Titanic; in other words she sucked and she should keep her day job. Other than that, there was nothing else to do unless you wanted to learn the Russian alphabet. Overall Impression: We were rushed from place to place, if you got to the bus minutes late, you were in big trouble. There was so much time spent being bored, the exciting thing to do was go to the gift shop which is pathetic when you are on a cruise! What matters to me most is that when you take the time to go on vacation, wanting leisurely time to do nice things, why are we being rushed? Its one thing to get back on a boat if it has so many fun activities to take advantage of but we were so bored on the boat and resent the cruise line for taking us away from enjoying the port since that was more of a highlight to us. Just think to yourself, as I do after the fact, all the time and effort you put into working overtime at your job, the sacrifices you make, the time you spent planning to create the perfect vacation; all to be wasted and give you such a bad taste in your mouth. All I can think is, I did my best in searching, to my regret, I should have researched more and I would have gone else where. I hope that to each person who reads this review, they will think twice on booking with Viking, go elsewhere and do your research!   Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
The ship, or should I say boat, itself is disappointing. The cabin is tiny and the beds really uncomfortable. Worst of all, the cabin has odd angles jutting out, which is a health and safty hazard as we fell over a few times. The boat ... Read More
The ship, or should I say boat, itself is disappointing. The cabin is tiny and the beds really uncomfortable. Worst of all, the cabin has odd angles jutting out, which is a health and safty hazard as we fell over a few times. The boat also make horrible noises in the night which disrupted sleep. When I complained, they said that there is nothing they could do! There was only one chair in the cabin so one of us had to sit outside in the "library" if we wanted to relax, that is, provided there are seats available, as others are also "driven" there due to the lack of space in the cabin. There are no amenities to speak of. Because of a storm, we could not sail to the island of Khizi and had to spend the whole day sailing. We nearly died of boredom - there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. What was most disconcerting were the tours offered - regular, alternative and optional. Regular are the tours included in the price, alternative tours are also included in the price but runs in conjunction with the regular ones so you couldn't do both. And optional tours are the ones that cost an arm and a leg to join! If you wanted to do things on your own, you will not get a lot of help. An example: We wanted to visit the Treasury in the Hermitage but that was an optional extra while the Hermitage was included. So we decided to get to the Hermitage early to get our own tickets to the Treasury and then meet the rest of our group for the regular tour. We informed the tour director, Konstantine, of our intentions and requested that he tell our guide to look out for us. Not only did he not do that, he also gave us the wrong meeting point! Whether it was an oversight or sheer malevolence, we shall never know. It was through sheer luck that we found the rest of our group. But it made for a very unpleasant and stressful start to the day. Because of all the different tours going on, people often got confused and we were not able to form a rapport with any tour guide as we were shunted from one bus to another. It would have been better if they either make all the tours included or not at all and have that reflected in the price of the cruise. The meals on board were unimpressive. Breakfast was the same for all 13 days. I don't know why the waiters keep offering us a menu! I love fish but after the first night, I couldn't eat those on offer. I don't know if it was the cook or maybe I just don't like Russian cuisine. The waiters are friendly but I could not say the same for the rest of the staff. In all that time, I could not elicit a smile or a greeting from the cleaning staff! It could be because we are not white. Now I haven't got a chip on my shoulder, but there was definitely a racial bias going on. I have been on other cruises and have always felt welcomed as an honoured guest. Not on the Viking Helgi! The whole trip was not value for money and I will not be sailing with them again. Read Less
Sail Date October 2012
The ship and staff were wonderful. Our cabin had a large window and the deck outside was roped for for staff only, so it was very private. The room was well appointed and though small did not seem crowded. Food was different every day ... Read More
The ship and staff were wonderful. Our cabin had a large window and the deck outside was roped for for staff only, so it was very private. The room was well appointed and though small did not seem crowded. Food was different every day and delicious (even the reindeer and borscht), staff was very friendly and seemed they would do anything for you including discussing with us their jobs, homes, family, etc. Enjoyed them very much. The scenery was beautiful and like nothing I expected. Though I don't know what I expected as this was my first Russia trip! We had multiple days in both St. Petersberg and Moscow and one-day excusions in quite a few small towns visiting magnificent churches and purchasing handicrafts of the Russian people. I brought home beautiful souvenirs that I will cherish. The gift shop at the Armory Museum at the Kremlin had gorgeous things, but unfortunately no one spoke English and our guides were not there to help. In between visiting the small towns, we sailed on beautiful rivers and huge lakes - so very peaceful and beautiful. Children along the way were always in the rivers/lakes playing and greeting us. Fun The weather was abominably hot and that made me miss a few things so we probably should have booked on another date. The airport in Moscow was simply awful. After checking in with our airline, it was chaos and there was no one who spoke English to help us find out where we were supposed to be. Our flight took off at a different gate that the airline indicated, we stood in a line for over 2 hours not knowing if we were in the correct line. I envisioned another week in Moscow - at the airport! Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
We are four people, one in their 50's, and three in their 60's, and everyone is very well traveled.We took the route from St. Petersburg to Moscow. On the positive side we met many very nice people, which is very important on ... Read More
We are four people, one in their 50's, and three in their 60's, and everyone is very well traveled.We took the route from St. Petersburg to Moscow. On the positive side we met many very nice people, which is very important on this cruise, as there is nothing to do for most of the time. The brochure talks about all their shore excursions. On one of the "shore days" we were off the ship at 8:00 a.m and back on the ship at 10:15 a.m. It would be another 29 hours until we got off the boat again- with nothing to do for all of that time.We would have loved to explore some of the beautiful stops, but the tours are very self-contained and of a very short duration.However, the one worth taking with the optional excursion to the banya. Our banya treatment lasted a few minutes longer than it should and we had to run, soaking wet, back to the boat.The only down side to going to the banya is that you cannot see anything else on this island, as there is no time allotted for to do both. There is absolutely no entertainment on the ship. They advertise a piano bar, which actually means one musician playing background music. After several memos to Viking we did have one night where he actually played lively songs with audience participation. The food was barely tolerable, and the choices worse. Breakfast was the best of the meals, only it was exactly the same day after day. Sometimes they did substitute whatever vegetable was left over from the night before. One day we sat down to lunch with another couple.Four of us ordered as our main dish. The waiter came back to say that they were out of soup, but they had two portions of chicken kiev left. One night at dinner we ordered spring rolls (which were the main course). Two tiny spring rolls appeared and when we asked for another portion the waiter told us they ran out. Many nights we had a baked potato and a wilted cesear salad. Lunch did have a salad bar, but it was the same every day (I never figured out what the two extra salads were- they were labeled "with fish" or "with pork") If you are hungry after dinner you are just out of luck. After much discussion with the ship's manager we did manage to have a very small plate of cookies put out at l0:00p.m., but you had to know to be in the bar at that time. The food was the absolute worst I have ever encountered on any ship, or any two star restaurant. The staff was completely indifferent to us- they did not, in any way, try to make our trip any better. As someone else wrote, they never looked up at you, welcomed you (or ever had food/drink to welcome you back) or stopped their conversations. I just read another review of this ship and they talked about the sister ship Helga and how nice it was. Our hotel manager told us his hands were tied and all directives come from Viking. Apparently that is not true. Viking does not charge two star prices, they should not provide two star voyages. Despite all of the above, we had a wonderful vacation. We met really nice people and saw places we had only read about. I can just imagine how much better it could have been on a different ship or a different line. The beauty of Russia is a trip worth taking, just not on the Viking Ingvar. Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
I think that the Viking Cruise Line should get an award for bringing two cultures together that, for so many years, were told to doubt and fear each other. I'm talking about the United States and Russia. I knew that our cruise was ... Read More
I think that the Viking Cruise Line should get an award for bringing two cultures together that, for so many years, were told to doubt and fear each other. I'm talking about the United States and Russia. I knew that our cruise was going to show us Russia; however, I totally underestimated how much Viking would help us understand each other. They started early with emails that gave us a preview of what to expect--what our ship looked like, our accommodations, what to wear. There were interesting bits about food and culture. Well, those were just the warm-ups. We were even welcomed on the boat if we showed up a bit early. On the first day, at check in, they wanted to know our travel plans to get to the airport when we left from Moscow. Everything was always covered so well. But that's just the minor stuff. Every morning we were awakened by our social director (I'm sure there's a more suitable title) hearing her wonderful voice, "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen; welcome to another day in beautiful St. Petersburg"--or wherever we were. We loved our tour guide, Olga. We thought, "Wow, we lucked out!" only to learn that everyone "lucked out"; everyone loved their tour guide. We knew that, too, as we got to know all of them as they presented Russian language lessons, Russian history lessons, and lessons on the politics of Russia. These presentations were so well thought-out, so fair in their perspective, so honest--everything that we could have wanted. The choices for tours was so encompassing--seeing "Swan Lake" in St. Petersburg, the Armory in Moscow, the amazing museum of Russian art in Moscow, the stop along the river in Kizhi, the Folklore Symphony in Moscow, the beautiful palaces---I could go on forever. Every day was a new discovery, a new sense of wonderment. No wonder we were close to tears when it was time to leave beautiful Russia. And, of course, it wasn't just the sights. What about the adorable school children who put on a play in English for us, the sweet, humble family that had us to their home for a mid-morning tea (and vodka!). I loved seeing their garden, their grandchild. What I felt with the Russian people, over and over again, was, "They are exactly like us. They want the same things for their children and from their leaders that we want." I recalled all those years when I had to do bomb drills at school because "the Russians were going to bomb us!" I'm so grateful to Viking for providing us with such an in-depth experience, to bring us together with other wonderful people who, at one time, we were taught were our enemies. For that alone, Viking deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. It's only through travel, one on one encounters, and deep cultural experience that we can experience the oneness to which we are heirs. Thank you, Viking. P.S. The food was great and healthy! Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
From the moment I boarded the Viking Odin, my home for the inaugural cruise, I knew I was in for a special treat. From the friendly and courteous staff, some of whom I had grown quite attached to by the end of my cruise; to the amenities ... Read More
From the moment I boarded the Viking Odin, my home for the inaugural cruise, I knew I was in for a special treat. From the friendly and courteous staff, some of whom I had grown quite attached to by the end of my cruise; to the amenities on board and in the cabins; to the unforgettable excursions; and yes, the glorious food--the scrumptious, delicious, gourmet food we delighted in each night. Plus, there many magical moments on board from sailing through locks and under bridges to cruising the rivers past idyllic landscapes, fascinating architecture and enchanting villages. I am still reeling from the entire experience and urge all who seek a leisurely and convenient way to see the sites of Europe, to see out Viking River Cruises for an unforgettable vacation that will create memories to last a lifetime! Our first port-of-call was Volendam where upon arrival, we embarked on a journey through Edam--home of that most scrumptious cheese; Marken--a quaint seaside village on the shores of the Ijsselmeer and then back to Volendam for a stroll through narrow streets lined with quaint and uniquely Dutch architecture. The next week, we awoke to the enchanting site of windmills barely visible in the misty horizon--Kinderdijk--where we learned about the miller's heritage and the workings of the windmills. We even climbed to the top of one of them. After lunch, we sailed to Rotterdam for a tour of the Hague to see the Queen's palace grounds and office, the Peace Palace and the Mauritshuis Musuem--home to "Girl with Pearl Earring" among other famous works of art. Not only does Viking River Cruises operate world-class ships with exceptional guest service, they provide enriching and cultural experiences for all who sail from the accommodations and spectacular ships to the epicurean delights and immersive guided tours through the various ports of call. Above all that, I think what I enjoyed the most is the intimate setting on board these river-going vessels. To sum it all up, this will not be the last time I experience Viking River Cruises--they have a new fan for life!   Read Less
Sail Date March 2012
This summer i sailed the Danube on the Viking Prestige. Though this was only the second cruise I've been on it was one of the best trips I have ever been on. My grandparents and I did a 3 day extension of the cruise in Budapest which ... Read More
This summer i sailed the Danube on the Viking Prestige. Though this was only the second cruise I've been on it was one of the best trips I have ever been on. My grandparents and I did a 3 day extension of the cruise in Budapest which was gorgeous. Viking set everything up for us and we were right in the middle of everything we wanted to see and right on the Danube. Because I was with my grandparents and there were three of us we got one of the two suites. It was a beautiful space with room and shelves for all of us. While the boat was in between ports we would read in our room while looking out the window or enjoy the sun deck or library. Every meal was well prepared and delicious and there was food that everyone could enjoy. While we were ported and sometimes in between ports I got good Internet access and was able to email and check my facebook. On every excursion we got the opportunity to take the leisurely tour which was fabulous because both my grandmother and I have knee problems and we wanted to see everything but not have to walk all day long. The leisurely walks gave us the opportunity to see the same things as everyone else without getting too tired. The boat was beautiful and brand new so everything worked very. At the end of the cruise they had everything scheduled perfectly so everyone had their bags taken out and sent to the right places at the right times and people were taken to the correct airport or their next destination. We had a fantastic time and I encourage others to ride the beautiful Danube Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
Waterways of the Czars Viking River Cruise July 5 - 17, 2011 ~~Welcome to Moscow! July 5th~~ By noon today, July 5th, we had deplaned our Delta flight 46 from Atlanta - a 10.5 hour flight, had passed through Russian ... Read More
Waterways of the Czars Viking River Cruise July 5 - 17, 2011 ~~Welcome to Moscow! July 5th~~ By noon today, July 5th, we had deplaned our Delta flight 46 from Atlanta - a 10.5 hour flight, had passed through Russian passport control, retrieved our checked baggage, and were collected by Viking personnel at the exit of Sheremetyevo International Airport, and transferred by bus to our ship, the Viking Surkov, docked on the Moscow-Volga Navigational Canal at the Northern River Boat Terminal. After a brief check-in we were invited to a buffet lunch in the dining room while our cabins were undergoing final preparations for an estimated 3 PM occupancy; another group had just left the ship earlier this morning. So now I am sitting in the Panorama Lounge, enjoying a glass of cold white wine, and sending this first email to all of you. Wireless internet is available throughout the ship and is free! The ship, having been fully refurbished only a couple of years ago, is absolutely beautiful! I look forward to the next 13 days and 12 nights aboard. More later. ~~A Cool Damp Morning in Moscow: July 6th~~ After sleeping from 6 PM last night until 3 AM this morning, I now am showered, shaved, shampooed and feeling almost human again. Yesterday and the day before were FULL days of travel with very little sleep and last evening it all caught up with me; I just could NOT stay awake! Even missed dinner. Now I feel rather good, especially after a few cups of coffee. There is a 24-hour coffee service available: coffee, tea, cappuccino, espresso, etc. - machine, but not that bad. This morning has a relaxing schedule with our afternoon city tour beginning at 1:30 PM: Red Square, Metro, St. Basil's, etc. Then tonight there is a special concert we will attend, getting us back aboard at 9:45 PM for a late dinner. Our Delta flights from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and then nonstop on to Moscow, went without incident - just LONG! The Economy Comfort seats we had from Atlanta to Moscow were well worth the price: $80. Lots of legroom and special treatment: drinks, etc. Can't say too much for the food, however, but it was eatable at least. On arrival at Sheremetyevo International Airport around 10:40 AM, we were met by Viking personnel who took our luggage, next to be seen in our cabin, and our rather short bus ride brought us to the Viking Surkov by noon. It was very good to finally get into our Category A Deluxe cabin, #433, on the Upper Deck, near the front, just steps from the Panorama Lounge, at 3:00 PM, and relax. While Jim went shopping locally for wine and flowers, I treated myself to a nice glass of cold sauvignon blanc in the Panorama Lounge, and wrote the email sent yesterday. As mentioned already, wireless internet is free and seems to work very well so far on my little Apple iBook G4. There was an embarkation lecture in the Sky Bar, just above us on the Sun Deck, at 5 PM during which I just could NOT stay awake! Returning afterward to our room, that was it for me for the night. Next to us is the Viking Kirov, and behind us is the Viking Pakhomov, both almost identical ships to ours - with different schedules, of course. Breakfast in the Neva Dining Room begins at 7 AM, just a few minutes away, so I will end this for now and add more comments later. It looks like an "umbrella day" for sure, although the temperatures are quite pleasant. ~~Wednesday in Moscow: July 6th~~ This was our first day for tours and the included Moscow City tour was extensive and interesting. A driving tour took us all around the major sites in Central Moscow, now a mega-city of around 20 million: Red Square, St. Basil's Church, Moscow River, etc. The traffic in the city and surrounding areas is unbelievably congested; it is common for 8 lane expressways to come to an absolute standstill with bumper-to-bumper cars, trucks, vans, etc. The absolute worst I have ever seen! Our first stop was near the Moscow State University, a massive complex of high-rise buildings surrounded by acres and acres of dense parkland, for a toilet stop. Then we had another brief stop nearby, overlooking much of the city. Moscow State University sits atop Sparrow Hills and the views from there are panoramic. The main building is in the Stalinist "wedding cake" style of architecture, topped by a spire with a star, and the huge building houses much of the University as well as housing for faculty, staff and students. As a retired educator, it was of interest to me, of course. The next stop was at a Metro Station where we entered and descended deep, deep down to the underground train station, spectacularly and ornately decorated, for which the gigantic Moscow metro system built by Stalin in the 1930s is famous. We were instructed by our guide to quickly enter a subway car - which were already at near capacity - and then to ride on to the fourth stop before exiting the train. Miraculously, our entire group successfully accomplished the task and then we ascended up and up to the surface Metro Station "Ploshchad Revolyutsii" near Red Square. It was quite an experience, especially for me - being an aficionado of trains and subways. Entering Red Square through the Resurrection Gate, demolished by Stalin in 1931 in order for his tanks to enter the Square, and rebuilt in 1995, the cobblestone surface extends from St. Basil's Church at one end to Historical Museum at the other end, and from the Kremlin walls on one side - including Lenin's Mausoleum - to the GUM Department Store on the other side. This is the site for many parades and celebrations of military might during the Soviet era. The Kremlin walls are of red brick and towers are located at corners and several other locations along the wall, the largest being the Saviour's Tower. After walking the entire length of Red Square towards St. Basil's Church, we had a short tour of the GUM Department Store, one of the largest buildings in Moscow. (Gosudarstvennyy Universalnyy Magazin) Consisting of three separate arcades, of three or more levels, and almost a half-mile in length, it is now a gigantic shopping complex of shops, restaurants, etc. Many upscale stores are here and if you have the rubles, they have the goods. By the way, ATMs are located almost everywhere and are the best source for us tourists to obtain local currency, rubles. One US dollar will buy 27.84 rubles, or about 4¢ per ruble. Moscow is also one of the most expensive cities in the world now. I bought nothing. The end of our Red Square tour was at St. Basil's Church from which we walked further on out to our waiting buses; lots and lots of walking! Finally sitting down in the seats of our bus was a welcome treat! The last stop of our afternoon/evening Moscow City tour involved a walk across a bridge over the Moscow River, studded with metal "trees" on which young married couples attach a locked padlock, ensuring a long marriage; there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of the padlocks adorning the trees. On the other side of the River we walked further on to a concert hall where our Viking groups were presented with a special concert of classical Russian music - including much folk music - but performed by young musicians with authentic Russian folk instruments: balalaikas, bayans, domras, guslies, flutes, accordions, drums, and a xylophone. The music was uniquely beautiful, especially performed on these native instruments. Several solo performances were featured by these superbly talented young musicians. A female vocal soloist also enhanced the performance with a wonderful operatic voice. The audience reception by our Viking groups was most enthusiastic. It was quite an experience! Then it was back onto the buses - 6 in all - for our return to the ship, the Viking Surkov, where a late dinner was awaiting us. It was a full afternoon and evening to say the least! By the way, Viking now serves complimentary wine with dinners, of which I gladly partake! We also kept bottles of local wine in our cabin's refrigerator. With an early tour departure scheduled for this morning, Thursday, July 7th, getting into bed and to sleep last night was no problem at all. My poor feet and legs will never be the same! ~~Sergiyev Posad Monastery: Thursday, July 7th~~ Again trying to catch up with my reports, here is a description of our FULL DAY optional (surcharge) tour for yesterday, out from the city of Moscow to a small town where located is the Sergiyev Posad Monastery. It was a full day tour, beginning at 8:15 AM, and again the bus ride there was complicated by horrific traffic congestion, requiring over an hour to reach our destination. As usual, the first stop was for the toilets, at the hotel restaurant where we would later have our lunch before returning to Moscow and our ship. A short walk away brought us to the entrance of the large monastery, a large gate in the surrounding walls, prolifically adorned with ancient frescoes. Inside the walls of the monastery were lush gardens with lots of flowers, grass and trees - a very tranquil, relaxing setting. There were several chapels and cathedrals included in our visit, along with many other tourists, some more from our ship as well as many local worshippers. The exteriors of these buildings were resplendent with light blue painted walls and gold leaf covered onion-shaped domes. A bell tower dominated the interior square, taller than even the bell towers at the Kremlin in Moscow. Also of interest was a natural well, or water source, considered holy, and the local worshippers were filling water jugs with this "holy water" with faith that it would bring them healing results. Being the skeptic that I am, I feared more diarrhea from the holy water than its healing powers, so I declined. After our extensive guided tour of the monastery we were given an hour and a half on our own, which I thought was entirely excessive; I had already seen as much and as many details as I thought necessary, so I ventured out of the Monastery and across the busy street into a local shopping area, looking for a nice cool place to sit: a bar! Finally finding one I ordered a glass of beer which turned out to be "Baltica" from St. Petersburg, and it was quite good - SO I had another; at 40 rubles a glass - about $1.50 - it seemed a meager expense. Meeting the rest of the group at the appointed time in front of a statue of Lenin, next to a large square in front of the monastery, we then walked back over to the restaurant for our scheduled lunch at 1 PM. The dining room was quite clean and airy and the tables & chairs were modern and comfortable - Danish design, I concluded. Lunch consisted of a rather Spartan salad with no visible dressing - nor offered, followed by a delicious chunk of salmon, cooked in a foil pack with some vegetables, served with rice. Wine was extra - 150 rubles ($5.40) and dessert was a type of crepe with a dollop of jam, served with coffee - made from a powder. The salmon was excellent, making the entire lunch "acceptable." Then it was back on the bus for the return to Moscow through severely congested expressways, finally getting back on board our ship at 3:45 PM, only 15 minutes late, as it turned out. I was exhausted and immediately opted for a glass of cold white local wine, and a nap. Awakening at 10 til 7, our dinner hour, I scurried to dress and rush to the Neva Restaurant, right on the dot. Our second optional (surcharge) tour of the day was "Moscow by Night," from 9:30 PM until midnight, so after a short rest after dinner, we again found our bus and returned to the city center, this time with MUCH LESS traffic - a major relief. Since it doesn't get very dark here, lights were late in coming on along the downtown streets. We had a brief stop at a monument for Peter the Great, a HUGE statue of questionable taste, out in one of the rivers; lighted it would have been much more impressive, but the lights had not yet been turned on. The last stop was again near Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral with a short walk up to the Square itself that was very brightly lighted. The GUM Department Store was covered with white lights outlining the building and windows and floodlights illuminated the Kremlin Wall; the tallest of the towers in the Wall, the Saviour's Tower, contains a big clock that always shows the correct time. The evening was dry and fresh with a slight breeze, making the outdoor experience most pleasant. Our speedy return to the ship at midnight ended a VERY busy day. ~~Friday Morning in the Kremlin: July 8th~~ Our last day in Moscow started with a morning tour inside the Kremlin, after we FINALLY negotiated the heavy, congested traffic just to get there! It was a beautiful day - we have been quite lucky with weather - and our entrance through the Trinity Tower gates immediately revealed a beautiful, unexpected complex of ancient cathedrals and lush gardens of flowers nestled among thick stands of trees, along with many government office buildings. It certainly was NOT what I expected to see! We soon passed in front of the very modern building (1961), the State Kremlin Palace, which at one time housed the Communist Party Congress - but we not permitted inside, and then strolled the grounds along a certain prescribed route. We came upon The Tsar's Cannon - gigantic, which had never been fired - and then an enormous bell, the Tsar Bell - largest in the world at 200 tons, from which a large chunk had broken free; it also had never seen use. Then it was inside one of the cathedrals, the Cathedral of the Assumption, in which walls were covered with exquisite "icons" (paintings) of various historic Russian Orthodox deities: no photos. We were also permitted to enter and view two other cathedrals, the Cathedral of the Archangel and the Cathedral of the Annunciation, but the most impressive were the exterior adornments: gold leaf coated onion domes, etc. It was a photographers' paradise. Our last attraction was a park area with flowerbeds resplendent in the colors and design and a tree planted in honor of Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian in space. Reluctantly we had to depart this beautiful setting and return through the Trinity Tower Gates to our waiting bus, and back to the Viking Surkov. It was certainly an unexpected exposure to the inside the Kremlin. After lunch aboard our ship, we departed Moscow, cruising up the Moscow Canal towards the Volga River. Once out of the metropolitan area our cruising was along a smooth waterway lined with lush forests and many local families and children could be observed along the banks enjoying a warm summer afternoon, camping alongside the Canal, swimming, cooking, etc. It was quite a contrast from the city. Our journey soon brought us to the first of several large locks, dating back to the early 30s, which lowered our ship substantially. The lock mechanisms and designs were especially interesting in contrast to what we usually see in the Panama Canal. Supposedly Stalin had commissioned the construction of the Moscow Canal, which was completed in record time, to provide a navigable access to St. Petersburg and the Baltic Sea. Essentially, the Canal connects several natural lakes in its path toward the Volga River. Cruising along the calm waters of this Canal was a most pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Later on, however, an approaching storm caught up with us and a heavy rain descended, accompanied by spectacular lightening and thunder. Safe and dry in the ship's Panorama Lounge, it was quite a show for us. That evening was the Captain's Reception at 7 PM in the Sky Bar on the top deck with complimentary champagne and introductions of the officers and managers of the Viking Surkov. With 210 passengers in this room which accommodates only 160, it was crowded, to say the least; NOT a good arrangement. Then it was a special Captain's Welcome Dinner in the Neva Restaurant and most passengers - as did we - dressed for the occasion. There will be a second Captain's Farewell Dinner near the end of our cruise in St. Petersburg. ~~Report: 2 dead, more than 100 missing after ship sinks in Russia - CNN.com - NOT THE VIKING SURKOV! Monday, July 11th~~ http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/07/10/russia.boat.sinks/ Evidently this was an older Soviet-era 1955 riverboat, the Bulgaria, which was greatly overloaded with passengers and seriously overdue for maintenance. The event occurred far down river on the Volga in Central Russia. The Viking Surkov on which we are cruising, departed Moscow northward along the Moscow Canal, joining the upper Volga River near Uglich; then yesterday we left the Volga River by means of a huge lock, into the Rybinsk Reservoir, and on northward toward Kuzino, today's port, on our way to St. Petersburg. A huge statue of "Mother Volga" marked the entrance/exit of the River and the Reservoir. ~~Saturday in Uglich: July 9th~~ With a lull in activities today while cruising across the huge Lake Onega, one of the largest in Europe, I will try again to catch up on my journal entries: Saturday morning, July 9th, began with bright sunshine and clear skies after the storm the previous night and our included walking tour of the charming town of Uglich was a pleasure with the cool, forested parks and gardens of beautiful flowers. Our group "Bus 46" with guide Sasha, was also accompanied by a local guide who narrated to us by means of individual receivers and earpieces, now standard procedure for Viking excursions; it makes hearing and understanding much better in crowded venues. Of course, there were the obligatory cathedrals, the Cathedral of Our Savior's Transfiguration, containing numerous "icons" (paintings) covering the walls and an impressive altar, and also the Church of St. Demetrios on the Blood, where it is said that young Tsarevich Dmitry, son of Ivan the terrible, had been murdered by order of Boris Gudunov. During the Soviet era, most churches were closed down and many were actually demolished, so currently there is resurgence in religion, Russian Orthodox, and cathedrals have reopened and undergone restoration. One such small church had not been reopened as such but serves as museum and small concert hall. Inside we were treated to a vocal performance by 6 young men - a cappella - that was truly outstanding! So much so that we purchased their CDs which were offered for sale - conveniently. At the conclusion of our included tour of Uglich, we chose an optional (surcharge) "Home Hosted Visit," and it was uniquely delightful. About 10 of us boarded a small bus and were taken into a residential section on unpaved streets, to the home of a lady school teacher who welcomed us into her lush garden - flowers and vegetables, and into her modest home where we were tightly seated around a large table. We were each served a shot of her homemade vodka - delicious! - followed by blueberry-topped pastries - also delicious! The vodka was accompanied by slices of brown bread and pickles; the pastries were accompanied by cups of tea served from a beautiful samovar in the center of the table. With our guide Sasha translating, many questions and answers were exchanged among the 10 of us, and our hostess. It was with reluctance that we had to leave such a hospitable home. It was then back on the Viking Surkov by lunchtime and continuation down the Volga River; from Moscow we had been on the Moscow Canal, descending by means of a large lock to the River level. These locks along the canals and rivers are quite impressive by their shear size and unique mechanics - quite unlike those in the Panama Canal. The Hammer & Sickle emblem is still sometimes evident on the very large structures housing the lock's mechanisms. We have been told that there will have been 19 locks on our journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Stalin is credited for much of the construction in the 1930s. The "Waterways of the Czars" route is an ancient one, well before the canals' construction, when it was necessary for the riverboats to be "portaged" over connecting landmasses by man. Today we see all kinds of boats and barges making the Volga-Baltic Waterway a busy commercial route. ~~The Viking Surkov: July 11th~~ We are now cruising along the Svir River, approaching Lake Lagoda and the town of Mandrogy, our last stop before St. Petersburg tomorrow. So I thought I would share some details about our ship, the Viking Surkov. Viking River Cruises owns four essentially identical riverboats: Kirov, Surkov, Pakhomov, and Peterhof, the first three of which have been fully refurbished by Viking to their European standards. The Peterhof is due for refurbishment next year for the 2012 season. These four ships were constructed in 1984 as part of a Soviet project for 80 river boats, built in Eastern Germany, and almost every one of the river boats seen on the Russian waterways today are among these essentially identical ships, although Viking's ships are among the few that have been so modernized by substantial refurbishment. The ship's capacity is 210 passengers in 96 "deluxe" staterooms, 2 suites, 6 "standard" staterooms, and 2 single staterooms, all beautifully refurbished with spacious bathrooms, flat panel TVs, refrigerators, wonderfully comfortable twin beds that can form a double bed: 158 square feet for the deluxe category. The older configuration had much smaller (90 sq. ft.) cabins that were replaced - 3 to 2 - with the current size. I would compare the current deluxe stateroom with a Princess ocean view stateroom on ocean cruise ships in size and amenities. Two complaints I had were with the soundproofing and the very steep stairs; sounds from adjoining cabins seem to come OVER the walls by way of the false tile ceilings, common throughout the ship - not THROUGH the walls. The two stairwells are STEEP and have rather narrow risers, and the vertical distance between steps is more than what is comfortably climbed. The dining room (Neva Restaurant), the Panorama Bar, and the Sky Bar are all beautifully decorated. There is a library and computer center and wireless internet is freely available in most areas of the ship. In many locations, scattered throughout the ship, are comfortable chairs and sofas, with tables for secluded rest, reading or computing. There are about 115 crew and staff aboard, mostly Russian serving staff, along with many Filipinos; the Program Director is Russian, the Restaurant Director is German, as is the Head Chef. Many of the Russian girls are absolutely beautiful, and ALL of the serving crew are typically Viking-trained to be personable, efficient, friendly, with good English; very quickly they learn everyone's names and greet you warmly on every contact. So far my expectations have been greatly exceeded and this may well be one of the best Viking river cruises I've taken. ~~Yaroslavl: Sunday, July 10th~~ Still trying to catch up on my journal emails, the following describes our visit to one of the Golden Ring cities, Yaroslavl. A beautiful city on the shore of the Volga River, we visited the Church of the Epiphany, another restored Russian Orthodox Church, containing a wealth of treasured, ancient icons (paintings) on the tall walls and ceilings. Instead of visiting the second Church of Elijah the Prophet, our alternate tour took us on a visit of the Governor's Mansion, which was a great choice. Greeted at the entrance by the beautiful young daughter of the Governor, dressed in a period gown, we were escorted by her to the upper floor rooms displaying works of art and exquisite furnishings: desk, cabinets, tables, etc. On return to the main hall on the ground floor, we were treated to a concert performance with piano, violin, and cello, highlighted by Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto on the concert grand piano. To top it off, three couples - all dressed in period costumes, and including the Governor's daughter, danced for us the minuet to the strains of Rachmaninoff. It was SPLENDID! I am happy that we chose this alternate tour. Then it was back on board our boat for lunch and the continued cruise to our next stop at Kuzino on Monday. ~~Kuzino and Kirillov: Monday, July 11th~~ Docking at the remote, newly constructed river dock of Kuzino, we were transported in buses to the nearby village of Kirillov where the included tour went to the Kirillov-Belozersky Monastery, and the alternate tour - ours - first stopped at a children's day school where we were greeted by volunteer teachers and young children who come to this facility for arts and crafts instruction and development. We observed many of their activities and items of their creation, many for sale. In an upstairs studio a young girl, singing beautifully and professionally, also treated us to a splendid performance. Staffed by volunteers and funded by contributions, this school serves an important part of the local children's lives and education. Then it was back on the bus to another nearby venue where restoration of older buildings is taught and practiced using very basic and ancient tools. We observed the reconstruction of classic wooden buildings; one such is destined for transport when complete to Fort Ross National Park in Northern California. The smells of the fresh woods were intoxicating. Following that visit we were then transported to the Monastery for a brief tour of only the grounds; the included tour had also had an extensive interior visit. The Monastery once served as a fortress but is little used today. It's location next to the beautiful Lake Siverskoye made the visit even more enjoyable. Back to the dock at Kuzino, time permitted my enjoyment of a couple of Baltica beers in the beautiful wooden pavilion-type "bar" while others perused the nearby souvenir shop. Obviously these facilities were built to service the river cruise ships. ~~Lake Onega and the Island of Kizhi: Tuesday, July 12th~~ During the morning we cruised across the huge Lake Onega, the second largest fresh water lake in Europe, which is littered with over 1300 islands. In many places the navigable channels are clearly marked with poles, indicating that shallow waters need be avoided. Besides several riverboats, we also encountered many barges using this busy Volga-Baltic waterway. There were also tours of the bridge of the Viking Surkov, with each of our 6 groups being given a 20-minute session. Very modern equipment: control panels, computers, GPS units, and scopes were in evidence, monitoring every function of the boat. In the middle of the afternoon we approached the Island of Kizhi on which exist several all-wooden buildings: homes, barns, chapels, windmills, and the magnificent Church of the Transfiguration, together with the Church of the Intercession and a nineteenth-century bell tower, all constructed of wood without the use of a single nail. It is an open air architectural museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On a lengthy included walking tour from the dock area, we extensively toured the Island with visits inside two of the ancient home-barn combinations, fully equipped with furniture, stoves, tools, and farming and fishing equipment. Local ladies in period dress demonstrated yarn spinning and other crafts. They are splendid museums of historic Russian life. We were even treated to a concert of bells from one of the bell towers, much to our enjoyment. And of course, CDs were available for purchase. The view of the Church of the Transfiguration is the icon for Viking River Cruises in Russia, the Waterways of the Czars. Its unusual, curved adornments and 22 timbered onion domes are unlike anything I have ever seen; it is truly a structure of incomparable beauty representing ancient Russian culture. ~~Svir River, Mandrogy and Lake Ladoga: Wednesday, July 13th~~ Departing Lake Onega we cruised along the Svir River during the morning, stopping at the "resort" of Mandrogy. This village is a recreation of a typical Russian village. It was revived in 1996 and today is a stopping point for cruise boats. There are wooden houses that operate as hotels, restaurants, museums, and craft workshops. Even a Vodka Museum (over 3000 different vodkas) caught my interest - and a few rubles. After sampling 4 vodkas in the Museum for 100 rubles, I finished off my visit with a stop at the bar near the dock for another Baltica beer. Set in a park-like environment, it is popular for tourists and even conferences. By the way, it was a beautiful day! Back on board there was a special lunch, "Taste of the USSR," served on the Sun Deck featuring a buffet of typical Soviet food - and beer, of course. The many items were surprisingly delicious; I certainly was dined to satisfaction! - so much so that I had to pass on the many tasty dessert offerings. The remainder of the day and evening were spent cruising across Lake Ladoga, the largest fresh water lake in Europe. It is SO huge that no land is visible for most of its transit, and a strong wind created waves that caused considerable motion of our ship, quite unexpected for me. Exiting the Lake into the Neva River brought us to St. Petersburg very early the next morning where we temporarily anchored along the bank before approaching the docking area, the Salt Pier. The Captain's Dinner this evening in the Neva Restaurant began with a receiving line lead by Captain Nikolai, Program Director Constantin, Hotel Manager Hilbert, Restaurant Manager Oliver, Head Chef Andreas, and the 6 guides, with flutes of champagne offered for toasts. A special menu featured Prime Fillet of Beef with Truffle Crust or Grilled Fillet of Salmon, preceded with an hors d'oeuvre, soup and a warm appetizer of sautEed scallops, and followed by Baked Alaska "Surkov," presented "a fire" in a parade about the dining room by the servers. It was a splendid meal! 10 PM brought the Guest Talent Show in the Sky Bar, a farcical play mimicking a Russian fairy tale (I played the "Evil Robber" who kidnapped the Princess), preceded by a humorous skit by the Guides: Sasha, Andrei, Natasha, Tatiana, Galina and Natalie, and a "Dance of the Virgins" featuring 6 male guests costumed in traditional dress. The finale was a rousing rendition of "Kalinka" by the entire cast and audience. ~~St. Petersburg: Thursday, July 14th~~ We are at dock on the Neva River in St. Petersburg, having arrived very early yesterday morning after exiting Lake Ladoga, the largest fresh water lake in Europe. During its crossing no land was visible on the horizon, it is so large; also there was sea motion, which we had not expected on this river cruise. The Salt Pier is the docking area for the many river cruise boats and is quite a distance up river from the city center of St. Petersburg, discouraging very much independent touring - as if there were any time for that! The first excursion (included) of the day was to the Winter Palace, the "Hermitage," leaving the Viking Surkov at 10:45 AM and returning around 3:30 PM. Of course the traffic was heavy but nothing like the gridlock congestion of Moscow. There are wide 4 to 6 lane boulevards on either side of the Neva River, with many bridges (405, to be precise) crossing the River. It is interesting to see left-turning traffic adding to the congestion, brought on by the absence of left-turn lanes or left-turn signals; cars and buses turning left from any one of the three lanes is an unusual sight to me. I was amazed by the few accidents we saw. Finally reaching the Hermitage and quickly exiting the bus, briefly stopped in mid traffic, we were lead into the huge museum complex, the largest in the world - contested by the Louvre in Paris. Security is tight with no liquids or large handbags or backpacks allowed. Our Viking guide for the day was Natasha and she was expert in keeping our Bus #42 Group together and navigating through the many rooms to observe the remarkable exhibits. There were literally thousands of tourists, and on our departure at 2:30 PM, there were many more thousands waiting to enter: what a throng! Having been to the Hermitage once before in the year 2000, I knew basically what to expect, but the splendor of the interior rooms - especially the walls and ceilings, with matching designs in the parquet floors, was breathtaking. Our earpieces worked most efficiently in receiving information provided by Natasha, including keeping the group together - much UNLIKE the situation in the Louvre last August that was utter chaos. Returning to our riverboat was a pleasant relief from the very warm day and huge crowds and we took the opportunity to rest before our early dinner at 5:00 PM in anticipation of our evening excursion (included) to see the ballet performance of "Swan Lake," departing at 6:30 PM. Again, the heavy traffic slowed our approach to The Conservatory Theater, and again we were discharged from our bus quickly in front of the theater so that the driver could find parking elsewhere during the performance. An older theater, The Conservatory of Opera and Ballet is uniquely interesting; we ascended the grand staircase to the second level where our reserved seats were easily found. Floors were of parquet wood and appeared to be quite old, as were the wood-framed seats, although comfortably padded. We were on Row 8, seats 22 & 23, on the main floor, directly in the center of the theater on the center aisle, which were wonderful seats. Two balconies were above and behind us. The full orchestra began Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" promptly at 8 PM with the well-known overture and the three-act ballet was nothing less than brilliant. The lighting and sets enhanced the dancers' costumes and the entire production was an absolute joy. Intermission allowed a flute of champagne for me (100 rubles, about $3.50), and the performance concluded shortly after 10 PM. It was a unique experience to see such a high quality performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet in the city of his birth, death and burial. Return to our ship at 11 PM was easily accomplished through very light traffic, although the sun was still low in the sky, and the full moon was just rising. A late supper was available to us but I was ready for bed! Today's excursion to Pushkin and Catherine's Palace leaves the boat this morning at 8 AM so I must end this and get ready for breakfast. ~~Rainy Morning at Catherine's Palace: July 15th~~ Well, it was bound to happen; our good luck with weather for the past two weeks finally came to an end this morning. As we were departing on our regular Bus #46 for Pushkin and our visit to Catherine's Palace (included), rain began to hit the bus' windshield and by the time arrived in Pushkin, the supplied Viking umbrellas came into use. Of course, inside the Palace all was fine and dry - just a plethora of tourists, not just from our ship but from all of the several ocean cruise ships also in port. Fortunately our passage through the many spectacular rooms, heavily gold-leafed, went routinely. Security is now very extensive and all coats must be checked at the clock room, including our umbrellas. Every room has a "sitter" keeping an eye on everyone in the room, insuring that no one touches any item nor leans against any column. Before entering the rooms, all persons are required to don stretchy plastic "over shoes" to protect the magnificent inlaid wooden floors; when we were last here in 2000, the "over shoes" were made of carpet scraps. Only in the restored "Amber Room" were photos prohibited. Exiting Catherine's Palace, with umbrellas in tow, we then toured the beautiful grounds and gardens, viewing the special sections dedicated to different purposes. The rain then was only a slight drizzle but increased in intensity as we returned by bus to our ship for lunch. Then at 1:30 PM we again got on our Bus #46 for the included afternoon city tour of St. Petersburg, and at first the rain poured down steadily. However, by the time we made our first photo stop, the rain had almost gone away and it was briskly pleasant. One highlight of our afternoon city tour was St. Isaac's Cathedral and square, with the famous old Astoria Hotel just adjacent; Hitler had planned to hold his victory celebration in this hotel BUT, it never happened because St. Petersburg never fell to the Nazis. During our June 2000 visit to St. Petersburg, we had enjoyed an exquisite lunch in this landmark hotel. There was also a photo stop at the Smolny Convent and also a stop across the Neva River from the Peter & Paul Fortress, burial place of the Romanovs - among others, including Peter the Great. Other highlights included the Nevsky Prospekt, the city's main street, as well as a "shopping stop" offering a complimentary shot of vodka and a cup of delicious brewed coffee; I bought nothing! It was the Russian equivalent of "Diamonds International" so famous in Alaska and Mexico, and heavily promoted by the cruise lines. Then it was an excruciatingly long bus ride back to the ship through unexpected traffic congestion, due to an accident. Now it is dinnertime so that will be all for now. ~~St. Petersburg, Peterhof Palace and Yusupov Palace, July 16th~~ Our last day in St. Petersburg was for optional (surcharge) tours and our first was in the morning to the magnificent Peterhof, the Summer Palace of the Czars, Peter the Great's "Versailles by the Sea." Again it was raining lightly but our Viking umbrellas weren't needed until after our tour of the interior rooms, ablaze with gold-gilded ornaments, statues and frames. Near the center of the palace are huge windows looking out onto the Grand Cascade, made up of three waterfalls, 64 fountains and 37 statues, and a canal leading out to the sea. Its system of waterworks has remained unchanged since 1721, conveying water over a distance of nearly 12 miles without pumping stations. We then toured the extensive gardens with more fountains and statues along the scenic walkways until it was time to return to our riverboat for lunch. The afternoon optional (surcharge) tour we chose was to the Yusupov Palace located near the center of St. Petersburg. A true aristocratic mansion, the palace's beautiful interiors are decorated in a variety of styles and showcase the family's immense wealth. The Palace is also famous as the scene of Rasputin's murder in 1916, which is recreated in a mock display in a basement room. Our Farewell Dinner was held this evening in the Neva Restaurant, again featuring a special menu; my choice was the "Surf & Turf" - a medium rare steak with a broiled prawn for me that was delicious. Again, ice cream seemed to be the most popular dessert, as it has every evening of the cruise. Sadly, this was our last opportunity for goodbyes to our favorite servers: Norman, Julia, Jefrena, Rommel, Sofiya, and others, in addition to the several guests with whom we had become closely acquainted. Many would be leaving the ship VERY, VERY early in the morning for their flights home. Luckily, our departure from the ship is not until 6:45 AM with our flight to Moscow at 9 AM. And then it was time to pack, the most unpleasant task of any cruise. Having packed rather conservatively this trip in one suitcase and one carry-on, filling them with mostly dirty clothes went fast and it was to bed for the last time aboard the Viking Surkov; 5 AM would come early. ~~Homeward Bound, Sunday July 17th~~ Sitting here in the St. Petersburg Airport, I was curious about the availability of wireless internet; as you can see, it is freely available. I have received emails so now I will see about sending emails. Our Aeroflot flight #830 on an Airbus 319 to Moscow departs at 9:05 AM and is only about an hour flight; it is now 8 AM and we are all checked in, awaiting our 8:25 AM boarding - enjoying a cappuccino. When I checked us in last night on Aeroflot's website, where I was able to select our seats: 6A & 6C, and printed our boarding passes, it appeared that our flight would not be full - we shall see. The Airport is quite modern and new but seems very small for a city of 7 million. On our river boat, the Viking Surkov, our luggage was to be placed in the hallway, just outside our cabin, at 6:15 AM to be carried off to the dock, and only we two departed the boat at 6:45 AM by private car to the airport, along with a Viking crew assistant - part of our transfer. It was only about a 30-minute ride to the airport and we were through the TWO levels of security with little delay. So now it is almost time to go to the gate area. Making our way to Gate 2, we had to pass through a very long tunnel beneath the tarmac from the main terminal building to a satellite building; fortunately, the moving sidewalk was working, unlike the escalators. "?? ????????, St. Petersburg!" ~~Last Hour in Moscow: July 17th~~ Yes, only another hour of wait here in Moscow before flying on to New York. We are now sitting in Sheremetyevo Airport, waiting for our Delta flight #31 to JFK, departing at 12:55 PM - loading at 12:15 PM, about an hour from now. The flight to New York is around 10 hours but we have upgraded to Delta's Economy Comfort seats, so it won't be so bad. The Aeroflot flight from St. Petersburg was less than an hour, and was just fine. The Aeroflot flight attendants wear traditional uniforms with hats - in ORANGE! Very pretty, all of them. In New York we have to pass through Customs so the several hours of layover will be well occupied. Then we fly nonstop from JFK to LAX, arriving tonight at 10:25 PM where SuperShuttle will meet us for the transfer back to Jim's apartment. It will have been a FULL day of travel. ~~"Live from New York! It's Sunday Afternoon!" July 17th~~ The free wireless internet in airports ended with our arrival here at JFK in New York. I am sitting in a large common dining area behind Starbucks and had to PAY $7.95 for 24 hours of access. We have almost 4 hours layover here before our 7 PM flight on the Los Angeles, but were lucky to get through Passport Control and Customs in record time, due a nice black lady official asking me if I needed special assistance; I guess I looked pretty exhausted - and OLD! She ushered us around the other 5,000 people into a short line, and we were out of there in no time at all. As it turns out, she is a Delta employee. Time to find our Delta Gate 23 for the flight to LAX, where we arrive at 10:25 PM tonight, exhausted but drunk from the wonderful experiences we have enjoyed in Russia. ~~HOME! July 18th~~ Yes, I am now home; the word says it all. I found everything just fine after my two-week absence and now I just have to concentrate on returning to "normal" - biological clock, laundry, bills, mail, etc. There were a few more journal entries that I have now included; I got way behind during the trip, so these will fill in the blanks. ~Ron Read Less
Sail Date July 2011
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