12 Viking River Viking Helgi Baltic Sea Cruise Reviews

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
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
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
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
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
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
My husband and I have cruised on ocean going vessels before and have travelled extensively. We are both in our sixties and are pretty active. When we were on a hiking trip to Germany a few years ago, we ran into some folks who were just ... Read More
My husband and I have cruised on ocean going vessels before and have travelled extensively. We are both in our sixties and are pretty active. When we were on a hiking trip to Germany a few years ago, we ran into some folks who were just off a riverboat and they raved about what a good time they were having. It put the idea in our heads to give it a try. After a lot of research, some of which used this web site, we decided on the Waterways of the Czars itinerary of the Viking Riverboat cruise company. We also chose to add the Helsinki pre-cruise extension option. Usually, we make our own air arrangements but we decided to let the cruise company take care of it for this trip. The tour company advised us that we would have to arrange for a Visa to visit Russia. We were given to option of using a company that would arrange for the Visa for us for a fee. After checking on the internet, we opted to arrange for the Visa ourselves. The tour company sent us an Invitation to Visit Russia form that we would need. We downloaded the application form from the internet and followed the directions exactly. They give you a list of items that must be submitted to their embassy. In just 3 weeks we had our Visas. We flew to Helsinki at the end of August and enjoyed 3 nights at the Radisson Blu Plazza in the heart of Helsinki. It was a great place to get over jet-lag and to see a new city. It isn't a five star hotel but it is clean and quiet and very central. A Viking Representative met us at the airport and whisked us to our hotel. Our first day in Helsinki we were given a walking tour of the city. We had free time that afternoon and all the next day to explore on our own. A Viking representative was at the hotel every day to give us advice about where to go and how to get there. We got very comfortable using public transportation and enjoyed our stay in the city. On our day of departure the Viking rep. met us in the lobby of the hotel. Our luggage was whisked away for us and taken to the train. We all walked over to the train station, only a couple of blocks away. Our Viking rep. took us to the train and got us on the right car. She made sure we understood the procedures for crossing the border into Russia and gave us our tickets. We realy enjoyed the scenery of the 6 hour train trip. Food and beverages are available on the train but we took our own. The train is stopped for about an hour at the Russian border while the guards take all the passports away and get them stamped - or whatever it is they are doing with them. We were met at the train station in St. Petersburg and taken by bus to the ship. The journey that usually takes 30 minutes took almost 3 hours. The St. Petersburg traffic jam had to be seen to be believed. Car ownership has exploded in Russia in the past 15 years and the city wasn't prepared for the resulting congestion. Russian drivers are not the best in the world either. It is the first time I have seen people drive along on sidewalks and pedestrian paths. Pedestrians need to be careful. I think that Russin drivers believe that the white lines indicating pedestrian crossings are only some weird form of graffiti. We liked the fact that most of the tours arranged by the tour company are included in the cost of your cruise ticket. There were a few optional tours offered so that we had the opportunity to tailor our cruise to our own interests. We were also given free time and lots of information on how to get around on our own. We had lectures on Russian history and the Russian language. I found that the information in the lectures really helped us to get the most out of our trip. On the first day of the cruise, you pick your guide from 6 that are available. That guide is with you for the entire cruise. Some days a local tour guide is comes along as well in order to add their expertise on the area you are visiting. All the tour guides were excellent. After three very busy, very long days touring St.Petersburg, we sailed down the Volga-Baltic waterway to Moscow. Along the way we stopped at 5 very different ports and had tours at all of them. Usually, the tours to these small towns and cities were half-day tours so we had time for our Russian lessons. We also had around table discussion with all our guides one afternoon as they answered all questions about modern life in Russia and Russia under the Soviet regime. They were very frank in their answers. It was obvious that they are very proud of their country and are very aware of the challenges that they face. The scenery along the way was lovely. The ship glides slowly along the canals with hardly any felling of motion at all. The captain said that on the big lakes there can be some bigger waves. The lakes were like a mirror when we sailed. We ended the cruise with 4 nights in Moscow. It's a good thing that we rested up while sailing on the canal, because we were really busy in Moscow. We had come a long way and we wanted to see as much as we could. We had three very full days seeing the city and enjoying every minute of it. The ship was very comfortable. It was refurbished in the last couple of years. The decor is Scandanavian Modern. There is one sitting in the dining room. The food is not as varied as on a cruise ship but it was very good and there was plenty of choice for everyone. The food was beautifully presented and the portions were small. There was coffee, tea and hot chocolate available 24 hours a day. Even though the dining room was open seating, we all sort of gravitated to our favorite spots fairly early on the cruise and the waiters learned our preferences remarkably quickly. Staterooms are a little smaller than on an ocean going cruise ship but there was plenty of room for our belongings. Our room steward was perfect. She kept our room beautifully and we never saw her. She was the majic genie that just did her job invisibly. The cruise is not appropriate for children. There are no facilities for them and they would not be very interested in the lectures and tours. There is no casino and no glitzy entertainment. If you are looking for evening excitment on board, you are doomed to disappoinment. There is no gym or exercise equipment but the activity director leads exercise classes on deck on mornings when there is no early tour. There are always a dozen or so hardy souls keeping him company. There were two computers available for passengers. They were very busy. There is free wireless Internet available in your room although there it was a bit slow. There were a couple of times on the trip when we had no Internet service. On disembarkation day, we had our luggage outside our rooms 30 minutes before the shuttle took us to the airport. Unfortunately, our flight was at 5:50 AM. We had to get up at 1:45 AM. That is pretty early when you are facing a very long trip home. However, one of the guides was with us on the bus. He escorted us to the right check-in counter and made certain that we understood where we had to go to navigate the check-in and security procedures. Since all the signs were in the Russian alphabet, it would have been pretty confusing without his help. We were very happy with the whole riverboat cruising experience and are going to do it again next year. We have already booked the cruise! Our expectations were certainly exceeded by this cruise. We thought the service was outstanding. It is a very different experience than ocean cruising. We like the smaller number of passengers and made some really great friends over the two weeks. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
My sister and I took the Viking River Cruise, "Waterways of the Czars," September 3-15, 2009, traveling on the newly renovated Viking Surkov. Our experience was extremely positive. The ship, decorated in Scandinavian Modern ... Read More
My sister and I took the Viking River Cruise, "Waterways of the Czars," September 3-15, 2009, traveling on the newly renovated Viking Surkov. Our experience was extremely positive. The ship, decorated in Scandinavian Modern style, was clean and attractive. It offered a large reception area, library, Internet cafe, two bars, sundeck, coffee/tea/hot chocolate service area, and a well appointed restaurant. In addition, a doctor traveled on board. There were some 180 travelers and about 100 staff members, including crew, receptionists, cabin stewards and stewardesses, tour guides, program director, kitchen staff, and waiters/waitresses. Our cabin, though small, was well laid out and we had a TV, small refrigerator, and safe in addition to the usual furnishings. Two large bottles of water were provided each day even though we were told that the ship's water supply was filtered and therefore safe to drink. Tours and excursions were well planned, and most were included in the basic cost of the cruise. In addition, while we were traveling from St. Petersburg to Moscow there were extra activities on board such as lectures on Russian history, a demonstration of how to cook a Russian dish, a tour of the bridge, Russian lessons, and a formal Russian tea. The quality of the food served was somewhat uneven. Breakfast was wonderful, with a bountiful buffet; it was also possible to special order hot cereals, omelets, poached eggs, and egg benedict. The lunch buffet always included a delicious salad bar and one or two hot entrees as well as soup. Dinner was a 5-6 course meal with two or three choices per course. It was also always possible to order a grilled rump steak, grilled chicken breast or Caesar salad as an entree. Dinner was always adequate, but some dishes--especially fish--were over cooked at times. I have to add that I had major dietary restrictions--allergic to wheat, eggs,and mil--and the kitchen staff bent over backwards to accommodate my needs. They even managed to procure some special gluten free pastries for me to eat at the Russian tea. All in all, the cruise was an outstanding experience, and one that opened our eyes about many aspects of Russian history and Russia today. Our second port of call was Mandrogy. Mandrogy is a work in progress--a village where traditional Russian handcrafts are practiced and taught. The structures are also built in traditional Russian village style. Unfortunately, we arrived an hour late and it was pouring rain. I think that this port will be fascinating in about five years, when the village and handcraft programs are more complete. It's a good place to buy typical Russian souvenirs. Our next port is --Kizhi Island. This is an open air museum which has on display an old Russian Orthodox Church with 22 domes, built entirely of wood without a single nail. It also has examples of village houses with their furnishings and the guide explains how the people lived in such villages. This was fascinating! Kizhi is on an island in Lake Onega, and the scenery is very picturesque, too. Our next port was Goritzy, where we visited the monastery of St. Cyril of the White Lake. It is now basically a museum although there is a new and small community of five monks now. This was very interesting because we got to see the different churches that made up the complex. The gardens were beautiful, and again since the monastery is situated on a lake, the natural setting was superb, with ducks swimming up to the shore and almost ready to eat out of our hands! I'm grouping our fifth and sixth ports together as we visited 7 in all. Our last two stops before Moscow were Yaroslavl and Uglich. Yaroslavl is a city of 600,000 with an impressive collection of churches, monasteries, and public buildings. We also visited a display of lacquered papier mache boxes--and this is the best place to buy them as there is a wide choice of different styles and good prices. We had some free time here and were able to visit a market, and stroll the streets of a Russian city. Yaroslavl is beautiful, and has lots of restaurants, cafes, shops, etc. Uglich was next; it's much smaller with a population of 40,000. However, it's probably the best place to buy real Russian handcraft souvenirs. The unwalled Kremlin of the city is full of beautiful churches and government buildings and also has nice gardens. We had a lot of free time to shop here. Our last port of call was Moscow. You probably have a stereotyped image of Moscow--drab, dull, shabby, grim. Put all those ideas aside! Moscow is a beautiful, vibrant, cosmopolitan city on the level of Paris or Venice. If you are interested in architecture, you will love Moscow! The city is full of beautiful structures of many different time periods. Moreover, there are many gardens, parks, museums, a couple of rivers, seven hills. . .in short, everything needed to create a beautiful city. Even very mundane structures have been made beautiful. For example, many of the Metro stations were designed by top-notch architects and artists and are part of any thorough tour of the city. And let me assure you--the Metro is spotlessly clean, as is all of the city that we saw. (And, for that matter, Russia generally. . .think Switzerland.) For a final example, we docked at the North River Terminal and it struck me how beautiful the terminal was and how attractive the gardens around it were. I went out for a stroll one morning and took a lot of pictures. I thought that the beauty of this terminal was my own little discovery because none of the tour guides mentioned it. However, I bought a book about Moscow while there and when I read it after I arrived home, I discovered that this terminal is considered an architectural masterpiece. But, it's just one of thousands in this very beautiful city. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
Just Returned We just returned Sunday from the Moscow to St. P on the Surkov and it was a most pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable trip. You do get your fill of churches though, it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." ... Read More
Just Returned We just returned Sunday from the Moscow to St. P on the Surkov and it was a most pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable trip. You do get your fill of churches though, it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." I thought perhaps we could have done with a few less Churches and some more time in Museums. Only spending 3 hours in the Hermitage is ridiculous.....you can't even begin to get a taste of it....more like a lick! I would like to see them offer a full day there and skip the city tour half of the day because you see the city when you are doing other tours like the Peter Paul Fortress or the Canal Tours. - We were in cabin 402 (very near the back of the Upper Deck) It was a very quiet room because the hall is a dead end. We could at times very clearly hear the women in the next cabin talking but fortunately that usually didn't last long as they must have been as tired as we most nights. The cabin looks very nice, window opens and had an unobstructed view. Beds were very comfy, cabin was always clean and no strange smells from anywhere. My only complaint on the cabin is that they need to some how in-corporate another chair. There was only the one straight back at the desk and it would be nice for the other person to be able to sit comfortably (I was usually hogging the desk chair using my lap top.) Other only major complaint was the slow, slow, slow internet connection but when we got to St. Petersburg they worked on it for several days so maybe it will be better. At least it's free and having your own lap top is a good idea as it's hard to get on the ship's two free lap tops. If you are taking this cruise for gourmet food you might be disappointed. That is not to say that the food wasn't adequate and plentiful. The breakfast and lunches are quite good and the dinners were a bit more hit and miss, some strange offerings but nicely presented. My husband opted for the steak about half the nights because he's not a very adventuresome eater and the steaks were well cooked smallish but tasty, always served with a baked potato which I thought they could have varied. I had the steak only one night and one night I choose the chicken breast (both the steak, chicken breast and Caesar Salad are always available.) I tried the other options the rest of the time. Only the Lake Perch was inedible.....the rest were just sort of mediocre but with the salads, soups and desserts you never go away hungry....just not fantastic food. The steak was quite nice the chicken pretty dry and chewy so probably best to not opt for that. I do wish they would be a bit more inventive in the dessert area. The service by the Filipino waiters was fabulous. We usually opted for a table for 2 and were served by Leith and Jun and they were so very very attentive, pleasant and made dining, even with not always such great food fun. Breakfast was probably the best meal of the day, the buffet had lots of wonderful options and you could order omelette's, Eggs Benedict, French Toast, pancakes and hash-browns served to your table. There was always Russian Champagne on the buffet and several options for juice.....it was a great breakfast. Lunch was always green salad with many choices for toppings, several cold salads and sandwiches and two or three hot dishes plus soup and dessert (two options one always being ice cream) was served at the table. The 24 hour coffee and tea bar was really nice as well and was directly below our end of the ship. They serve a light tea most afternoons in the Panorama Bar. The tours were good, we had Tatiana for our guide and she is fabulous. So look for her, pretty blonde lady in her 50's. Whom ever you choose at the beginning is your guide for the whole time and whom ever is on your bus the first day is with your group for the entire time as well.....your new family for the next 13 days. The boat itself is very nicely laid out, good viewing areas on the top deck and in the Panorama Bar on the front of the Upper Deck. It would be nice if there was more comfortable seating somewhere on the boat but I guess you can't have recliners on a vacation ;-) I should add that the dress on the ship was very informal and I probably wouldn't pack a lot of dressy clothes. Men mostly wore jeans, khakis and polo shirts and the woman wore more slacks and jeans than anything else. There were lots of men and woman in jeans at dinner and even some in sweat pants (which I thought was a bit too much) but what ever. I didn't wear about 1/2 of the dressier outfits I brought, because I would have felt over the top except for the Captains dinner and one other night and I really don't bring that fancy of things as dressing up for my husband is nice pants and a sweater he is not a suit guy so if he was comfortable you know it was informal. I think Viking does a good job of making your time as pleasant as possible and I don't have any big earthshaking complaints.....it was an overall success. We were not as taken with Russia as we have been with Asia and New Zealand but it was good to check it off the bucket list. Pictures from the cruise (including room & photo's of food) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/quiltsa...7622305559005/ First stop on the river was Uglich and it was very interesting as well. Toured the Cathedral where Ivan the Terrible's son was murdered. Walked to it from the boat (easy walk through a very good street market.) Unfortunately the guide had told us that their would be better shopping on the last stop of the river cruise portion and wait to buy our souvenirs there.....that turned out to be bad advise unless you were looking for very high quality hand crafted things as every thing at the last stop fell into that category. If you are looking for trinkets for the grandkids or small things for friends...stick to the street markets the prices are much better than the craft shops. The first port was Moscow......what a mess that city is. Absolutely horrendous traffic. Two hours from the airport to the boat dock, and a good hour and a half to two hours into town from the dock (about a 20 min drive in normal traffic I would think.) So for a day trip to town a good 3 to 4 hours or more was in snarled up traffic.....and then if you signed up for a night excursion add another couple of hours. I really think that Viking should feed people at a restaurant in the city on days that their are all day tours and then night events. We skipped the folk music concert because we couldn't face getting in the bus again for yet another drive into the city. We had the opportunity to use the bank ATM in Moscow to get Rubles. We were charged $105 for 3000 Rubles (this turned out to be a much better deal than the next ATM in a smaller city were we were charge $136 for the same 3000 Rubles so plan ahead and get your rubles in Moscow.) We did do the Moscow by night but it was really beautiful seeing Red Square after dark (even though it poured rain, luckily it was only one of two rainy episodes on the whole trip.) We enjoyed the tour of the Armory and the Kremlin and took the optional 1/2 day tour of the New Maiden Nunnery and Cemetery on the day of the Moscow by Night tour. The New Maiden Nunnery was really lovely and the cemetery where Kruschev and Gorbachev's wife were buried was fascinating as well. Yaroslavl was the next port and it had some gorgeous churches and cathedral's as well (go figure) and we were bused into the center of town and did a walking tour from their. After touring the churches we were given about an hour and a half to shop. Very interesting local fruit and food stuffs market that I really enjoyed taking pictures of but we were warned to not eat anything (they offered dried fruit and nuts at the stalls.) The guide said it might be our last place to get Rubles till St. Petersburg so we found an ATM machine and got really taken because of course unless you read Russian you have no idea what it says about exchange rates or fees for using the machine and our guide was off doing her own thing, not where we could ask her to translate. Goritsy was the next stop where we were bused to Kirrilov where we visited the Monastery of St. Cyril. It is known for it's remarkable collection of icons but frankly we were iconed out so we spent the time strolling the grounds which were really beautiful and enjoying the flowers and the local parishioners who were coming out from church services. I wished we had more time to just soak up the ambiance of the little towns and less time being lectured to about the icons and their significance (but that's just me....not very interested in religion.) Then it was on to Kishi Island on Lake Onega. It is the famed open-air Museum of Russian Architecture. The beautiful Church of the Transfiguration an ornate structure of wooden ribbons and 22 domes in 3 tiers built entirely with out nails. It was really cool and the examples of local life from the early 10th century that were being acted out were fascinating as well. Great stop. We also had one more stop on the river the next day and that was Mandrogi which was suppose to be the big place for buying souvenirs but for the most part we all felt it was very expensive although their were some lovely things. Unfortunately it was pouring rain at this stop and not much fun to tromp around and look at the buildings....it is sort of a Russian Epcot Center for life in the olden days. There was a pavilion with berry pies that were quite tasty. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
Booked a Categrory B, Deluxe Cabin on the Viking Surkov for the Waterways of the Czars cruise (Aug. 10-22,2009). On day one of sailing there was an obnoxious smell of raw sewage in our cabin and in the hallway. We informed reception and ... Read More
Booked a Categrory B, Deluxe Cabin on the Viking Surkov for the Waterways of the Czars cruise (Aug. 10-22,2009). On day one of sailing there was an obnoxious smell of raw sewage in our cabin and in the hallway. We informed reception and were told that this is normal when the ship is in motion, the sewage sloshes! We were unable to sleep because of the stench and the fact that the A/C didn't work. Other travelers complained, with the same results... There were two large pipes leading from the ceiling into a very large wooden box in the floor, right next to the bed. The picture in the brochure shows a small table and 2 chairs - non existing! The entertainment on board (as per brochure) is also non-existing. There was a Vodka tasting, at 15 Euros per person. The Russian folkloric entertainment was in a tent and cost 26 Euros per person. Check your credit card bill - Our entire cost of the trip was paid by c/c and there was a $600 "foreign exchange fee". We booked through California, why would we have to pay this charge? Your US Dollars are being sent to Switzerland! After much aggravation, the $ 600 were refunded. On board, they use a unit system (which equals Euros). The last two days of the cruise (after the bills were settled in Euros) they switched to Rubles! The food was good until it came towards the end of the trip, by then the salad bar looked beyond wilted. The endive salad was rotted! My feeling is that Viking could care less about the comfort, or health, of their travelers. They have your money up front and know that you won't take the same cruise again. I have this gut feeling that perhaps this company is not above board.. We have traveled all continents and plan on continuing our travels but definitely NOT with Viking Cruises!Kizhi Island Located on Lake Onega (Europe's 2nd largest lake) Open air architectural museum & UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wooden churches & other buildings were brought here from other parts of Russia. Transfiguration Church - 300 years old, built completely of wood (no nails) 22 timbered onion domes. It was a rainy, gloomy day and made the church look ominous (Halloween?), but yet a very interesting excursion. Goritzy On the Shore of Lake Siverskoye Visited Kirillov-Belozersky Monastery, founded in 1397 by St. Cyril filled w/ beautiful icons & frscoes. Now a museum.Yaroslavi - Called the Golden Ring city Figured prominently in the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church. Not much to explore in these ports - churches, icons, frescoes. Uglich Town dates to 1148. Foound this to be a more interesting excursion, besides just seeing icons, frescoes. Ivan the Terrible's son was mudered here. The resulting uprising caused great distruction. In 17th-18th centuries wonderful architectural buildings were constructed. Moscow Amazing City! Very clean. The Metro is easy to navigate. Metro is very clean, elegant, marble, paintings, chandeliers, sculptures - Red Square - dating to 15th century. Not as impressive as I imaged, except for the St. Basil Catheral colorful onion domes.(never got inside though) Kremlin - More cathedrals, palaces, museums & the seat of government. By now, I am tired of seeing & hearing about the icons and frescoes. Every tour guide has the same verbatum speech. Armory - Fantastic, but very difficult to get close to exhibitions, especially the Faberge' eggs. The crowds are unbelievable! Exciting city - much to see and do, but be aware of pick pockets, etc. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Be careful - when reading the brochure. Torstein Hagen says in the intro that " no time is wasted with lengthy coach excursions as most of our cruises moor in the centre of towns and cities". This does not apply to the ... Read More
Be careful - when reading the brochure. Torstein Hagen says in the intro that " no time is wasted with lengthy coach excursions as most of our cruises moor in the centre of towns and cities". This does not apply to the "Waterways of the Czars" cruise;the boat in Moscow is between 60 and 90 minutes by coach from the city centre;it is a 20 min walk then 25 min metro journey to the centre. In St Petersburg it is 45 min min to the centre by coach;or 20 mins bus then 20 mins metro to the centre. The cabin details are incorrect.In the 2008 brochure the cabin has a plan showing a table abd two chairs by the window;these do not exist. There is a photo also showing this;in the 2009 brochure the plan has gone but the photo is still there (with a note saying it isn't an actual photo!) We booked the boat partly because we thought we could sit in our cabin looking out onto the waterways whilst sitting at our table reading,drinking etc etc.No. Other cabins were close to the engines,had a pillar AND a column (making easy access impossible);and ours had a set of steps and a table/chairs outside when the diagram did not show this. All in all,a MISLEADING brochure. Be careful - when booking.The booking staff are charming - and inefficient.On four separate instances mistakes were made in the documentation (no cabin allocated,wrong date on the visa application,wrong names on the transfer sheets,no documentation for transfer hotel provided etc). Doing it yourself is cheaper and more sure. Be careful - when at dinner.It is supposed to be open seating but some passengers can reserve seating;we never found out how (we had the most expensive cabin) but it would have been nice to avoid the twice daily bunfight for a couples table.Order your drinks BEFORE food if you want drinks with your meal rather than after.A couple of senior restaurant staff patrolled the dining area but never appeared to put right the clear deficiencies (the actual serving staff were fine but let down by the management/system). Be careful - in your interpretation of 5 Star.The other reason we booked this boat. In no way is this a 5 Star experience;the food was poor (re-formed calamari rings for god's sake!) and we would have expected 24hr availability of (at least) snacks. A really awful and nonsensical (and highly priced) wine list (when you could access it) just added to the disappointment. Be careful - when going on excursions.In Moscow the time taken to get anywhere lead to us having an evening meal at 23.30 (I kid you not);very little time anywhere. In St Petersburg we ended up at the back of every queue even tho' we set off at 07.30 to beat the rush;we were taken to a really awful "Russian" restaurant the NO ONE wanted to be at that really disrupted a reasonable day. A night at the (poor) ballet was followed by a very dangerous 40 min attempt on the part of a thousand or so people to get out of one door;and another late night back. Viking Cruises are on notice that this particular night could lead to deaths;the couriers say they have told Viking of this but they don't care. If you ignore this review and book with Viking (there are other agencies that use other lines at much cheaper rates) do not go on this excursion - you could die. Be careful - if you try to arrange for a special occasion to be celebrated (as they advertise in the brochure).We went on this excessively priced holiday because it was supposed to be the best (it can't be) and it was my wifes 60th birthday - a real treat. Despite pre-notification Viking ignored my wifes birthday,and half-heartedly did something for our 38th wedding anniversary a week later. Other cruises have managed to sort something from the passports,not ignored specific requests. So,Russia is super;the waterways are fantastic;Moscow and St Petersburg are tremendous. If you want a cruise,however,choose a different line to Viking - they don't deliver. If you want to see the cities,go to each separately as Viking really don't allow you to see them properly (if at all). Conclusion;Viking hugely disappointing and way over priced (did I get into the crap arrangements meeting us at Moscow airport - no,didn't have time). Read Less
Sail Date August 2008
My river cruise was from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Sukrov which wasn't the ship that I expected from the brochures. Very few if any, amenities on board to entertain the guests which were 168, not a full ship. Other than ... Read More
My river cruise was from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Sukrov which wasn't the ship that I expected from the brochures. Very few if any, amenities on board to entertain the guests which were 168, not a full ship. Other than lectures, nothing else on a daily basis except Russian themed movies which were decades old. The dinner service was adequate but preparation was definitely lacking...no spices, bland food though the herring was great for me! No exercise activities onboard nor no spa type equipment. Without ones' books you'd be hardpressed to find something to do after dinner. This ship will be totally renovated into a deluxe all suite ship for the 2008 cruising season...let's look forward to many changes. A suggestion to all Russian river cruise companies: due to the heavy traffic in Moscow and St. Petersburg, all the passengers should be put up in local hotels in these two cities to cut down on the 2 hour drive from the boat to the city for sightseeing...so much wasted time and extremely tiring. There is an operator of river cruises that does exactly this..shouldn't be a big problem and very good for the passengers. Thanks see you on the river!!! Read Less
Sail Date September 2007
Viking Helgi Ratings
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