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Cruise Through Russia.

Cruise Through Russia.

Have you ever dreamt of strolling through Moscow’s Red Square or even seeing the ballet in St Petersburg?

Russia’s two great cities still invoke the old school romance of travel; enigmatic and exotic.

St Basils Moscow. River Cruise Russia

Unfortunately, this is a country too often side stepped by most. Even though this powerful nation, once hidden behind the mysterious veil of the Iron Curtain has been welcoming tourists with semi open arms and a cold stony smile for over two decades, it still carries a stigma for being a difficult country to travel to and in.

Thanks mostly to a reputation of difficult bureaucratic visa processes, rumoured corruption or maybe just because most of us remember a Russia so often portrayed as the villain in popular culture.

St Petersburg RussiaAs independent travellers, our biggest dilemma with Russia was the logistics. A country covering two continents and nine time zones, where the highlights and must sees are spread far and wide, with nothing in between.

This poses some issues when you don’t have unlimited time or an unlimited budget. Transport through Russia can be expensive and less than comfortable and this was not a country we felt confident hiring a car and hitting the open road.

The Catherine Palace St Petersburg Russia

So after much research we reluctantly decided on a river cruise. We say reluctantly because we have never been “cruisers” having always preferred to travel at our own pace, independent of the flock. But this time, no matter how many ways we looked at it, a river cruise made sense.

Kirillo Belozersky Russia

Perhaps our inner independent travellers took a little more convincing, but when we weighed up the options it came down to how much of Russia did we really want to see. The answer; more than we would have been able to achieve under our own steam in the time we had.

Viking Cruises- River Cruise Russia

We opted for Viking Cruises because like some of the unreliable, uncomfortable transport methods available in Russia, some of the other cruise lines on offer are shall we say, still a little Soviet.

Viking Cruises, on the other hand, offers a product in Russia to the same high, 5 star standard as their river cruises throughout Europe. This is a full service luxury river cruise from the moment you make your booking to the time you disembark.

This is boutique cruising at it’s finest.

 So let’s look at the top reasons that managed to sway us to choose a river cruise as the best way to see Russia and a look at two magnificent weeks on board the ‘Viking Ingvar’.


First and foremost for us it was the itinerary.

Most people would be happy to just visit one or both of the great cities. But why make the effort to visit this intriguing country and miss all the gorgeous and exciting things to see outside of Moscow and St Petersburg, even if the vast geographic distances make these rewards somewhat of a logistical challenge.

Fortress of Schlusselburg Russia

The river cruise itinerary is what really sold us on this mode of travel. This enabled us to spend ample time in St Petersburg and Moscow, then with our floating hotel in tow, we took to the river.

Here is where we saw the other Russia. Stunning countryside, small villages, abandoned churches and majestic cathedrals dotted along the river banks. This is the view of Russia that speaks volumes about the country’s history and culture.

Goritzy Russia- River Cruise Russia

As we slipped down the river, the ‘White Nights’ were upon us so we could take advantage of the long days and very short nights of summer, taking in the sights of the Russian countryside en route to our next destination. Each day a different destination and a cruising schedule set to maximise time spent ashore.

Kirillo Belozersky Russia

Viking Cruises Waterways Of The Tsars itinerary

Itinerary map courtesy of Viking Cruises

7 different destinations are visited in the 13 days on board, including 3 full days in each of the two great cities, Moscow and St Petersburg. This we would not have achieved on our own in the two weeks we had.

Kizhi Island Russia

Everything is included.

The big appeal of cruising for some is the fact everything is included so they know what to expect. In this case, it is so much more than just an all inclusive cruise package of meals and drinks.

Although we did not take this option, this cruise can be booked inclusive of flights from your home port, wherever in the world that may be. This is an attractive option for those wishing to take the guess work out of arranging flights, knowing you have access to Vikings discounted fares and upgrades. All taxes and airport transfers in Russia are also included when taking this option. Nice for those who don’t like to do battle with the taxi hustle when arriving in a new country, oh and we were hustled but that’s another story.

From the moment you confirm your booking, you are provided with loads of information about the cruise, the itinerary and Russia to help you prepare for your trip. Also included is information to assist you with the visa process, which is what some people find the most daunting prospect of visiting Russia.

Once on the river cruise, a high quality tour itinerary of shore excursions is included to ensure the best of Russia is covered off as well as some very pleasant surprises, such as an evening at the ballet in St Petersburg. The tour schedule is designed with the arts and culture in mind, not just the big tourist hot spots.

Additional or Optional Tours can also be purchased at each destination such as our traditional Russian Banya experience in Mandrogy or the vodka tasting on board.

Traditional Russian Banya

You also have access to some  pretty appealing Exclusive Access tours such as a behind the scenes look at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.  All tours include transfers where required, entry fees and some of the best guides we have encountered, extremely knowledgeable, tourism professionals.

In addition to activities during cruising times, such as cooking demonstrations and traditional Russian tea’s, the guides also offer daily lectures on Russian history and politics which were one of the highlights of the trip. Extremely intelligent and very engaging, well researched lectures delivered from a Russian perspective provided an entirely different outlook on Russian culture and politics than we as Westerners had expected.

Viking Cruises Russia

When it comes to food, we are definitely not buffet  people so it was refreshing to see this river cruise offers an incredible changing a la carte menu at all meal times. While there is still a buffet of sorts on offer at breakfast and lunch, this is in addition to the daily a la carte menu.

The food is of the highest restaurant standard showcasing Russian cuisine and produce as well as ensuring the less adventurous are also well catered for with an excellent “always available” menu.

Viking Cruises Russia

Expect thoughtful touches such as a daily pre dinner offering from the head chef of a small delectable hors d’oeuvre, a teaser of the meal to come, delicately plated on a silver spoon.Viking Cruises Russia

Portions are sensible to allow for all courses to be tried and savoured. Unlike the glutenous portions or all you can eat buffet’s some cruise ships have become renowned for, this is refined dining.

Viking Cruises Russia

Drinks are complimentary with all meals including a tipple of champagne at breakfast if you are so inclined. A Silver Drinks Package can be purchased which gives you unlimited drinks from the bar for the entire cruise as well as a vast selection of wines.

Convenience and Comfort

There is a lot to be said for having your own floating hotel accompany you on your journey. Unlike some ocean cruises where the voyage can often focus around shipboard life at the expense of the destinations, with this river cruise the destinations are the focus.  You get the complete package without having to navigate multiple modes of transport or having to unpack, pack and move accommodation all the time.

Viking Cruises Russia

Once you are on board, whether it be in the big cities or in the remote countryside you only need to check in and out once. You really do feel like you have your hotel on the road with you, a fantastic boutique hotel.

And it is not only the tour guides who are tourism professionals, you have at your disposal a 5 star hotel team.  Professional food and beverage staff, well versed in the art of fine dining and world class chefs.

Viking Cruises Russia

The staterooms are spacious and extremely comfortable. Private balconies, quality furnishings, and enough high tech amenities such as Satellite TV and WIFI to keep you going on holiday are standard throughout the ship.

Viking Cruises Russia

And there are plenty of comfortable public spaces, both indoors and out with panoramic views to relax and take in the vista while you are cruising.

Viking Cruises Russia

The Verdict

When it comes to visiting a country such as Russia, we really feel that a river cruise is possibly the best way to maximise your experience of this incredible country.  Had we decided to travel independently, there is no way we would have had the vast and varied experiences we were able to on this cruise.

The 5 star hotel service, excellent dining and professional tour organisation far exceeded any of our expectations. We now understand why people often choose river cruises as a way to experience a country. And with Vikings’ excellent loyalty program, ‘The Viking Explorer Society’ there is even more incentive for people to keep coming back.

Moscow Russia

Facts

Viking River Cruises has three vessels operating in Russia offering a 13 day “Waterways Of The Tsars” cruise running between Moscow and St Petersburg. Prices start at ~$5,000. Viking Cruises also offer some great “Early Bird” specials available for advance bookings.

The cruise includes accommodation, all meals, drinks with meals, tours and onboard lectures. Additional or Optional Tours can be purchased on board.

Flights, including taxes and transfers can be arranged inclusive of your cruise price.

A tourist visa will be required for most foreign nationals to enter Russia, it is important to check if you will require this well in advance of your cruise date.


 

We would like to thank Viking Cruises for hosting us on the Waterways Of The Tsars cruise. As always, all opinions expressed are our own and have not been influenced in any way.

*Feature image courtesy of Viking Cruises

51 comments

  • This is very interesting! I lived in Russia for years and I always considered cruising to be the MOST expensive way to see the area. I suppose, though, logistically it would be much easier. You’ve sold me on the experience – perhaps I can convince my husband to try one the next time we go to visit his family! 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Polly. As you would know, the distances between destinations alone can be a challenge.Then when you weigh up accommodation, meals, tours etc. a cruise really is fantastic value. We saw so much more than we would have on our own. You should definitely consider it for your next visit. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  • We chose not to take this cruise as the visa process seemed like a hugh invasion of privacy, when compared to obtaining visas for other countries. I don’t understand why Viking River Cruises does not offer to be the sponser, to avoid obtaining a visa. When we cruised with an ocean cruise company, we were handed a visa card as we left the ship and returned it each evening as we boarded the ship. The cruise line was our sponser.

    Reply
    • Hi Gerri,
      Agreed, the visa process for Russia can be a little daunting. We did a lot of research into the application process and requirements which we wrote a post on. What we did find out was the visa requirements for ocean cruise ships is different for the river cruises so unfortunately on that front we believe Viking’s hands are tied. However, they do act as your sponsor once on the ship in that they register each passenger with the authorities as per the requirements.

      Ocean going passengers do not have the same visa requirements but are restricted in their shore access e.g. not allowed to go ashore without a nominated tour guide and length of time allowed in the country (72 hours) much like a transit visa. This type of visa would not be suitable for the river cruise style of trip where you are actually travelling through the country and free time is part of the itinerary.

      So yes, it is a much more complex process than most countries we have applied to as well but we felt Russia was worth the effort.

      Reply
  • This is somehow not the image of Russia I have in my head! (so organised, so luxurious) 😉 I have thought of it as a rather chaotic country, but nevertheless, wanted to visit. Maybe in 2016? 😉

    Reply
  • I am writing because my husband and I are having some difficulty obtaining our Russian visas St Petersberg to Moscow river trip starting Sept. 26th.
    We have dreamed of visiting Russia for many years and have journied with Viking on the Grand European Tour and a tour i n Holland. We have been to Asia, Africa and many other places around the world and never had a problem with visas. All was correct with our paperwork but when the invite letter was sent to the consulate in San Francisco by Travisa service it was returned because there was a 0 instead of a 9 at the e nd of my passport number. My husband’s visa was OK. We are told we must obtain another invite letter and time is very short. This has been a very distressing experience. We have not been able to speak with the same person when we call for help.

    Reply
    • Hi Mollie,

      it sounds like you have used a visa service to obtain your visa. If this is the case, it is their responsibility to ensure your paperwork is correct and to rectify any issues. You should have been allocated an agent for this so you have a contact. In any case, it is possible to pay an additional fee to have your Russian visa expidited, usually this is processed within 24 hours. We applied for our visa in person and found the agents very helpful in checking our paperwork before we submitted to ensure no problems. Our advice would be to not stress as it sounds like you still have around a month so it may be prudent to just reapply and pay the additional fee to have your visa expidited. I am not sure what country you are applying from but perhaps this article may help. Good luck and don’t let any visa set backs deter you from visiting this incredible country.
      We look forward to hearing about your journey with Viking.

      Reply
  • It was everything so cool till I saw the price hehehe definitely too much for me)))
    I speak Russian very well but I’ve never been to Russia..and I don’t even need a visa.. Feeling weird about it now.. ?
    Anyway, nice post -thanks for sharing 😉

    Reply
    • Hi Lucy, It does seem expensive, As we have explained to others, it is relative to the cost of travel within Russia. Based on our research, as an all inclusive (food,accommodation,tours etc) to see what we did, it’s actually not a bad deal. Maybe one day, especially since you speak Russian!

      Reply
  • I would love to have the chance to experience Russia, and you’ve made a really good case for why a cruise is best. I was wondering how it would be logistically possible to see everything I want to see when it’s all spread out so far across a huge country. River cruising sounds like a great option. My parents took in moscow as part of a European cruise earlier in the year, and as they were only there for one day they didn’t need a visa for some reason. Apparently the visa process is why a lot of people jump on a European cruise which lets them excursion into Russia for just a day.

    Good tip to apply for it well in advance 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Meg, I believe there are visa exemptions for Russia when you are part of an ocean-going cruise. This allows you to spend 72 hours in the country to take part in organised tours only e.g with the cruise staff. With this exemption, you may not leave the ship unescorted or in groups less than 5. A visa is required for the river cruise however as obviously you are in the country for longer than 72 hours and the itinerary allows for lots of free time in the major cities.

      For a country like Russia, we felt the visa process was worth the extra effort and the cruise really maximised our experience.

      Reply
  • I’ve never been particularly attracted by cruises, like you, but I can see how this is a very good way to see Russia. I have never been, but would love to go: I travel with two small children and this could actually be a great way to cover a lot of grounds without going crazy with the logistics. Was it hard to sleep during the white nights?

    Reply
    • Hi Marta
      You know, I never really thought of this to be a good way to see Russia with kids but you are right, a cruise would take the logistical nightmare out of it, especially for a family. Yes, sleeping during the white nights was difficult at times, it only got dark for a few hours. Something we have experienced before in Antarctica.

      Reply
  • This option is way too expensive for me. Two weeks at $5,000 is not what I consider value when flights aren’t included. The most I’ve ever spent was in East Africa (covering Kenya and Tanzania including a three day safari in the Serengeti) and that was around £2000 or $3000 including flights.
    Aside from the high price, I think the places you visited in Russia look fantastic. The buildings in the cities and then the less populated rural places look stunning. I’d love to visit Russia someday but would need to find something easy and less expensive

    Reply
    • Hi Kate
      Agreed, the cruise may seem expensive but when we did our research found it relative to the cost of travel within Russia. If you compare the cost of similar river cruises in Europe you will find them to be much less but comparable to the cost of travel within the country.

      As we mentioned, we would not have been able to visit most of those places on our own, nor stayed in such luxurious digs as we found even basic accommodation and transport options in Russia to be quite expensive compared to other European countries. And on the plus side, we had all tours, food and drink included.

      We know Viking do offer very good early bird specials and two for one deals as well as great deals on airfares. Could be worth keeping an eye out for a good deal.

      Reply
  • I am dyyying to visit Russia and this sounds like an extremely wonderful way to experience Russia! I have sooo many places I would love to visit but the massive distances between places is a daunting task I can hardly imagine planning out when the time comes! Thank you for such an informative post! I will CERTAINLY be saving this post!

    Reply
  • This looks beautiful! I’ve only been to Moscow but I’m dreaming of going to St Petersburg one day too. Indeed, the visa process is long. Even for me, who lives in Belgium and has never had any problems getting a visa, it took about 10 hours waiting in front of the embassy to even get into the building… But I think it’s worth it so I’ll definitely do it again if it means I get to see St. Petersburg!

    Reply
  • Wow, that was a great cruise…from St. Petersburg to Moscow through Russian villages! We ferried from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. This would have been a great addition and completed Russia for us. That would be great value indeed! Would have wanted the tip then!

    Reply
  • Wow, what a great way to see 2 great cities in Russia, and all in between. When talking about travelling in Russia, always the Trans siberian train comes up. I never thought that it was possible to go on a cruise in Russia. Thanks for the tip and the photos are lovely!!

    Reply
    • Hi Sabine
      We were researching the Trans Siberian and all the things we wanted to see when we stumbled across the cruise option. The train was something we always wanted to do but was proving to be quite expensive and a little limiting in as far as getting to all the places we wanted to see. Surprisingly, even though some think the cruise is expensive, as an all inclusive option we think we may have come out about even and seen a lot more.

      Reply
  • What an incredible way to see this wonderful country. We have visited Moscow in the past and really enjoyed our time there but have always wanted to see more. We will be doing the Trans-siberian next year but I am sure this is a much more comfortable way to see Russia!!

    Reply
  • What a beautiful cruise! I did the Baltic Capitals for St. Petersburg last year with NCl and it was fantastic. Did not make it to Moscow but that will be the next trip for sure. Your pictures are fabulous! I love cruising with Viking and actually just booked a cruise for spring of 2017 tonight! 😉 Keep on cruising and having a ball! 😉

    Reply
    • It really was a lovely cruise Melody. We are heading on another Viking cruise this April through Eastern Europe, which we are really looking forward to. The Baltic Capitals to St Petersburg sounds like it would be an amazing trip. We have spent quite a bit of time in the Baltics over the last six months and have really loved it.

      Reply
  • This seems like the perfect way to ease into a country that still carries a bit of stigma. Like many, I’m sure, I usually picture Russia as gray and snowy, and I was pleasantly surprised by those charming riverside views! The more I read about Viking Cruises, the more I want to book one right now!

    Reply
    • It was such a great way for us to see as much of Russia as we wanted Beth. We had never done a cruise before this one with Viking and were pleasantly surprised. So much so we did another with them through Eastern Europe this year.

      Reply
  • Looks like it was a fantastic trip, and that the choice to use the river cruise paid off in a great way. Your photos are lovely as well – they really show off both the beauty of the things you saw in Russia and the luxury of the ship.

    Reply
  • OMG !!! this cruise is amazing, I am impressed by this country since i was child, I want to visit the Kremlin, la place rouge and l’hermitage, I read multiple books about different tsar and I would like to visit those places, the prices is really high but I think it worth it, i will bookmark this post maybe one day I can realize this dream :), thank you so much for the post

    Reply
  • We are always looking for interesting places to go. Russia has been on our list for a while now. I never used to travel as much before, and it kind of changed when I got married. so much more fun travelling with my husband than alone 🙂

    Reply
  • I”m not going to lie, I’m one of the people who haven’t been to Russia because of it’s history. I looks absolutely beautiful though. And that food. Seriously, that’s cruise food??

    Reply
  • Wow i never knew russia was so beautiful! Looks like the perfect place to visit and even better going on a cruise through it!

    Reply

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