In September, we travel with Viking River Cruises on a 13-day voyage that promises to “reveal the real Russia as never before”. It’s a special Viking Anniversary adventure that sails where the popular river cruise line began, 20 years ago. After a number of sailings with Viking River Cruises, we know the drill: they deliver what they promise and then some. Knowing the quality experience that results when we dive in to planning and learning prior to travel, we begin with the expectation Viking has set.
See the swirling onion domes and stout towers of Moscow’s Red Square. Share stories at the kitchen table of an Uglich family. Savor Russian caviar with your blini pancakes. Soak up the steam in a traditional banya in riverside Mandrogy village. Envision Peter the Great luxuriating in massive Peterhof Palace, then see how multiple families shared living space at a Soviet-era kommunalka. From Moscow to St. Petersburg, this 13-day voyage reveals the real Russia as never before.
This time we’re going to do this a bit differently, taking you along from planning to being there as never before, adding what goes through my head. The words that jump off pages, items on the to-do list that are of a critical nature and what gets me excited about this experience will be included. How will this idea resolve for readers? Let’s take another look at that last paragraph, highlighting concepts, words and features unique to this particular sailing. These are the bullet point highlights of the Viking River Cruises sailing through Russia titled Waterways of the Tsars.
Sailing aboard Viking Akun, we’ll see the swirling onion domes and stout towers of Moscow’s Red Square. Share stories at the kitchen table of an Uglich family. Savor Russian caviar with blini pancakes. Soak up the steam in a traditional banya in riverside Mandrogy village. Envision Peter the Great luxuriating in massive Peterhof Palace, then see how multiple families shared living space at a Soviet-era kommunalka. It’s a special Viking Anniversary adventure that sails where Viking River Cruises began, 20 years ago.
We’ll get into each of those highlighted places, terms and concepts in future posts and add a few more as we go. First, a general overview of the itinerary:
Sailing from Moscow to St Petersburg this is a 13-day cruisetour focusing exclusively on Russia, stopping at seven ports along the way, four of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. St Petersburg I have been to before on an ocean cruise. All other ports of call will be new, different and exciting. Here are details of our itinerary:
- Day 1 Moscow- Arrive in Moscow and transfer to your ship.* After boarding, you have free time to relax before dinner. (D)
- Day 2 Moscow- Relax this morning and enjoy an early lunch before your half-day tour of Moscow. See the famed Bolshoi Theater and stop at Red Square for a view of the brightly colored St. Basil’s Cathedral and a visit to the famous GUM Department Store. You will also get the chance to experience the city’s Metro. Stay in the city center for an evening performance of traditional Russian folkloric music. (B, L, D)
- Day 3 Moscow- Today you have a full day to further explore Moscow’s many buildings, parks and monuments. Or you may choose an optional experience: Take a morning tour to Tretyakov Gallery, the world’s foremost museum of Russian fine art. This afternoon you may visit the Cosmonaut Museum with displays that trace the history of space exploration or take a Jewish Moscow tour, illustrating the history and spirit of the Jewish people who settled in the city. Dine aboard for dinner, then relax or take an optional Moscow by Night tour. (B, L, D)
- Day 4 Moscow- After breakfast, travel to the city’s famous red brick enclosure known as the Kremlin. You’ll go behind its walls to see historic gems like Tsar’s Canon and Tsar’s Bell, and tour inside two cathedrals. Enjoy a scenic cruise along the Moscow Canal after lunch as we depart the city. (B, L, D)
- Day 5 Uglich- We cruise through the morning. After lunch, disembark for your walking tour through the provincial village of Uglich, one of the Golden Ring cities that preserve the memory of Russia’s historical events. See the former Kremlin of Uglich and visit the Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood, built on the site where Ivan the Terrible’s son Dmitry was mysteriously killed. Then a local family invites you into their home for tea and friendly conversation. Depart before dinner; cruise through the night. (B, L, D)
- Day 6 Yaroslavl- Arrive this morning in Yaroslavl, another Golden Ring city. Tour this ancient town rich in monuments and visit the covered food market where you may shop for handcrafted souvenirs. During your free time, you may visit the Church of St. Elijah the Prophet, featuring detailed frescoes and icons. Return to your ship for lunch and departure. (B, L,
- Day 7 Kuzino- We dock this morning in Kuzino, a typical Russian village. From here, you visit the renowned Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, founded by Saint Cyril in 1397. Take a guided walk through the monastery’s historic grounds, seeing several small wooden chapels, the Assumption Cathedral and a museum. You will also have the opportunity to visit a children’s school in Kuzino. Return to your ship for lunch and an afternoon departure. Spend the remainder of the day cruising along the Volga-Baltic Waterway. This system of rivers and canals, spanning 229 miles and seven locks, links the Volga River with the Baltic Sea. (B, L, D)
- Day 8 Kizhi- We cruise through the morning, admiring the tranquil waters of Lake Onega, Europe’s second largest lake, and arrive this afternoon at the island village of Kizhi. Set out on a walking tour through the Open Air Museum of Architecture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, see a collection of wooden houses, windmills and churches representing ancient Russian architecture, highlighted by the famous three-tiered Preobranzhenskaya (Transfiguration) Church, a fairy-tale-like structure built in 1714 without a single nail. Depart in the evening and cruise through the night. (B, L, D)
- Day 9 Mandrogy- Spend a relaxing day cruising Russia’s intricate waterways. Sail the scenic Svir River, traveling the 139-mile “Blue Route” as it takes you southwest from Lake Onega. Stop in Mandrogy and take some time to explore this museum village. Visit the Vodka Museum or shop for handmade Russian craft items. For a truly immersive experience, try an optional visit to a banya; (traditional Russian bath house), or you may choose an optional tour where you will witness and participate in the art of matryoshka doll making (both tours bookable on board only). Continue along the Svir, then cross Lake Ladoga, Europe’s largest lake, on your way to the Neva River. All meals are served aboard your ship. (B, L, D)
- Day 10 St. Petersburg- Sail on the Neva River into St. Petersburg early this morning. After a leisurely breakfast, visit the Winter Palace to tour the legendary Hermitage Museum, where you marvel at the vast collection of art, antiquities, jewelry and sculpture. Return aboard for an early dinner, followed by an evening performance of traditional Russian ballet. (B, L, D)
- Day 11 St. Petersburg- Today’s excursion goes to the Pushkin area where you visit Catherine Palace, the elegant rococo 18th-century summer residence of the Russian tsars, named for Catherine I (widow of Peter the Great). Tour its various halls, including the storied Amber and Agate Rooms, and see the ornate decor throughout. Return to your ship for lunch. After lunch embark on a city tour; see noted sights including St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Peter & Paul Fortress and Nevsky Prospekt. Dine aboard, then relax or attend an optional evening folkloric performance. (B, L, D)
- Day 12 St. Petersburg- You have the day free to see the sights that interest you. Visit one of the many palaces, churches or museums, or take an optional morning tour to Peterhof Palace, with its landscaped gardens and beautiful fountains. In the afternoon, you may choose to join an optional kommunalka visit to get a glimpse of these communal living spaces or take an optional tour of St. Petersburg from the water. Lunch and dinner are served aboard. (B, L, D)
- Day 13 St. Petersburg- After breakfast, disembark and proceed to the airport for your return flight.* Or, extend your journey into another country with 3 nights in Helsinki, Finland, the “White City of the North.” (B)
The Difference Between An Ocean Cruise Stop And A River Cruise Experience
Briefly, let’s go back to our Azamara Club Cruises ocean cruise sailing that stopped in St Petersburg for two nights:
Our first day in St Petersburg was dark, cold, mysterious and very much what many of us thought Russia would be like.
The second day, the sun came out to reveal a St Petersburg that felt a lot like many other European cities we had visited, complete with tourist-focused attractions right down to a local Starbucks. Then we left and sailed on to other destinations as I checked “Visit Russia” off my imaginary bucket list. Two days in one port is a lovely gift on any ocean cruise, significant for three reasons:
- Value: Multiple nights promote the value of a cruise that includes a place to lay your head and meals that are more expensive and less convenient than a land tour.
- Safety: As we explore new places, the safe and protected environment of our cruise ship is close by.
- Controlled Wanderlust*: Russia is one of those places in the world that only those with a stronger than average desire to travel will visit. Still, some control of the experience is desired and that can come easily via an ocean cruise.
Before we move along, some scenes from my two-day visit to St Petersburg several years ago with Azamara Club Cruises.
Different on this Viking River Cruise, all 13 days are in Russia allowing the opportunity to fully engage Russian history, art, culture and more. Such was the case when visiting Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and other parts of the world where the U.S Department of State has issued travel alerts or warnings. Of particular interest here: visiting those potentially precarious places brought the best travel experiences of my lifetime.
Unique features of the experience include:
- We sail on one of Viking’s Russia ships. These ships are different than the massive fleet of identical Viking Longships which most river cruise travelers are familiar with (190 passengers, 50 crew) and the longship-inspired ships that sail Portugal’s Duro River (106 passengers, 36 crew)and Germany’s Elbe River (98 passengers, 28 crew). Viking’s Russia ships carry a few more passengers (204) and crew (115).
- Along the way, 10 included shore excursions with local guide & headset. We had to buy these on our two-day ocean cruise visit, no headset.
- Viking’s Culture Curriculum, customized for this part of the world as they do on all itineraries. Planned: onshore music & dance performances, learning a little Russian and participate in Russian teatime. As we sail along the Volga and Svir Rivers, we’ll listen to lectures about Romanov tsars, the Soviet Union and current affairs. Hitting all the senses, I’m looking forward to attending a Russian cooking workshop.
- To my surprise, complimentary Internet service will be offered on this itinerary.
- As with other Viking Cruises sailings on rivers or in oceans, beer, wine and soft drinks are included with lunch & dinner.
- All onboard meals are included, featuring regional specialties & (for those not as into trying new things) always available American classics.
- Welcome Cocktail Reception & Farewell Dinner.
- A personal favorite: 24/7 specialty coffees, teas & bottled water.
- All staterooms are river-view staterooms.
- Our room steward will do twice-daily housekeeping service including evening turndown service.
- Most Deluxe Staterooms & Suites have hotel-style beds with optional twin-bed configuration; luxury linens & pillows.
- I’ll stay in touch with the rest of the world via a 26″ flat-panel Sony TV with CNBC, CNN, BBC & Complimentary Movies On Demand. Wanna bet Doctor Zhivago is on that list?
- Stateroom amenities also include a security safe, hair dryer, 110/220 volt outlets, direct-dial satellite phone and refrigerator.
- A private bathroom will include bathrobes & slippers (upon request) and the premium Freyja toiletries we have come to love fleet-wide.
- Interestingly (and different from other river cruises we have enjoyed) there is a doctor on board
Viking Akun Deck Plan
Viking Anniversary Adventure Year Resources We Will Be Using To Prepare
- 360° Viking Longship Tour
- Viking Video: Russian Staterooms
- Viking Video: Russian Language Lesson
- Viking Video: Waterways of the Tsars overview
- Viking Russia Ships research: Viking Akun, Viking Helgi, Viking Ingvar, Viking Truvor
- Viking’s Recommended Reading List for Russia– many of which were available used from Amazon, a great Bold Way To Extend Your Travel Budget
- Viking’s Recommended Filmography – many of which are part of my Amazon Prime membership, another Bold Way To Extend Your Travel Budget
More to come on planning and preparing for our Viking River Cruises Waterways of the Tsars-
Up Next- The Interesting Process Of Obtaining A Russian Visa
Our Viking Anniversary Adventure year actually begins with a classic Grand European Tour from Budapest to Amsterdam in June. That’s next.
*Chris really hates the word “Wanderlust” along with all derivatives of the word “Nomad” which have been quite over-used. This is actually the first time the word wanderlust ever fit anything I have written.