London, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
12 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 20 helpful votes

A Russian river cruise is a quirky sort of holiday. But we had such a good time, I would urge you to give it a try.

The boat is well-appointed. Beds in the cabins are hard – not to everyone's taste – and rather narrow. There is plenty to do, if you are prepared to join in. We were offered a couple of introductory Russian lessons – which I would highly recommend. It is worth taking a little time to get to grips with the alphabet and to learn a few basic phrases.

The name of the boat is a clue that music forms a large part of the entertainment schedule. We were treated to a Tchaikovsky piano recital; a few concerts of balalaika music; and other entertainers offered more contemporary options in one of the bars in the evening.

The holiday was very well organised, bearing in mind that there were five separate language groups whose activities were, in the main, segregated. We attended a talk on traditional Russian handicrafts; and also took part in a slightly chaotic – but fun – session of matryoshka painting. Regrettably, we missed out on the pancake and vodka tasting and also on the tour of the boat's bridge. But there was something to do every day.

Overall, the cruise merits a strong four-star rating.  Experienced cruisers may be slightly disappointed by the quality and (occasionally) quantity of food on offer, particularly at dinner. Having said that, there were a number of themed evenings that more than made up for this. With a regular serving of four courses – and two substantial meals every day – you are unlikely to go hungry. The captain's dinner, on the second last evening, was especially lavish.

I should add that there is a good variety of hot and cold items available for breakfast. Some of these are typically, and unusually, Russian – and worth trying. On days when lunch is taken on board, there is a generously-supplied hot buffet – again, with salads and other cold items available. One thing I particularly appreciated was the free availability of tea, coffee and biscuits throughout the day. The daily program will tell you and what time you can expect the arrival of a portion of fruit pie.

Moscow and Steve Petersburg were the highlights of the trip. A full day in each location gave us a taste - and sparked a desire to come back and explore further.  If you are travelling a long distance to join this trip, you will certainly want to add on a few days at one end of the holiday - or both.  The intermediate destinations were not overly exciting, but well-chosen local guides did their best to enliven things. You can expect to see quite a few churches. Mandrogui, the penultimate stop, is refreshingly secular. If your constitution can stand it, I recommend a visit to the vodka museum.  Mandrogui is also the place to buy quality handicrafts. (You will find cheap-and-cheerful souvenirs in the flea markets at other stops.)

The on-board staff were very hospitable and quite charming.  Russia is a vast country, but you have to start somewhere. I am glad we chose to start here.

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