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Russia and River Cruise Between Moscow & St. Petersburg
Old 10-01-2019, 11:36 AM   #1
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Russia and River Cruise Between Moscow & St. Petersburg

Just got back from our first Cruise (French & Italian Riviera) and are planning our big trip for next year...Moscow & St. Petersburg and the river cruise between the two cities. We don't feel comfortable with independent travel in Russia and are looking for recommendations of good travel companies especially those that specialize in smaller groups.

I realize river cruising is different from ocean cruising, but don't know what to expect wrt # of people on the excursions. We did 2 river cruises (Nile and Yangtze) in the early 90s and lucked out with very few people on the boats. In fact, our Egypt trip commenced just after they started killing tourists which decimated the tourist industry. Our tour group including # of people on the boat, consisted of 10 people . Yangtze conditions were similar with unrest resulting in much less than full boat!

Recommendations are greatly appreciated. We are also looking at spending some additional time in both Moscow, but especially in St. Petersburg, so will also most likely do some independent travel in those cities unless the travel companies provide for some guided ad-ons. Thanks for all insights.
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Old 10-01-2019, 01:13 PM   #2
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We took the Viking cruise a few years ago. We took in some of the boat's excursions but by far the best experiences involved hiring private guides.

In Moscow, for example, our guide (Daniel Petrov danpetrov74@gmail.com) met us at the boat and we headed for the subway station. We were in the city center at least 1/2 hour before the boat buses arrived. We say what we wanted to see, on our own schedule, and ate when and where we wanted to.

Viking had arranged a private performance of Swan Lake that turned into kind of a joke. At the end of the day excursion they bused everyone an hour back to the boat to have dinner, then another hour back for the performance. Too cheap to buy us dinner in town, of course.

St. Petersburg pretty much the same story. We extended a bit and had a private guide arranged by our hotel (https://hotelvera.ru/indexeng.html) but she fell and broke her collarbone the night before, so the hotel owner became our guide. Fascinating guy, originally a Russian Jew who emigrated to Israel, then ended up as a professor in the U Cal system.

The enroute stops during the cruise were quite forgettable, particular a Disney World type village selling souvenirs.
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Old 10-02-2019, 09:18 PM   #3
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The river cruise doesn't sound too appealing based on your experience! Maybe we should skip that and just go to Moscow & St. Petersburg and hire private guides. That was our initial plan a number of year ago while DH was still working, however, family illness just prior caused us to cancel the trip. Now that DH is retired we thought we would also do the river cruise. Back to the drawing board and do some more research!
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Old 10-03-2019, 06:07 AM   #4
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We entered St. Petersburg on a cruise ship and spent two days with a small group tour and a great tour guide. Their van could get down alleys and into small spaces quickly and efficiently.

And we didn't have to jump through hoops to be "invited" into the country and go thru their expensive Visa process.

We loved St. Petersburg as it was incredibly beautiful. But we do realize it's just a showplace of a terribly poor country with another dictator stealing the country blind.
There are other places I'd rather spend my money seeing.
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Old 10-03-2019, 06:14 AM   #5
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DH and I went to St. Petersburg only in 2003 and loved it. We did what others suggested: traveled independently and got private guides. I even applied for our visas- you need an invitation from the hotel but that was easy. You also needed a copy of the itinerary from your travel agent. I made up a nice facsimile travel agent letterhead and put our itinerary on it.

I know 2003 is ancient history and Russia has changed somewhat, but we were fine walking around on our own. We used the private guides to visit Pushkin, the Youssoupovsky Mansion and the Hermitage. For Pushkin (formerly Tsarskoe Selo) the guide took us on a series of vans driven by Georgians (I later found out)- you got on, passed your fare up through the other passengers to the driver, the driver made change and the change was passed back to you. We never would have done that on our own!

Disappointing to read of Viking's trip back to the ship for dinner to save a few bucks in a restaurant- chintzy and not in keeping with what I've heard about Viking.
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Old 10-03-2019, 11:33 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TrvlBug View Post
The river cruise doesn't sound too appealing based on your experience! Maybe we should skip that and just go to Moscow & St. Petersburg and hire private guides. That was our initial plan a number of year ago while DH was still working, however, family illness just prior caused us to cancel the trip. Now that DH is retired we thought we would also do the river cruise. Back to the drawing board and do some more research!
Well, I should explain a little bit:

DW and I travel to learn about countries, history, politics and people. We have only limited interest in statues, skeletons, paintings, and architecture. To get what we want, we really have to be in the country.

In our limited cruising experience (2 small ships) we found we were traveling in a sort of Western bubble, with people much like the people we know at home, with familiar foods, and uninteresting accommodations. From time to time we would get into bus bubbles with those same people and take little mini-tours of statues, skeletons, paintings and buildings. Then it was back into the ship bubble until time for the next bus bubbles. Many people really love this, particularly on bigger ships where there are Western style activities and entertainment and the foods and surroundings are familiar. (My sister, not so much: "It was like being trapped in a shopping center for a week.")

In our case, the bubble system does not work. What we try to do is to design a trip where we have a guide and driver for the duration. We learn a lot from the guide while traveling and over dinners; it becomes like traveling with a friend who knows the country. We were extremely flattered in Myanmar last year to be the first clients our guide had ever taken to his home to meet his wife and children. We also avoid the "star" hotel bubbles, seeking instead very small hotels, BnBs, and AirBNBs run by real people, not corporations. We are pleased when we are taken to a restaurant where we aren't familiar with a single dish on the menu.

Small group travel tends towards being bubble-like, but not always. We have had pretty good luck with Road Scholar. (https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-...e?query=moscow)

So (back to our regularly scheduled program) @TrvlBug, it really depends on what you want. We did not think much about the Viking experience but you may love it. I think the majority of people who travel with them do. If you do go back to the drawing board, I'd suggest https://www.intltravelnews.com/ as an excellent resource. Buy a subscription and you'll be able to search back issues for subscriber-written articles on private and group travel experiences, including names and contact information for guides and tour operators.
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