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Russia holds a particular fascination for North Americans who are interested in both the country’s historic side and its modern-day transformation. Travelers have access to the essence of both on river cruises between Moscow and St. Petersburg, and with the skyrocketing costs of hotels and restaurants in Russia’s major cities, river cruises represent a tremendous value coupled with the comfort and security of a traveling home base.
Viking’s Surkov calls in quaint Russian towns.
Most cruises include both guided tours and free time in the cities, along with visits to destinations like Kizhi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and open-air museum of ancient Russian wooden houses and windmills. They may also call in Golden Ring cities that played a crucial role in the history of the country. And in historic Yaroslavl, at the confluence of the Volga and Kotorosl Rivers, its 17th-century churches and urban master plan under Catherine the Great have resulted in an exceptionally beautiful city.
Some cruises call in Goritzy, where the lovely nunnery has a wild and bloody history. Founded in 1554 by Princess Efrosinia, it became a personal harem for Ivan the Terrible, who kept abducted aristocratic Russian beauties there, including Boris Godunov’s daughter.
Some itineraries also cruise the Rybinsk Reservoir, a precursor to China’s Three Gorges Dam. Completed in the late 1940s to produce hydroelectric power, it was then the largest man-made body of water on earth. Some ships still sail on Europe’s two largest lakes: Lake Onega, fed by 50 rivers and covered with 1,650 islands, and Lake Ladoga, the largest of them all and the site of many battles during World War II.
River cruise lines offer experiences from dinner with a Russian family to traditional Russian tea and music and dance performances, along with English-speaking guides and onboard lecturers who can give personal insight into the complex story that is Russia, past and present.
The following details river cruise lines with Russia itineraries for 2009:
AmawaterwaysAmawaterways’ Russian Waterways program, which begins sailing May 18, brings guests aboard the 160-passenger ms Tolstoy, originally designed to accommodate high-ranking Kremlin officials and visiting dignitaries. Cruising north from Moscow, the ship visits the Golden Ring cities of Uglich, Kostroma and Yaroslavl, and sails through the huge Lakes Onega and Ladoga. The 12-night itinerary between Moscow and St. Petersburg includes daily sightseeing and unlimited wine with dinner. Other itinerary features include a home visit and meal with a Russian family in Uglich, onboard music performances and Russian language classes. Pricing is from $2,899, cruise-only.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionUniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s 16-day Imperial Russia itinerary — with all-English-speaking guides and departures starting June 17 — is offered aboard the 220-passenger Litvinov. The line’s portable audio headset system on shore excursions ensures that guests can hear everything as they freely explore sites such as the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the palace of Catherine the Great.
Once passengers have developed a sense of the city, and have seen many of its major sights, a shuttle service provides free time for a second, independent visit. Likewise, in Moscow, shore excursion time is divided into a guided tour of the city — seeing Red Square, the Kremlin and cruising the 80-mile Moscow Canal — and a day for passengers to explore on their own.
The ship also cruises the Svir River and visits Mandrogi, a reconstructed 18th-century village. Other calls include the Kizhi Open-Air Museum, Goritzy and Yaroslavl. Pricing is from $3,499 per person, cruise-only.
Viking River CruisesViking River Cruises’ 13-day Waterways of the Czars itinerary provides multiple days in both Moscow and St. Petersburg and calls at quaint towns in between, including Yaroslavl, Uglich and Goritzy.
The newly renovated, 206-passenger Viking Kirov and Viking Surkov feature restaurants with panoramic views and cooking stations for made to order items like omelets or pancakes. All staterooms are outside with river views, private bathrooms/showers, Sony 26-inch, flat-panel televisions and refrigerators, with pricing starting at $3,299 per person.
Through April 30, the line is offering savings of $3,000 per couple in Russia or free all-inclusive international airfare.
Click here to read more about activities for clients in Moscow and St. Petersburg