|Help this Site|
Unless you're unusually adventurous, there's really no other safe or comfortable way to venture out of Russia's two major cities of Moscow and St Petersburg, other than by cruise ship.
Happily these two cities are joined by a series of rivers, canals and lakes, giving you a chance to see parts of Russia that regular tourists never get to visit, plus giving you a full experience in both Moscow and St Petersburg.
About the Cruise/Tour
You should depart the US on or before Thursday 5 July 2007, to join the vessel in Moscow on Friday 6 July. The cruise ends on Wednesday 18 July in St Petersburg.
Like a traditional cruise, this is a fully inclusive cruise, and - better than a traditional cruise - it includes a generous amount of shore touring as well, at no extra cost. You won't have to pay extra for your shore touring as we visit the lovely towns along the canals, rivers and lakes that take us between Moscow and St Petersburg.
The cruise of course includes three great meals a day, plus various other snacks, free wine with dinner and on-board entertainment, as well as generous opportunities to sightsee, both from the boat as it cruises along, and while ashore during the many stops. You typically have time to both participate in a provided tour and also to sightsee on your own.
Why this cruise is the best way to see Russia
I've been wanting to offer a summer tour to Russia for years, but have never been able to satisfactorily arrange guaranteed high quality and reasonably priced hotel rooms, charter coaches, tour guides, etc. There are just too many things that can go wrong when organizing group tours to Russia, and I wasn't prepared to personally endorse anything unless I could be close to 100% certain that the quality and experience would be of assured and high quality.
And, even if I had succeeded in arranging a land based tour, it would only be to the two major cities of Moscow and St Petersburg. There's no way to take a group of people to small towns - many times the road access is very poor, and there's nowhere suitable to eat at or stay in once getting there.
I wanted to be able to offer a multi-dimensional full Russian experience, but couldn't see how to do this.
And then I discovered the wonder of cruising style itineraries. All of a sudden, all the things I'd worried about were resolved, and all the impossible things I'd wanted to include because conveniently possible. Accordingly, I took a group on this cruise in 2006, and based on our very positive experiences, am pleased to repeat it again in 2007.
This cruise takes you way off the beaten track and shows you both the stereotypical Russia as seen in Moscow (and, in a more distinctive fashion, in glorious St Petersburg too) plus also shows you the amazingly different life outside of the major cities. And, all the while, you're always assured of your comfortable bed back on the boat, and of three good meals every day.
In total, you cruise for more than 1300 miles through Russia, giving you a great range of experiences, sights and sites.
Truly, this cruise on the rivers, canals and lakes between Moscow & St Petersburg makes Russia much more conveniently accessible than any other form of touring.
Why choose this cruise on these dates
Based on our experience on the 2006 cruise and on traveling to Russia very many times over the last decade and longer, we feel this is the best time to visit Russia, when the weather is warm to hot and the days very long and pleasant.
We also feel the cruises traveling from Moscow to St Petersburg give a better overall experience than the cruises traveling in the opposite direction.
Experience of the 2006 cruise
I took a small group of Travel Insider readers on a 'beta test' cruise in July 2006. This was to evaluate the suitability of the ship, the itinerary, and the overall experience - river cruises in Russia are of a much more variable quality than they are in western Europe.
The bottom line? The experience exceeded expectations in all respects. The boat was comfortable and spotlessly clean, the food was good, the itinerary was interesting, the weather wonderful, and the shipboard crew were the friendliest nicest people I've ever met on a cruise, anywhere in the world (see picture above).
Overall it was an extremely pleasant experience, and so with a great deal of personal anticipation and pleasure, I'm delighted to more widely offer the cruise in 2007. You can confidently choose to join this cruise.
Travel Insider Exclusive Extras
If you join our special Travel Insider group, you'll get extra experiences that no-one else on board will share :
Information about Amadeus Waterways
This will be our third group cruise with Amadeus. We took a group on the same Russian river itinerary in 2006, and have another group traveling with us on a Christmas Markets cruise in December 2006. We'd earlier taken a group on a cruise with Viking River Cruises in 2004. The Viking experience was excellent in almost all respects, but we believe Amadeus is better. This is not because we dislike Viking at all, but simply because, based on our experiences and expectations, Amadeus offers a better itinerary, on a better ship, and is a better value product.
This perception isn't just a coincidence. The founder and head of Amadeus, Rudi Schreiner, first worked for Uniworld (another fine cruise company) and then was President of Viking River Cruises from 2000 until the end of 2002, when he left to found Amadeus, with Amadeus first appearing on the market in 2003, and growing steadily every year since then. Rudi was largely responsible for the excellent operations at both Uniworld and Viking, and now he is taking everything he has learned and applying it in his own company, with - so far - outstanding results.
His ships are as good or better than any others you'll find on the rivers and canals of Europe, and are (of course) also very new. As the new company in the market, he is having to work harder to win business, and is doing so by offering great itineraries, lots of inclusions, and great values. I've spoken with Rudi and he impresses as a sensible and perceptive gentleman.
In 2004, Amadeus was still new and largely unproven, so we chose the safer option of Viking. Nowadays, Amadeus is a proven quality operator we're pleased to partner with. We are confident you'll agree with us that Amadeus Waterways is an excellent operation.
Because Amadeus is relatively new, there are few independent reviews of their cruises. Here are three :
Reviewer 'Wasatch' writes of his May 2006 Tolstoy cruise
Tom Ogg writes about his experience with Amadeus on a different itinerary and says in his conclusion (I agree with everything but wonder how they managed to get 11 hours sleep a night!)
Connie and Darwin write of their cruise (link broken)
Our cruise ship for this cruise is the ms Tolstoy (the picture shows that it actually is named, in Russian, the Lev Tolstoy), named after the famous Russian author and poet, Lev (Leo) Tolstoy. (You can click the image for a larger picture of the ship).
Unlike most of the vessels on Russia's waterways, this one was constructed in Austria, using much higher quality materials than the standard level of Russian shipbuilding. This is because the ship was originally intended to be used by high ranking Kremlin officials and the visiting foreign dignitaries they wished to impress. Its cabins are larger than on other Russian cruise ships, the vessel has been recently renovated and everything is very clean and in good condition.
The Tolstoy has a capacity for 150 passengers, unlike some of the other Russian vessels which can hold sometimes as much as twice this number. This means the Tolstoy gives much more personal service, unlike the larger boats which often suffer from a very institutional feeling (this is not a good thing in Russia!). The crew recognize you and look after you personally, and you form one on one friendships with them and with fellow passengers.
The ship has generously sized public areas, including your choice of lounges, and a single seating restaurant where nearly all tables are next to windows for great views of the passing scenery. There are also outdoor areas, and with our cruise being in mid-summer, you're sure to enjoy the open outdoors as well as the inside areas.
More details about the Tolstoy can be seen on the Amadeus Waterways website.
There is quite a range of different cabin types on the Tolstoy. Standard cabins are a fairly compact 110 sq ft each - however, while this is not spacious, it is still 20% larger than is found on most other Russian vessels. There are also junior suites (220 sq ft) and massive full suites with 330 sq ft of space.
Cabins are on three decks, and have large openable picture windows, and all come with private bathrooms having separate shower areas (a unique feature not found on other Russian vessels).
We'd recommend the C or B category cabins as being the best value. The D & E cabins suffer from being too close to the water line, with appreciably poorer views.
The junior and full suites are of course very much nicer, especially for the twelve days/nights you'll be spending on board, but they have an appreciable extra cost associated with them. However, if you can justify the extra cost, you'll love the huge increase in space, and the couple who took a full suite on the 2006 cruise were delighted with it.
Tip : If still available, choose the least expensive cabin type on the deck you'd rather be on. There is no added value in choosing a D cabin in favor of an E cabin, or a B cabin in favor of a C cabin.
The cruise commences in Moscow on Friday 6 July 2007. If you're traveling from the US, you should leave on Thursday 5 July (or earlier) to arrive into Moscow on the 6th (or earlier).
The cruise finishes in St Petersburg on Wednesday 18 July. You can then either return home that day, extend your stay in Russia (perhaps spend some more time in St Petersburg and then return back to Moscow by overnight sleeper train and fly home again from Moscow), or travel elsewhere as you wish.
Optional Overnight Train Return to Moscow
We are offering an optional night train return to Moscow on the night of 18 July. This option proved very popular with our 2006 cruise participants - it gives us another full day in St Petersburg (we provide a good coach, driver, and guide for the day), and then late that night we take an overnight sleeper train back to Moscow, arriving into Moscow at about 8am and in time to then transfer back to the airport for flights back to the US or elsewhere.
The price of this option is not yet known, but is estimated to be between $250 and $300 per person, including a full day of sightseeing in St Petersburg, transfers in St Petersburg, and the overnight sleeper train to Moscow in a first class share twin compartment, with a breakfast on board the train.
Consider Arriving a Day Early
You might want to consider
arriving into Moscow a day early. This gives you an
'emergency' day in case of flight delays or luggage problems or
anything else, and also gives you a day to
'de-jetlag' before the cruise gets underway.
The following lists the rates per cabin type for this cruise. Click here for more information about deck plans.
You can pay for your tour using a credit card with no credit card surcharge.
A $200 per person non-refundable deposit is required to confirm your participation and to hold your preferred grade of cabin on this cruise, and the balance is due 90 days prior to the cruise starting.
What about the Air Fare?
If you buy the Amadeus airfare, they include transfers from the airport to the cruise ship when you arrive into Moscow, and from the ship back to the airport at the end of the cruise in St Petersburg. These transfers are convenient, but require you to arrive on the exact day the cruise starts and leave on the exact day the cruise ends. Taxi rides to/from the airports are easily arranged but are moderately expensive (about $50).
We suggest you check to see if you can use any frequent flier miles you might have for this travel, and/or check to see what the best fare you can get on your favorite airline is, then compare it to the Amadeus rate and make your decision then.
You are therefore free to make your own arrangements, any way you wish, to travel to Moscow and home again from St Petersburg, and you can of course make extra stops and arrive earlier or stay longer. You can choose whichever carrier has the best fare and the best schedules for you, and you can also choose a carrier that you wish to earn miles with.
We'll be pleased to answer any questions you might have about arranging your air transportation, of course.
Note : You can sometimes get a better airfare - and have a wider choice of airlines - by booking a simple roundtrip to Moscow rather than by flying in to Moscow and out from St Petersburg. This is one of the reasons we offer our optional sleeper train back to Moscow at the end of the cruise.
Tip : Ask for an air included quote when you know your travel dates. Then with that space held, see if you can get a better deal or more convenient flights, or perhaps frequent flier tickets. As long as you cancel your Amadeus arranged flights before you send in final payment, you can do this without penalty.
Which cities to fly in and out of
This might seem like an obvious issue, but you might want to also consider flying both in and out of Moscow if your preferred airline doesn't offer service to St Petersburg as well. Note that even if your preferred airline does offer service to St Petersburg, sometimes it doesn't operate flights every day of the week.
There is regular train service between the two cities, and our optional overnight sleeper train back to Moscow might be a fun way to end your Russian adventure.
We generally recommend you should protect against the various types of losses that may occur while traveling.
Amadeus Waterways offer a policy that covers you for trip cancellation and interruption costs, medical costs, trip delay, and baggage delay or loss. This is $199 per person. The premium is payable with your deposit.
To add an extra trip cancellation premium that will allow you to cancel for any reason at all, add another $30. With this add-on premium, if you cancel for a reason not covered by the main policy, Amadeus will refund you as much of your payment as is covered by their usual policy, and give you a voucher to be redeemed against future travel any time in the next year for the balance.
If you would like to add this protection, we'll send you a copy of the terms and conditions so you understand exactly what is covered.
All visitors to Russia need to have a visa issued prior to their travel commencing.
The cost of a Russian visa varies depending on the type of visa and how quickly you need it issued. Most standard tourist visas cost $100, but in addition to the cost of the visa itself, you also need a letter of invitation from Russia (= extra cost), and then to have your visa registered upon arrival in Russia (= still more cost).
Due to the complexity of getting a Russian visa, most people end up paying for a commercial visa service to do this for them. We are offering, as an exclusive benefit to Travel Insider readers (and assuming you are traveling on a US passport), to arrange a single entry tourist visa at no extra cost to you (above the Russian Consulate's $100 fee).
We will arrange the necessary support documentation; you simply fill out the application form and send the form, a photo, and your passport to us. We'll get the visa approved and entered into your passport and return your passport to you via insured priority mail.
This is both a great convenience and also a substantial saving.
Tour Terms and Conditions
Our standard terms and conditions apply to this tour.
In addition, please note these extra terms :
1. The 90 day payment due date is deemed to be Friday 6 April 2007.
2. US citizens require both a current passport that will not expire for at least six months after the date of their planned return back to the US in order to be admitted to Russia plus also a Russian visa (see Visa section above). Citizens of other countries should check with the airline that will transport them to Europe to determine what passport and visa requirements may apply.
3. Tour price is subject to change prior to full payment being received.
4. Terms and conditions of the cruise line (Amadeus Waterways) also apply.
The Travel Insider is
licensed by the State of Washington as a seller of travel -
registration number 602 036 247.