Russia cruise from Moscow to St. Petersburg
What made me say yes to the Russia cruise:
- While I usually have plans for half a year ahead, the dates of the cruise I was free. Before and after I had trips planned already.
- I also could take someone with me.
- It was just after my mother’s birthday and she wanted to go somewhere on holidays. She got days off work which is never possible except July and August and this was in the end of May and beginning of June.
- I always wanted to visit different towns around Russia so cruise is a perfect way to do so.
- If you own a Slovak passport like I do, then getting visa to Russia is not very difficult but it’s not cheap either and you have to have an invitation letter and all your accommodation booked. For that reason traveling in any other way around Russia than on a cruise would be a challenge and maybe not good enough for visa.
- My mum speaks some Russian and Ukrainian (way more than me) so I could not imagine having a better company there.
- Mum is scared of boats and ships so it was my way of showing her there’s no reason for that and that it really feels awesome to overcome your fear.
So I asked for visa when staying at the hotel Danubia Gate in Bratislava, spoke at 2 conferences there and made my way back to my home town to pick my mum. Then we took a 13-hour night train to Prague to hop on our flight to Kiev and then to Moscow.
We arrived to Moscow very late and tired. The Rachmaninov cruise crew sent us a local driver to pick us up at the airport and mum was super happy as no one had ever waited for her with her name printed out on a piece of paper 🙂
The driver’s English was very basic … Oh boy, the fun with the Russian language can start!
It took us more than an hour to get from the airport to the cruise ship but at least on the way we drove around the famous Red Square. I was impressed with the colours and lights! WOW!
I knew in the very first moment I was going to love Moscow.
Elena, the guide of our English speaking group greeted us at with a smile at the cruise reception that looks like piano keys. I was nicely surprised by her perfect English. So grateful for having someone to talk to without many misunderstandings trying to say/understand something in Russian.
Russia cruise schedule:
- 6 locks at night and the Uglich lock
- Rybinsk lock
- Rybinsk lock, lock number 7
- Goritsy and the Monastery of St. Cyril of the White Lake
- 6 locks
- Kizhi island
- Upper Svir lock
- Lower Svir lock
- St. Petersburg
The cruise trip was 11 days in total but because we wanted to see more in the cities, we arived 2 days earlier and left 2 days later.
Out of 11 days we spent 6 days sailing and visiting smaller towns on the way. So to make it clear, after the first 2 – 3 days in Moscow (depends on what time you arrived on the first day) we stopped in a new town every day until reaching St. Petersburg where we spent 2 or 3 days in the port again.
What to think of before a Russia cruise:
- You can exchange money only in Moscow, Uglich and Yaroslavl but then nothing in between until St. Petersburg.
- Russia is what is in between Moscow and St. Petersburg where you can see nature and real Russians, not the Cosmopolitan people in the big cities. So do get out of the cruise ship every day.
- Be prepared for ANY kind of weather. We got non-typical sunny weather but usually on the first cruise of the year (like ours) or any other during the summer months you cannot predict the weather. So please bring warm clothes, swimsuit for sunbathing, raincoat, umbrella, comfortable walking shoes, tank tops, scarves, summer hats and winter caps, wind and water-proof jackets, and also elegant clothes for dinners/ballet.
- Be prepared for walking and taking photos quickly. Be on time. Be patient. You are traveling in a group which challenges you as a person and a traveler if you mostly travel on your own. Here is the complete opposite.
What I liked about our Russia cruise:
- Almost each evening we had a brief meeting about the plans for the following day.
- Buffet breakfast – everyone definitely found something to choose from. I was happy to have fruit (fresh, dried, canned) and tried a few different kinds of porridge (rice, corn, oat.)
- After every dinner a paper with the next day schedule was waiting for us under the cabin door.
- We had 2 classes of Russian language, so much fun!
- I had a chance to learn many things about Russia and its inhabitants.
- I loved the afternoon Russian tea when we tasted different kinds of cakes accompanied by black tea. The highlight was to see our waiters wearing traditional costumes. They looked really cute!
- Each time it was someone’s birthday (there were a few of them, maybe 4), the person got a cake and the kitchen staff with the guides sang happy birthday. Plus, the cruise band played and sang something, too.
- The Captain was the sweetest man ever. He could understand some English but spoke only Russian. Every single time he saw me and my mum, he talked to us laughing.
- Most of the waiters and bartenders were very sweet and always willing to fulfill our wildest desires. My most favorite ones were Sergey and Yuriy as I could also have a conversation with them in a mixture of Slovak+Ukrainian+Russian+English. They were nice enough to make me smoothies and fresh orange juice every day as together with green or herbal tea is pretty much the only thing I could drink at the bar.
- Internet – I got a 4G stick to use on my laptop. There were also 2 computers in the library and wifi in some parts of the cruise ship. I could do the most important things as having no internet connection for 2 weeks would be too much for a person like me who works on internet.
- Elena was the best guide ever! Always there for us ready to help us with all our needs and questions.
- The onboard band – they were really great when playing musical instruments and singing both the traditional Russian and classical music. We could listen to them every single night
- The talent show – on our last night of cruising after we left Mandrogi we had a talent show where many guests sang and danced. I was so surprised to see them all having fun, but let me tell you, we had a blast watching them 🙂
- We could enter the Captain bridge and learn more about the Russia cruise and how they manouver the ship. Interesting, no doubt!
- 3 bars on the cruise ship. I am not a party person, nor a drinker at all but I loved to hang out at the bars cheating my healthy diet with dark chocolate.
- Photos in the restaurant and on the hallway walls always put a smile on my face. Ballet, Moscow and St. Petersburg day and night images were all incredibly awesome.
- The souvenir shop on the 2nd deck.
- The open sundeck with tables, chairs and sunbeds where my mum could enjoy a cup of coffee and me a glass of orange juice, and both of us sunbathing and relax. We were extremely lucky to get sunny and mostly warm weather (warm for Russia.) So lucky we sunbathed every day for 2 weeks except one, the second day in Moscow when it was so cold and windy my whole body was frozen and shaking even when I was wearing all the warmest clothes I had.
- I could practice yoga every day or on the sundeck or when visiting the towns.
- hot water and coffee machine on the 2nd deck – I could get as much green tea as I wanted to.
- I enjoyed observing the seagulls flying behind our cruise ship as much as I loved spending hours just looking up … clouds, sun beams, sunsets … precious!
What I did not like on the Russia cruise:
- Shame the 4G internet stick worked only sometimes for me (not when sailing through lakes and during the storm) and many other times I could just reply to Facebook messages, or occasionally post a photo on my social media channels. I also have no idea why I could not connect to cruise ship wifi for 9 days at all until we came to St. Petersburg. But on the other hand I needed to relax so it was perfect.
- problems with food – trying to be a vegan makes it difficult when I cannot prepare my own food or choose from a variety of smoothies, juices or salads. There were very few meal options I had on the cruise if I wanted to be strictly 100% vegan. They were really trying to vary with my meals but a couple of times they forgot about my vegan diet and I got something I could/should not eat which messed up with my body a little bit. I just did not feel comfortable repeating the same thing over and over again so then I ”cheated” with a few non-vegan, yet still vegetarian desserts.
- no adventure trips were offered on the cruise. On the other hand, I understand it’s mostly elder guests and they want to visit dozens of churches and get to know the traditions and so there would not be enough of us.
- 2 out of our 6 offered trips in St. Petersburg were cancelled – one becuase there was not enough people interested so only a private group left to Peterhof Gardens (probably the nicest place there) and the second one because the bus then took the people to the airport directly after the tour and was waiting there for the new guests so we could not join. And then because of my injury we cancelled one walking tour in the city so did not see much in St. Petersburg in the end.
- I wish more staff spoke better English as at times it was a bit difficult.
- A few things were unorganized but I hope they got better. Our cruise trip was the first of 2015 and many crew members were new.
- I dare to say 95% of the cruise guests were older than my mother and the majority of them were of my grandparents’ age. I did admire their passion for the unknown, and strength and energy to walk that much. I also had a bunch of nice conversations with some of them. But then the trips were adapted for their age and at times it felt a bit weird to be surrounded by a very few people of my age only.
The best photo opportunities:
- the famous Moscow Red Square and Moscow metro stations
- The first night of sailing we went through 6 locks in Moscow at night. Altogether on the cruise we passed through 16 locks but one of them twice, so 17 altogether. It’s incredible to watch the cruise ship making its way through the locks both during the day and night time. Make sure to check out the Uglich Lock and the Rybinsk lock, and the Svir locks. Our ship is almost 17 m wide and the 6 locks we went through at night are 18 m wide. So the crew had to be really talented to squeeze the ship in between. Don’t miss watching it!
- The Volga river was flooded in this area in the 1930’s so the part between Moscow to Uglich was man-made.
- Uglich lock and Uglich souvenir market.
- The flooded Kalyazin Bell Tower with only 75 m of the upper part not flooded. The Neoclasical campanile from the end of the 19th century makes for probably the best photo opportunity of the whole cruising.
- The famous Rybinsk lock to get into the reservoir. At the entrance we can see the famous Madushka – the Mother of Volga statue from 1961. The Rybinsk Reservoir was the biggest artificial river reservoir in the world at the time when it was created in 1921. It’s very windy there but not deep. Sailing 217 km across the Rybinsk Reservoir took us around 7 hours. It was a very slow sailing as the lake reaches only up to 6 m at the deepest.
- Many locks and reservoirs were built by gulags so nothing else was built close by in case they would like to escape. This fact gives you the opportunity to enjoy the uninterrupted green scenery seen from the cruise ship.
- Goritsy is a tiny 100% Russian village with traditional wooden houses out of which some still don’t have running water. Some locals invite tourists to enter their houses so don’t miss your chance. There’s also an active nunnery in Goritsy but it is mostly famous for the Cyril’s Monastery close by and for unique birch bark souvenirs.
- The Nativity Church of Krokhino is another flooded church but this one is in ruins already.
- The Lake Onega can be 100 m deep and there we visited Kizhi – a real island with only 30 inhabitants and a famous wooden church which has been under restoration for 7 years. The closest town is far away so only cruises can usually Kizhi. Shungite, a special black mineral stone can be found on the island which is used for souvenirs.
- We crossed the Lake Onega again to get to Mandrogi, a town located at the same latitude as Ancorage in Alaska. Mandrogi is now famous for art and handicraft workshops and souvenirs. On a cold day you can go to the Russian sauna banya here (we had a very warm day so we did not go there.)
- The Svir river connects the two largest lakes in Europe and small villages along the river make it very picturesque.
- Later we entered the lake Ladoga which is the biggest natural lake in Europe. Sunsets are beautiful here, especially during the so called white nights when we visited. We spent around 8 hours sailing across the Southern part of the Ladoga lake which most of the time looked like the sea as we could not see anything but water around us.
- St. Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia and the most European city amongst all the Russian towns. Now even probably the top 3 visited city in the world.I enjoyed the most the night boat trip and some paintings at the Hermitage museum.
“There are ships sailing through rivers. There are ships sailing through seas.
But the best ships are friendships :)”
My mother and I are really thankful for those 2 weeks we spent on the Russia cruise. The Rachmaninov cruise trip was a press trip organized by Gvidon Tours.