Tours to Russia

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Please help me compare cruise companies operating between St Petersburg and Moscow. To me, the neophyte river cruiser, they all look alike -- except price. I've gathered company itineraries and also printed previous Message Board postings describing various cruises. Now, I seek advice to help me compare Viking, Vantage, Grand Circle, UniTours, and General Tours. Also, what about Peter the Great Tours which is unknown to me or MIR? Also, while browsing various brochures, I discovered high speed trains which link St Petersburg and Moscow. My husband and I are not cruisers by nature and see the river cruises as nearly the only avenue to discover Russia. Would we be as well served by focusing on the two major cities and traveling by train? Next, if available, would a post trip to Kiev be worth the extra cost? Finally, I welcome any other advice regarding the how and what to see in Russia. We're seasoned travelers so the basic travel guide information we can find. We seek the unique special advice that ITN readers can offer. Your advice has enhanced our travel experiences frequently in the past.

We took the Russian River Cruise (Moscow to St. Petersburg (as well as the Ukrainian one (Kiev-Odessa) and enjoyed both enormously. That was several years ago so I really have nothing to offer about the various companies. I believe the operator of our Russian trip is no longer in business (we actually bought it through Isram World of Travel, although Isram was not involved with the cruise itself. As I recall, there was a Grand Circle group on that boat). We bought the Ukrainian one through Value World Tours--again, they didn't operate the cruise, but our dealings with them were quite satisfactory. We got excellent prices both times.

It's my guess (can't prove it) that the less expensive packages would provde similar experiences to the costlier ones. Boats and food might perhaps be a little fancier, but we had no complaints about our bargain cruises.

The current itineraries remain much the same as those we had. We found the stops very interesting and worthwhile and we had excellent local guides. This riverboat cruise is far different from the big cruise ships. We weren't cruisers either, but enjoyed the intimacy of the small boat, the glimpses of local life along the waterways, and especially the towns and churches and monasteries--and people--we encountered along the way.

I can strongly recommend this Russian experience, but would also recommend that you try to arrange extra time in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Our time was far too short in both of those great cities. Hope this helps.

Ruth's comments are right on target. It seems that most river cruises are basically the same, excluding cabin size and price. Following are results from my research: Note all pricing is including their air service from Orlando. All quotes were from departures, St. Petersburg to Moscow late June 2012. All quotes were for mid-level cabins. Significant variations were found with included activities and optionals.

Vantage -- Imperial Russian Waterways. Boat has 160 passengers, group size average 20, 15 days priced at $5264. Unless upgrading to a Junior Suite with 160 sq ft, mid level cabins are 103 square feet with one bed a fold down murphy bed. Vantage mixes hotel stays in Moscow and St Petersburg with boat cabins during the cruise portion. An upgrade to a Junior Suite would bring the total to $6564. With Vantage 6 lunches and 5 dinners are at the travelers expense. Reviewers gave this one positive, one less so positive.

Grand Circle -- Russia Revealed. Boat has 216 passengers with 36 in a group, 15 days priced at $5332 . An A level cabin was 150 sq feet. All lodging is on the boat. Only one lunch is not included. During the cruise, Grand Circle does not stop at Yaroslavl. Reviewers gave this one positive; one negative due to the food.

Uniworld -- Imperial Waterways of Russia. Boat has 206 passengers with 25 in a group, 13 days priced at $7,694. 1 level cabin size in 210 sq feet with balcony. All meals are included. All lodging is on the boat. The only review I could find was glowing.

Viking -- Waterways of the Czars. Boat has 210 passengers with average 30 in a group, 13 days on the river or 14 days for comparison purposes. BX cabin is 160 sq feet. All meals are included. All lodging is on the boat. Two reviews were positive.

I then went to www.cntraveler.com/iconictrips to review their Russia, Moscow, and St Petersburg trip iconic itinerary. Of special note is the discussion of what was included -- or not -- and why. Here also, I learned that train travel between Moscow and St Petersburg is far less recommended than the river cruise mode, both for comfort and experience. www.frommers.com/destinations/moscow and www.frommers.com/destinations/stpetersburg each rate main attractions in each city.

Based on this research, I compared each of the four Russian cruise itineraries for included and optional attractions in each city to ensure that we could see what was most recommended. Our final decision was to travel with Viking.

When we come back, I'll let you know if we were happy with our decision.

If you haven't booked already, check out Imperial River Cruises. We did that cruise (booked through
Affordable Tours.com) in August and it was fine. It may not have been as luxurious as the others...the cabin seemed smaller than on some other river cruises we have taken...but we only paid about $2200 or so. We arranged our own airline reservations using frequent flyer miles.

Ooooops, I forgot to include the Viking pricing in my earlier post with the comparisons. Viking's BX cabin with air from Orlando was $5842. They offer a $50 extra "custom air" feature which is supposed to allow us to work with their air reservations folks for desired routing and schedules. They, like many companies, offer a 3% discount for check or e-pay pre-payment.

Marian, unfortunately, I had not found Imperial River Cruises so did have them to compare. Thank you for the input though.

The website for Imperial River Cruises is http://www.imperialrivercruises.com/