Cruising in Russia

Russia surrounded by a lot of seas as well a lot of rivers pass through its territory. But when it comes to cruising there are only a few options available. Russia has a lot of rivers but only one river cruise itinerary developed for the American market.

  • River cruising on Moscow – St. Petersburg waterway (or vice versa)
    Stops in St. Petersburg for the Baltic Sea cruise
  • Sochi and cities in Crimea for Black Sea cruise,
  • Vladivostok and/or Petropavlovsk for Far East cruise.

Cruising season in Russia is short:

  • River cruising – from May up to the end of October
  • Baltic cruise – May through August
  • Black Sea cruise – from May up to October
  • Far East – occasionally

River Cruising in Russia: What You Need to Know

Moscow – St. Petersburg waterway (or vice versa) is the most popular itinerary for the Americans. Yes, there are itineraries on the Volga River from Moscow to Astrakhan and vice versa. This itinerary is mostly for the Russian market.

River cruise lines that work on the American market don’t offer this itinerary yet.
How the Russian River Cruises Are Different from European?

There are a few very important things that separate the Russian River cruises from others:

  • According to the Russian law international cruise companies don’t allow to own ships that cruise on the Russian rivers. This means that all ships are leased from the Russian company with crew members. River cruise lines don’t have control over the ship and crew members. This situation differentiates the Russian river cruises from the European ones.
  • Ships are old – ranging from 50 to 20 years old. Yes, they are refurbished but layouts and mechanical equipment are old. This may translate into noise, vibration, tiny staterooms, and lack of facilities as gym, elevator or walking promenade as well as small public areas.
  • Crew members are hired and trained by the Russian company so their standards may be different from the American standards. Due to the short cruising season the majority of crew members are students studying English.
  • Most of chefs are Russian who are not trained in the Western Culinary institutions. So, don’t expect that food will be according to premium and luxury cruise lines standards. There are a lot of Russian ethnic food in the menu with sour cream and beets.
  • All the Russian ships built as ferries so they are larger compare to regular river ships on the market – 200+ guests versus 144.

Russia River Cruise Itineraries

The Russian River Cruises start in St. Petersburg or Moscow. Usually, there 3 nights in those cities so ship serves as a hotel. Pay attention that ports are quite far from the cities center and traffic is very bad in both of them. It takes around 1 hour to reach Moscow’s center and around 45 minutes in St. Petersburg’s one by bus when traffic is not too heavy.

Keep in mind that ballet performance offered by river cruise lines are not in the famous theaters as Bolshoi or Mariinsky. Those performances are arranged for cruise guests only. So, don’t expect big names ballerinas perform for you.

Russian cruise itinerary includes Volga-Baltic canal, Lake Onega, Lake Ladoga and Svir River.  This area is flat covered by birch forests and not well populated. This translates in quite monotonous scenery.

The best stops are Kizhi and Yaroslavl with unique architecture and rich history behind. Other stops are not so excited.

We recommend making a cruise extension in St. Petersburg for a few additional nights in the hotel to enjoy this very special city: palaces, Hermitage, museums, and theaters. Contact us at 772 777-1337 to make a personalized schedule.

River Cruise Lines that Work in Russia

Surprisingly,  there are only 3 river cruise lines that work in Russia and offer their products to Americans:

  • AmaWaterways  – all departures are cancelled for 2015

All ships are Russia-owned:

  • AmaKatarina from AmaWaterways, built in 1981, refurbished in 2011, former name Mstislav Rostropovich, 212 guests
  • River Victoria from Uniworld, built in 1982, refurbished in 2011, former name Aleksandr Griboedov, 206 guests
  • Viking Helgi form Viking Cruises, built in 1984, refurbished in 2013, former name Aleksey Surkov , 210 guests
  • Viking Ingvar form Viking Cruises, built in 1990, refurbished in 2013, former name Narkom Pakhomov, 210 guests
  • Viking Rurik form Viking Cruises, built in 1975, refurbished in 2012, former name Mariya Ulyanova and Petergof, 196 guests
  • Viking Truvor form Viking Cruises, built in 1987, refurbished in 2013, former name Sergei Kirov, 210 guests
  • Viking Akun form Viking Cruises, built in 1988, refurbished in 2014, former name Marshal Koshevoi , 204 guests

Oceanic Cruises with Stops in Russia

The major attraction in the Baltic cruises is St-Petersburg, Russia. Architecture, palaces, parks, museums, concerts and shows are very special and hard to find in other cities as a solid experience.

When you pick up a Baltic cruise take into consideration a few facts.

There are two places where oceanic ships are docked:

  • ‘Morskoi Vokzal’ which is very far from the city center. It takes around 1 hour to reach Nevskiy Prospect. It is more when traffic is heavy.
  • Neva River Bank which is just at the historical center of St-Petersburg. You can walk to the Hermitage or to the Isaak Cathedral from your ship.

Rule of Thumb:

All mass market big cruise liners dock in the ‘Morskoi Vokzal.’ Smaller, more upscale ships dock in the Neva River.

When plan your cruise think twice about the Russian visa.

While visa is compulsory for river cruisers, it is optional for the Baltic Sea cruises. If you wish to take excursion from the ship or by the authorized tour company including private tours you don’t need a visa.

Keep in mind that you have to follow your group or your tour guide and don’t allowed leave them because you officially don’t cross a border and need to be supervised.
The Russian visa gives you more freedom to explore city by your own or a private guide of your choice. You even can go to the Hermitage on your own (it make sense if your ship is almost next to it.) Or go to the theater of your choice including the Mariinskiy Theater. Contact us at 772 777-1337 to discuss what is the best option for you.