Imperial Waterways of Russia
Uniworld’s Imperial Waterways of Russia,9/10/2013
In its brochure, Uniworld warns would be clients that since they don’t own the ship, travelers may find that the amenities “may differ from those of a Uniworld company-owned ship”. Our experience from this cruise, however, is that in terms of comfort and services, the River Victoria meets and even surpasses the levels of comfort and quality of services that we have encountered on other cruise ships. For one, the River Victoria has more decks and is considerably larger than most cruise ships on the Rhine and the Danube – there are no low bridges to deal with on the Russian waterways – which provides more comfort and space to move around. For example, the tables in the dining room are not as tightly packed on the River Victoria; the ratio of staff to guests is almost double on the River Victoria compared to the other Uniworld cruise ships (110 staff to 202 guests on the River Victoria vs. 41 staff to 130 guests on the other ships). This, of course, has a bearing on the quality of the services provided. The staterooms are not larger on the River Victoria than on the other ships, but on the two upper decks, the Volga and the Neva, they open on oversized (about 12 x 8 ft) private balconies. These balconies were originally part of the public decks and were divided up into private balconies when the ship was remodeled in 2011. And because the ship was completely remodeled in 2011, the inside is brand new and spotlessly clean.
It is difficult to imagine a cruise that would offer better food in terms of variety and taste than what was provided for us on the River Victoria – we were even served caviar and champagne for breakfast on one occasion! Most dishes were Russian, at least by name, with some western favorites mixed in. Many of the menu items were prepared with plenty of cream, which is great for the palate, but perhaps not so great for the rest of the body – but not to worry; it’s only for two weeks! The quality of the service in the dining room is also noteworthy. The staff is made up of young Russian college students most of whom study languages; they are well trained, always very polite and extremely keen to provide the best service possible. They seemed to work 24 hours a day but they were always smiling and very cordial.
As for the cruise program, the three-day visit to each of the two metropolises at the beginning and at the end, Moscow and St. Petersburg, were, without any doubt, the highlights of the trip. But three days is hardly enough time to get a full appreciation of those mega-cities. The heavy traffic in Moscow combined with the distance between the city centre and the docks contributed to shorten the period of useful sightseeing (it took about one hour each way to commute between the ship and the city centre). There was less time lost in St. Petersburg as the access roads were not as congested as they were in Moscow and the distance between the ship and the city was shorter. But, overall, our visits were satisfactory and we did get to see most of the essentials thanks to a clever combination of city tours and featured and optional excursions.
The cruising part of the trip, the five days spent sailing through the waterways, provide a totally different experience from the cities. The pace is more relaxed and there is more time to carry out on-board activities such as attending lectures on different aspects of Russian life (history, geography, art and culture), learn the Russian language, or watch the Russian countryside unfold from any of the public decks or your own balcony. But don’t expect the scenery along the Imperial Waterways of Russia to be as spectacular as what you might experience along the Rhine and the Danube – deeply incised valleys with quaint little villages and medieval castles at every bend. Northern Russia is not like that; it is very flat, mostly undeveloped with a relatively low population density. The waterways run through long stretches of forested land with little sign of human activity. There are a few villages along the way but most are uninteresting and appear rather run down. There are a few exceptions, however, including the cities of Uglich and Yaroslavl on the Volga and Kizhi Island on Lake Onega. These are real gems; all three are important historical and cultural centers with spectacular architecture, including colourful onion-domed churches. They are the three most interesting scheduled stops with shore excursions of the cruise. The other two, Kirillov and Mandrogi, are interesting but not nearly as attractive as those mentioned above. Some visitors regard Mandrogi as a tourist trap due to the large number of souvenir shops, while others complain about the overwhelming abundance of mosquitoes. We were blessed with perfect weather on the day we went and not a single mosquito. This was in late August which may be the best time of the year to go if you want to avoid the bugs. As for the souvenir shops, you might be wise to buy your souvenirs here if you don’t want to waste precious time shopping in St. Petersburg.
I should add that the tour guides, all Russians, were very knowledgeable about the history and other facets of what they were guiding us through. All spoke English well and with the Quietvox Transmitter System provided, it was very easy to follow what was going on even at a distance.
In addition to the numerous cruise ships, you will see many other types of ships including tankers and bulk carriers. These waterways constitute an important commercial artery linking the Baltic and St. Petersburg with Moscow and all the cities and towns along the Volga as far south as the Caspian Sea. So, if you enjoy watching large ocean-going ships up close, it may compensate for the lack of great scenery.
In summary, the Imperial Waterways of Russia by Uniworld is a great way, and probably the only effective way, to experience northern Russia. This cruise, our 8th (three on rivers and five on seas/oceans) ranks near the top of our cruising experiences. We strongly recommend it. Read More...
We have just returned from our Russian and cruise and would like to express our thanks to the staff and crew of the River Victoria for a pleasurable experience.
Alexander (hotel manager) Irina (dining room) Ibi and Lena (cruise managers) Kate (bar manager) all did an outstanding job. They were very friendly and always ready to grant any request.
The dining room crew of wait staff and the kitchen staff were extremely hard working. They had to prepare for additional events each day besides the 3 meals that had to be prepared ... and served.
Kudos to Uni World again for giving us a great trip. Read More...
We really enjoyed seeing Russia and ... learning about the country and their people from the university professor that gave daily lectures. She was so informative and easy to understand. We also liked the open seating for meals as we got to meet people from all over the world. The food was very good -- they were obviously trying to please the passengers with their breakfast/lunch offerings. Dinners were just the right portion size.
Moscow's cemetery visit was a very pleasant surprise. Walking in Red Square and the tour of the Kremlin were fascinating. The Cosmonaut Museum was also a pleasant surprise with it's tribute to women astronauts from all over the world.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, staying a little longer than the tour to see additional things in the museum. The tour of Catherine's Palace showcasing the reconstruction of the Palace after WWII was amazing. Everyone should go inside the Church of the Spilled Blood. It was extra but well worth it as it is beautiful inside.
We wish we had more time in Mondrogi -- a whole day would have been nice to visit all the craftsmen's shops. I am so glad we got to experience the White Nights -- I don't think we ever saw it pitch dark in Russia!
Looks like we'll be a repeat customer on another Uniworld cruise to somewhere! Read More...
Imperial Waterways of Russia,6/9/2012
The ship is fresh and clean. We walked through several other river ships (all apparently made by the same company) when we were double or triple docked, and the Victoria is without doubt the most attractive of all the ships we saw. The ... dining room is larger than it looks on Uniworld's slides. The beds are really comfortable.
We had a balcony, which we used frequently as the sun didn't set until 11 PM.
The ship's all-Russian staff is friendly and eager to please. The itinerary is fabulous, from three very busy days in Moscow and in St. Petersburg to peaceful, relaxed cruising on the canals, rivers and lakes between the two cities. This cruise probably has the most time devoted to cruising day and night of all the river cruises due to the distance between the two cities. If you like a very active day every day and entertainment at night, this may not be the cruise for you. If you'd like to watch beautiful and historic scenery pass by and enjoy visits to places not seen on most land tours, plus of course the two fascinating cities, you'll love this cruise. Read More...