This river cruise in July 2018 from Moscow to Saint Petersburg was both our first river cruise and our first holiday with Viking Cruises. We took advantage of Viking’s flexible flight arrangements to fly from our local airport (Birmingham) to Moscow via Amsterdam. The Viking staff then met us at Moscow airport, where we discovered that over 40 passengers on our flight were on the same cruise. Two coaches then transported us to the ‘Viking Ingvar’.
We were very impressed with the quality of the boat and of our cabin (317). Our Travel Agents had forewarned us that many of the cabins on the ‘Viking Ingvar’ had poles in the cabins that supported the upper decks, so we were able to avoid this restricting inconvenience. We found that many of the other cabins had these poles – some even had two – and that they were located near the bed. The cabin was fairly spacious, well designed and equipped, and had a large balcony. Cabin 317 was on the middle deck and very conveniently located for the Neva Restaurant, the Panorama Bar, the Sky Bar, and the hot drinks station where tea and coffee were always available, there being no kettle in the cabin. For those (like us) who prefer a special blend of tea (such as Roobois) it was ideal to take our own tea, obtain hot water at the station, and enjoy it on the cabin’s balcony. The cabin had fairly adequate storage space, and our luggage was easily stored under the bed. The bathroom was well designed, but the small shower area had a weak output. The stairs between decks were extremely steep, but a lift was available. Despite the reliance on a satellite system, the Wi-Fi connection was adequate, and was included in the basic price.
The Neva Restaurant was the main eating area, and we used this for our evening meals. We generally preferred the Panorama Bar (located at the bow) for Continental breakfasts and light lunches; this area was generally quiet and had a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere for these meals. The evening meals were often disappointing with a not very exciting menu, and there was little choice. The chicken and steak on the ‘always available’ section of the menu were often the best choices. We discovered in the course of a number of chats with the Austrian maitre d' that the main menu is dictated by Viking's Head Office, and is the same for each cruise and for each of the several boats that are continually spending the summer travelling between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The majority of passengers were Americans, and the boat’s protocols etc seemed to be generally geared to American/Canadian preferences. Sittings in the Neva Restaurant were on a first-come, first-served basis, but many passengers attempted to sit at the same table each evening – this being the only way to establish a rapport with the dining staff. Although most people dressed smartly for dinner, there were quite a number who did not bother. The ‘complimentary’ wine served with meals was very pleasant.
The staff were generally very pleasant, enthusiastic, and spoke a good level of English. In addition to the crew, there were a number of tour guides who doubled up on other duties such as giving very interesting lectures on Russian history. There was little forewarning over the boat’s public address system of features that the boat was about to pass – a description of the locks etc that we were about to pass through would have been appreciated, plus some information on how far we had travelled overnight, etc. Surprisingly, the on board doctor had a poor grasp of English.
The excursions from the ‘Viking Ingvar’ were very efficiently handled and communication between the tour guide and tourists was enhanced by the efficient Quietvox headsets. Local guides were used extensively and most of these were very good. One coach trip was somewhat spoiled by two Viking staff talking constantly and thus distracting the local guide’s narrative. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the quality of coaches used was very good, but the ‘best available’ coaches in the rural areas were often old and not well maintained (eg dirty windows). On all the excursions there was a generous handout of bottled water. We enjoyed all the excursions, some of which were included in the trip’s basic price, and some of which were optional at additional cost. Our three favourite excursions were ‘Moscow by Night’; the trip to Peterhof; and a visit to the Faberge Museum in Saint Petersburg – all of these were hosted by Slava, the best of the Viking guides. We chose the following optional tours: Sergiev Posad (very good – would have been excellent if the guide’s English had been a little better, and two Viking staff had not talked constantly on the coach); Moscow by Night (excellent); The Hermitage Behind Closed Doors (excellent, although tiring and expensive); Peterhof Palace & Park (excellent); Feberge Museum (excellent and amazing).
On a previous trip to Saint Petersburg in 2008, we had not felt entirely safe and were not prepared to explore the city on our own. Nowhere on this trip did we feel the same apprehension, even in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. On the whole, the Russians we met were pleasant and friendly, although due to the ongoing Football World Cup there was often a large police/security presence.
Tipping on the ‘Viking Ingvar’ was discretionary with a suggestion of $15 per guest per day, but no formal system was offered to do this. Most guests seemed to prefer to tip individual members of staff that they had had personal contact with.
Overall, we had a very enjoyable cruise on the ‘Viking Ingvar’ being particularly impressed with the quality of the boat, the range of excursions, the organisation of the excursions, and the evident lack of ‘penny-pinching’ that tends to prevail with some cruise companies, although Viking’s prices are at the top of the range. The most negative aspect was the provision of some distinctly unexciting menus.