The Voice of the Cruise Industry

A river cruise in Russia: Magnificent cities and a rural heartland

A river cruise in Russia is a great way to explore magnificent cities and rural heartlands

Post travel restrictions, clients should explore the magnificent cities and rural heartland of Russia on a river cruise, writes Jeannine Williamson.

From Anna Karenina to War and Peace, the sweeping history, culture and romance of Russia has been captured in novels, films and TV dramas, but nothing can prepare clients for the incredible reality of a river cruise to the world’s biggest country by land mass.

In Moscow, even the underground system, built by Stalin as a ‘palace for the people’, is a jaw-dropping tourist attraction with stations adorned with imposing statues, large murals and glittering chandeliers.

Peterhof Palace in Russia
The Peterhof Palace is one of Russia’s most enticing attractions

Classic Russian cities

There are multiple advantages to exploring Russia by water. Firstly, its two greatest cities are only 400 miles from each other as the crow flies and linked by the Volga River, lakes and smaller waterways.

Cruises are bookended by overnight stays, either on the vessels or in hotels, and excursions take in all the main sights. In Moscow clients will visit Red Square, dominated by the landmark onion-domed St Basil’s Cathedral, and the grounds of the Kremlin, the fortified complex that is the seat of the Russian government.

Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, beautiful St Petersburg is criss-crossed by canals and often described as the ‘Venice of the north’. Sightseeing highlights include a trip to the Hermitage, the former winter palace of Russian tsars, which is now one of the world’s largest museums with works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Van Gogh.

Itineraries also include an excursion to UNESCO-listed Peterhof Palace with its ornate golden rooms and fountain-filled gardens.

In addition to river cruises providing a relaxing and fully escorted experience in a country where language barriers can be an issue and it’s tiring to cover long distances by road, a noteworthy difference between river cruises in Russia and mainland Europe is the size of the vessels.

It’s worth pointing out to both repeaters and new-to-cruise clients that ships are not limited in size by locks or low bridges so have larger public areas and more facilities, such as lecture theatres.

Viking River Cruises, which operated its first river cruise programme in Russia in 1997, owns its own vessels and other lines feature cruises on chartered ships, which reflect the standards and price points of their core river product. Lines also help with any red tape such as visa applications and issuing visa support letters.

Russian river cruise line Vodohod has joined CLIA
Vodohod’s Mustai Karim is a new five-star vessel

Demystifying Russia for clients

Last year, established Russian river cruise tour operator Vodohod Russian River Cruises partnered with CLIA to build brand awareness across Europe.

The affiliation brings Vodohod into CLIA Europe’s wider community of cruise lines, travel agents and executive partners, and CLIA UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer said the addition of Vodohod is also a sign of long-term consumer confidence and resilience in the cruise industry.

The largest Russian river cruise company has eight four and five-star vessels dedicated to the British and international market, including the new Mustai Karim, the first brand new five-star vessel to sail on the Volga, plus the refurbished Maxim Gorky, which offers unique itineraries on the Yenisei River in Siberia.

Vodohod is also the only line with sailings along the largest river to flow into the Arctic Ocean, and this pioneering voyage will tick the boxes for adventurous clients looking to sail through rugged landscapes in comfort.

Emerald Waterways Russia river cruise
Bars like those on Emerald Waterways’ ships specialise in vodka cocktails

Sample the vodka 

On all cruises clients can expect memorable sights and experiences, such as vodka tastings, regional dishes, language classes and workshops to paint Matryoshka nesting dolls.

Elsewhere, there are opportunities to visit locals in their homes, attend a Russian ballet and  – on Volga sailings – see exceptional landmarks such as Kizhi Island, which is home to relocated historic buildings including a 22-domed wooden church built without using a single nail.

Viking River Cruises head of sales Neil Barclay says: “Through our longstanding tenure in Russia we have forged strong relationships with esteemed establishments and local communities that allow Viking guests rare insight into some of Russia’s most precious cultural treasures, like a visit to the world-famous Faberge Museum and exclusive access to the Hermitage Museum.”

For clients in search of a longer break, Scenic has launched its 2022 programme, which includes the 14-night Jewels of Russia and Imperial Russia itineraries with departures from May to September, and September to October, respectively.

Meanwhile, sister brand Emerald Waterways is chartering a new ship, the newly refurbished MS Nizhny Novgorod, which is scheduled to sail the 10-night Imperial Charms of Russia itinerary.

Selling tips

  • Explain to repeaters and new-to-cruise clients that Russian ships are often larger than European vessels and can therefore offer more facilities and amenities for guests
  • Expert on-board lectures and activities provide an in-depth insight into Russian history and culture – expertise that can be hard to find elsewhere
  • Volga cruises allow ample time to explore Moscow and St Petersburg, while a majority of Russian river itineraries explore remote destinations that are hard to reach on land tours
  • Cruise lines can help clients through any red tape such as visa applications and issuing visa support letters

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