My husband and I agree our 13-day Russia cruise on board the Viking Akun was one of the best trips of our lives. The unexpected gorgeous scenery, fantastic food, exploring ancient cities and learning more Russian history were just a few of the wonderful aspects of this trip.
But this trip did take a bit more planning and research than others we’ve taken. Here are tips to help when you are ready to take a Russia cruise.[See related story: Why Your Next Trip Should Be a Russia River Cruise]
Plan early to get your visa for your Russia cruise.
This isn’t so much a tip as a requirement. You can’t go to Russia cruise on the river without a visa. If you’ve ever been on a large cruise ship and stopped in St. Petersburg, then you probably toured without a visa. But you were under the strict watch of a guide.
For a Russia cruise you have to have a visa. The benefit is you can wander and explore on your own.I won’t sugarcoat it – it’s time-consuming and expensive to get a Russian visa. And you can only start within 90 days of your trip. We used a service recommended by Viking called GenVisa and they were very helpful through the process.
The paperwork took some time, and then we had to give up our passports for six weeks. As a trip to Germany approached and we didn’t have them back, I began to get nervous, but they did arrive in plenty of time. The cost for two of us was over $540.
I read that Russia may allow visitors to handle the entire process online in the future, but that won’t be for some time.
Book way ahead of time and you will can get substantial savings on your trip.
If your dates and desired destination are flexible you can also save on last-minute deals. Check the Last Minute Travel Specials on the Viking River Cruise website.
Get travel insurance for your Russia cruise.
River cruising can be pricey and when you add in airfare, this trip is an investment. I have a yearly travel insurance policy, although you can also get one for individual trips. When purchasing any insurance, make sure you understand exactly what it covers and under what circumstances.
Register your trip with The Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
Go to https://step.state.gov/step and fill in details of your trip. It made me feel more comfortable that if something crazy happened while we were in Russia, the state department knew we were overseas.
Decide whether you want to begin or end in Moscow.
While you can opt to cruise from Moscow or from St. Petersburg, we were advised to end our trip in St. Petersburg as departing from that airport was easier than from Moscow. I’m not sure the difference is that great and you should probably take your schedule and flights from your home city into account more than which airport you depart from.
Our trip to the airport from the ship in St. Petersburg was pretty easy while we encountered very heavy traffic in Moscow when we arrived. But that may just be due to the time of day. I didn’t mind the traffic as I enjoyed looking out the window and trying to decipher some of the Cyrillic alphabet on the commercial buildings we passed.
Get some rubels from your bank before you go.
While your exchange rate might not be as great as it is with an ATM in Russia, the convenience factor of having some local currency was worth it. I got around $80 of rubles and was so glad I did.
Other members of our group had to waste touring time trying to locate an ATM. During one of our excursions, a woman was upset because she didn’t have any rubles to go to the bathroom in the visitor center of a monastery. Sometimes there is a small fee to use a restroom so always take a few rubles with you on excursions.
Prior to your Russia cruise, book excursions you know you want to go on.
If you’re not sure you can wait and hear about them during the port talks, but some may sell out. We didn’t have any trouble booking the ones we wanted before or during the trip, but if you know for certain you want a certain excursion it’s best to book ahead.
Read some books or watch some movies on Russian history.
While it’s not mandatory to enjoying the trip, I was glad I had read up on Russian history, making the tours much more enjoyable for me.
On the recommendation of a friend, I read The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War and found it fascinating. I also found the book A Mountain of Crumbs, a true story of one woman’s account of growing up in the days of the Soviet Union.
We also watched a few YouTube videos, one on Kommunalka, or communal living that was common in Tsarist Russia and several on the history of Russia.
Take a good travel pillow for your flight.
You will most likely be on an overnight flight to get to Russia. Buy a good travel pillow to help you try to sleep. I swear by this one – best I’ve ever had.
If you’ve been to Russia, we’d love to hear about your experience. Please share with us in the comments!
– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief, has written several reviews on river cruises, one of her favorite ways to travel.