Tuesday 21 June 2011

River Cruises Raise Standards in Russia

212-passenger AmaKatarina
Completely renovated ships provide elevators, balconies

By Marilyn Green | www.travelagewest.com

River cruising in Russia offers a number of benefits: tremendous value, especially considering the cost of hotels in Moscow and St. Petersburg; access to ancient towns like Uglich and Yaroslavl; remarkably good guides included; and an English-speaking floating home without the bother of packing and unpacking and going from air travel to car or bus. However, the standards have been uneven and, now, the cruise lines are offering drastic renovations; this year brings significantly upgraded vessels from lines including AmaWaterways, Viking River Cruises and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

Ama launched the newest addition to its fleet on May 10 — the 212-passenger AmaKatarina, which was rebuilt from the hull up with balconies in 76 of her 106 staterooms, and suites ranging up to 432 square feet in size.

“We are very pleased to introduce the MS AmaKatarina, a ship that represents a new standard of cruising in Russia,” said AmaWaterways president Rudi Schreiner. “We are confident that she will provide the finest river cruise experience available in this highly desirable destination, and further AmaWaterways’ position as the overall river cruise industry leader.”

AmaKatarina’s staterooms have a sitting area, bathroom with separate shower, a refrigerator, a hairdryer, a safe and a telephone for onboard communications. Public areas include the Panorama Lounge, a conference hall for onboard entertainment and lectures, a solarium and a gift shop. The ship also offers Internet access, a fitness center on the Sun Deck, a hairdresser and masseuse, an elevator reaching all four decks as well as an infirmary staffed by an onboard physician.

The cruise line’s12-day Russian Waterways itinerary includes visits to the Kremlin, the Hermitage Museum, a dayboat luncheon cruise on the Moscow River, a ballet performance at the Hermitage Theatre plus a visit to the home of a local Russian family in Uglich.

‪Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has a long history of Russian operation, but problems with the standards of the ships and service led the company to leave the market in 2010.

“Pulling out of Russia in 2010 was a very difficult decision for the company.” said Uniworld president Guy Young. “Uniworld was the first North American river cruise company to offer Russia river cruises catering to North American clientele and Russia has always been a very profitable venture for us. Our goal is to have the highest standard of service and product delivery in every region in which we operate, and we were only prepared to reenter Russia when we could meet these criteria.”

The company’s answer is River Victoria, totally refurbished with riverview staterooms and suites that offer individual climate-control and flat-screen televisions; those on the Neva and Volga decks have full private balconies. The Chagall Lounge has a full-service bar and dance floor, and the Katarina Bar features an outdoor patio. The ship also has a fitness room and massage room, a boutique, a library, a complimentary 24-hour specialty coffee and tea bar and wireless Internet access in public areas.

Uniworld’s 13-day journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg extends from Red Square to the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Hermitage Museum.

Viking River Cruises is continuing its extensive fleet refurbishment program in Russia this year with Viking Pakhomov, which follows in the footsteps of Viking Surkov and Viking Kirov with a complete bow-to-stern renovation; Viking Peterhof is slated for refurbishment in 2012.

Pakhomov has two suites, two single rooms and 102 deluxe staterooms, all riverview, with hotel-style beds (except for the two single staterooms) and amenities such as 26-inch flat-panel televisions and in-room refrigerators. Public areas include the partially shaded Sun Deck with its Sky Bar, the restaurant with panoramic views, the Panorama bar at the forward end of the ship, a library with books and games and a boutique.

Hot and cold breakfast dishes, including made-to-order omelettes, are available for guests, and European specialties adapted for American tastes. For dinner, passengers are treated to a five-course gourmet menu with regional specialties. The ship also stocks a range of regional wines to complement the meal.

Viking Pakhomov sails the 13-day Waterways of the Czars itinerary with visits to sights from Moscow’s Kremlin and Red Square to the GUM department store and St. Petersburg’s Pushkin, Peter & Paul Fortress to the Hermitage.

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