- Money, cash and credit cards
- Document checklist
- Packing for your cruise
- Electric devices and adapters
- Cell phones and internet on the cruise
- Medicine to bring
- Suggested reading for your cruise
- Arriving in Russia: airport customs
- Arriving in Russia: airport transfers
- Gratuity and tips
- Laundry service on the ship
- Safety and emergencies
- Food on the ship
During your cruise, you will be able to pay for large expenses such as wine or optional tours with your credit card. You can open a tab once you board the ship and close it when you disembark. However, please note that they do not accept American Express in Russia, so make sure that you have a Visa or MasterCard with you. And even though your credit card will be accepted on the ship, please do not expect it to be accepted everywhere on the ground. If you want to buy souvenirs when your ship docks in one of the smaller villages along the river, cash will be essential, because there may not even be ATMS.
There are many ATMs and banks in cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg and you can use your debit card to withdraw cash in US dollars, Russian rubles, or Euros. We recommend making withdrawals in Russian rubles so you won't need to worry about exchanging currency. ATMs offer an exchange rate that is very close to the official rate.
It’s a good idea to have some cash with you in case you need to take a cab or make a small purchase. The rate of exchange today (Feb 8, 2010) is 30 rubles for 1 US dollar. This translates into 3,000 rubles for $100. We recommend that you have from 2,000 to 10,000 rubles with you at any given moment. Anything more is probably not necessary. If you decide to go to an expensive restaurant you will be able to use your credit/debit card to pay for it. Most restaurants accept credit cards, but we recommend that you ask them in advance to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
You don’t have to exchange dollars to rubles as dollars are widely circulated in Russia. If you prefer to pay with Russian rubles, just ask your cruise director or guide about arranging a currency exchange for you.
Important: Please call your bank before your departure and let them know that you will be traveling to Russia, so that they won't block your cards when you begin making purchases from Russian locations (not all banks do this, but we recommend that you look into it). We also recommend bringing more than one card (but not all) in case one card gets locked. And if you do encounter a situation where all of your cards are blocked, please contact our emergency number and we will organize a cash delivery for you.
Approximately one month before your departure we will mail you the boarding pass and airport transfers confirmation. Depending on what time you submitted your documents, your visa to Russia will be sent to you by mail. When it arrives, you should check the following:
- Please inspect your Russian visa to ensure that it is valid for the day that you arrive in Russia. If you arrive a day or two earlier than the date on your Russian visa, you will have a problem at customs.
- Tourist visas are valid for 30 days, so please make sure that your departure date is before your visa expiration date.
- Please make sure that the spelling of your name is correct.
- If you plan to enter Russia, leave, and then re-enter the country in one trip (even just to fly out of the country), you'll need a multi-entry visa. You cannot enter Russia again on a single entry visa.
- Please make one or two copies of your passports and visas before your departure and carry them with you when on land excursions - we recommend that you keep the originals in your cabin.
Russian cruises sail during the warmest part of the year, from May to September. The weather is still a bit chilly in May (it is similar to April weather in Washington DC), so we recommend that you bring a light jacket if you are traveling during this time of year, especially for the evenings. The same applies to September, when the temperature starts to decline and it rains more often. And even if you are traveling during the "official summer" from June to August, you should pack a sweater just in case.
If you plan to attend an opera or ballet, we recommend that you bring some nice but casual evening wear. There's no need for black tie or an evening gown. The welcome reception and the concert at the end of the cruise do not require any special attire. You should bring comfortable shoes for walking excursions and dress shoes for evening events.
You can bring a regular wheeled Samsonite-like suitcase to carry your things, and if you plan to carry more than can fit in your pockets you should bring a backpack for land excursions.
We recommend that you bring small bottles of shampoo with you. Shampoo may or may not be available in your cabin, although you will be able to purchase bigger bottles in a grocery store on land.
Russia uses 220 volt electric plugs. Most electric devices support 110 to 240 volts and you can easily confirm this by looking at the electric adapter on your device. If your device only supports 110 volts you will need to buy a special adapter. If it supports 220 volts then you need an outlet adapter.
OutletsRussia uses European outlets with two round pins. You can easily find an adapter at any electronics store in the US or online.
Tip: there are no hair dryers on the cruises and if you bring your own, you should make sure it supports Russian voltage and that you have an outlet adapter.
Russian cruise ships do not offer internet access and there will be no internet cafes in the small villages along the way. Cell phone reception will also be limited while en-route. However, you'll be able to use your cellphones in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as any of the numerous internet cafes in these bigger cities.
To use your cell phone in Russia, you need to contact your cell phone service provider before your departure and ask them to activate "international roaming." Please note, it could be quite expensive, up to $3 a minute. You will also need to receive the special unlocking code and instructions on how to apply it to your phone.
Tip: If you buy a local sim card you can save money on calls in Russia. International calls will cost about the same as calls made in roaming ($2-3 a minute). Ask your cruise director if you want to purchase a local sim card.
You do not need any special vaccination before visiting Russia; it is a safe and civilized European country.
If you are taking any prescription medicine, we recommend that you bring enough of it with you to last for the entire trip. You can buy most medicines in Russia, but often times it comes under different brand names that are tailored to the Russian/European market. You might also need a prescription from a Russian doctor in order to purchase what you need.
In case you do forget some vital medicine, please contact your cruise director and request an appointment with a doctor at an American Clinic in Moscow or St. Petersburg. For more advice regarding medical emergencies, please refer to the next section of tips (While in Russia), but a general rule is to always contact the cruise director or the emergency number that we provide for you on your boarding pass.
Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
A masterpiece by Bulgakov banned by the Soviet authorities. It contrasts the human and soviet nature and takes us to Moscow during the 1930s. This mystical novel is one of the best pieces of satire in Russian literature and is amazingly fun to read.
War and Peace – Lev Tolstoi
War and Peace is the masterpiece saga of the Russian empire, nobles, and peasants during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. Originally, Tolstoi wanted to write about the Decembrists and what drove them, but as he sought answers to his questions he found that he had to look 40 years prior.
Eugeniy Onegin – Alexander Pushkin
This is the most well-known piece of Russia’s most famous poet, where he skillfully shows the life of St. Petersburg’s nobility two centuries ago and foretells his own death. Eugueny Onegin falls in love and ends up in a duel. Pushkin used many new techniques for rhyming, earning him the title "father of modern Russian rules."
Ward No. 6 – Anton Chekhov
Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
Boris Pasternak won a nobel prize in literature for this piece, but was banned by the Soviets from receiving it. You have probably seen the movie based on this novel, but nothing compares to the original.
Journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg – Alexander Radishev
One of the first intellectual attacks on the czarist regime, it inspired a whole generation of Russian authors.
Hero of Our Time – Michail Lermontov
When Russian forces fought against Napoleon’s army, they crossed Europe and exposed themselves to European liberal traditions and ideas. When these young nobles returned home they wanted to change Russian society (the Decembrist movement). They were defeated and a period of intellectual crisis followed. The hero of this book is stuck in this time and seems to have no way out.
Fathers and Sons – Michail Turgenev
This highly-acclaimed work focuses on inter-generational issues. The story takes place in the country estate of a Russian noble. When the noble’s son returns home with a friend, the views of the three men clash as they represent the different epochs and classes of the society. Turgenev masterfully explores the causes of the conflict.
Heart of a Dog – Michail Bulgakov
The master of allegories, Bulgakov argues in this novel that you cannot put a dog in a human body and hope that it can become human. This book was also banned in the Soviet Union.
When you arrive at the airport in Russia you will need to go through immigration control. An officer will inspect your passport to make sure that it is valid, as well as your visa to ensure that it has valid entry dates. Russian customs officers usually don’t ask you the purpose of your trip (they see the visa and it is clear), but in case they do, you can just say that you are there for tourism – they will know the word.
Once you clear immigration control and pick up your luggage (this could take up to 30 min) you will go through customs, which has two corridors - Green and Red. If you have nothing to declare, proceed through the Green corridor. If you are carrying over 10,000 dollars in cash or something that you intend to sell in Russia, advance to the Red corridor for inspection.
Your airport transfers are arranged as part of your itinerary. A driver will be waiting for you at the exit gate holding a sign with your name on it. Please note, transfer drivers are instructed to wait for you at the airport for two hours from the scheduled arrival time of your plane. It is your responsibility to confirm the flight schedule prior to your departure. Please immediately inform us about any changes so we can make adjustments in transfers.
If you are delayed at immigration or customs, you should call an emergency number provided on your boarding pass to request an extension for your driver's wait time. If you do not notify us about the delay, you will have to book your own taxi at the airport (could be quite expensive). Ask the driver to take you to the port (port address will be provided on your boarding pass).
* Only 4 and 5-star cruise packages include airport transfers. For all 3-star cruises transfers should be booked separately. To book transfer, please click here
Giving tips on a river cruise
There will be a special box at the reception desk of your ship for crew tips, so you don't need to tip during the cruise. Our general guideline for tips is to leave from $5 to $10 per day depending on how much you enjoyed your cruise. You can tip in dollars, euros, or rubles. $1 equals about 30 rubles. $10 is about 300 rubles.
Giving tips to guides and drivers on a group tour
If you are going on one of our small group tours, the recommended amount for a tip is the same as on a private tour, but it can be split between the travelers. If there are 10 travelers, each can contribute $2 -3 for 8 hours of work by the guide. We recommend that one person collects the money from the rest and hands it to the guide.
There are no laundry machines on the cruises, but a laundry service is available for an additional cost. We recommend that you bring enough clothes to last the entire trip so you won't have to worry about your laundry. However, you will be able to use an iron on the ship if need be.
In general, Russia has become much safer than it was in the past. And you will be traveling with a group of professional guides, so you will be safe at all times. However, you should follow basic safety procedures regarding your documents and money.
First of all, you should not carry your passport with you during land excursions. We recommend you carry a copy of your passport and visa with you. Leave your documents on the ship.
Secondly, you should be careful with your money and credit cards. Where there are tourists, there are pickpockets. This happens in every major European capital and is not unique to Russia. It is not widespread, but it iss better to follow these precautions.How to protect yourself against pickpockets:
- Don’t flash your wallet and money.
- Beware of your surroundings and don't let anyone walk into you. Pickpockets usually work like this: a few people accidentally bump into you and then go on walking. You then later discover that you are missing something.
- Don’t carry more than a few dollars on you (this is about 10,000 rubles).
- Split your money and credit cards and keep them in different pockets. Split them between you and your companions too.
- Zipped or buttoned inside pockets are best for storing valuable things as they are harder to reach for pickpockets. Backpacks are also hard to pick.
If it does happen that someone stole your money or cards follow these steps:
- Notify your guide or cruise director immediately.
- If someone stole your credit card, call your bank or credit card company and report it stolen.
- Contact the emergency numbers on your boarding pass to notify us if you need assistance.
In case of emergency you should notify your cruise director or the tour guide. You should also contact the emergency number of our representative that will be provided on your boarding pass.
In case of medical emergencies, your guides are trained to take you to the American clinic in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Your medical insurance will be accepted at these clinics and they can provide you with qualified medical assistance.
Please note that we do not cover expenses that arise from medical situations and other emergencies. We recommend that all of our customers purchase travel insurance for this purpose.
Please note that we leave it to the discretion of your guide to decide how to transport you to the medical center. In some circumstances it may be faster to use a cab service than to wait for an ambulance, due to traffic jams.
You probably know that borsht is a Russian national meal and you will have the chance to try it along with other well-known and succulent Russian dishes. The menu onboard has been specially designed to give you a chance to try all of Russia's favorite dishes.
Russian food is made from very similar ingredients to European cuisine. You may notice that there is a greater emphasis on potatoes and that there are more salads with mayo (just like in Canada -- it must be a northern thing).
Tip: You will even have the chance to learn to cook Russian food in a special food class included in your cruise program.
You can see an example of a typical menu on our river cruises by downloading the file below:
Russian cruise menu