Our Russian river journey ended as Scenic Tsar docked in St. Petersburg, but the trip was far from over.
As they had all through the two week experience, Scenic’s staff had exclusive surprises for us. One day we toured the gorgeous Petrodvorets summer palace and Catherine Palace in the countryside and in between we had an exclusive lunch in a re-creation of a wooden hunting lodge in a forest, with entertainment by a boisterous band of musicians singers and dancers.
Another day we had a tour of the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum followed by some welcome free time to shop in St. Petersburg’s newly affluent stores.
In the evening we went to the ballet, but not just in a theatre. The private performance was in the intimate concert hall of one of Russia’s grandest homes, the palace of the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, brother of Tsar Alexander III. We had the amazing building alongside the Winter Palace to ourselves for an evening that started with a cocktail reception in the chandelier-lit ballroom.
Then we moved to the private theatre for a ballet gala with a live orchestra and many of the most famous solos and pas de deux in the Russian repertoire performed by rising stars of the Mariinsky (Kirov) ballet troupe.
Scenic Tours had pulled off exclusives like this all along the way on our trip: a concert in a museum, choral performances in cathedrals, banquets in historic homes and a memorable question and answer session with a Russian astronaut.
I was also amazed at the impeccable training and warm hospitality of the staff of the Tsar. The kitchen consistently turned out gourmet meals with a choice of three entrees each evening all made with freshly harvested ingredients. One night we had trout that had been caught that very morning in the Volga. It was a giant leap ahead of the fare I’d had on previous trips to Russia, where borscht was about as gourmet as it got.
As for the ship: It’s the first river passenger ship to be launched in Russia in 25 years–since the Soviet era. That’s allowed it to offer modern conveniences that you won’t find on other Russian river ships.
There were some rookie issues with the new design that needed to be worked out.
I did find the restaurant somewhat over-lit and I thought some artwork and curtains on its stark white walls could add some needed sound muffling. But I’m told Scenic’s design team is on the case. And engineers are adding more shock absorption on the motors.
I’m assured that over the winter the engineers will be hard at work on the efixes and I’ll take them on their word because I was again and again struck by the sincerity and optimism of the all-Russian crew and the people we met in the places we visited.
At the final evening’s dinner, there was the usual parade of desserts carried around the dining room by chefs and waitresses and chambermaids who seemed touchingly sad to see us go. It was the final cruise of the season that won’t start up again until the spring.
And they let us know with smiles and hugs they were hoping we’d be back again.
Arty, the Russian guide who was with my group of 25 on each of our tours and had actually lived and studied English in Brooklyn, N.Y., gave us a toast with the last of the ship’s supplies of surprisingly tasty Russian sparkling wine.
“We hope you’ll all be ambassadors for the new Russia.”
I can relate to that.
I definitely suggest you go and see for yourself, it’s a fascinating country and Scenic Tsar is a worthy ship to see it from.