By WALLACE IMMEN
The Tsar would have approved: A $4-million transformation of the 112-passenger River Tsar will raise river cruising in Russia to a new level of opulence. The renovation of the ship by Australia-based Scenic Tours is so extensive that it’s considered a new ship by cruise industry standards. Everything from the staterooms to the electrical and plumbing systems and the eco-friendly engines are new and state-of-the-art. The changes include a signature of Scenic Tours’ ships in Europe — walk-out balconies in nearly all the staterooms. Passengers get to go outside and sit on their own private porch. The ship will also have top of the line satellite television and internet connections, a gym, sauna and two bars.
An English-speaking staff promises to provide old-world hospitality that Scenic promises will be second only to the service the Russian royal family once enjoyed. Sightseeing tours, enrichment experiences, private concerts, gratuities and airport transfers are all included in the fares which, with available discounts, start at $7,395.
The itineraries include sailings of 15 days which can be combined with a variety of land tour packages for a vacation that can extend for up to 33 days, with explorations of the Ukraine and Scandinavia. The basic 15-day cruise includes five days in St. Petersburg, with tours to the Winter Palace, the Hermitage, the Peter and Paul Fortress and Catherine’s Palace combined with visits to a music school and a traditional Russian lunch at the classic wooden Podvorie restaurant. After an evening departure From St. Petersburg, guests are taken on guided explorations of Svirstroy, a quaint historic Russian village; Petrozavodsk, where guests enjoy the Karelian Folk Show; Kizhi Island which is one of Russia’s most ancient sites; Goritsy, which is a medieval village with a 600-year-old monastery; and Uglich, which was founded in the tenth century.
At the other end, there are four days in Moscow that include tours of the Kremlin, the KGB building, Red Square, the State Armory — with its priceless collection of Fabergé eggs — the Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, and a performance of the famed Moscow Circus. Enrichment programs range from an exclusive Russian ballet performance to meeting with a cosmonaut to visiting with a local family for tea and piroshkies.