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Every year, our favorite family water trip is the Russia river cruise. If you ask us “why”, we would only say that it is splendid. The Volga Dream is a marvelous ship with the best crew on board that makes you forget everything bad; all your sorrows and anxieties disappear immediately. This trip comprises many aspects: if you need entertaining, you have it; if you are eager to broaden your horizon – many chances to fill in the gaps. Every year brings something new and fresh into our life. We keep all the moments and emotions with warmth and tenderness.
The Cruise Director, Yulia, is easily the single best employee I have seen in her type of position in all my years of travel. She was professional, approachable, organized, a dedicated leader among the crew and seemed to never sleep. She attended and managed every event. We joked that she must have two cabins, one just for her clothes. She had a themed outfit for every event. She was always smiling and managed each event with the precision of a Prussian General, but the grace of a Bolshoi performer.
Alina, the front desk manager, responded to every request, INSTANTLY. Wake up calls, room service, laundry, general questions, or simply engaging in informal small talk, this young lady was exactly the person you wanted to talk to when an answer was needed. Priceless is the only word I can use to describe her.
Our room (411) was the aft most cabin and nearest the engine area. This generated some ambient heat that was a bit uncomfortable on a warm day. When I asked for assistance, Olga, the Hotel Manager, arrived within minutes, sent an engineer, provided a fan, and followed up the next day with a bigger fan. She did not ignore our concern. Instead, she went "over board" trying to make sure we were taken care of. This level of service was found everywhere on the ship.
Other than the warm item mentioned above, the ship exceeded all expectations in terms of amenities. River cruise ships are notoriously small. Not these cabins. Other comments on small space, must be from people unfamiliar with the size of river cruise ship cabins. The Volga Dream website photos are spot on. The bathrooms are large by river cruise standards and the junior suite bathrooms are normal hotel room size… very impressive. We visited other rooms and all were comfortable, large, good AC, and clean. Housekeeping was around frequently and did everything you requested.
Other than a very small and impractical gym, the ship is flawless. Because of the small gym, we were forced to get our exercise by walking the deck…beautiful. I was glad we were required to get our exercise in a gorgeous setting. The lounge, deck, restaurant, library and other features all exceeded expectations. Built in 1959 and remodeled in 2007, the ship exudes elegance, high class and modern safety. The bridge had all the latest navigation and safety features. Given the horror stories of Russian River cruises, we selected Volga Dream, in part, because they had a complete remodel and every GPS and navigation system imaginable. The crew kept everything in mint condition. We visited the bridge, engine room and were impressed with everything.
Gourmet food was served at every ship meal. The length of the dinners were a bit long for my tastes, but most people liked the time to socialize. We had dinner with the historian for the cruise on the last night and had a great time. It could have lasted even longer (haha at my own hypocrisy). Other than ice cream the chef made EVERYTHING on board. WOW is the best word I can find to describe the food. Every time Yulia announced “Bon A petit” on the speaker I felt like Pavlov’s dog, eager to go to the restaurant. Daimen, the maître de, made every meal wonderful with exquisite service. We even had a deckside BBQ rib lunch one day. This was great food and a nice change from the formal meals.
My biggest fear was the long travel time between ports. My prior river cruise experiences were not good, and they claimed to be first class cruises. Volga Dream and Yulia (Cruise Director) were absolutely above First Class and amazing at making the on board experiences valuable. The activities were high quality, well managed, properly timed and definitely worth the time. Usually, I prefer not to participate in on board activities, but on Volga Dream I was eager to see the next great activity Yulia had prepared for us.
There was nothing special about these stops. They are the normal Moscow-SPB river stops, but I liked them. In speaking with others, it was obvious Volga Dream hired the best tour guides. We had much smaller groups (15 max) than the other ships and the guides were often teachers or professors. Only one negative. On one stop a guide took us to her friend’s store for shopping and we had an important venue cut short. The rest of her tour was very good. I told Yulia upon our return and she was eager to get details and was obviously interested in following up and address the problem. As usual, Yulia, was focused on our experience and eager to make everything perfect.
Cruisers know the horror stories of disembarking. Not Volga Dream. Again, I stood on the deck and watched Yulia execute the process to perfection. Bags were collected, transportation arrived, groups called by number, bags identified, people loaded and off we went. Despite her hard work, Yulia walked onto every bus, smiled and wished the guests safe travels. Perfect to the end.
We spent extra days in Moscow and St. Petersburg. I will review the hotels and other venues separately. The Platinum arrangements (Ararat and Grand Europe) were wonderful. The excursions and tours guides were first class. Special admission to the Diamond Fund and early admit to the Winter Palace helped avoid crowds. The hydrofoil from Peterhof allowed extra time touring Peterhof. I usually hate tour group guides, but Volga Dream hired the best and I had a great time. The excursion meals were mixed bag. They were a fixed menu, without consideration of preference. I liked most of the excursion meals, but they were not as good as the ship meals. They should offer some choices for excursion food. The only bad stop was Turandot in Moscow. We are in a side room and never got to see the beauty of the main restaurant we were all hoping to see and experience. In contrast, in SPB we had lunch in the roof top restaurant of the Taleon Imperial Hotel, Victoria, which was outstanding.