Russia is a vast land, so clients interested in visiting will certainly need help narrowing down their options. Luckily, cruise lines and tour operators have a diverse and interesting array of itineraries spread throughout the large country. Some vacation packages incorporate a cruise. If your client is traveling independently and looking for an unusual hotel to stay at, there are plenty of choices available. Here are a few tour and hotel selections to get you started.
In 2008, Viking River Cruises (www.vikingrivercruises.com) is operating a 16-day cruise from St. Petersburg to Volgograd and on to Moscow. On the "Russian Rhapsody" sailing, offered July through October, clients will spend time on land visiting the Kremlin, Red Square and the Hermitage Museum, as well as look at life in the small towns along the river, including Saratov, Uglich and Kazan.
Fares start at $3,399 per person double for the 112-cabin Viking Lomonosov. This price includes port charges, fuel surcharges and intra-Russia air taxes. Airfare must be booked separately. Viking River Cruises pays a varying commission rate based on the sale. Agents can call a Viking reservations agent for details at 800-304-9616.
For 2008, Tauck World Discovery (www.tauck.com) offers "St. Petersburg and the Baltic Sea," which sails both northbound from Copenhagen and southbound from Stockholm. Cruise through Russia and Scandinavia and explore such cities as Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Visby and, of course, St. Petersburg. Sightseeing includes the Hermitage Museum and Catherine the Great's palace.
The full tour is 12 days, with a seven-day cruise aboard Regent's Seven Seas Voyager, which has suites with private balconies. Per-person prices start at $6,990 and include most meals; airfare, shore excursions, port charges and taxes are extra. Tauck pays a 10 percent commission and travel agents can contact any reservations agent at 800-788-7885.
Exeter International (www.exeterinternational.com) has joined forces with the Mariinsky Theatre Trust to offer an escorted tour centered on the VIII Mariinsky International Ballet Festival, taking place in St. Petersburg next March. Clients will get an insider's view of Russian ballet and culture with a backstage tour of the Mariinsky Theater, early entrance at the Hermitage and four ballet performances at the Mariinsky. A private gala with the stars of the festival will be held at the Astoria Hotel after the final performance.
Clients can pay more to stay at the Astoria Hotel, or stick with the five nights at the Angleterre Hotel. Prices for the March 19-24 package start at $4,900 per person double excluding airfare. Exeter International pays 10 percent commission, and agents can contact Lori Hinkle with questions (800-633-1008, [email protected]).
Russia is combined with other Eastern European cities on two tours by Globus (www.globusjourneys.com): the 14-day "Warsaw, The Baltics & Russia" and the 18-day "Russia & Northern Europe." We find "Warsaw, The Baltics & Russia" to be noteworthy, as it includes cities not many tour operators venture to, including Warsaw, Poland; Vilnius, Lithuania; Riga, Latvia; Tallinn, Estonia; and St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Highlights include a welcome dinner, guided sightseeing through such cathedrals as St. John, Alexander Nevsky and St. Isaac's, as well as museums, including the KGB, the Hermitage and the Armory. Also on the itinerary are visits to the Tallinn Town Hall, Hill of Crosses memorial site and Red Square, plus a first-class ride on an express train. Land-only prices start at $2,779 per person.
Should clients prefer to explore Russia on their own, Globus' Monograms (www.monogramstravel.com) independent product offers a seven-day trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow that includes guided sightseeing of the Hermitage Museum, Red Square and the Armory museum, as well as first-class travel on a high-speed train and two full days to roam about at leisure. Land-only prices start at $1,849. Globus pays a 10 percent commission, and you can contact any reservations agent with questions. For both Globus and Monograms, call 866-755-8581.
The Grand Hotel Europe (www.grandhoteleurope.com), an Orient-Express Hotel, has been in operation for 130 years, but in 1991 became the first five-star hotel in Eastern Europe. The hotel has housed such varied luminaries as George Bernard Shaw, Dmitri Shostakovich, Elton John, Bill Clinton, Jane Fonda and Queen Elizabeth II.
The top room to book is the Imperial Suite, where Bill Clinton and Prince Charles slept—during separate stays, of course. It features a dining room with a piano. The hotel pays a 10 percent commission to agents. For special requests, contact the hotel's General Manager, Thomas Noll, at 011-7-812-329-6000 or [email protected]
The Golden Apple Boutique Hotel (www.goldenapple.ru) in Moscow, within walking distance of the Kremlin and Red Square, has just 92 rooms, including a penthouse suite and loft suite. Each of the six floors of the 19th-century building corresponds to different colors of the rainbow. Within the hotel, clients will find a gym, sauna and Jacuzzi, as well as a restaurant and bar. The hotel is part of Utell Hotels & Resorts (www.utellagent.com), a service of Pegasus Solutions, which allows agents who prepay bookings to receive instant commissions.
The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow (www.ritzcarlton.com) opened in July with the largest ballroom in the city and a staff that includes a vodka sommelier, a technology butler and a "night butler" who helps guests gain entry to local nightclubs. Contact Guest Relations Manager Alla Kosik ([email protected]) to make reservations at the property, which also features an ESPA, the only luxury hotel spa in the city.