For river cruise fans accustomed to European voyages, the Russian experience will have noticeable differences. The ships have a unique feel and are built to handle the larger lakes that the routes traverse, Lake Ladoga is the largest freshwater body of water in Europe, the vessels usually have five decks, and most are refurbished instead of being brand new.
Compared with other river cruise routes, Russia has a short season. Ships start in early May and finish by the end of October with high season being June, known as White Nights because of the near-endless daylight, July and August.
There are two days in St Petersburg although this is not long enough to see everything in this city built by Peter the Great, intrepid passengers will usually be able to hit the Hermitage, one of the world's largest art collections; admire the 19th-century architecture on a canal tour; take in a cultural performance; and visit one of the Versailles-style palaces in the surrounding countryside, Peterhof or Pushkin.
Moscow's heart lies in Red Square, which contains St. Basil's Cathedral, Lenin's Tomb and the GUM Department Store. The red walls of the Kremlin also border the square; inside the fort, you'll find the Armoury, which contains the Faberge eggs as well as nine onion-domed churches. Art-lovers can seek out the Pushkin Gallery or take in a show at the Bolshoi Theatre.
One of Russia's historically significant Golden Ring cities, Yaroslavl is the biggest city you'll visit during the middle of a river cruise, as well as the most beautiful. It has onion domes and gorgeous churches to spare. Don't miss the icons and frescoes inside the Church of St. Elijah the Prophet. It's also got several pedestrian-only streets full of cafes and shops, as well as a lovely embankment that locals use as a park.
The landscape along the Russian waterways changes slightly with the latitude. On the northern end of the trip, expect pine and birch trees along the banks; flowers emerge once you get closer to Moscow. The ship's route does pass several small towns, where you can see traditional wooden architecture, as well as large vacation homes owned by the newly wealthy.