Dispatch, Russia: Embracing the onboard experience


Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran is on a Russian river cruise on the Viking Pakhomov, a 210-passenger ship that was just renovated. Her third dispatch follows. Click to read Michelle's first and second dispatches. 

When sailing the Volga River, a fair amount of time is spent onboard the ship (perhaps more than some passengers realized, including me).

So, during that time, passengers have two options — engage in the shipboard experience or disengage. Both are valid vacation experiences.

Those who choose to engage can participate in many of the lectures, demonstrations, tastings and events onboard the ship.

Those choosing to disengage spend the majority of time alone or with a travel companion, perhaps with a good book or just watching the Russian countryside glide past.

Generally speaking, my personality is to be more of a disengager — quiet, reflexive, spending time on deck with my computer or book, only chatting with other passengers during meals or shore excursions.

But this time, I chose to immerse myself in the ship’s activities, and found that, for the most part, they enhanced my experience.

Let’s face it, river cruise ships don’t have the space for the amount of activities and attractions that ocean-cruising vessels offer. On the Viking Pakhomov, there’s no pool, no spa treatments, no casino and no gym.

So, why not learn about Russian history: the complex drama that was the Romanov dynasty, and the rise and fall of Lenin and Stalin?

Why not pick up some phrases in Russian in the language classes? Niet?

Why not learn how to make pelmeni (Russian dumplings)? Why not try to do a vodka shot hands-free at the vodka tasting?

And why not play the prince in the passengers’ play?

Okay, maybe I’m getting a bit too into the onboard experience. Maybe it’s a good thing we’re approaching Moscow and will be spending much less time onboard soon.

But, I’ve seen a new side to the interactive activities that used to make me cringe and run. It’s all about your frame of mind.

A Viking river cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow is what you make of it. Do you just want to detach from everything or do you want to embrace your inner student, foodie or even (shudder) performer?

Hey, you only have about six sailing days to figure it out.

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