We generally travel with OAT, where there are 10-25 people in each tour group. But we loved this Grand Circle Russia Revealed itinerary, so we took a chance on this trip in 2011 and enjoyed our August trip very much. I admit to being frustrated at times by the longer waits imposed by the larger groups, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. There were about 200 passengers on the ship, divided into six groups of about 30-35 each. Each had its own program director and its own bus. The use of the audio headphones really enhanced our visit.
I had been advised that taking the trip from St. Petersburg to Moscow was best because the flow of Russian history was more understandable while traveling in that direction. But on the dates we needed to travel, only the St. Petersburg to Moscow trip was available, and we found that was a great direction to travel, too. We loved ending in St. Petersburg, definitely a high point. I'm pretty sure you can't go wrong whichever way you are sailing! If you are arranging your own air, try to get some extra days in St. Petersburg if possible.
The itinerary of this trip has a wonderful balance between urban and rural. The staff does a great job of dealing with the difficult Russian bureaucracy. Many sites must be visited on a strict schedule, and you are competing with thousands of other tourists from all over the world. They were very adept at making arrangements that were convenient, and they adapted the schedule as needed when either the bureaucracy or the weather threw roadblocks in their way. Once we were stuck in a fog bank for several hours, and they managed to completely and efficiently revise the whole excursion plan!
This trip is very different from Grand Circle's other European River trips. Because all the signs are in the Cryllic alphabet, it is harder to go off on your own, and the schedule is so full that there are not many opportunities for that anyway. The Russian bureaucracy makes it necessary for the schedule to be a little more regimented, so more things are done as a group. It is not the orientation-tour-of the-city in the morning, free afternoon on your own plan that the other river trips have. As long as you expect that, it is not a problem. They really manage to pack a lot into each day's schedule while you are in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
We really enjoyed the time on the river and in the lakes, and seeing the more rural side of Russian life was a relaxing treat. Standing in Red Square was one of those "Are we really here?!" moments for us, for we were part of that generation who practiced hiding under their school desks because "The Russians might attack us." St. Petersburg was so beautiful and special, and we loved every minute of the wonderful art museums, palaces and gardens we saw. If you decide to take this trip, I can't imagine that you would ever regret it. We really came home with a new understanding of the society and history of the country.