We just got back from the May 3, 2013 trip. There already is a lot written about this trip, so I'll just add a few things.
Many have complained here about no WiFi, GCT travel listened and they had a test run for our trip and it was acceptable. It did not work perfectly all the time but it was available most of the time. Band width was not very wide so web sites with lots to down load did not work well. It was provided for free. It worked much better than the ship computer and you could do it from your room. So bring your IPADs, etc.
It would be good to remember that Russia is still developing in many areas. There is a stark difference between Moscow and the rural parts of Russia. Many families still share one apartment with up to 10 families to one apartment with one bathroom. Older apartments are 420 square feet with two bedrooms. Newer apartments now start at 600 square feet for two bedrooms.
If you are concerned about the long periods on the bus due to the heavy traffic, come this time of year, we only experienced it one day. Seems the labor Day holiday is May 1 and Victory Day is on May 9th when they celebrate their victory over Germany in WWII. It is their biggest holiday, most people take the entire time off from work. The price you pay is that the Kremlin was closed down for the Victory Day parade so we could not walk inside the Kremlin walls. Also the frozen ice prevented us from visiting Kizhi island. The people who started in St. Pete got delayed getting out of there due to the ice. On the bus use the time to ask questions of the program guide about life in Russia, nothing was off limits. The benefit to us was an extra day in St. Pete and got to see much more than scheduled including a canal river boat tour of St. Pete.
I agree that taking the tour from Moscow to St Pete is the best way to go, St. Pete is really beautiful, a great way to end the trip. Moscow could look tired at places.
I did get sick and could not stop vomiting so I had to go to the hospital for the day, it cost $3.902 for the care. I was cured enough to go to the Ballet that night, the hospital delivered my wife and I to the theater in time to meet up with the group. The hospital was totally prepared to help Americans and all I spoke to spoke English except the boat doctor. I got good care, even though the facilities looked out dated. Thankfully we purchased the GCT trip insurance. I had to pay for it with my credit card and get reimbursed when I got back. I am in that process now. No one else got sick like I did, so it was not the food. Who knows?
The Russian food served on board is different than what I was used to eating. Lots of beet dishes, most of the time it was excellent. But they did offer salmon and chicken each night as an alternative to the course being served if did not appeal to one's appetite. The Salmon was excellent each time I ordered it. Don't expect a lot of beef dishes. All the food in Russia is imported. They catered well to my wife's gluten free diet.
The entire staff works extremely hard to insure you have a great time. The program directors all speak excellent English and have worked there for years. Same for most of the crew.
All my three other trips were with OAT and this schedule was much lighter than we are used to. It would really be slow if we did not take all the optional tours. Understand what the Jewish heritage of Moscow tour is about. It is not about the past atrocities the Jews experienced, it's more about today and the 104 year old Synagogue. Do not miss Petrhof by any means. It's an amazing place. The ballet was the most expensive optional tour and I am glad I got that out of the way. But who can go to Russia without going to the ballet.
In the Yusupov Palace they charge you $10 to video and then when you get in there the lighting is extremely low so video only worked in a few places and the best part they did not allow you to take video. I would definitely not do that again.
It was a very good trip, but I would still put Africa, China and Greece ahead of Russia. But as in all my trips, we had a memorable time. Now what to do next.