Summary: The Taras Shevchenko, a typical long, low, narrow river vessel that is also certified for alongshore sea duty, is an adequate if basic cruise ship that has embarked on a new itinerary; ie, Istanbul, Turkey to Kiev, Ukraine. The itinerary, the included shore excursions and the wait staff were all excellent. The food and its preparation was far below par as was the entertainment and cruise director operations. Overall, the grade was either a C- or a D+.
Itinerary: Due to some sort of international problem, the nature of which was never explained, the cruise actually started with a bus trip from Istanbul to Nessebur in Bulgaria. Presumably the vessel will depart from the most interesting port of Istanbul in the near future. In any event, the five hour coach trip would not have been too bad if the bus driver (probably Bulgarian) knew how to get out of the city of Istanbul and taking all day to get to the ship. Unfortunately, the returning passengers from the previous cruise were perched on the street awaiting the buses inasmuch as they were debarked much earlier and apparently were not allowed back on the vessel.
The ports were all interesting ... Nessebur (Bulgaria), Tolcea (at the head of the Danube delta in Romania), and the Ukrainian ports of Odessa, Yalta, Sevastopol, Kherson, Zaporosh'ye and Kiev (the last three on the very impressive Dnepr River). The Black Sea coast was always visible from the ship and the banks of the Dnepr River were also obviously closeby.
Shore Excursions: There were ship-sponsored port excursions in every port of call. Sometimes they were walking tours, perhaps a bus tour or small boat tour (such as in the deltas of the Danube and Dnepr). The most ambitious excursion was a six-hour (one way) coach trip to Kishinev, the capital of Moldova. Many passengers opted not to take this day-long affair but it was very rewarding in getting to an area that is not well visited.
Ship Operations: The cruise was ordered through Imperial River Cruises which has an office in New Jersey. The ship is owned and operated by Orthodox Cruises which is a Russian company. The cruise director was almost completely invisible with only three young ladies, called translators, who represented the cruise director. They were jolly and likeable but had no answers and had no power to change things. One simple example: At 0700 every morning, an announcement was made over the super loud ship emergency PA system (no way to turn it off or decrease the volume). When asked what is the purpose of this annoying practice, the comment was made that it is always done this way. To their credit, the ladies finally got this intrusion quieted towards the end of the cruise.
Finally, I am happy I made the cruise but I would recommend everyone else making it on another river cruise line.