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Moscow by cruise ship? Yes, it's possible, but worth it?

Increasingly, cruise lines are developing shore excursions that serve up ultra-exclusive experiences, but are these "private access" experiences worth what they cost?

On Crystal Cruises, for example, cruise passengers can experience the same training that cosmonauts undergo at the world's largest hydrolab, situated at Star City in Moscow.

Prepare to pay to play, however. The excursion, which goes by the name "Hydro-Space: The Final Challenge" goes for a stratospheric $32,995 per person, which would no doubt be the "final challenge" for flimsier wallets.

Still pricey, but certainly within the grasp of mere mortals, are day excursions to Moscow, which Silversea Cruises offers for $999 per person, from St. Petersburg.

The excursion, lasting 16.5 hours, includes flights to and from Moscow as well as private van transfers, guides, a visit to Red Square and The Kremlin, coffee at Puskin Cafe and dinner at the Writer's Club, the watering hole of Russian (and Soviet) writers for more than 70 years now.

Cruise ships typically dock two or three days in St. Petersburg on Baltic cruise itineraries, and on three-day calls, you'll certainly have enough time to visit Moscow. You could even go on your own for much less than $999 per person.

Flights between St. Petersburg and Moscow can be had for as little as $30 each way. Prefer rail? The fast train will take you from city center to city center in about four hours. But with either mode of transport, there is that pesky visa problem, meaning that most nationalities can't just walk off the ship and into St. Petersburg, much less travel all the way to Moscow. Sauntering ashore requires a tourist visa, which takes time, paperwork and patience.

Cheap transfers from Stockholm's Arlanda airport to the city center - For now

Arlanda Express offers the fastest and easiest transport from Stockholm's international airport (Arlanda) to the city center, but it hasn't always been an inexpensive way to go - until now.

Through August 29, the fast train will take you and your traveling companion between the airport and city center for SEK280 (about US$20 each). The normal price is SEK240 each (or a little more than US$30 each).

Don't have a traveling companion? Buddy up with at the airport or at the central train station. In fact, at the train station there is "meeting point" (pictured) for those traveling alone and looking for a companion to qualify for the two-for-280 offer.

Arlanda Express whisks you between the airport and city center in 20 minutes, with trains departing every 15 minutes during peak periods.

Want an even cheaper alternative? The Flygbussarna (airport bus) costs only SEK 110 per person (about US$15 - or purchase on the internet for SEK99 per person), but takes twice as long to get to the city center.

Taxis take about the same amount of time but cost four times as much as the bus. While airport-to-city taxi fees are fixed at SEK495 (about $70), it's still a good idea to look for companies with trustworthy meters, such as Taxi Stockholm. As Doug Lansky reported in The Great Swedish Taxi Rip-off, Stockholm's taxi drivers can't always be trusted.

I Live In A Box. So What? A Life Spent At Sea, Avidly Cruising

I sold my home in Asheville, North Carolina this week. With housing values gone to crap, who needs the burden of a mortgage anyway? After all, as a friend told me recently, "You never really own your home; the government does."

Not mine. My home is a box. No more mortgage, no onerous property taxes, no lawn to mow. I put all of my stuff - the mountain of junk I had accumulated in my life - in boxes and put those boxes in a larger box, a container stored in a lot somewhere in Asheville. If I never see it again I won't care.

I didn't need a home or all that stuff anyway. For the past 20 years, I've spent my life on cruise ships and in destinations that cruise ships touch. I am the Avid Cruiser, not known to you perhaps but known within the cruise industry.

I live a life of luxury. As I write these words, I am in a suite on a luxury cruise ship, the owner's suite no less. I was born to a poor family, but I adapted quickly to the cruising lifestyle. My arm instinctively knows just the right arc to align itself to grab a glass of champagne without breaking the rhythm of my stride. I could, if I desired, live on caviar and champagne, except I don't like caviar.

I live the luckiest of lives in that I get paid to take vacations and write about them. Of course, I realize that this raises issues of credibility, but as I suspect you will soon see, I consider myself to be a consumer advocate and my goal is to provide people like you with the resources they need to make informed cruise vacation decisions.

I don't want you to be confused, happy or ripped off. I am here, champagne in hand, to help you make the best decisions for you - and if it applies - for your family.

You should know that I engineered my life to cruise avidly. Long ago, I figured out that cruising can take you nearly anywhere on the globe. If a destination is without a shoreline, you can bet a cruise company offers what are called "overland" programs. Moreover, though you won't get to know destinations intimately on a cruise, it is refreshing to be able to pack and unpack only once while visiting several destinations.

You should also know that not all cruises are for those seeking luxury. And champagne is offered free of charge on only the priciest of cruises. Cruise vacations, in fact, come in many flavors and for all ages. In coming posts, my goal is to help you understand the flavor that you may appreciate most.

Return here for some good advice from someone who is homeless - by choice.

Adrift At Sea, On Purpose. Gadling's New Man At The Ship's Helm

In the coming days, weeks and months, I'll be filing stories from cruise ships and from destinations that cruise ships touch. I am the Avid Cruiser, someone who not only has purposely chosen to live a life at sea but also has been fortunate enough to fulfill that dream.

I haven't always cruised. I began my journalistic career at the age of 32, following the conclusion of my "sabbatical decade" (read: loafing). From 1980 through 1990, I bicycled across America, pedaled through Europe and island-hopped the South Pacific.

After backpacking through Bali, bussing through Java, hopping a boat to Singapore and crossing Malaysia to Thailand, I flew into (then) Burma, tramped to Dhaka and endured a 32-hour train ride from calamitous Calcutta to bustling Bombay.

From there, I hopped a plane for Greece and traveled to Switzerland before returning home, where I settled, quite naturally, into a career of travel writing.

My work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Porthole Cruise Magazine and numerous other consumer magazines. The North American Travel Journalism Association, awarded my article, Ship Shape, which appeared in Hemispheres (United Airlines' in-flight magazine), in the category of "Best Cruise Writing."

I am the author of four books, including Remembering Charles Kuralt, a biography that Publisher's Weekly called "a sweet and lovely homage, a welcome commemoration."

I own and operate The Avid Cruiser website, a trusted resource for cruise reviews.

As you'll read later on, I don't have a real home. I do have a PO Box in Asheville, North Carolina, and I share an apartment in Helsingborg, Sweden, near Copenhagen, Denmark. But most of the time I am on ships and in destinations where ships are docked or anchored.

I enjoy mountain biking, hiking, lingering in coffee shops and spending time with my kids, little avid cruisers. I speak very little Swedish (how can you learn a language where seven is spelled sju?) but I understand quite a lot. So if you're Swedish, be careful what you say around me.

But enough about wonderful me. My mission is to provide you with content that engages you and compels you to return often. I hope you will welcome me to this space. I look forward to making a home here with the many other fine writers at Gadling.

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