Everything You Need To Know Before Going On A River Cruise

Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and George Washington crossed the Delaware, and, with the help of a big boat, you too can make your way down a historic river. Cruise ships are a relatively new concept. Before 1900 and the Prinzessin Victoria Luise — by all accounts, the first of its kind — ocean liners were primarily a means of transportation. The Prinzessin Victoria Luise brought the concept of leisure to sea travel, focusing on the enjoyment of the vessel itself rather than the destination, per Smithsonian Magazine.

Before 1900, luxurious ocean voyages were limited to the uberwealthy and their personal yachts. However, the Prinzessin Victoria Luise made cruising accessible to those who couldn't necessarily afford the upkeep of a private ship. This new design was "the first vessel of her kind to be built purely for yachting [leisure cruising] purposes," noted Scientific American in 1901, and as later reported by Smithsonian Magazine. The ship was equipped with a modern gymnasium (minus the treadmills, of course), a library, an intricately-designed art gallery, a glamorous ballroom, and comfortable cabins.

Today, hundreds of cruise ships populate our oceans, boasting everything from five-star restaurants to world-class theaters. River cruises, too, have become widely popular — specifically since the 1990s (via River Cruise Advisor). Because they're much smaller than ocean liners, river travel offers a more intimate onboard experience.

On-ship entertainment is limited compared to ocean cruises

The typical ocean cruise ship can support well-over 2,000 passengers, dozens of chefs, performers, and crew members. In comparison, most river vessels hold less than 170 guests, sporting three or four decks rather than a dozen (via Riviera Travel). Given their smaller size, necessitated by shallow waterways, river cruises advertise fewer amenities than their ocean-treading cousins. Whereas an ocean cruise might have 10 different restaurants ranging from black tie to fast food, you'll typically find just one or two restaurants when traveling via river. However, given the ease of docking a smaller ship, river chefs are able to pick up local ingredients daily, ensuring that food options onboard first class and fresh, Riviera Travel noted.

According to Sometimes Sailing, river cruises also have fewer entertainment options, bringing a local performer onboard each night rather than maintaining an ice rink, cabaret, and collection of bars. Guests can also head back to their rooms to take in a movie, read a book on the top deck, or just enjoy the view be it the Dutch countryside or the Mekong Delta.

Though large cruise ships will have more to choose from in the way of cabin size and suite options, river cruises don't skimp on comfort. Just keep in mind: the higher your cabin, the better the view. The lowest deck will have small windows while the rooms above will often come equipped with balconies — and a higher price tag — per Sometimes Sailing.

Boarding is quick and painless on river cruises

There are always a few dreaded aspects of any vacation: airport security, packing, reservations, and blisters from all that walking. Though some travel hacks will save you time and money, it's hard to get around the intensive check-in and re-boarding process that goes along with booking an ocean cruise. Fortunately, it's a lot easier to climb on and off a river vessel. As noted by Sometimes Sailing, it can take as little as two minutes to walk off a river cruise. Best of all, the line to get back on board is usually nonexistent.

Because they're so narrow, river cruises are able to dock right next to one another, Sometimes Sailing also explained. You may find yourself walking through the main deck of another, parallel cruise ship in order to get on land — at the very least, you'll be able to scope out a different cruise line for your next adventure! Ultimately, because there are fewer passengers and crew members traveling on any given river vessel, you'll be able to get to know — and maybe even form a few lasting friendships — fellow adventurers. Though river cruises may not be the most popular vacation trend of the last year, they're certainly one of the most intimate ways to travel the world.