PHOTO: Various Viking River Cruises riverboat classes moored together. (photo by Jason Leppert)

It’s a bit of an oddity not found in ocean cruising that riverboats often dock not only near each other but even stack immediately adjacent to one another.

It affords a unique opportunity to see other ships from the outside as well as in.

There are plenty of international ocean ports where cruise ships berth parallel to each other or in line, but they are always separated by piers or other gaps. Such destinations are great fun when peering over the side of one ship to take a gander at the competition from a distance.

On European rivers, dock space at several ports can be so tight that there is only one tie-off point to be shared by numerous vessels. When that happens, one will line up alongside while the remainder must sandwich side by side and link together.

For the passengers of the riverboat farthest from the dock, they must pass through one or more others to reach the shore. If you’ve never done it before, it’s a curious practice.

As each of the riverboats do not have the individual security checkpoints of ocean ships (security staff remain alert, however), it’s just a matter of hopping from one to the next via short gangway.

If all the ships are from the same company and same class, each lobby perfectly lines up, so passing can be done on one level. However, when the brands and ship orientations vary, it’s not uncommon to climb the stairs to the sun deck, where all the ships match in height, in order to hop between.

It’s definitely a bit of a bizarre experience to walk through brand A’s lobby to get to brand B’s—like having to stroll through a Hyatt and/or Hilton to reach a Marriott.

For ship nerds like me, it’s always rather fascinating to compare the other ship designs. It’s not always a competitor, either. You might have a chance to see a different class of ship from the same brand too.

READ MORE: What Sets River Cruising Apart from Ocean Cruising

If you’re on your own, it’s all that more crucial to know which ship is yours, especially, if the stacked are nearly identical sister-ships. Of course, you’d also never want to wander off on your own to explore further inside one of the others unless you received permission first.

If you are interested, just be sure to ask someone at the reception desk of the other ship. They may say no, or they may be inclined to tour you around some.

After all, it’s free advertising for them if you find yourself liking it for a future cruise.

READ MORE: Crystal River Cruises Christens New Crystal Bach

It’s definitely smart of the cruise lines that control their own docking points to shelter their passengers from seeing the inside of other brands. Still, there are those times when that’s simply not possible, and there is no other choice but to moor next to a direct competitor.

It’s certainly a unique conundrum—one good for the shopping consumer but potentially bad for the cruise line—that the ocean market doesn’t have to worry about.

I still think more ocean and river cruise lines should actively preview their ships to more people enticing them to come aboard. It just so happens that riverboats already have a bit of that opportunity built-in.

So, the next time you’re on a riverboat and you open your blinds to see another ship blocking your view, don’t lament it. Rather, relish the chance to get a glimpse at a whole other brand.

This post first appeared on TravelPulse.

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