How to choose a small ship cruise in Croatia


Powell Ettinger, Director of our supplier, The Small Cruise Ship Collection: “Croatia is a beautiful country that is almost custom made for small ship cruising. It has many small islands and ports that are much too small for larger vessels, an almost perfect climate, centuries of visible history and some wonderful food. Many of the small ports and towns restrict the size of vessel that can visit, so this most beautiful of coastlines is inaccessible to all but the smallest cruise vessels. The big vessels can call in, usually albeit briefly, only at Dubrovnik and Split, missing out on much of the very best that Croatia's Adriatic coast has to offer. The small cruise ships are more like moveable boutique hotels than most people’s perception of a cruise ship, and mean that you can travel around in comfort without unpacking every night.”

Welcome on board

The most important thing to know about small ship cruises in Croatia is that the boats are generally owned by the skippers. They are their babies, well loved, nurtured and their pride and joy. They are contracted by small cruise ship vacation companies and many have worked in partnership this way for years, and so they have exemplary working relationships. They need to access tiny islands and bays, and so they are around 50m long and carry a maximum 40 passengers. In general, there are three types of boats on offer:

Luxury boats are the largest, newest and most comfortable vessels with the highest staff ratio. They also have extras like spa pools on deck and packages will include transfers and excursions as well as some on board activities such as wine tasting.

Premium boats are new vessels with very comfortable cabins, all with en-suite bathrooms and air conditioning, but they might not be quite as big or highly staffed as the luxury versions. Most guided tours are included in your price.

Comfort style vessels are the most popular, with en suite cabins and air conditioning but smaller than the luxury and premium boats. Also, excursions and activities are usually extras and paid for locally.

Choosing cabins

Cabins are all en suite and generally arranged on two or three decks. Most passengers try to get the upper deck cabins as they have better views, but the whole idea of a good small ship cruise is that you will spend as little time as possible in your cabin. Some experienced cruisers prefer lower deck cabins as they can be cooler in the heat of summer and also they can be quieter at night. Also, it is worth checking with your tour operator, because if you like a bit more space, sometimes the lower deck cabins can be a little more spacious.

The journeys

Most Croatian small ship cruises run between Split and Dubrovnik in the south of Croatia which, in themselves, are very popular destinations and many guests extend their stays to spend time there. Both of these cities are also very well served by airlines and so transfers to and from the ships are straightforward. Cruises that leave from Dubrovnik tend to take in Central and Southern Dalmatian islands such as Vis, Hvar, Brac, Korcula and the stunning Mljet Island National Park. You may also have some of the Elaphiti Islands on your itinerary, which are close to Dubrovnik, the main ones being Lopud, Sipan and Kolocep.
Some cruises travel along the northern Croatian coast, exploring its peninsulas, islands and islets. Usually starting in Split, they head north and take in beauties such as the Zadar archipelago and the eponymous medieval town, as well as other northern jewels such as Rab, Krk, Losinj and Cres. Another fine northern collection includes Kornati National Park, a collection of deserted karst limestone islands which are scattered all around you like glistening white jewels.
The general movements of the day include setting off in the morning, having breakfast on board on the move, stop somewhere for a swim and then have lunch on the move again, followed by a port stop in the afternoon. This leaves plenty of time to explore an island or mainland port, take a guided tour, go for a hike or a cycle, have a wine tasting or just sit on the waterfront and eat ice cream. Because it’s rude not to, really.

Passenger details

The first thing to stress is that these are not party cruises but suited to people who want to quietly explore some of the most exhilarating and exquisite seascapes in the world. The age groups tend to vary according to the ‘comfort’ levels of the cruise you opt for. In general, the more expensive and more comfortable they are, the older the demographic. Consequently, 'comfort' cruises are mostly 35-65 year olds whereas the luxury cruises tend to be the 45-75 and older age group.
Most of the passengers are couples; however, solo passengers are always welcome on board although supplemental payment is generally required if you want your own cabin. These cruises are also suitable for families, usually traveling in summer and opting for the ‘comfort class’ cabins. It is worth noting, however, that some of the more luxurious cruises request a minimum age of 18 years. Small ship cruises are also perfect for large parties such as for multi-generational family vacations, or mixed groups of friends.
Photo credits: [Top box : Petra Bensted] [Helpdesk: Darios] [Choosing cabins: Jason Pratt] [The journeys - Rab: Mario Fajt at] [Passenger details: Patty Ho]
Written by Catherine Mack
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