Small ship cruising in Croatia

Croatia could have been designed for small ship cruising – easy to get to, great weather, calm seas (usually), wonderful food and plenty of local interest.

In addition, its long stretch of coast and myriad islands provide endless opportunities for exploration, but most of its ports are too snug for larger vessels or restrict their access.

It means this beautiful coastline is only properly accessible to the smallest ships, with the big cruise liners limited to stopping briefly at busy ports like Dubrovnik and Split.
Crucially, small ships also the only way to island hop here. Ferries shuttle to and from the mainland, but if you want to explore from island to island, small ship cruises glide you into tiny harbours and remote bays without the need to keep returning to the mainland.

Even just a week’s cruise will reveal the highlights and hidden gems of Croatia’s coast, with no need to queue for ferries or book accommodation.

Simply board your vessel and relax as it meanders through the Adriatic, stopping so you can swim in remote bays on islands like Korcula, eat lunch on islands such as Vis, where the slow food scene thrives, or cycle through pine forests like those on Mljet.

So what is a ‘small’ cruise ship?

As the name suggests, small cruise ships are nothing like the huge liners that carry hundreds of passengers and a vast crew. On average, small cruise ships accommodate no more than 40 passengers; they’re more like a moveable boutique hotel than a floating village.

Cabins are comfortable, with en suite facilities and air-con, and the more luxury you go, the more treats you can expect – how does an on-deck pool sound? There’s always plenty of deck space, too, for simply relaxing and taking in the views.

Where can I go on a small ship cruise?

Most Croatian small ship cruises run between Split and Dubrovnik in the south of Croatia, traveling between the islands that pepper the shore. While public ferries run between individual islands and the mainland, if you want to actually explore from island to island, then the only way to do so is on an organised cruise.

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.

Don’t come expecting a strict itinerary, though. Changes in the weather can mean changes in routes. The captain is in charge and has the final say on each day’s sailing.

Things to do on a Croatia cruise

Eating breakfast on deck and swimming from the ship are uncomplicated delights – but that’s just the start. You won’t be confined to deck for your vacation. The boat will stop at various islands, so you can hop off and explore ancient towns and Roman ruins, stopping in cafés to sip local wine.

Hiking through the pine forests of Mljet or Losinj is a good way to rediscover your land legs, while climbing to the top of Mount St Vid, the Adriatic’s highest peak on the island of Brac, delivers wonderful views. Many small ship cruises include a guided kayaking trip, too, which is a great way to discover beaches and deserted islands, while being supervised and super safe in the process.

Best time to go cruising in Croatia

April to October is the best time to go on a small ship cruise in Croatia. From April, sea conditions are calmer and the islands are beginning to open for business. The water is starting to warm up, too, ready for swimming.

Small ship cruising is a great option during the peak months of July and August, avoiding all the queues for the island ferries and sailing you to places well off the tourist trail and away from the crowds. If you do hop off the boat at popular spots such as Split or Dubrovnik, though, be prepared for crowds.

Our top Croatia Vacation

Southern Croatia cruise in comfort

Southern Croatia cruise in comfort

Cruise Croatia's beautiful islands on a small cruise ship

From £731 to £946 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2024: 13 Apr, 20 Apr, 27 Apr, 4 May, 11 May, 18 May, 25 May, 1 Jun, 8 Jun, 15 Jun, 22 Jun, 29 Jun, 6 Jul, 13 Jul, 20 Jul, 27 Jul, 3 Aug, 10 Aug, 17 Aug, 24 Aug, 31 Aug, 7 Sep, 14 Sep, 21 Sep, 28 Sep, 5 Oct, 12 Oct
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Croatia or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Who is on board?

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 luxury cruises tend to be the 45-75 and older age group.

Can I travel solo or with kids?

You won’t generally find single cabins on small cruise ships, but you can pay a supplement for your own double cabin, or choose to share a twin cabin with someone of the same gender, at no extra cost.

Children are welcome on board most ships, but some operators do impose age restrictions, so be sure to check. Small ship cruises are great for families, though, because you only unpack once, and yet you get to explore lots of different places. Just don’t expect a kids’ club…

Eating & drinking

Most small ship cruises in Croatia offer breakfast and a buffet lunch as you sail from one island to another. Dinners are usually up to you. These responsible cruises are as much about life on shore as on deck, and the crew can recommend tavernas and cafés on each island you moor at.

Soaking up the atmosphere of a small Croatian harbour as the sun sets, grazing on wonderful food, is a pleasure that also puts money directly into the local economy.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Anrie Papp] [To do - walking on Brac: Petra Bensted] [Who is on board?: Rui Ornelas] [Eating on the harbour: Bernd Thaller]