From beautiful scenery and ancient history to Game of Thrones film sets, Simon Leaming samples small-ship cruising along Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline
A revolution is upon us! There is no longer simply a choice of offering your clients a river or ocean cruise. Both coastal cruising and canal barging are set to change the cruise market in the coming years, with trips along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast becoming particularly popular.
Cruising in Croatia isn’t new and for years a flotilla of gulet style coastal cruisers have cruised between the islands and along the coast, owned by locals and run by co-operatives such as Kompas and Katarina Line. These traditional wooden-style ships typically cater for between 12 and 30 people, providing an affordable and sociable but ultimately simplistic experience. Standards are far removed from mainstream cruise and the ‘allocated on arrival’ nature of the old ships can result in disappointment from clients.
But as the popularity increases, a new wave of larger, more luxurious steel-hulled ships are being built looking far more like mega-yachts and providing standards that make them more appealing to the mainstream market. This boom in Croatian cruise has been assisted by trade-friendly cruise lines and tour operators chartering named ships to provide packages that remove any operational risk.
I decided to see what all the fuss was about and joined the beautiful Princess Aloha, a Deluxe category ship operated by Kompas Croatia, cruising lower Dalmatia between Dubrovnik and Split, an itinerary sold through several established tour operators and fully packaged by Cosmos from £1,023pp including VIP home pick-up.
Our week began at Gruz harbour in Dubrovnik with a welcome dinner and chance to meet the crew before an early morning cruise outside the old town of Dubrovnik and into the historic harbour, which doubles as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. After the first of our relaxing daily swim stops in secluded bays, we cruised to Mljet, a beautiful island featuring lagoons with turquoise waters and a monastery in the middle of Veliko Jezero lake.
All excursions are included, from cruising down the Cetina River and numerous walking tours to wine tasting at a vineyard in the fishing town of Trstenik
Day three saw a particular highlight in the walled town of Korčula, rumoured to have been the birthplace of Marco Polo, with a beautiful small church complete with its own Titian painting and a clock tower providing views over the cobbled streets. Another of our excursions was a walking tour of Split including the famed Diocletian’s Palace, home of the murderous Roman Emperor of the same name and yet another Game of Thrones film set.
The cruise then doubles back down the coast and to the quaint harbour town of Bol, our second destination on Brač island. After a swim stop on a deserted island, we dock in Hvar, known as the St Tropez of Dalmatia, playground to the rich and famous, and hideout for Prince Harry.
Once back in Dubrovnik, surrounded by the comparatively gigantic ocean cruise ships, we take a tour into the old town to discover the hidden secrets of a city still scarred by the Balkan conflict that took place only 25 years ago. The fortress perched above the old town tells the history of the Serbian and Macedonian siege which left 95 per cent of houses in the popular old town damaged by shelling.
Generally, every day involves a swim stop and two ports of call, including an evening stopover to explore a town at leisure and to find your own taverna. All excursions are included, from cruising down the Cetina River and numerous walking tours to wine tasting at a vineyard in the fishing town of Trstenik.
Clientele varies depending on which tour operators have space, but is typically made up of British, Australian and American passengers meaning English is the main language among the 20-30 passengers.
That’s the gem of this cruise, it’s sociable yet relaxing, you get to know all seven of the crew by name, you can spend time in the bridge while cruising and dining is open seating in a cosy lounge allowing you to move around and talk to all your fellow passengers. You can enjoy scrumptious buffet breakfasts and four-course lunches along with two four-course dinners during the week, with catering provided for most diets. There was always too much food and it left me feeling like I would be too heavy for the plane home.
The key is to choose the correct itinerary for your client’s needs, with a variety on offer, each with a selection of the many islands along the coast. Cruises tend to be a round trip from either Dubrovnik or Split, or alternatively you can travel along the whole coast from Dubrovnik to Zadar.
But no Croatian cruise would be complete without adding extra nights before or after. We stayed on in Dubrovnik, where we enjoyed the wonderful food, the hilly, cobbled streets and also took a cable car to the fortress on the mountain, with
its magnificent views across the city and down the coast.
Join the revolution and sell your customers one of the best ways of seeing Croatia.