Cruising Croatia’s North Coast and Islands
By Alison Gardner, Editor, Travel with a Challenge
After spending several mid-August days exploring the delights of Split, midway along the Adriatic coast of Croatia, my husband and I were ready for some time on the water with a bit of pampering aboard one of Katarina Line’s newest deluxe superior, 19-cabin motor cruisers. Well within the bounds of boarding time, we set off in a taxi booked by the cruise line and headed for Split’s dramatically beautiful inner harbor where the MV Ave Maria awaited our arrival.
A mile or so away, we found ourselves in a gridlock traffic jam for over an hour, crawling along at best, with the taxi driver and the ship’s cruise director in periodic cell phone contact as time ticked by. Where were we? We went from being relaxed and excited to apprehensive, not really understanding the urgency in the driver’s voice as he updated the cruise director with each call.
Finally, at one minute past scheduled departure time, taxi doors flew open and the trunk lid flew up as an Ave Maria deck hand grabbed our two suitcases, and the clearly agitated cruise director urged us to follow him quickly up a gang plank. Only then did we realize that our vessel was #7 in a raft of large motor and sailing yachts all roped together, as we spent the next five minutes navigating hurriedly through the public areas of six other ships before stepping aboard our vessel. There was an audible sigh of relief as we heard a shout to release our ropes from ship #6, a roar of engines and the captain steered us out of the harbor.
Everyone laughed nervously as we joined the other guests for our welcome briefing and the cruise director explained to us all that the harbormaster in the port sets a time for each vessel’s arrival, docking location and departure in what are very high-traffic waters. This is especially true in the summer months. Negotiating with the harbormaster for extra time or a different docking location is frowned upon at best … or forbidden at worst!
Life was far more relaxing and predictable for the next week as we headed north. Already knowing the southern part of the Adriatic coast quite well, we selected a “Northern Gems” cruise which took us to such deeply historical towns as Trogir, Šibenik, and Zadar as well as stunning waterfalls at Krka National Park and tours around many remote islands now all but deserted from their original shepherding and farming purposes. The itinerary was a fine balance of Croatia’s nature and culture, with the bonus of a swimming and snorkeling anchorage to step off the swim platform at the back of the boat for a refreshing hour. Guests looked forward to this most days in turquoise water the temperature of a lukewarm bath.
Croatia’s Islands: There are over 1,000 islands (1,244 islands, islets and crags, to be exact), of which 48 are inhabited, at least part time. While many appear bleak and empty, they are full of species of insects, small animals and birds nesting. Three of Croatia’s eight national parks are located on islands.
Being the only Canadians aboard, we were joined by guests from France, South Africa, Britain, the U.S., and Australia. A generous buffet breakfast was served daily, then we were aboard for lunch or dinner (half board), or if in a well-served town, we enjoyed one meal a day ashore. Evenings could be spent strolling medieval Venetian streets as the sun set, lights twinkled on, locals relaxed over a drink or a patio meal, and live musical entertainment encouraged everyone to sit awhile on a sea wall overlooking a marina of small fishing boats and take in a very different lifestyle.
Our cruise director, Ivan, glued each day’s itinerary together. He organized one-hour free walking tours with local guides in each town to orient his guests upon arrival, and he gave historical and cultural talks aboard the ship, once offering a tasting of Croatian olive oils or wines with too much information to fully absorb in one sitting. One of his most riveting lectures was on discoveries of early human settlement in what is Croatia today, these remains dating back to the Neanderthal period, 120,000 to 130,000 years ago. Ivan was always eager to answer questions and solve problems any time of day.
As Ave Maria came full circle on our “Northern Gems” cruise and returned us to Split for disembarkation, our close encounter a week earlier with almost “missing the boat” was merely a vague remembrance. My husband and I had a much better understanding of areas we had previously briefly encountered or seen from a bus window. Croatia remains one of our favorite European countries to visit, vividly enhanced by the new discoveries we have made there.
Follow Up Facts Founded in 1992, Katarina Line, www.katarina-line.com, is Croatia’s leading Destination Management Company and the premier small ship cruise company with weekly guaranteed departures from April to mid-October from the major tourist centers of Opatija, Split and Dubrovnik. With a fleet of more than 60 ships in six ship categories, the cruise line caters to all ages and budgets with 40 different itineraries. This is the true Croatia! Katarina Line itineraries give travelers the chance to explore the stunning natural environment and picturesque, quaint Mediterranean towns while hopping from one island and coastline to another. Guided in-depth Cycle & Cruise tours are also offered on some ship sailings. You should also allow a few extra days to spend in Split at the beginning or end of a Katarina Line cruise. You will discover why by reading our related article featuring attractions, activities and eateries in this unique city of living history and culture surrounded by an equally unique natural environment to explore. For complete information on what to see and do in Split, see the Visit Split website.
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge web magazine, www.travelwithachallenge.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org