Taking a cruise through the islands on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia has long been on our bucket list. More than a year ago Mike bought such a cruise but as with all travel, we weren’t able to use it until this year. Our leisurely week-long island hopping cruise was definitely one of the highlights of our summer. It also turned out to be a good way to get from Dubrovnik to Split Croatia, which has become a hugely popular cruise destination. When we arrived in Split there were no fewer than 12 boats taking on and letting off passengers.
Getting On Board
It was a good thing we used the cruise company’s transfer service to get from our Dubrovnik hotel to the ship. Croatian ports can have dozens of these small ships at a time. Worse, they are usually tied to each other, stacked in rows. It would have been impossible to know which row to go to since our ship was in the middle.
Crew members helped carry our bags from the pier across a few ships before we finally arrived at ours, the Antaris. We left the bags in our cabin and set out to explore our home for the week. It wouldn’t take long.
The Antaris can host 39 guests and a crew of eight. Our cabin was a decent size for our needs. The beds had a cool lift system that allowed us to store our bags underneath, providing more space. We had a small balcony, some don’t. It was nice, but not very useful given we were often a few feet away from a balcony on the boat tied next to us.
The ship had a dining room that could just fit all the passengers. There were chairs and loungers inside and out, spread over three decks. A small hot tub was available on top when we were having a swim stop. Since we walked across and through other ships in the various ports, we could see our ship configuration was pretty common, with minor differences.
Our cruise included breakfast and usually one other meal. Either lunch or dinner, depending on when we planned to be in port. The food started out decent but got progressively meh as the week went on. The kitchen found Diana’s beef and cheese allergy a bit challenging, sometimes getting it wrong. Anything beyond coffee, tea, or water needed to be purchased. The alcohol prices weren’t bad, but the wine quality and selection were very limited. But the worst thing was how bad the coffee was.
Some Funny Cruise Findings
Below, I highlight some of the unique experiences we enjoyed at the various ports of call. Beyond those, however, the islands only varied in size of the towns. They all had post-card cute villages and refreshing swimming on typically rocky beaches. Honestly, you could get a similar experience taking a scheduled ferry for a couple of nights on a given island, but more planning would be involved to put it in place.
In addition to the expected new friends we made on our voyage, there were two happy coincidences on this cruise. First, none of the guests smoked. This made time lazing on deck much more enjoyable for all. Second, a couple we knew from our kids’ sports teams was staying two cabins down from us. We enjoyed catching up with them and making new memories together.
Outward Bound From Dubrovnik
We boarded our ship in Dubrovnik on a Saturday afternoon. The following morning was occupied with breakfast and a brief walking tour of Dubrovnik, which we described in Croatia, Dubrovnik, and Our Introduction to the Dalmatian Coast.
In the afternoon, we settled into what would become the daily rhythm of the cruise: leave port, get to another island, have a swim stop for 1-2 hours in some secluded area, then motor on to our port for the night and some additional adventure. The rhythm of the daily swim stops made for a really pleasant way to spend a week. The water in the Adriatic is crystal clear and for the most part, it was pleasantly refreshing. It was easy to get on and off the boat and the available floats and paddle boards were fun too.
Bivalves In Slano
Our first stop and adventure were on the island of Slano. We were driven from the port to another part of the island featuring a large lagoon. It was a tidal lagoon and the resulting brackish water was a great nursery for oysters and mussels.
We were then ferried over to some barges in the middle of the lagoon. Tied to the barges were strands of oysters and mussels. After a brief demonstration of farming methods, we were treated to a feast of all the oysters and mussels we wanted and some local white wine to wash it down. Diana doesn’t do bivalves, so I took up the slack. Somebody had to do it and the unlimited white wine certainly helped.
A Rocky Road Through The National Park on Mljet
On the day we visited the island of Mljet, our cruise director lead us into a national park and up to a pair of beautiful lagoons. There is a narrow canal separating the lagoons. The canal was a popular place to swim. Depending on the tides, the water courses between the lagoons and the canal act like a flume, sucking giggling swimmers on one side and spitting them out on the other. It looked like a lot of fun.
We then took a pleasant boat ride to visit a small, former Benedictine monastery on an island in the big lagoon. Upon our return, we decided to take a road less traveled back to the ship. A lot less traveled. Along the way, we saw what appeared to be abandoned olive groves, marked by walls of stone. Although the route was well marked, the path was challenging. Loose, cleaved pieces of granite were placed to create the trail, requiring careful foot placement. It’s an adventure, we said.
Korcula and the Tales of Marco Polo
Despite what most scholars say, there are some that claim Marco Polo was born on the island of Korcula as opposed to Venice. Our tour guide for this visit was a lady playing the character of Polo’s mistress. She led us around and told tales of his time on Korcula as well as sample scandals of the day.
Even if the birth claim is untrue, Korcula does have the distinction of being the place where Polo’s travels first became documented. It seems Marco got captured during a war between Venice and Genoa. He spent several years imprisoned on Korcula. His cellmate, Rustichello da Pisa, became fascinated with Polo’s stories of the east and collected them for publication in 1299. The rest as they say is history.
I learned another sad fact about Korcula. During the Croatian War of Independence from 1991 to 1995, Korcula had no ferry service for a 6-month stretch. Isolated, they needed self-reliance to survive. Among other things, they had to build a hospital and figure out how to provide their own services. War disrupts lives in many ways.
Scooting Around Vis
On the island of Vis, we decided to rent scooters to explore the island. We planned to each have a scooter so we each could get some experience driving in less crowded conditions. Unfortunately, even though the scooters were only 20hp, they were too big for Diana to drive safely. So I drove and she rode on the back.
Our new Slovenian friends from the cruise chose to go motoring, too. Given this was only my second time on a scooter and the last time involved injury, I was very happy to let them lead. We crossed over the island, past an airfield-turned-vineyard, and over to the cute town of Komiza, where Momma Mia II was filmed. We spent a pleasant hour over drinks and set back in the dimming light, coaxing the 20 horses to slowly climb the 9% grade to return to our ship.
Farm Visit on Hvar
Our port on the island of Hvar was in Stari Grad (an entire town literally called Old Town), as opposed to the town of Hvar on the other side of the island. Our tour included a visit to a winery/farm in the middle of the island. We arrived in time to enjoy the sunset.
We were served a meal with items almost exclusively produced by the owners. The wine, olive oil, produce, and meat all came from their farm. The main dish was a local delicacy called peka, where lamb, veal, and vegetables are placed “under the bell”, i.e. covered by a large clay dome, and left in an oven to cook for a few hours. The result is a tender dish with roast meat flavors permeating the vegetables. Delicious.
Another notable aspect was that the farm is part of a UNESCO heritage site. It is the best surviving example of an ancient Greek technique for measuring equal size farm plots by tying a rope around the bellies of two men and having them stretch out the line until it is taut. The 73 such plots in the valley are separated by walls made of stones cleared from the fields. The plots probably survived intact because no one wanted to move the walls.
The Blue Cave
Our most interesting stop lasted 10 minutes. It was at the Blue Cave on Biševo island. Only 40 people in three boats can be inside the cave at one time, so wait times for these boats can be very long during the day. To avoid the delay, our captain arranged to be on the outside of the ship stack in our prior port of Vis. That allowed us to leave port first and be first in line when the cave opened. We disembarked from Antaris on a dock where we got into the small boats to enter the cave. Then we motored to the cave for our visit. The cool part was that when we came out of the cave, Antaris was waiting to pick us up.
There is a low entry to the cave. Inside, there is a beautiful, ethereal blue light emanating from the water. We were told the effect was from the blue sky outside reflecting on the white sandy bottom of the cave. We felt lucky to get in when we did. On cloudy days, there is no blue sky and on rough sea days, it is not safe to go through the low entry.
An Uninspiring World Famous Beach and Our Arrival in Split
After the mystical Blue Cave, we went for a look at Zlatni Rat Beach, which is reportedly ranked 12th in the world by Big 7 Travel. Given its popularity, we were only allowed to look at the beach from off-shore. Frankly, for me, given it is a pebbly beach, it didn’t hold a candle to Anini beach on Kauai. To each, their own.
Arriving at our final destination in Split, we were treated to a short walking tour of the town and spent the night aboard so we could enjoy the town before disembarking the following morning. Tune in next time when we cover that and some additional time in Split. Spoiler alert – we really liked it!
Our week aboard the Antaris was a great way to explore and experience the beautiful islands and beaches that the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia has to offer. Our balcony suite was nice to have, but I wouldn’t say it was a must-have. The islands we visited were long on leisure and short on culture, so I recommend the cruise as a relaxing part of a broader European visit for a more encompassing experience. Enjoy!
Which of the Croatian islands appeals to you?