I spent ten years at sea, working on large cruise ships, so after moving on from that chapter in my career, I haven’t yet felt the need to holiday on an enormous cruise ship.
I do however still love a holiday on the water and in addition to several river cruises, I have been captivated by my Croatian cruise experiences on small vessels, and I feel the need to share.
Croatia’s dazzling coastline is incredibly home to more than 1,000 islands. Most are small - only 47 are inhabited - but of those, there are around 20 larger ones that are popular with visitors.
It can be overwhelming to choose the perfect one for a getaway, so an island-hopping cruise is a great way to see several stunning ones and be able to explore the picturesque coastal towns whilst only unpacking once.
A variety of ships operate different routes around the Croatian islands. All vessels are motor cruisers with some having sails that are used on occasion.
The ships hold up to 38 passengers and cruise the Adriatic between the land and islands, never out in the open sea, thereby offering smooth expeditions and spectacular scenery.
They cruise during the daytime, offer a full onboard breakfast and delicious homemade lunches plus special swim stops in secluded bays.
Cabins are ensuite, clean and comfortable.
The vessels have plenty of outdoor space with some having outdoor jacuzzis. The service is intimate, and I guarantee the crew will know your name after day one.
Ships tend to arrive post-lunch, docking in the heart of the small towns and staying overnight in each port, enabling you to simply walk off, join a guided tour or self-explore and find a fabulous local restaurant for dinner.
One evening is spent onboard with the captain at his dinner, but no dressing up is required.
The days are filled with a combination of sunbathing, swimming and relaxing, nicely contrasted with sightseeing and exploring the local islands.
I have taken cruises from both Split and Dubrovnik and visited numerous islands. Here are some of my highlights and recommendations...
Dubrovnik is one of the world’s most magnificent walled cities, overlooking the tranquil Adriatic and widely regarded as Croatia’s most upmarket destination.
The pedestrian-only Old Town is packed with aristocratic palazzi and elegant Baroque churches, all contained within sturdy medieval fortifications.
I highly recommend taking the cable car to the peak of Srđ mountain to enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views of the Old Town and the island of Lokrum.
Split is Croatia’s second-largest city and the largest on the Adriatic coast.
Diocletian's Palace, built in the 4th century by Roman Emperor Diocletian in which to spend his retirement, is its most famous tourist attraction, which despite the name is more like a large fortress surrounded by walls and towers.
The original construction was finished in 305 AC and lasted less than ten years. Today, the palace is a UNESCO world heritage site that includes the old town of Split.
Running adjacent is the Riva, a seafront promenade lined with tall palm trees, bustling trendy cafés and shaded benches - a great place to hang out, enjoy a coffee and watch the world go by.
Ports of call on these cruises vary but are likely to include Brac, Sibenik, Vis, Mljet, Hvar, Makarska, Losinj, Rab and Korcula.
The sunshine island of Hvar is not only a holiday hotspot of the rich and famous but my own favourite of the islands, so much so that I returned for a few nights' holiday here.
Situated in the central Dalmatian archipelago, it boasts stunning fragrant lavender fields, a cosmopolitan vibe and features a beautiful coastline lined with secluded coves and bays.
Encircled by 13th-century walls, the historic Old Town will appeal to lovers of fine Renaissance architecture and cobbled streets.
Around the harbour, there is an amazing choice of restaurants and cafes.
Above Hvar Town stands the impressive 16th-century Fortica Fortress, reached by steps from the town and a winding path to the entrance. Entry costs 25 Kuna but is well worth it for the spectacular views.
Several beaches, stunning scenery and friendly hospitality define the island of Korcula.
Its main resort, Korcula Town, is known as “Little Dubrovnik” due to its medieval squares, churches, palaces, houses and unique layout of cobblestone streets, lined with cute little shops, cafes and restaurants.
The island is also rumoured to be the birthplace of world explorer, Marco Polo.
The self-sustainable island of Brac is the largest in Dalmatia and the third-largest in the Adriatic Sea.
Stopping in the town of Bol, you will have time to stroll along its quaint seafront promenade and relax on Croatia’s most famous beach, the horn-shaped Zlatni Rat beach.
Most ships will anchor off this beach so you can swim to shore.
Mljet is unlike any other Croatian island and it is unlikely you would visit unless on a cruise.
The southernmost, easternmost and greenest Adriatic island is mostly shrouded by dense forests and covered with magnificent natural landscapes.
It also has a harbour, a beautiful small beach and the popular Mljet National Park.
The stunning wildlife refuge features two famous saltwater lakes – Veliko Jezero (large) and Malo Jezero (small) and the tiny St Mary Island, only accessible by boat.
The park’s breathtaking geological landscape can be explored by one of the many hiking trails on foot or by hired bike. Kayaking, canoeing and swimming are permitted in the 4km stretch of jewel-coloured lakes.
I have barely scratched the surface of what you can expect to see on a small ship cruise around Croatia but hope to have provided a flavour.
I have plans to return and tick a few more islands off the list. I’ll be very happy to help plan an exciting itinerary for you.