The boutique floating home experience
Dubrovnik – Split – Rab – Sibenik – Hvar – Korcula – Kotor (Montenegro)
Over 25 years ago in St. Tropez, I witnessed for the first time a row of motor cruisers and yachts jostling for position adjacent to one another in the harbour. The tanned uniformed crew tended to every need of their elegant guests, whose al fresco dining became a series of stage shows to entertain the lesser mortal tourists strolling along the promenade, including myself with a backpack en route to a local campsite.
I’ve often wondered over the years what it must be like to luxuriate on a private boat and now feel I’ve come close! The Variety Cruises experience offers the nearest you can get to owning your own boat, but without the prohibitive cost, the high maintenance, and the responsibility.
It was exciting to spot the M/S Callisto awaiting our arrival in Dubrovnik harbour. It is a small and perfectly formed motor cruiser with an average capacity of 20 on each cruise, and just 12 on our Dalmatian journey which began with a warm welcome on board and an introduction to the other guests and the cheerful multi-national team. These included our host Kimon, the manager Peter, Sunny the barman and Nirmin the waiter, all of whom were to become good friends over the next 7 days.
But before we departed, I needed to clear up a question which had been bothering me, what exactly is a Dalmatian? According to the dictionary it is either
- a dog of a large, white short-haired breed with dark spots or
- a native or inhabitant of Dalmatia
One of the tour guides cleared up the mystery: Dalmatian dogs are named after this beautiful part of Croatia, and the word originally comes from the Illyrian ‘Delme’, meaning sheep. The earliest reference to these spotted hounds is seen in 15th century Croatian art, and it is thought that they were originally sheep dogs before becoming pets in homes around the world, and of course the leading lights in the book and Disney movie.
And on that subject, when we were presented with a special Dalmatian dinner on the fourth night of the cruise, a few eyebrows were raised, but we were reassured that this special treat was to be octopus and stuffed calamari. After all, this was not Asia!
This episode typified the mood on board M/S Callisto which was one of convivial joviality within our group of guests, mainly North American and in their 70s and 80s. All were in good health, and they were experienced cruisers who had selected this small ship cruise because they were “allergic to” the crowds of larger ships. They loved docking in the centre of each port; they raved about the food and personal service; they were relieved not to get lost finding their cabin at the end of each evening; and most of all they enjoyed being part of a small group, like an extended house party.
And there was romance on board as well! Two of the guests had met on a previous Variety Cruise to the Seychelles just a few months earlier. Both widowed, they were thrilled to have unexpectedly found new soul mates in later life, and were now returning on their second cruise as an official couple. Other guests included a remarkably active couple from Canada in their mid-80s who were up on deck each morning at 5am and joined all the excursions.
The pace of life on board the M/S Callisto is relaxed and informal, with the staff attuned to the needs of the guests within the first day. Meals are taken either in the dining room or outside on the deck, and with the glorious weather, the latter was always the preference, with fabulous buffets.
The cabins are well-appointed and with spacious bathrooms, where I noted with approval the magnifying mirror, a small but important acknowledgment of the more mature eyesight of most guests.
Daily excursions are on offer with comprehensive information given in advance and no pressure to participate. And apart from a local Croatian guitar duo as a special treat one evening, there was no entertainment, and that’s just as it should be.
The ability to dock in port and in the centre of town, without needing to take tenders, cannot be under estimated. A further advantage is that most ports we visited were simply not big enough to take huge cruise ships which meant that the huge influx of day trippers was limited.
The itinerary was well-crafted and the pace of each day was different, sometimes sailing through the night, and at other times by day, so that we could watch the world go by. In two ports we had the evening free to wander into town, although most guests returned long before 4am curfew! And the surprise highlight of the trip was a lunar eclipse, viewed from the front deck with a breath-taking view to the night sky and stars. As Peter said, we’ve arranged it specially for you…
Variety Cruises is one of the leading small ship cruise lines worldwide with eleven yachts and itineraries around the world including Costa Rica, West Africa, Iceland, the Seychelles and Greece. Celebrating its 50th birthday in 2018, it’s still a family-owned business, describing its fleet as boutique floating homes – and quite rightly so. As we sat having dinner on deck in the port of the beautiful island of Korcula, I finally enjoyed a taste of the lifestyle I first witnessed a quarter of a century earlier, and how sweet it was!
Read part 2 – the destinations
At Silver Travel Advisor, our writers have been privileged to sample a selection of these cruises and you may also enjoy reading:
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