Croatian Cruising: Islands, Ice Cream and Unforgettable Adventures

Ian Cooper, international author, speaker and travel writer experiences a 7 nights cruise with Riviera Travel on their Split, Rab and Undiscovered Islands of the North yacht cuise

I’m floating in the crystal-clear turquoise Adriatic, 20 feet from the back of our cruise ship, soaking up the sun. Was I really doing this? I have just embarked on a seven-night cruise with Riviera Travel, exploring the Croatian islands aboard the 20 cabin yacht, ‘Il Mare’. Friends had recommended this trip and so my wife and I quite literally decided to ‘take the plunge’ and give it a try. Would we still be speaking to our friends when we got home? Let’s dive in and find out.

The Journey Begins: a seamless start in Split

Our Croatian adventure kicked off with a short two-hour flight to Split. We were seamlessly greeted and transferred to our yacht by the superbly caring cruise director, Marthese. No long coach rides on this trip … just 30 minutes.

Il Mare – the experience

This cruise was unlike any other. As a seasoned travel writer, I’ve experienced numerous cruises, both on rivers and oceans and always enjoyed them, but this one was different in many ways.

The ship

‘Il Mare’ is an impressive 48 metres, carrying up to 40 guests. The cabins are not huge, but are thoughtfully-designed and very comfortable. The air-conditioning was brilliant and much needed, with good storage space, a safe, hair dryer and bathroom with a powerful easy to use shower. Free WiFi was available throughout.

The dining experience

Despite reservations about a fixed menu, the cuisine far exceeded expectations. Betty, our chef, had previously been head chef at a five-star hotel. She worked miracles in her tiny galley producing varied and high-quality meals. We also had a small bar and lounge area with drinks at very reasonable prices. All bills had to be paid for at the end of the cruise in cash.

Daily swim stops – a highlight of the day

The highlight of each day was the ‘swim stop’. Ladders were lowered from a platform at the back of the ship, and those that wanted… no pressure… could climb down to swim. I confess to being nervous in deep water, but I couldn’t get enough of this. No shivering in this water; the temperature is around 25 degrees. By the way, the saltwater content of the Croatian seawater is higher than the world average, so very buoyant. On mentioning how salty the water was, one guest described it as “like swimming in a bag of crisps”!

Informal and friendly atmosphere

One of the cruise’s most important features was its social informality. There was no need to dress up for meals, and guests could dine with anyone at any meal. With such small numbers there was a sense of real camaraderie, with everyone sharing stories of their other travels over meals, or even whilst floating in the sea.

No pressure, just pleasure

The structure of the cruise allowed for plenty of relaxation and exploration. There was no overnight sailing, giving us the evenings to explore each new port and dine ashore at the many typically Croatian restaurants at our leisure.

Genuine personal service

From the moment we boarded ‘Il Mare’, it was clear that this was a ‘masterclass’ in guest service. The small crew, led by the very accessible Captain who owned the boat, made us feel like he was personally entertaining his guests. If that wasn’t enough, the wonderful cruise director Marthese, treated us like we were friends and family.

The allure of Croatian Islands

The Croatian coast is home to around 1,000 scattered islands, with 66 of them inhabited, each having developed its own unique culture. Every year, millions of tourists flock to the Croatian coast, many considering it one of the most beautiful in the world. This is ‘elegant tourism’ at its best.

Ice cream heaven

Croatia’s islands are a paradise for ice cream lovers. Every street seemed to have multiple gelaterias. This was ice cream heaven. The biggest decision of each day was: how much willpower do I have to resist the temptations? The answer in my case was none! I saw it as my journalistic duty to test as many flavours as possible… Pina Colada came top!

Of course, the cruise was about much more than ice cream, swimming or relaxing on the sun deck during the day. So let me give you a taste of the islands we visited:

Trogir – A delightful first stop

Our first stop, Trogir, is a delightful small town with a classic waterfront. Behind its scenic exterior lies an intriguing maze of winding medieval streets. “Go and get lost in the narrow alleys”, we were told.

Vodice – dinner by the harbour

Having moored up in the picturesque harbour at Vodice, we had the opportunity to explore. As we wandered ashore, we were spoilt for choice by the number of restaurants on the waterfront, all offering superb dining options.

Zadar – sunsets and sea organ

With a population of around 75,000, Zadar is the ancient capital of Dalmatia. Our guided tour took us through its historical streets, uncovering its Roman ruins. We were also introduced to three unique features of Zadar:

  • Magnificent sunsets: Alfred Hitchcock claimed that Zadar had the most beautiful sunset in the world. Eager to witness this, we made our way to the waterfront by 8:30pm as the sun was setting. It was clear why Alfred was so impressed.
  • The sea organ: Carved into the steps of the seafront promenade are 35 organ pipes of varying sizes. The waves entering and exiting these pipes produce a unique ‘musical’ sound. I guess a choir of singing whales might give you an idea of what it was like.
  • The greeting to the sun: This is an original art installation by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić. Having watched the sunset we waited on the edge of the 22 metre diameter circle on the waterfront for it to come to life. We watched as it slowly began to flicker, its multi-layered solar glass plates creating a stunning colourful display.

Rab – bell towers and more ice cream

As we approached the island of Rab, we could see four bell towers rise up from the blaze of terracotta rooftops below. Going ashore, our exploration began with a short, guided walk through the town, filled with quaint boutique souvenir shops and, of course, an abundance of ice cream. The views from the ancient city walls over Rab town were spectacular.

Telascica Nature Park – unspoilt beauty

A visit to Telascica Nature Park offered a stark contrast to the bustling towns. Designated a protected area due to its valuable flora and fauna, it showcased extreme unspoilt beauty. We hiked to a salt lake and climbed up to a stunning viewpoint.

Sibernik – a lucky encounter

In Sibernik, our guided walking tour revealed the history of this medieval town, and Gothic cathedral. The most memorable part, however, was stumbling upon a traditional Croatian wedding. Feeling like ‘wedding crashers’, we clapped along to the joyous music and dancing.

Split – the grand finale

Having completed our round trip, we were back on the waterfront in Split, Croatia’s second city. Our entertaining guide, Anri took us through the cavernous ruins of Emperor Diocletian’s Palace, a massive complex occupying over 30,000 square meters. This was also one of the settings for the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV drama.

Cruise verdict

So, did the cruise live up to our friend’s lavish praise and are we still speaking to them? Absolutely. It exceeded all expectations, offering a perfect blend of relaxation, exploration, new experiences and dining delights … not to mention the simple pleasures of several scoops of ice cream. I wasn’t ready for it to end.

For seasoned cruisers seeking something new, or for first-timers testing the waters, this Riviera Travel Croatian cruise offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I have already noted that Riviera has a similar offering on a different yacht taking in other Croatian islands and the city of Dubrovnik. Perhaps next year!

Travel facts:

Eight-day Split, Rab and Undiscovered Islands of the North Yacht Cruise, aboard MS Il Mare, starting in Split. Ports of calls and visits include Trogir and Vodice, Zadar, Rab, Telašćica, Kornati and Šibenik. Includes return flights from London Stansted and transfers, six tours and visits, swim stops, seven meals and a Captain’s dinner.

Next steps

If you’d like to follow in Ian’s footsteps and take a cruise around Croatia, call Silver Travel Advisor on 0800 412 5678.


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Ian Cooper

Retired professor, author & speaker

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