Thinking of a Boat Vacation in Croatia?
Read This First!
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re considering a Croatian boat vacation. Good choice. We just got home from ours and this may be one of our best travel experiences ever. Keep reading to find out what we learned about booking a boat, how we spent our seven-day voyage and tips on planning yours.
This wasn’t our first trek in Croatia. Last summer we spent 10 magnificent days in Croatia with our boys, and that’s when we knew we’d be back again someday. The idea of seeing Croatia by boat first crossed our radar as we island-hopped by ferry in our little Euro rental with our boys. Every single seaport we went to was filled with boats… sailboats, catamarans, and yachts. We realized that seeing Croatia by boat is the way to go. That should come as no surprise since Croatia has over 2000 islands.
Then a few months later I came across an article in Conde Nast Traveler about a group of friends who sailed around the Mediterranean by sailboat. The title went like this… “3 Couples, One 45-Foot Catamaran, 9 Mediterranean Islands, 6 Ports, Countless Empty Beaches, and 7 Nights Spent Sipping Rose and Blasting the Smiths Under the Stars”. A rather long title, but something about those words and of course the photo that graced the same page captured my imagination. That very week we began researching and dreaming. We didn’t know a thing about renting a boat in a foreign country. Now we do. We’ve been home for a few weeks, and I’m sharing all our tips here. Keep reading to find out what it’s like to plan a boat vacation in Croatia from beginning to end.
The Dalmatian coast in Croatia is made up of 2000 islands, and less than 50 are inhabited. Besides, the Adriatic Sea is known for its calm waters and quaint island villages. Pair that with Roman ruins, medieval castles, world-class wines, crystal-clear waters perfect for snorkeling and friendly Croatian hospitality. Now you’ve got a recipe for an ideal vacation.
Catamaran, Sailboat or Gulet?
When we first began our research, we were looking for a catamaran. We liked the idea of a wide sailing vessel that would provide space to be on deck and a calm sailing experience. We never really considered a sailboat for several reasons, one being the limited space on board. We had never heard of a gulet before but soon became familiar with them in our research of options as they are very popular in Croatia. A gulet is a classic wooden yacht that originates from Turkey. Although their original purpose was for fishing, today they are built specifically for tourism. As far as I know, gulets for tourism only operate in Turkey, Greece, and Croatia. We considered many options and went back and forth between the advantages and disadvantages of chartering a catamaran or a gulet.
What We Chose and Why
We ended up selecting a gulet for two main reasons:
1 >>Gulets are full service. In Croatia, most catamaran charters are “barefoot” meaning you must take care of your own food and drinks. We didn’t want to have to do our own grocery shopping and haul a bunch of stuff on board. And we didn’t want to spend part of our vacation in the galley preparing food. We also didn’t want to have to eat every meal on shore.
2>>Gulets are larger. This would allow more people to join in the fun. Most catamarans only have 3-4 cabins. While many of the gulets we looked at had 5 or more cabins.
How to Choose a Broker
The next decision we needed to make was how we would book our boat. This felt overwhelming. Try googling "Croatian boat charter" and you'll see why. We noticed many websites were advertising the same boats. After several inquiries through website request forms, we began getting emails from brokers eager to work with us. We reached out to a few different brokers via email from different companies but ended up choosing Lela Joannidis with Boats at Sea. She stood out as the clear winner after just a couple of emails because of her prompt responses and friendly style. She is based in the British Virgin Islands and represents boats all over the world. Her English is excellent, and communication was always seamless. I still felt uneasy about the whole thing. After all, I met someone online who is in another country, and I’m considering sending lots of money to her to book a boat that is in yet another part of the world. A little unsettling to say the least. Then we talked on the phone, and she set my mind at ease. I had a million questions, and she walked through the whole process with me step by step. Different than booking a cruise or a hotel room, chartering a boat requires wiring foreign money to foreign banks and the signing of legal documents. Lela was a gem to work with. Once we had chosen our broker, the next step was choosing our boat, negotiating dates and details, then the contract and deposit.
It is possible to book privately and save about 20% on broker fees, but I would not recommend doing this. I personally think the risk is too high. There is likely to be a language barrier with a Croatian captain and their ability to answer emails or communicate over phone may be limited. Start with a broker you feel comfortable with and then let them do the research for you. Many of them have personally been on the boats you’re looking at and can steer you in the right direction based on your interests. This is what we did, and it worked well for us. Some boat captains will only work through brokers, while others are open to booking directly with clients. If you decide to go this route, check the contract carefully and make sure you have some sort of insurance if they cancel (or worse, don't show up at all).
What Gulet Did we Choose and Why
There are dozens of gulets operating in Croatia, but in the end, we chose the iconic Nautilus. She has seven guest suites, each with its own private bathroom. She may be an older boat, but she went through a significant refurbishment two years ago and now has some lovely features. We loved the large area up front with 12 sunbeds and an outdoor dining table that large enough to seat all guests at once. And of course, the Jacuzzi was an appealing perk as well. We also liked that all guest suites aboard the Nautilus came with double beds. Bunk beds are fun for family travel, but this was a couple’s trip after all, and bunk beds wouldn’t do. In addition to all these wonderful features, the Nautilus fit our budget best. She is on the lower end of luxury boats available for booking.
Our cabin - roomier than we expectedOne Way or Round Trip?
All boats have their own main harbor that they sail from. Split is the home harbor for the Nautilus. Our next decision we had to make was whether we would do a round trip back to Split or a one-way cruise down to Dubrovnik. Going one-way down to Dubrovnik would obviously allow us to see more of Croatia, but also had a potentially higher price tag associated with it. If the return from Dubrovnik back to Split were not booked, we would have to pay the empty leg with 1000 Euros. This was part of the contract that we agreed to and signed. Also, buying one-way flights into Split and out of Dubrovnik could also add additional cost.
What We Chose and Why
We decided on a one-way trip to Dubrovnik. Luckily for us, a return trip was booked, and we didn’t have to pay the return fee. Even if we would have, I don’t think we would have done it any differently. Being able to head south and not return to where we started was great! We got to visit a broader range of places this way.
Planning a Route
Lela had told us that a suggested route would be presented to us by the captain. Then we could make suggestions or requests based on what we wanted to do. We pretty much went into it not knowing what islands and places we would visit. As a type-A kind of person, this had me a bit worried. But I needn’t have worried, as this turned out to be a much more casual process than I imagined. Our captain, Jeri, was very easy-going and flexible. We just took it a day at a time. He would suggest a few options and listen to our requests. On our first night, he started by giving us a choice of two places to visit as we left the Split harbor. He asked if we wanted complete quiet or a town with restaurants and bars. It pretty much went that way the rest of the week. He’d ask a few questions, and we’d land on a place that suited what we were interested in. I was so happy to find the itinerary to be as flexible as it was. That flexibility even allowed us to make a last-minute request a reality. While on the island of Korcula, we learned about a great swimming spot with some cliff jumping. To fit it in, we would have to make some quick changes to plans that were already underway for the next two days. Always easy-going, Jeri checked water currents and wind patterns and then suggested to go the following morning instead. He made a last-minute phone call to change our winery tour, and we were all set. It turned out to be one of our favorite stops. This easy-going and flexible vibe present throughout the entire country was part of what made visiting Croatia so perfect.
What We Chose and Why
We loved our itinerary and would do it the same again. I appreciated Jeri’s excellent suggestions but also liked that he listened to our requests and was flexible to make our wishes a reality.
Day One >>
Met the Nautilus in Split. Boarded at 5pm. Enjoyed a welcome buffet and drinks. Headed to Brac just in time to catch our first sunset. Docked in Milna for the night.
Day Two >>
Woke in Milna. Headed out to a nearby cove for swimming and snorkeling, also on Island Brac. Headed to Island Hvar. Docked at Jelsa, a small quiet town away from the busy Hvar port. Jeri ordered taxi vans to take us over to Hvar for sightseeing. Spent the night docked at Jelsa.
Day Three >>
Woke at Jelsa. Headed to Bol to swim at the famous Golden Horn. Then over to Bol town for shopping. Stopped in a private cove for swimming and a late lunch. Headed to Makarska to spend the night.
Day Four >>
Woke at Makarska. Headed to the island of Korcula. First, we stopped in a cove for swimming and a late lunch. Then we arrived in the old town of Korcula. We spent the evening ashore visiting this little gem.
Day Five >>
Woke at Korcula. Spent more time here in town and then swimming and relaxing. Headed to Trstenik on the mainland and the famous wine region of Croatia. Met up with a wine tour that Jeri arranged for us. Spent the afternoon and evening touring wineries and then had dinner at a traditional Croatian farm. Spent the night anchored in Trstenik harbor.
Day Six >>
Woke at Trstenik and headed over to Mjet, an island that is made up of one of Croatia’s eight National Parks. First, we went to a cove for swimming, snorkeling, and paddle boarding. Then we docked at Polace, a small town with an ancient Roman palace. We rented electric bikes and rode up to the lakes inside the national park. Then we visited an 11th-century monastery located on a little island in the lake. Spent the night docked in Polace.
Day Seven >>
Woke at Polace and headed over to the Odysseus Cave for swimming. This was a highlight. The water clarity was incredible here and snorkeling inside a cave with a deep underwater ravine was incredible. Plus, for the adventurous ones in our group, cliff jumping was great fun! Then we headed to Lopud. Going ashore, some went shopping, and some hiked to a medieval fortress high up on the hill. Spent the night anchored in Lopud bay.
Day Eight >>
Woke at Lopud and then head into Dubrovnik for a 9am disembarkation.
Full-board or Half-board?
When booking a gulet charter, you will automatically get a full crew. We had a Captain, First-mate, Chef, and Deck-hand. We loved each of them, and they felt like family by the end of the week. Croatian hospitality is amazing. With the full staff of a gulet, you must choose either half-board (breakfast and lunch) or full-board (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
What We Chose and Why
We chose half-board because we also wanted to get off the boat and eat in the villages and towns we were visiting here and there. We did have some meals ashore, but we found the half-board to be quite filling. Our lunches were more like dinners, and the chef was flexible to have our meals any time we wanted them. On most days we had breakfast around 9, or 10 am and lunch around 3 or 4 pm. So, in the end, we rarely ate at full meal later in the evening. We mostly enjoyed gelato and other snacks while ashore. The cost for half-board was 290 Euros per person. This also included a meal on our first evening and breakfast on the morning of our disembarkation.
Choosing your Beverage Package
Another option we needed to decide on was a beverage package. This seemed to be a pretty standard set of choices with every gulet we looked at. There were two choices, all-inclusive or pay by the drink. With option one, we would spend a set amount and receive unlimited domestic beverages (alcoholic and nonalcoholic) throughout the week. This option also allowed us to bring wine and other beverages that we purchased ashore on board and for the staff to store and serve them. That was appealing to us, knowing we would be visiting some wineries and would like to be able to bring bottles we purchased on board to enjoy. The second option was more like a cash bar based on consumption. That meant we would order from a menu and a bill would be kept for each couple, paying a statement at the end of the voyage.
What We Chose and Why
We opted to get the full beverage package. At the cost of 150 Euros per person for unlimited beverages, this seemed like the best option. We liked the idea of just paying once and enjoying what we wanted without the hassle of keeping a tally.
I’ve listed a few prices above, but I’d like to give you a whole picture of the entire cost. I don’t want to give the impression that this is a cheap vacation, but you might also be surprised at the affordability of a trip like this. That is especially true if a group of friends is sharing the cost. In fact, I would equate this just slightly above the price of a typical cruise. For the privacy and customized experience, the increase is well worth it! Below is a list of the costs we incurred with an explanation of each one. Prices will vary based on the exact week you book and of course the boat you choose. The prices listed below are based on a September 2018 sailing aboard the Nautilus. I am not guaranteeing these costs, merely letting you know what we paid to give you an idea of the cost involved.
16,000 Euros for seven nights
This included full crew, fuel, wi-fi, air-conditioning, snorkel gear, kayaks, SUP
Divided by 14 people (7 bedrooms) was 1142 Euros per person
Half-board – 290 euros per person
All-inclusive Beverage Package – 150 euros per person
National Park and Mooring Fees*
Estimated at 1000 Euros for the week, it ended up being 880 Euros
*We learned that all boat charters keep this as a separate fee, whether they be catamarans, sailboats or gulets. Depending on where you sleep at night (attached to a dock or moored in a cove) various fees will be charged. Some of the islands have national parks that also have costs to visit them. The captain keeps track of these all week and then gives you the bill at the end of the week.
Once you’ve paid for the boat, half-board, national park and mooring fees and gratuities, are there any other expenses to plan for? Yes. We had the opportunity to be onshore every day of our vacation, and that meant there were things we wanted to spend money on. Here is a breakdown of what my husband and I spent money on and approximately how much.
Milna – pastries (2 Euros)
Jelsa – taxi to Hvar (20 Euros) gelato (2 Euros) crepes (6 Euros)
Bol – souvenir shopping (50 Euros)
Makarska – gelato (5 Euros)
Korcula – dinner with wine (50 Euros) souvenir shopping (20 Euros)
Trstenik – winery tour and farm dinner (100 Euros)
Mljet – electric bike rental (20 Euros)
Lopud – dinner with wine (40 Euros)
Is This a Family-friendly Vacation?
I think that depends on the ages, abilities, and interests of your kids. There is no doubt when it comes to my family, this would be an ideal vacation with our boys, and someday we hope to repeat the experience with them. When I asked Jeri if he has many families aboard the Nautilus, he said yes, all the time. But he feels that this vacation is best for children that aren’t too young and are water-safe. I would agree. I know our boys would love this trip because they are great swimmers and comfortable in very deep water. We almost always swam from the boat (rarely from a beach). Our boys are old enough not to have to be watched every minute of the day. I would not find it relaxing to bring young children on a trip like this who must regularly be watched to make sure no one was falling overboard. On this trip, we spent a lot of time relaxing, reading and napping. Someday when we take our boys, I'm sure it will be an entirely different experience.
What to Pack?
Here's what you need to know about packing for a boat vacation in Croatia. It's very simple. Everyday we woke up and put on a swimsuit. Then I would throw on a cover-up and my husband would throw on a t-shirts. That's pretty much it. Very simple. While on the boat, we didn't bother with shoes. It was easier to get around barefoot. In the late afternoon or evening, we would shower and put on something casual to go ashore in. Sundresses or shorts were just fine. Croatia is very laid back and anything fancier would have felt out of place.
Click here for our FREE Croatia Packing List.
Print a copy and use it as a check-list.
Here are my top must-haves for
a Croatian boat vacation
Hanging toiletry bag for limited bathroom counter space
Portable speaker for playing tunes from your phone
Long-sleeve UV shirt for sun protection
Slip-on water shoes for rocky beaches
A hanging shoe holder is a great place to get more storage in your cabin... swimsuits, sunglasses, sunscreen, etc.
I love these 3-packs from Amazon. They are cheap and reliable.
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Disclaimer: If you click through the Amazon links I will get a small percentage of the sale, for no additional cost to you. If you click through the Boats at Sea link, and book a boat through them, I will receive a small percentage.