Cruising Croatia: Why a small-ship cruise beats a megaship cruise

Cruise ships call year-round at Croatia’s numerous port towns, carrying happy holidaymakers eager to explore the country’s historic cities, lush forests, magnificent mountains, idyllic islands, and immaculate beaches. Aside from megaships that are hundreds of feet long, smaller craft are also popular cruise options in Croatia. In fact, more and more cruise lines are offering small-ship cruise packages specifically designed for sailing the extensive coastline of the Croatian mainland and islands.

Related article: Cruising Croatia and the Adriatic: A traveller’s guide

These smaller ships offer a truly unique experience, one that combines the grandeur of luxury megaships with the cosiness and privacy of your very own yacht. Well-appointed cabins with en suite bathrooms are standard on such vessels. There’s also usually a lounge bar and restaurant where you can meet and interact with fellow cruisers over freshly prepared meals made with local ingredients. And because these ships have a maximum capacity of 20 to 40, there are no crowds, there is less noise, and there are more opportunities for you to spend some time alone, taking in the scenery in peace as you sail by.

Here are other things you can expect when you choose to cruise Croatia on a small ship:

Focus on the destination

There’s no dearth of things to do on a colossal luxury cruise ship. Its multiple decks have everything: restaurants, bars, cafes, casinos, spas, IMAX movie theatres, and skating rinks, just to name a few of the lavish features on board. With so much going on, you may find yourself cramming as many onboard activities as you can in a day, the downside of which is that you don’t get to really enjoy your actual destination.

A smaller cruise ship, because of its size, doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a megaship, but that’s just fine. After all, you don’t go on a cruise to go on a waterslide or catch a Cirque du Soleil show — that’s what waterparks and Las Vegas are for. Seeing the beauty of your destination and experiencing everything it has to offer should be one of the top reasons — if not the top reason — for going on a cruise. Luckily, this is a goal that you can easily achieve by going on a small ship.

Wander off the beaten path

Usually, megaships only anchor at the main seaports of Dubrovnik, Split, and Zadar. Passengers disembark to see and experience these cities’ main attractions. If they want to visit nearby islands, they charter a boat for a day cruise. While this is easy enough to arrange, it can mean added expenses, and you may have only a limited time for exploring.

Aerial View of Bergen Old Town, Norway
Dubrovnik, Croatia

On the other hand, small cruise ships can dock at Croatia’s smaller islands and ports, giving you easy access to secluded beaches, coves, and saltwater lakes, as well as experiences you would miss out on otherwise. Some smaller craft, for instance, offer packages that include a trip to a winery, where you can sample a variety of Croatian wines and delicacies. Or you can skip the tour altogether and head to the local watering hole, and amble back on board when you’ve had your fill.

Get on and off as you please

Sometimes, large cruise ships drop anchor a short distance away from shore; to shuttle passengers to and from the dock, they use small boats called tenders. This can be quite inconvenient — not only do you have to wait in line to get on a tender, but it can also be a hassle to get back on board.

Small ships dock right at the pier, so you can walk straight off the boat and into town. If you feel like taking a nap in the afternoon, or if you forget something in your cabin, you can just walk back onto the ship. Coming and going as you please is just one of the many luxuries that small craft afford.

Experience flexibility

A cruise aboard a commercial megaliner has a pretty rigid itinerary; passengers are on a tight schedule, especially when they’re on shore excursions, keeping them from thoroughly enjoying their spectacular surroundings and having a truly authentic Croatian experience.

Not so on a small-ship cruise. You’ll be able to change plans as the weather or circumstances do. If, for example, the ship happens upon a pod of breaching whales near the island of Cres, you can tarry awhile to witness the majestic creatures jump into the air and disappear back into the depths of the sea. Or if you and your shipmates feel like going for a late afternoon swim in the ocean, the captain can simply stop the ship in the open water. Clamber back on in time for dinner and drinks, or maybe some board games on the deck.

The flexibility offered by a small-ship cruise will give you the chance to truly immerse yourself in the local culture. Learn how to make and taste Paški sir, the world-famous artisanal milk sheep cheese milk produced on the island of Pag, walk among the grapevines and olive trees in Korčula, trace the history of the Glagolithic language in Krk, or spend an afternoon lounging in a cafe or bar — an important part of daily life in Croatia.

Value for money

There are no state-of-the-art fitness centres or unlimited seafood buffets on a small cruise ship, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t get the best value for your money. In fact, you may even get more out of what you paid for than if you splurged on an all-inclusive cruise package on a megaship.

For one, you get better service. Fewer people means a higher quality of service, with the crew treating each and every passenger as a valued guest. Some small cruise ships even offer a nearly one-to-one service ratio, ensuring your needs are attended to ASAP. The food is also infinitely better, given that the kitchen staff is cooking for only a small number of people and it’s easier to source fresh local ingredients for 40 diners than it is for 4,000.

There’s also a wider variety of experiences you can enjoy, given the flexibility of the itinerary and the many different places you can visit. Small-ship cruising allows you to create a trip that’s tailored to your interests and preferences, so you don’t go home feeling like you could have done more or spent your time better.

Cruise the Adriatic With Us!

The coastline of Croatia is one of the most beautiful and unique you’ll find anywhere. Our cruise aboard the 40-passenger MS Paradis will take us to the some of the smaller islands in the central Adriatic with plenty of time to explore on our own.

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