My Uncle Rick and Aunt Cary planned a boat trip around Croatia´s Dalmatian islands with their three children for the summer of 2020. As it turned out, most of the rentable boats in Croatia have 5 cabins, which meant that they had space for one more person or couple in the cabin. Since I was already living in Europe, they decided to let me take the final cabin. When offered the chance to go, the answer was an obvious yes.
Due to the COVID pandemic, the trip got rescheduled to depart one week after my graduation from business school in late May 2021. The timing was perfect!!
I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I knew absolutely nothing about the boat itself or the itinerary and I have never traveled with extended family before. It was going to be a surprise and an adventure.
The final roster for the boat included 9 people: my Uncle Rick, Aunt Cary, their three grown children daughter Jennah, son Barron, and daughter Lana, Jennah´s friend Dana, Barron´s wife Melanie, Lana´s boyfriend Fredrik, and me!
May 29, 2021: Off We Go
The group of 9 boarded a 20-meter motored catamaran at 16:00. “Sleeper” boats in this region are sometimes called yachts although there is no formal classification of what exactly is a yacht.
We were greeted by the crew of two. Andrej, the captain, was in his late 30´s. He was an experienced captain who has sailed across the Atlantic Ocean 4 times. His job was to plan the trip, drive the boat, and deal with the ports. Franca (aka Frankie) was the hostess. She was a 20-year-old Division 1 college tennis player who was on the boat for a summer gig. Her role was to do everything on the boat besides the skipping: cooking, cleaning, and serving food/drinks. This was her first trip as a hostess. Both members of the crew were extremely professional.
The trip got off to an ominous start. Cary´s bag rolled into the water while nobody was looking. Franca noticed it and immediately jumped in the water to save it. No one else noticed what had happened until Franca suddenly appeared soaking wet. The contents of Cary´s bag were saved, although some of the clothing needed to be dried out. Disaster diverted.
With this weird start behind us, we set sail and left Split behind. 3 hours later, we reached Hvar, the most popular town in the Dalmatian islands. However, we wanted to explore the town after June 1st when some COVID restrictions are lifted and there is a greater chance of being able to go to Hvar´s famous clubs. So instead, we docked at a nearby island called Paklinski that can only be accessed by private boat. The perfect cove has about 10 decently sized boats, but ours happened to be the largest. I joked that it was no surprise that the our family had the biggest mast in town.
Paklinski island was originally inhabited by a ship captain who sailed all over the world and brought back exotic plants to populate the island. His descendants still inhabit the island and run one of the main restaurants.
Andrej took us ashore using a zodiac, a small rubber dinghy. Then we walked over to what might be the prettiest restaurant I have ever seen.
The meal was upscale on the edge of fine dining. Prices were about triple anything I had seen so far in Croatia, but I suppose this is not surprising when the only people who can access the island have yachts. I ordered a fish soup followed by a monkfish in a miso glaze with a passionfruit dessert. It was one of the most delicious meals of my life.
After dinner, we took the dinghy back to the boat where we went to bed early.
May 30, 2021: Korcula
We woke up for a late breakfast at 9:00. I almost never wake up this late, but we are on a vacation on island time!
At 10:00, we went back ashore to walk around the island. 500 meters behind our cove was another cove with a general store.
At 11:30, we set sail again. At 14:00, we stopped in a bay on the west side of the island of Korcula, one of the larger islands in the region. After lunch, we went for a swim and enjoyed the family time together.
Then at 16:30, we set sail again. At 19:00 we sailed up a narrow fjord-like channel to reach the town of Korcula.
Korcula town is full of medieval charm. The streets are shaped in the form of a fish skeleton to protect from the wind.
Like Dubrovnik, Korcula was empty due to the combination of COVID and it being early season.
We got drinks in a bar atop a medieval tower. To reach the bar, we had to climb a ladder. The drinks had to be wheeled up to the top of the tower using a dumbwaiter pulley system. We watched the sunset sipping our delicious drinks. According to the staff of the bar, in a normal summer you have to reserve a table weeks in advance. Luckily, we had the entire place to ourselves. This was truly one of the coolest bars I have ever been to.
For dinner, we ate on another rooftop in the middle of the old town. We ordered the typical Croatian special: local white wine, a few starters and a single giant whitefish grilled with olive oil and topped with a little salt all served family style.
I really liked Korcula town. It obviously gets tourists but felt less touristy than other historic towns I have visited in Croatia.
My cousins and I stayed up late playing games.
May 31, 2021: Lastrovsko
In the morning, my uncle Rick and I walked around Korcula town in the daylight. This time, it was pleasantly packed with locals shopping. The town is beautiful and has a nice entrance gate that I missed last night. Since my uncle works in real estate, it was very fun to see his unique perspective on the town and its architecture.
Around 11, we set sail. It was a 3-hour sail to Lastrovsko, a sparsely populated island far from the mainland.
We parked in a beautiful bay for lunch. Unfortunately, most of the island is a nature park, so we were unable to walk around. So instead, we went swimming.
It then was a short sail to dinner, which was in a tiny town in a nearby cove on the same island.
The waiter at the restaurant said to trust him with dinner, and we did. It was…the Croatian special: white wine and some starters such as risotto and vegetables followed by white fish. This time the fish was cooked underneath a bell which is a unique traditional way of cooking in Croatia. The bell fish took nearly 2 hours to cook, but we had nothing better to do since we were on this tiny island.
The waiter said that the island is very upscale since only private boats can reach it and it is very remote. He then showed us a picture of Alice Walton (Walmart heiress) getting dinner with her friends including Goldie Hawn. We were truly in elite company here!
The island and its tiny town felt very especially warm and homey, a feeling compounded by the fact that we were the only ones there. So far, everyone we have met has been so hospitable. I wonder if this is because the Croatian people are just friendly, because the locals are so happy to see tourists after COVID, or because this level of friendliness is expected at upscale restaurants. Regardless of the reason, we are feeling the love!
June 1, 2021: Vis
Today we started sailing early- even before I woke up. We did not really get a breakfast- just a smoothie. This is because we had to sail through open seas for 5 hours. The waves were very rough and had whitecaps. I got seasick and vomited once.
After 5 hours at sea, we finally arrived at the island of Vis. This was a huge relief for everyone on the boat. Franca then made us lunch.
At 15:00, we were able to explore the island. The boat was docked in the main city, also called Vis.
It turns out that my business school friend Anton is from this island. His hometown Komiza is on the far side of the island 10 kilometers away. I decided to go visit the town even though he was not physically there.
I rented a bike from Vis town and took it across the hilly island. The ride involved a 350-meter climb followed by a huge downhill. The bike had a racing seat, my butt was not ready, and I was definitely in pain by the time I reached Komiza.
The town of Komiza was very pretty along the waterfront. After walking around a bit, I video-called Anton and he gave me a quick tour. I saw his grandparents´ house where he spends every summer and met a shopkeeper who he knows who only spoke Croatian. It was very special to see a place in the eyes of a local and a friend.
Komiza felt more local than Vis town. The town had 1,000 residents and appeared to be visited by Croatians instead of foreigners.
The bike ride back involved completing a loop around the island, so instead of 10km it was 20 km. The hill was only 230 meters high and included some amazing coastal views. I also got to see some wineries and small towns on the island´s interior.
Back in Vis town, I celebrated with a beer.
For dinner, we ate in Vis town at a restaurant with a beautiful garden. The food was the Croatian standard (local wine, appetizers, and a giant white fish). The food was delicious, but the company was even better!
June 2, 2021: Around Vis and a Dinner to Remember
After breakfast, we got picked up at 10am pickup by a taxi boat for a tour of Vis and the surrounding islands.
We started off by visiting a former Yugoslav submarine tunnel. The tunnel was sneakily hidden in a cove. The island of Vis was one of Yugoslavia’s main naval bases from 1945-1989. The island is still covered in abandoned bunkers and turrets.
Next, we boated for 1 hour to a small island called Bisevo on the backside of Vis. Here, we got onto an even smaller boat which took us to the famed Blue Cave.
After 5 minutes on the boat, we saw a small opening in the cliff. The boat driver yelled “duck!” Suddenly, we were in a large sea cave with perfectly bright blue water. The blue color comes from a second underwater entrance to the cave. The light shines through the underwater entrance and reflects off the white sand on the cave´s floor to create the blue color. Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed in the Blue Cave due to the large number of tourists who want to enter.
Back in the taxi boat, we visited a few more sea caves and then a micro beach. Vis (and the surrounding mini islands) are of volcanic origin, whereas every other island in the Adriatic is sedimentary.
Finally, we stopped at a famous beach called Stiniva, a collapsed sea cave. We parked out boat in the water and got rowed in by a man whose family has owned the land for centuries. The owner said that normally the place is so crowded that you cannot even see the beach. The owner is so sick of tourists that he hates his job, even though the money is good. There were simply too many tourists. Luckily for him and for us, the beach was empty.
The economy of coastal Croatia is certainly interesting. Many people, such as this man, rely heavily on tourism for 4 months of the year: June-September. That money sustains them for the rest of the year.
The heavy seasonality of the business has caused a bit of a brain drain. Many young Croatians go to other countries such as Western Europe or the US for work. The locals wish that more young people would stay in Croatia.
At 15:00, we returned to the Master Dream for lunch. We then sailed for a couple hours to reach a small island near Hvar called Scedro. 5 people live on Scedro and they are all related. A man sailed up to our boat and sold us fig schnaps.
Then a man pulled up in his fishing boat. He explained that he was a “fisherman who cooks” and owned the sole (get it?) restaurant on the island. He took our dinner order on the boat. We decided to get an Amber Jack. The man also said that all the vegetables and wine are produced on the island.
An hour or so later, we went ashore to Scedro and sat in a glorified shed with picnic benches that reminded me of summer camp. To add to the ambiance, an ex-priest played English language singalong songs by artists such as John Denver, Queen, and the Beatles. The best song was Somewhere Over The Rainbow in the style of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Our whole family wrapped our arms around each other, singing and swaying to the music. The entire dinner was just spectacular in every way.
June 3, 2021: Hvar
After a long recovery from the epic night before, we spend the morning swimming in the cove. At 11:00, we sailed an hour or so to Hvar, the most famous island town in all of Croatia.
Instead of docking in the town for €1,000, we docked for a lot less money just a 4-minute taxi ride away. Hvar is the busiest pleasure craft port in all of Croatia.
At 15:00, we left the boat and headed into the storied town. The city looked a lot like Dubrovnik, Ston and the other historic towns of southern Croatia. Like many of the towns that I saw, it was deserted in early June 2021.
We pushed Hvar to the end of our itinerary so we could visit the town´s two world-famous clubs: Carpe Diem and Hula Hula.
Carpe Diem is right in the middle of town. When we walked by, the place was empty and sad. Therefore, we decided to instead go to Hula Hula, which is a 20-minute walk along the coast.
Hula Hula was also deserted but had a pretty view of the sea. We ordered overpriced drinks and some food and soaked in the beautiful atmosphere on the Adriatic Sea. We arrived a bit too early in the season. The staff told us that the first DJ is scheduled to play in 4 days. Darn!
When paying, we had a kerfuffle involving whether or not they accept credit cards. It appeared that very few places accepted credit cards- everyone wanted cash. Eventually the manager stepped in and agreed to accept our credit cards.
We then took a taxi back to the boat.
Since we didn´t get the club experience we had been hoping for, we decided to bring the club to the boat. We drank the rest of our stock, sang, and had a great time
Then we took the dinghy to dinner in next cove.
Dinner was octopus and meat under a bell. Luckily, we had preordered so we didn´t have to wait for food.
We drank a lot of white wine that night. Eventually we started singing. The night ended with Bohemian Rhapsody. It was a glorious moment, although I have no idea how the other tables in the restaurant were feeling. The Caster crew was special, and I was lucky to be a part of it.
June 4, 2021: The Final Day
This was our final day. We spent the morning relaxing on the boat and swimming around the cove.
Our final lunch on the boat was saffron risotto and Franca´s 100-year-old apple pie recipe. Every meal we had on the boat and in town was incredible, but this might have been my favorite.
We then went back to Split to disembark. Our weeklong adventure was over.
If you know anything about me or have read articles on this blog, you would know that this is not my style of trip. I generally like to wake up early, walk around and sightsee as much as possible. But here, I was on a boat where we didn´t usually do anything until about 3pm each day.
Despite this, I genuinely enjoyed this boat. That is because my time was primarily occupied by hanging out with family- something I normally do not get to do. Typically, when I see my family it is in a big reunion where you never get to talk to anyone in depth because you have to say hi to everyone. The boat allowed me to really hang out with people and my family is so fun!
Logistically, a private boat is the best way to explore the Dalmatian islands. Each individual island (besides Hvar and Vis) do not have more than a day or two´s worth of activities and the ferry schedule between islands appears to be irregular. Additionally, many islands do not have ferry service.
I do not think that a yacht is a good way to experience Croatian culture. For me the boat felt like it could be anywhere. Besides the food, there was little to differentiate Croatia from any other boating destination. We listened to American music, spoke in English to everyone and stayed on the boat for 18-20 hours a day. When we were ashore, most of that time was at a restaurant. In fact, the only island where we spent any real time was Vis. If your goal is to “see the country” and experience the culture, then I would recommend basing yourself on land.
The highlight of the scenery was the tiny islands that are only accessible by small boat. The island cities (such as Hvar, Vis, Korcula) all nice towns, but they were no better or worse than the mainland coastal cities such as Ston or Trogir.
The boat experience itself was very luxurious. The boat was plush and spacious. Certainly, conditions are more cramped than a hotel, but our boat had sufficient public and private spaces. The undisputed highlight of the boat experience was the staff. They were so kind and were always on hand to cater to our every need. All the meals and services provided on board were first rate. When looking for a boat, make sure to get a good crew.
Our timing also appeared to be perfect. With the “season” starting in early June, going in late May gave us the exact same weather as June but without the crowds. During our week, we had exactly 0 rainy days and weather in the mid-20´s. Hard to beat that!
Therefore, I think the boat is a cool thing to do, but it is important to know your motives and set your expectations for taking the boat. If the goal is to slowly enjoy a beautiful destination, hang out with family/friends and eat at good restaurants, then this is the perfect trip.