Ask anyone that’s been to Croatia in the last few years: the familiar backdrop to nearly every sun-soaked vista is the silhouette of a big cruise ship, moored out at sea.
Whether it’s down to Game of Thrones or good marketing, Croatia is fast becoming one of the world’s hottest cruise destinations, competing with big players like the Greek Islands and the Caribbean. According to the Croatian Port Authority, 79 big cruise ships are due to dock in Dubrovnik in August next year alone, disgorging up to 10,000 passengers per day on an Old Town that probably last updated its civic infrastructure in the 15th century. Not to mention the poor local residents who find themselves suddenly outnumbered in their own city.
Needless to say, this isn’t a particularly sustainable practise. Although big cruise ships contribute valuable tourism dollars to the local economy, they don’t do a lot for the environment. In fact they’re kind of terrible for it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an average cruise ship carrying 3,000 passengers and crew generates about 79,000 litres of sewerage each and every day. Most of this is treated to the minimum extent required by law, and then dumped. In the annual Friends of the Earth cruising ship report card, a lot of big ship cruises fail on basic environmental practises.
With this in mind, we’ve developed a more sustainable approach. Small ship adventure cruising. These are smaller boats, generally holding between 30 and 50 passengers, that are carbon offset through a range of global renewable energy initiatives. They generate much less waste than a conventional liner, and all waste is treated to a rigorous industry standard. They’re also gentler on local communities (50 people disembarking in Korcula is a lot less disruptive than 3000). Our first of these cruises is along the Dalmatian Coast, between Sibenik and Dubrovnik.
Four reasons you should give small ships a try in Croatia
1. You get to dock right in port
This is a big one. While the big cruise ships moor out to sea and ferry passengers in to shore by tender, we sail straight into Korcula harbour and drop anchor next to shops, restaurants and local Croatian guys playing dominoes. It’s a convenience you don’t find on commercial liners. Usually when you’re disembarking with 3000 other passengers, your tenders are staggered based on your cabin and deck number, and you may have to wait hours to actually set foot on dry land. On an adventure cruise you can step right off the gangplank and go exploring straight away. Forget your sunglasses, or fancy a midday nap? You can hop on and off the boat as your please. Life’s too short for queues.
2. You can swim off the back of the boat
Obviously an 11-story cruise ship will have more amenities than a boat that holds 30 or 40 people. Our small ships don’t have on-board swimming pools or casinos, but they do have the crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic, which is a pretty good trade-off, all things considered. Our boats have a metal stairway that can be lowered into the water, so you can swim right off the back of the boat. We’ve got kayaks and flotation devices too if you want to splash about and explore. The best thing is, our itineraries are flexible: if the captain sails past some idyllic bay on a tiny island inhabited exclusively by goats, there’s nothing stopping him from dropping anchor for a few hours.
3. You get a more immersive local experience
Isn’t this why we all travel, really? To see the world through someone else’s eyes? To learn new things and try new things and get a feel for how the world works outside our social bubble? It’s hard to do that on a big cruise ship, but on an adventure cruise, we make a point of getting off the boat as much as possible. It’s more about destination, not distractions. Each cruise also comes with an expert local leader as well. They’re the ones who’ll show you that sweet wine bar on Hvar or a little hole-in-the-wall bistro in Korcula. The ones who know the history of Mostar inside out, and will lead the walking tours in Krka National Park. It’s a chance to experience Croatian life up close, not through a port hole window.
4. You get to explore places the big ships never go
It’s one of the downsides when you’re a million-tonne mega liner – there are relatively few channels and ports that can accommodate you. Tiny coastal beaches and out-of-the way islands aren’t really equipped to handle Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas (the world’s new biggest liner – it holds 6780 people). That’s why big ship Croatia itineraries visit the usual suspects again and again (Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik to name the big three). They don’t often hop on wooden boats and sail up the Neretva River into Bosnia and Herzegovina. But on our trip that’s exactly what happens. We’ll stop in Mostar to visit a local metalworking workshop, see the town’s iconic bridge and visit the Blagaj Teke Monastery. Not your typical cruise.
Want to see what small ship cruising is all about? Check out our Sibenik to Dubrovnik adventure cruise.