This is a comprehensive review of my Croatia sailing experience. It covers everything from what the boat is like, the living conditions, a typical day, what the people are like, and my thoughts on the whole experience and whether you should or should not do it (hint: you should not).
I went with the tour company Busabout on a 7-8 day one way sail from Dubrovnik to Split on the Dalmatian coast in Croatia; but, this review should apply equally to just about all of the other tour companies running a sailing experience between Split and Dubrovnik, regardless of the route. All of the tour companies use the same type of boats, follow the same route, and dock next to each other during the day and night; regardless of which company you use, the experience will be similar if not exactly the same.
Also, I must mention that I paid for this tour myself. Some travel bloggers were given this trip for free and you should not at all trust their reviews!
In another article, I will talk more about the places we went instead of just reviewing and covering the experience as a whole. Since this is such a long article, I have broken it down into sections:
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
First off, there is no sailing involved in the entire trip. The boat looks like some sort of motorized pirate ship and usually holds between 20 and 30 paying customers (more about those patrons below).
Tour the boat with me!
There are two main types of cabins, those with bathrooms inside the room and those without a bathroom inside the room; both types of cabins can be above deck or below deck and each cabin has two single beds. (note that some companies have luxury boats that make this same journey, but this section describes the other 90% of the boats that make this trip). I was in a cabin that was below deck and without a bathroom in the room. This is the cheapest type of cabin and it actually does include a sink with a mirror in the room so you don’t need to leave to get ready to go out or to shave.
It may seem dreary and sad to be below deck and to not have a bathroom in the room, but take note of these two advantages. It is much quieter below deck compared to the above deck cabins, especially at night when people are drinking and yelling in the common areas, which are all above deck. As far as not having your own bathroom is concerned, it was not bad for me because my boat was a mix of ensuite rooms and rooms without a bathroom, which meant there weren’t as many people lining up to use the common facilities, which were, in fact, much larger than the bathrooms in the ensuite cabins. So, I had a nice large shower and a toilet. But, I did have to go upstairs to use this and this was a problem for some people who did get sick and had to run upstairs in the middle of the night, or for those drunk people that had to similarly run upstairs for the bathroom.
It is also worth mentioning that the cabins are very stuffy and hot, even if you are above deck, but especially if you are below deck. Don’t expect much, if any, fresh air while getting peace and quiet at the same time.
For the bathroom facilities, there were two toilets available to use and two showers. I am told that, even on the boats where all 20 or 30 patrons are without a private bathroom, there are still only two toilets and maybe two or four showers; so take note that you may get stuck on one of those boats!
The boats also have an eating area, a bar, and, usually, an outdoor common type area with a table. There is also a sunning area or two on the top of the boat, one on the very top just for laying out and one with chairs for everyone to sit on, relax, and be lazy in the sun.
Each of the boats provides a breakfast in the morning for one hour, usually 8-9 AM, and some boats, like mine, will provide lunch around 12pm.
The breakfast is a typical continental breakfast with bread, butter, jam, and some sort of cereal. The lunch was a crappy multiple course meal that was drawn out to make it look more impressive than it really was, but it hit the spot and almost filled you up if you were hungry. Honestly though, I did not eat lunch on the boat if we were in port because there were usually much better and inexpensive alternatives on land near where we were docked.
Note that even though breakfast and maybe lunch, depending on your boat, are provided, NO liquids will be provided. In fact, the terrifically annoying thing about the trip is that no liquids of any kind, even WATER, are allowed on the boat. You have to smuggle it on like a criminal or buy it from the crew on the boat for a ridiculous price. This is my biggest complaint and will also be addressed below.
The cruises last 7 or 8 days and you sleep in a two person cabin, as described above. Each day, the boat sets out and cruises for 4 to 8 hours, depending on the type of cruise you choose. During the day, you will stop for a swim break, if you get one that day (much of it depends on the weather), then you will have lunch and, shortly thereafter, you will arrive at your destination for the evening. Once on land, the guide will walk you to the city and maybe show you around; at night, the guide may show you where to get drinks and to party. The specifics of this part of the experience vary greatly based on the type of cruise that you choose; for instance, some routes require the boats to cruise for 7-8 hours a day (the Split to Split and the Dubrovnik to Dubrovnik routes) and the other routes may cruise for 4-5 hours a day (the one-way sails – Split to Dubrovnik or Dubrovnik to Split).
I took the one-way Dubrovnik to Split route and we only cruised for 4 or 5 hours a day before we arrived at our destination. This meant that we spent the vast majority of our time on land. This is important to note in case you are excited to spend the whole time on a boat, like I was, because you will actually spend most of the time on land or in a harbor. Also, on my boat, lunch was included as part of the cruise package; though, it is not included on all Sailing Croatia cruise packages.
The lifestyle on the boat really wasn’t that bad and I have to say that if you are worried about being on a boat, don’t be, at least if you take the one-way sail, since you won’t be cruising for too long during the day. Yes, the rooms are small, but I thought the beds were comfortable and we actually had hot showers. During the cruising, the boat had enough space so that you didn’t have to be around certain people if you did not want to be around them. You could choose to sun yourself on the roof, relax in the sun in a chair and read or nap, sit inside in the dining area, or sit at the covered table that was at the back of our boat.
When/if we got to a swim stop, you could just take a hot shower afterwards and put on clean clothes to get ready to go on land since we would be there around an hour after that. Like I said, you spend most of your time in port or on land, so don’t worry too much about your stuff getting wet or about having to be stuck on a boat all day. Most people just slept-in until the bell for lunch rang or until we got to land.
When the boats do dock, they actually dock next to each other, touching each other. You have to walk through other boats just to get to land. Here is a photo to describe what I mean:
Since people have to walk through your boat to get to land, that means that strangers will be milling around your boat – make sure to lock your door! Every cabin’s door has a lock on it and you need to use it, especially when you are docked. In fact, even a local could just walk onto the boat, especially when everyone is sleeping at night, and walk into any unlocked room and steal your stuff. This did not happen on my boat, but it did happen on other boats.
Once you are in port, your guide will show you the city, but don’t expect anything like a guided walking tour; it is more like “here is the old town and here is the bar or restaurant that we will meet at for lunch, now do what you want for a few hours.” Later, you may have an organized meal or wine tasting tour, depending on the location, but I found these to be overpriced and simply not worth it.
They basically try to pile on extra costs and use peer pressure from the group to get you to capitulate. A great example of this is the captain’s barbecue; the barbecue is shit and it costs something like 100 Kuna and they tell you how great it will be and automatically get almost all of the boat to agree to it by having you sign up in front of the boat staff, who directly benefit from you signing up and who will be in charge of your trip for the coming days. I recommend you do what I did, which is to walk off the boat and have a great meal for 35 Kuna on land. The second I peeled-off from the group and did this, three people followed me and thanked me for being ‘first.’
In regards to the on-shore activities, I was really disappointed. Most of the outdoor activities that we were promised either did not happen or were cut short on our trip. For instance, we were supposed to spend an entire morning in the national park of Mljet but, instead, we got just under two hours to explore it; and the river rafting day simply did not happen. Also, and this part didn’t have to do with the boat, many of the activities at some of the locations were simply closed.
Since I went in September, the tourist season in Croatia was long over. Many of the clubs had closed and many of the activities in some of the more touristy on-land areas were also closed. As such, I recommend you go in June, July, or early August if you can because, though it will be blisteringly hot, everything will be open.
Once you make it to the evening, the guide will tell you where the pub or club is that they want you to go to or the guide will take everyone there. I thought that this was a nice part of the trip and it was a lot of fun if you are interested in partying. To be honest, the only really good city for this was Hvar; though, I really enjoyed going out in some of the other cities and the “rave in a cave,” albeit not a rave, was cool.
Many clubs will stay open all night, but the boat usually leaves between 5 AM and 7 AM and they will not check if everyone is on-board. It behooves you not to get so drunk that you can’t make it back to the boat by 5 AM. On my boat, no one stayed out that late; even though there were plenty of young Australians, almost no one went out and partied all night. In fact, I think I was the only one to party every night of the trip except for my Canadian friends. In comparison to the other boats, we had a dead boat. I must also mention that I am the only person that explored every city and destination that we went to in addition to going out every night; my tourism did not suffer ;).
Even though each night the boat will be docked and you can go on land, you still sleep on the boat, though it will rock up and down in the harbor. Since my cabin was below deck, it was good because you could go to sleep while people were making noise upstairs, even if just for a nap during the day. The downside was that it was hot and stuffy and hot and stuffy, and it wasn’t even the hottest part of summer. I was there in September and, if I had gone in July, I think I would have suffocated. This is where an above deck cabin would have been nice. While sleeping, the boat will depart, and ,depending on how long people slept, they either woke up for breakfast and went back to sleep, relaxed in the sun during the cruising, or didn’t wake up until we got to our next destination around 2 in the afternoon.
This is the basic outline of what the trip will be like every day. What changes are the locations and the bars/clubs that you go to in the evenings.
It is also worth noting that these cruises are skewed heavily towards the 18-25 year old Australian crowd and that most people will be concerned with drinking and not so much in the way of exploring the cities and sites (more below). As long as you know that beforehand, you should be OK, but a few people on our boat did not expect this and were quite disappointed.
As for my other thoughts and experiences, most of those are covered throughout this article.
You need to know that 95% of the people that will go on one of these sailing tours in Croatia, especially in Dalmatia from Split or Dubrovnik, will be Australian with a few Kiwis (people from New Zealand) in there. Only 5% or less of the boat will be from other countries. I did not know this before going and, well, you need to know this because it makes for a dynamic that is not exactly favorable to non-Australians.
The problem with so many people on the boat being from Australia is that they all group together and they socialize mainly with each other. They have everything in common and, except for one on my boat, they are not interested in meeting or socializing with people from other countries. They are basically one large incestuous family that makes for a very annoying and closed social environment. As a non-Australian on the boat, I felt left out of the conversation and as an outsider as a result of this environment and it made for a much less pleasant journey.
They talk about the same things; they like the same things; they want to do the same things; they are simply socially broken. I did not like this part of the trip and I felt that it really took away from the experience. In fact, the one Australian person that was really cool and socialized with us non-Aussies actually left the trip two days into it because she could not stand the other Australians on the boat.
One day our tour guide, also an Australian, cut the tour of a city short just to find a bar to watch a rugby match and, of course, the entire group wanted her to do this because they all also wanted to watch this ridiculous Australian rugby match. I, being the only non-Aussie on this city tour, was told that the Austrailians wanted to do it and so it didn’t matter what I wanted.
Also, it is worth noting that most of the people on these boats go to consume a lot of alcohol and to act in a manner befitting of a sailor in port. I will write another article about Australians in Europe but, for now, let’s just say that they don’t give their country a good name, not…at…all. In general though, the people on the boat are usually there to party and are not so culturally minded. So, if your goal is to go on a sight-seeing tour, this is not the trip for you. This was one of the reasons my new Australian friend decided to leave the boat early. Personally though, I didn’t mind this aspect of the trip and I expected that everyone would be partying every night, which they actually did not. But, if you take this trip, you should expect most people to be there to party and have a good time; and, the age range is usually 18-25, with most being between the ages of 18 and 20.
I must note that I have many Australian friends and that they are great but, every time I meet a group of Australians, they just give Australia a bad name.
Most companies include a guide on the boat and this person is usually from the main tour company, separate from the operator of the boat, and is either paid or a volunteer. The job of the guide is to help break the ice, to explain the schedule of the boat to you, and to show you around the cities and islands upon which your boat docks.
Our guide’s name was Penny and she was worth about as much as her name would suggest. The only good thing that she did was to tell us when the boat would arrive somewhere and when it would leave. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that we had a guide, just don’t think that having a guide will solve your problems or make your experience exponentially better.
The city tours that we were promised were nothing more than her walking us through the main part of the old town near where we landed, and without any commentary except for to say where some bars were located. She didn’t seem to give a shit and, unless you were either drunk or planning on being drunk shortly, the tours were not enjoyable or worth it.
But the worst thing, the thing that makes Penny a real piece of shit is that about which she lied to us. She told us that the boat did not have wifi. Now, she may have done this for a noble reason, that no Australian will socialize in real life if they have access to facebook or the latest rugby match, but it was very bad for me.
I am not an Australian and I am not just trying to get drunk and ‘root’ (that means “fuck” in Australian – put that in your commercial Fosters!). I had important emails to check and I need to always make sure that my servers are running. As a result of this lie that she perpetuated, I had to pay for expensive roaming charges on my cell phone. But, it was bearable due to the fact that you are usually near land and near wifi.
What was absolutely NOT bearable was when I told her that I needed to renew my international insurance but that I needed internet for it and that I could not find reliable enough internet to do so where we were. She did not take me aside and tell me that I could use the boat’s wifi, she continued to tell me to look somewhere else for internet, even when I told her that the insurance actually ran out and that I was currently uninsured until I had reliable enough internet to make Skype calls and fill out the necessary forms online.
The best part of this was the next morning when Penny was bragging about how many torrents she illegally downloaded over the boat’s wifi. Thank you Busabout! You let your guides illegally download files while they lie to your customers and tell us we can’t use the internet on the boat. I had something serious to do on the internet and I wasn’t allowed even to do that. Once again, screw you Busabout and screw you Penny!
Given what I’ve mentioned here, I hope you realize that you cannot count on your guide for much more than to be a parrot reading a schedule and someone that tells you where you will be getting drunk later that night. Also, the guides don’t check if you come back on the boat at the end of the night; they will leave you if you don’t make it back to the ship.
What I liked
I liked that I was on a boat for a week. I have never previously been on a boat for that long and that was something that I thought would be cool to try and now I have tried it 🙂 (and I didn’t even get sea sick!).
I also like that I didn’t have to plan where I was going and that I would just wake up in a new location – but that also has the draw-back of not being able to stay longer in a place that you like.
I could say that I liked some, very few (read above), of the people that I met, but this is not even remotely unique to being on a boat or sailing along the Dalmatian coast.
What I Didn’t Like
I was actually quite disappointed with this cruise. It did not meet my expectations in any way and was more of a disappointment than anything.
The captain can and does change the schedule so that you will end up somewhere for an extra day or will miss something that was listed on the itinerary, and it always seemed to be something that I really wanted to do – expect this to happen.
The worst thing however, besides our guide Penny lying about the wifi and forcing me to pay upwards of 25 euro to make phone calls, Skype and regular calls, just to renew my insurance, which expired, was the drink policy. To make extra money, the boats charge you for drinks. And, to ensure that you have to buy their drinks, they do not allow any liquids at all, even water, to be brought onto the boat. You are sailing for 7 or 8 days and you cannot even bring your own water!!! Insane!
In line with this, it is important to note that the crew come with the boat. The tour company that you use hires boats from a single company that supplies almost all of the other tour companies (I believe it is Katarina Lines). So, they are separate from the tour company and try to make their money however they can. It is kind of a funny situation because all of the Busabout guides that I spoke with, including our lovely Penny, literally told us “fuck the Katarina Lines people” and that “they are boring and we don’t need to listen to them.” Our only rule from the guides perspective was to get drunk and not die, which doesn’t actually sound that bad except for what I mentioned in the section about the people on the boat.
When you arrive on the boat for the first time, they take your passport. Now, they are not actually allowed to do this, but to get onto the boat, you have to give it to them. The real problem with this is that they do not perform a head count before departing each morning from the island upon which you are docked. Now, why is this a problem? Because our guide, Penny, said that if you are left at a location, which can happen, you have to catch up to the boat on your own. That doesn’t seem like a big deal except that Dubrovnik is not connected to the rest of the country! To go from Split to Dubrovnik, or vice versa, you must go through a piece of territory that is Bosnian. So, how do you do this without your Goddamn passport? I have previously made this trek and they do check your passport. So, once again, great job Busabout!
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
Do not go on a Busabout Croatia Sailing trip – or any Croatia sailing trip with a tour company like I did. It simply is NOT worth it.
What I took from this trip more than anything is that I could have gotten to each destination, each island, everywhere, using a cheap ferry and then I could have stayed in each location as long as I wanted to stay there. This is how I will make this trip in the future and this is how I recommend you make this trip.
All of the cities that I visited, that you would want to go to, have either hostels or similarly priced guesthouses. Some of these cities include Hvar, Stari Grad, Korcula, and Makarska. You can find accommodation for these cities through hostelworld.com (this is the site that I use). Don’t worry if you travel alone because you will meet people at the hostels or guest houses.
The point that I want to make is that these are not isolated places that you cannot easily, and I mean easily, get to yourself. As for the partying, you can find the party spots very easily in each location. Either ask the person that runs your hostel or guesthouse where to go or walk into the center of the old town and you will find the places just by wandering around – all of the old towns in these cities are easy to find and very small and all of the bars or clubs that you would want to visit are well known and easy to find.
I paid around $700 USD for one bed in my cabin. Other people in the same cabin type, right across the hall from me, paid $900 USD per bed. If you buy one bed you may have a stranger in the room with you too, but its not that bad, though cramped. The girl on my boat that left after two days because she, an Australian herself, could not stand the other Australians on the boat, paid for an above board room with an ensuite bathroom at a cost of around $1200 USD!!!!!! Not even close to worth it!
If you make this trip yourself, taking ferries to each city and staying as long as you like, you will spend less money and have more fun than if you go on one of these sailing Croatia Busabout tours (or any sailing Croatia tour).
I wish that I could recommend this trip, but I would be lying to you and to myself if I said that I loved this and would do it again. I did not hate the trip and I did have a good time, but it is simply not worth it in any way to take this trip. Make this trek yourself, save a lot of money, have a better time, stay where you like longer, and avoid the places that you don’t want to visit. Create your own journey, and, in this case at least, you will have a much better experience.
Mate, it sounds like you hate travelling. Better stay home.
I love traveling! But that doesn’t mean that I like everything that I have done while traveling. I hate it when people say they liked something just because other people expect them to say that. I am NOT that kind of person – I call it like it is.
Thorn sounds like you are one of the Aussie people that MadTraveler is talking about!
Hey mate, I was thinking of doing this tour myself – But I am rethinking it now! Thanks for this blog, it was a huge help
I’m an Aussie and I know how stupidly wild we can get together! I apologise for the behaviour of my compatriots! I’m not a big drinker or partier – I was thinking of doing this tour for the relaxing, meeting people sightseeing and SOME partying (maybe for the big nights)
What I hear you saying is that you can easily DIY with hostels etc!
Can you give me any links to the ferry companies?
Or what if I did the tour but booked it directly through Katarina lines? I see they offer their ships themselves for a lot cheaper than bus about! Did you meet any people who’d done this?
Glad to help man! And I just want to remind you that I actually did party every night lol. So, if you just want a neat little package and you want a bit of sights and a bit of partying and you are either in a group of your own friends or don’t mind lots of Aussies and Kiwi’s and you have the money to spend on this trip, then it might be worth it! Since you are an Aussie you will be accepted more easily than I was, just a fact though, I’m not complaining about it. But, if you want to create your own experience, which can be very similar to the sailing experience if you want, then take ferries.
So, I just want to make it clear that I don’t hate Aussies. I am, however a straight-shooter and tell people like it is. Often people think I am complaining when I give you the cold hard truth as opposed to telling everyone everything was perfect for no reason – check out my post on Fairy Tale Travelers and note what I say at the end about myself too lol.
Getting back to helping you though, check out this page: http://www.hvarinfo.com/travel-to-island-hvar/
I just found it so I can’t vouch for it. But, it gives you a great idea, if you read through it, what islands you may go to and how you may get there. Make sure to look at Google maps when reading about the islands so you can get a feel for where everything is because it is REALLY close to each other.
Personally, what I would do is to go to Split or Dubrovnik and spend a few days there enjoying the city and find out about the ferries from the people that are staying or working in your hostel or other tourists. Many ferries leave from both of these cities and all of the main islands that you will want to visit, including Hvar. I am familiar with the area so that is what I would do, but, honestly, the areas have good tourist facilities so you won’t be lost if you do it this way as long as you are comfortable asking around.
As for booking with Katarina lines directly, I personally wouldn’t do that. Do this, figure out what kind of cruise and experience you want and book accordingly. If you want a big party atmosphere book something like Stoke and if you want a quiet atmosphere book an air-conditioned boat. From what I hear though, you may actually really enjoy the busabout experience that I went on or doing it yourself. If I go again I will spend at least 3 nights in Hvar though.
It’s a long answer, but I hope it helps man! Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi 😉
Thank you for writing this. I am a 22 year old canadian and was considering going, I put in my deposit but was worried how much partying there would be vs. actually seeing the islands. I’m traveling more to see the islands and explore. You’re right it would probably be cheaper and save time!!
Glad I could help! Also, the last (very long) comment that I made on this page should give you some more info about how to do it on your own. If you need any other tips about the area or anything, just let me know. 🙂
Thanks for this article! I’m a 22 year old American and I put in my deposit for a Dubrovnik-Split one way tour in a Classic Below Deck Standard boat. I’m willing to deal with (most of) the partying (I’m not a huge drinker, but hey, sounds fun to go partying in these places), but I’m worried I may have picked the wrong boat.
In your experience, would it be better to get the Classic Above Deck Ensuite? I’m going in the beginning of July, so I’m worried about the heat… also afraid after hearing stories of people leaving their doors unlocked because of how sweltering hot it gets, and getting their stuff stolen. I’ll be backpacking for a month before this trip, and continuing onward afterwards… naturally terrified of getting everything I own stolen from me.
Also, will it affect the age demographic of my tour if I go with the above deck ensuite option, do you think?
Thanks in advance!
So here it is. If you go in the middle of the season, which you are, there will be more partying but you don’t have to participate in that aspect of it. Personally, I would have welcomed more partying. As for the above deck suites you are correct in thinking that those will be less safe, however, it might not really matter. The main thing will be if you or your roommate leaves your door unlocked or not when you are docked. I never EVER left my door unlocked when I left the room and I never had an issue (I was in a below deck unit).
As for age demographic, I read about that too before I went so I went with the cheapest option to have the most fun and it turned out that most of my boat had the suites up top and some cheap options below so, even though I tried for the “more fun” option I thought, it still ended up being a lot of people who didn’t want to party. I found that the real difference was when you got a really expensive option, like with air conditioning and more that you got an older crowd.
As for heat, I went in September I think so it wasn’t horribly hot. I have no idea if being below deck where there is no natural light and you are partly under water will make it cooler versus being above deck and in direct sunlight, but I have a feeling that it would.
Either way, room choice doesn’t matter much because you won’t spend much time there. So, I would say to go with the cheapest option because you will have the same experience as more expensive units anyway.
Hello there, your blog was helpful, thank you.
You said in one post that you would not recommend booking directly with Katarina Lines. Could you let me know why?
As far as booking with a company goes I don’t think it is worth it. Did you read this article? If not, do so and then ask whatever questions you still have.