Cruising Croatia

An intimate cruise experience aboard the Monet

By: Janice Mucalov

Lapped by sparkling sapphire waters, the southern Dalmatian coast of Croatia is sprinkled with medieval walled cities and tiny offshore islands. It’s the picture-perfect cruising destination with calm seas, a temperate climate and fascinating ports-of-call. And the only ship for North Americans that regularly cruises the Dalmatian coast and resort islands is the delightful but unpretentious 60-passenger Monet.

The Ship
Rebuilt in 1997, the Monet is one of two small vessels owned and operated by Elegant Cruises, based in New York. A labor of love for the line’s Croatian former sea captain Mato Stanovic (who is himself Croatian), the Monet cruises Croatia between March and November.

Cabins are similar, though the “A” category is slightly larger (#206 with twin beds is the best). “A” and “B” cabins each have a window; “C” cabins have portholes. While not luxurious, cabins are comfortable and feature a queen or twin beds, chair for the vanity, and plenty of storage space (two closets and capacious drawers and shelves).

All cabins have “wet” bathrooms meaning the shower isn’t enclosed, so the toilet and bathroom floor get wet. There is no elevator, so the ship is difficult for the physically challenged. Up top, there’s a small bar and lounge where port briefings are held. Outside on the sun deck, cushion-covered, hardwood chairs and tables invite passengers to read or relax under a canopy of shade.

Croatian Culture Onboard
An appealing aspect to cruising on the Monet is the exposure to local food, wine and people. At dinner served at a single seating in the pleasant dining room Croatian specialities are introduced, such as pasta and ricotta cheese with cream sauce and grilled squid in olive oil, lemon and garlic. Other Continental choices are also available.

Two meals were especially memorable. A barbecue lunch on deck featured freshly caught fish and Croatian sausage, followed by warm crepes smothered with chocolate cream and hazelnuts. And the six-course, candlelight captain’s dinner started with delicious sautéed scallops and finished with a traditional Baked Alaska.

For lunch and dinner, complimentary Croatian wines and beer are offered. Croatia exports very little wine, and passengers enjoyed the chance to drink the very good Chardonnay served. The crew is also entirely Croatian. Providing warm, friendly service, they love talking about their country in informal conversations.

The Croatian Coast
Most sailings are seven-night return cruises from Venice. Shore excursions typically walking tours with good English-speaking guides are reasonably priced and focus on the art and history of the archaeological sites. But since the Monet docks just steps away from the tiny towns visited, it’s also easy to wander off and explore on one’s own when in port.

Pula, the first town visited, is known for its well-preserved Roman amphitheatre. The town of Split, with its massive, 1,700-year-old palace of the Emperor Diocletian, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 3,000 people live within the palace walls, which surround temples, churches, shops and cafés, all interlaced with pedestrian-only cobblestone streets. Korcula is another lovely old walled city on the itinerary.

The prettiest island is perhaps Hvar. Strolling through the 13th-century town, we came across the 1612 theatre with its beautifully-painted ceiling, charming seafood restaurants and water taxis speeding sun-lovers off to nearby islets to swim in pristine waters. The ship leaves late from Hvar, so we managed to attend an outdoor classical concert in the old Franciscan monastery that evening.

If Hvar is the prettiest port-of-call, Dubrovnik is the most breathtaking. The ancient city is entirely surrounded by massive gray walls of stone interspersed with 14 towers. After visiting its Romanesque-Gothic monasteries and churches and poking around the narrow alleys lined with boutiques and cafes, we went for an afternoon swim. Many people just sunbathe and jump off the rocks around the town, but a five-minute walk leads to an excellent pebble beach with umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent. A sunset walk around the top of the city wall provides glimpses of laundry fluttering outside shuttered windows and cats napping on red-tiled roofs. In contrast, Mljet and Sibenik offer natural wonders such as the pine forests of Mljet National Park and the Krka waterfalls near Sibenik.

Target Market
Life onboard the Monet is low-key, with few planned activities or entertainment: The focus is on visiting Croatia. Passengers tend to be between the ages of 50 and 70; half are North American and the rest hail from Britain, Germany and France. Mature, well-traveled globetrotters who want to visit Croatia in comfort while learning about its history, archaeology and culture will find this an ideal cruise.


Ship: M/V Monet

Length: 223 feet

Capacity: 60 passengers

Itinerary: Venice, Pula, Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik, Mljet, Korcula, Sibenik

Hits: The complimentary, Monet-bottled lavender oil passengers receive in Hvar (fields of lavender blanket Hvar).

Misses: Lumpy foam pillows and tired bedspreads and curtains.

Be Aware: The ventilation system is ill-equipped to handle cigarette smoke filtering into some cabins.

Rates: 7-night, 2004 cruises in a “B” cabin cost $2,530 ($2,785 in 2005).

14-night cruises in March, April and November, 2004 and 2005 cost $4,050.