Cruising the Southern Islands of Croatia

Was a seven-day cruise in a small ship along Croatia's Dalmatian Coast, stopping at Marco Polo's reported birthplace and multiple islands, worth its price?

If you have a hankering to walk in the footsteps of Marco Polo, this is your chance. His reported birthplace is Korcula, Croatia, an important stop for the Krila-7 as the sailboat motors from island to island along the southern coast of Croatia, also called the Dalmatian Coast.

Yes, like many sailboats, the Krila-7 motors rather than sails.

Whether Polo was really born in Korcula is a subject for debate, but one hardly cares when visiting the beautiful town. St. Mark’s Cathedral is at the top of the hill in a 15th century plaza, also blessed with the Bishop’s Palace and Town Museum, formally the home of a prominent Korcula family.

A Venetian Lion carved in the 15th century greets the visitor to St. Mark’s Cathedral

Historic gates lead into the historic city, which boasts no less than 150 churches, many of which can be seen around and about the plaza.

The Marco Polo Store and Museum

This birthplace of Polo (or at least it is believed he set foot in Korcula) was the fifth stop on our seven-day cruise aboard the Krila-7. We boarded in Split and disembarked in Dubrovnik where the vessel would take another group in the opposite direction.

Along our route, we first saw Hvar after settling for the night in Solta near the island of Brac. Hvar the town is on the island of Hvar, known to draw a wealthier and more glittering crowd than the rest of the more sleepy islands we visited.

Vis, our second stop, offered a more sedate scene but the amphora collection at the local Museum was outstanding. The group was discovered in 1971 in a shipwreck off the Northern side of Vis.

Amphora in the local museum at Vis

Vela Luca was our destination just before Korcula. It is known for its shipyard building and sardine plant, but the captain said they were down to about 25% capacity because of diminished orders. Tourism is beginning to replace these once important industries.

Property for rent in Vela Luca

Mljet (after Korcula) is a national park with hiking trails and Roman ruins plus the prestigious Benedictine Monastery built in the 12th century within the park. It is currently being restored and is easily approachable by boat for tourists.

The monastery

Sipan, our penultimate stop, was primarily for pleasure. The area has several hiking trails which must be attended to carefully because there are still mines on the island from WWII — a grim reminder of the turmoil this country has been though repeatedly.

It seems all of Croatia has a history loosely explained as first Illyrian, then Greek to Roman. The Croats came in from Slavic nations in the seventh century AD and persisted — thereby, the name Croatia. But, Venice is a large part of the country’s history as well and in some places it dominated for nearly six centuries. Napoleon was here (after the Venetians), but Austria quickly took the place of France. Modern history is equally filled with turmoil and occupation.

Our captain, Robert (his chosen name for his guests), and his crew, Tom the cook and Eddie the handyman, are doing all they can for Croatia’s future. They are working and making money. For that I applaud them. For me, though being aboard the Krila-7 was a pleasure, it was also primitive living.

The Krila-7

The quarters were exceptionally small and smelly; I would say latrine odor. Our shower did not drain and water exited to our bedroom floor, even with a shower that lasted only seconds. In trying to escape this unfriendly environment, I washed my hair on the main deck with the hose meant for rinsing after a swimming excursion.

In addition, I slept on the main deck rather than below because I couldn’t tolerate the odor in our cabin. Others kept their doors open for this reason and because it was warm at night in the cabins.

It also looked to me as though the ship was advertised on the internet with inaccurate promises. For instance, there was no air conditioning or internet access. And while Chef Tom was trained in Croatia (not France), he was very good. His specialties included anything that is consommé-based. He also was good at making tuna casserole, zucchini soup and squid, although sadly not everyone on board appreciated this particular seafood.

The squid lunch

The Krila-7 cost

The total cost of the trip with the Krila-7 was roughly $10,890 for 11 passengers. However, there was a 10% discount for early booking. I believe we paid $2,200 per couple. Our food was additional, half board being 270 euros per week per person or whole board at 380 including soft and alcoholic drinks.

There were incidentals of course. When we went to Hvar, the cost per couple to be ferried from the Krila-7 by private transport to Hvar was about $10.

Some interesting chatter

There are two versions as to how Robert purchased the Krila-7. One person on board understood him to say he purchased it eight years ago in Turkey. Another, nine years ago in Turkey when it was five years old. That makes the Krila-7 14 years old, a teenager, but in my mind not showing an adolescent vigor. Instead it needs a complete re-haul.

In summary, Croatia and our crew were lovely — the Krila-7 not so much. To the captain’s credit, however, he does plan to buy an upgraded vessel when he has enough saved — in about two years.