Sometimes your journeys transform in unexpected ways.
That’s how my cruise on the Dalmatian Islands turned out. What began as a solo adventure turned into a sensational island hopping adventure, gathering up other women from other countries, and forming what became a girls’ getaway escapade.
The Dalmatian Islands – undiscovered by most American tourists, are located off the coast of Croatia in the Adriatic Sea. I set sail from Dubrovnik (where Game of Thrones is filmed) with 25 other passengers on the Dionis, one of the ships in the Katarina Line, a traditionally-styled but modern boat with two masts.
Hopping from island to island aboard the Dionis was tantamount to discovering paradise, over and over again. Bustling marinas, medieval town squares, sapphire and turquoise beaches, boutique hotels, al fresco dining, and chic bars sat waiting to be explored.
Our vessel set sail in the morning, just as we were finishing up our buffet breakfast made by our own private cook and eaten on the shaded, open-air deck. With such a small group, it was easy to chat over coffee and new friendships began to take hold.
Ironically, the first person I met was Kathy, who just happened to be not only from the USA but from the tiny state of New Hampshire, where I’d lived for 20 years! What are the chances of that? Instant bonding! I met Janet, her traveling companion, also from the USA.
My next new friendship was with Silke, a friendly, funny and vivacious traveler from Germany. We hit it off immediately, and she introduced me to two women from Finland, Tuija, and Sisko, and we soon added Agata from Poland and Rita from Brazil to round off our international gal pal assemblage.
Oh, what fun we were going to have! Until I told them about my selfie stick and saw the horrified look on their faces. That didn’t last long… as soon as I took it out and they saw the fun photos it produced, they all wanted in.
Unlike “regular” cruises which travel during the night, the close proximity of the islands provided an opportunity to sleep in port and cruise in the mornings. This also has the advantage of allowing travelers to spend a good part of the evenings on the islands for dining and entertainment.
We set sail, and in no time at all, the first island came into sight. Yeah, baby, let the good times begin!
On the first day, we reached the island of Mljet, the island that was written about in The Odyssey by Homer, the Greek poet. As we entered the port, I was struck by how colorful but laid-back this small fishing village was. Setting foot on land, the comfy atmosphere of the tiny community was at once welcoming.
If you have the stamina to ascend and descend a series of some 120 steps to enter the national park, you’ll be treated to a stunning panorama of the forested lake encircled by a natural hiking path.
After hiking for a while on the picturesque path, we boarded on a small motorboat to the center of Great Lake to the tiny island of Saint Mary to explore the 12th-century Benedictine monastery and more panoramic views.
The town has 14th-century masonry walls adorned with growling lions and exquisitely inscribed Romanesque pillars.
Beyond the town is a network of vineyards producing some of Croatia’s best and most diverse wines. We were treated to a wine-tasting at Hotel Korsal and I can attest that the wines were quite good!
Next up was the long, thin island of Hvar, hailed by many as their favorite Croatian island because of the natural beauty of marina, which rests at the foot of a medieval castle. The capital, Hvar Town is well-preserved and glamorous, with stylish bars and clubs.
But there are also Gothic palaces, a Benedictine cathedral, one of Europe’s most romantic piazzas, and a cobblestone labyrinth of shops and dining for those seeking a more laid-back island experience. A picturesque cobblestone walking path circles around from the marina all the way over to high-end resorts on the other side of the bay.
Hvar has a reputation of being a bit hedonistic after the sun goes down. For this reason, it is very popular with young, well-to-do, jet-setters. We were strictly instructed to adhere to the adage “What happens on Hvar, stays on Hvar!” so that’s all I’m going to say here.
Closest to Split is the island of Brač with its attractive village welcoming you as you step off the boat and into the marina. The village isn’t as old as the medieval towns on some of the other islands, but it makes up for the lack of crumbling cathedrals with its tidy, cozy vibe and lovely seaside promenade.
Not to be missed is the stunning, breezy beach in Bol called the Golden Horn due to its shape. The crystal clear aqua surf surrounding this peninsula is a thought by some (me!) to be the prettiest beach of all the Croatian islands. There are a lot of amenities at this beach making it popular with local families as well as tourists.
The best view of the Golden Horn was from the top deck of the ship as we left the island
One of my favorite activities onboard was when the captain would anchor us while we were out in the ocean, and those who dared could walk the plank. Okay, maybe that wasn’t exactly how it went down, but jumping from the deck waaaay down into the ice cold, dark blue Adriatic took a bit of courage. In fact, I was the only one to do it the first day. I may or may not have screamed the whole way down.
Except for our “Captain’s Dinner” night, most nights of the cruise we were free to dine at our choice of one of the charming local restaurants and subsequent entertainment establishments on the islands. One of our favorite spots was Dos Locos (above) on Korčula.
Our buffet breakfasts and delicious 3-course lunches of Mediterranean and Croatian delicacies were prepared daily on board by our private cook. There was a bar on board complete with our own bartender. Zdenka and the rest of the Katarina crew were very attentive and friendly and made sure every need was taken care of. We even had free WiFi. Good food, good fun, good service, good friendships, and free WiFi? It just doesn’t get any better than that!
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Katrina Line on the cruise, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own. All photos are provided by and are the property of the author.