The Crystal Espirit Croatia cruise is one of two itineraries operated by Crystal Cruises. Board the Espirit at either Venice or Dubrovnik and cruise up, down or round trip between the two cities.
We booked with Crystal for our first ever cruise back in 2016, opting for just one leg of the journey. This is our story of the Venice to Dubrovnik.
Starting in Venice gave us an excuse to stay in one of our favourite luxury hotels, the Kempinski San Clemente Palace for two nights before we boarded.
After two exquisite nights at the Venetian Palace, we boarded a taxi to take us to the Cruise Ship Terminal located across the lagoon. Zipping across the lagoon is always a treat, made even more special with bright blue skies (and maybe a little hangover.)
This was our first cruise so we weren’t quite sure how big our ship would be, or where it was parked. Coming into the Port we could see vast Cruise Liners dominating the skyline and then this dainty little white yacht waiting for us. To be honest, I had seen larger luxury yachts in the Nice or Porto Cervo, but still this was to be our home for the next week.
Croatia Here We Cruise!
Sailing down the coast on this Crystal Espirit Croatia cruise, we were to stop off at a new location every day – starting in Venice and then onto:
and finishing in Dubrovnik.
For each cruise stop we had the option of staying on deck, exploring by ourselves or booking from a range of organised shore excursions. Available every day, these excursions would take you to places of historic interest, beautiful caves or wine tasting opportunities. With one exception, we opted to stay with the boat.
Depending on the location, we would be tied up alongside within moments walk of the town or we’d have a regular tender available all day to let us explore. Because of the Crystal Espirit’s small size, getting close by was never an issue.
Generally we would weigh anchor around 8 pm and sail gently onto the next destination, arriving early morning to give us a full day of exploring.
After breakfast, Captain Lars Thomas Larsen would welcome us to ‘another day in Paradise’ before we’d get off the ship and explore the old towns and beaches.
Cruising the The Dalmatian Coast
Dalmatia is one of the four historical regions of Croatia, alongside Croatia proper, Slavonia, and Istria. Dalmatia is a narrow belt of the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. it is where Dalmation dogs come from.
Our Croatian cruise would be down the Dalmatian coast, stopping at small ports or islands on our way south to Dubrovnik.
We awoke very early on the first morning and wandered upstairs to find a cup of tea. The team were still setting for breakfast but welcomed us to sit on the sunset deck and enjoy the view whilst they made the tea.
Sitting there, staring out at beautiful blue sea we watched as two dolphins (or was it porpoises) jumped out of the water and back in. Literally no-one else saw that. There was no other boat in the area, and no other guests awake. That was the first of many incredible experiences on this Croatian cruise.
This compact little town is a small fishing port on the Istrian peninsula. From the Espirit deck, you can see the hilltop church of St. Euphemia with houses running all the way down to the shore.
The town gave us the impression of any old town you’d find on the Mediterranean. The hot, worn cobbled streets wound up the hill, occasionally opening into a small square or down to the waterside. Small cafe’s or tavernas offered shade and refreshment to locals and tourists alike.
St. Euphemia’s church dominates the skyline with a bell tower that mimics that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Venice. Behind the altar stands a sarcophagus said to be the last resting place of St. Euphemia. The place was impressive and a little spooky. We weren’t supposed to take pictures so we didn’t. (Cough)
For a small fee you could climb up the tower. I am sure the views from atop would have been amazing but I’m not really a fan of heights or narrow wooden staircases.
Šibenik is known as a gateway to the Kornati Islands. Larger than Rovinj, this Croatian city offered more Italianate architecture with a large piazza, tucked away cafés, an old fortress and another amazing cathedral.
The pure white stone Cathedral of St. James dates from the 15h Century. The wonderful exterior was taken for inspiration of the Iron Bank in the Game of Thrones TV series. Inside is decorated with 71 sculpted faces… another inspiration perhaps? You’ll need to cover arms and legs to get in here.
High above the town is the old fortress. It offers great views of the city and surrounding islands, but can get hot in the midday sun. Concerts are held here in the summer evenings.
The second largest city on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, is known for its beaches and the fortresslike complex at its centre. This was a Roman stronghold back in the day, with the Diocletian’s Palace, erected by the Roman emperor in the 4th century. There are large murals depicting the Roman history which are worth looking at.
We were present for the Roman walk through, which I guess happens every day. At a given time a small legion of Roman Guards march through the centre of Split, which makes for a great photo or two!
Check out the large (you can’t miss it!) statue to the medieval Croatian bishop Gregory of Nin. Rub his big toe for luck!
For me Split was way too busy, such an extreme contrast to the onboard serenity of the Crystal Espirit!
The next stop on our Crystal Espirit Croatian Cruise was the beautiful island of Vis. From deck you could be mistaken for thinking Vis was just two churches and a beach. But once you get close you can find some beautiful old streets and plenty of places to eat and drink. The local beach was also a favourite for some of the yacht’s other guests.
On a small peninsula, St. Jerome’s Church and Monastery is built over an ancient Roman theatre.
Excursions to the famous Blue Caves leave from Vis. I hear the caves are beautiful but we chose to enjoy the small town away from the crowds.
Hvar is a port and resort. Fancy yachts are tied up alongside as backpackers catch the frequent ferries to several Pakleni Islands just offshore. This is definitely a ‘young person’s place’ with some funky bars and great beaches.
We spent time wandering around the large harbour and sniffing out boutique shops in the streets leading away from the water.
Often called ‘Little Dubrovnik’ Korčula is much quieter than Hvar, but still as beautiful. The city walls make for an excellent walk and with a range of great bars overlooking the water, you won’t be short of a place to stop and chill.
The birthplace of Marco Polo, the old walls and pink roofs make for an attractive place to spend a day.
Sadly for us, Dubrovnik was the last stop on our Croatia Cruise.
After Zagreb, Dubrovnik is probably the most well known city in Croatia. The modern day ‘King’s Landing, this vast walled old town is where you want to go, but not in the heat of the day time! We foolishly walked the walls in the midday sun (what’s that about mad dogs and..) but returned later for dinner.
The air was thick with screeching swifts as we sought out a quiet waterside restaurant. There were plenty of those, but everyone else had the same idea! We did find a small pizza place down one of the many alleys where we got aquatinted with some fantastic local rosé.
It was a hot July as we cruised towards Dubrovnik. The combination of luxury yacht, beautiful places and wonderful service made this a fantastic cruise. We loved the Crystal Espirit so much that we booked again, boarding the Crystal Symphony to Alaska in 2018.