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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Why I bribed my children on a cruise in Croatia

A major benefit of such a small ship is that it can stop in places other vessels can’t reach. The following morning it docked on the island of Mljet, best known for its national park with two inland saltwater lakes. We chose to abstain from Croisi excursions (the operator runs two pay-for options in most ports) and as we disembarked it appears we’re the only four passengers taking that risk – a risk which pays off.

While groups huddled quayside waiting for guides, we nipped past, bought park tickets (£40 for us all, far cheaper than the £200 the excursion would have cost) and are the first to enter, first to hike 20 minutes through forest, first to reach the lakes and, because it’s still only 9am, for a long while we had them all to ourselves. We swam in the smaller of the two, floating in water that was impossibly blue and tepid. It’s a place to revel in tranquility.

This itinerary offers two ports of call daily – one in the morning, one in the afternoon – which is a great way to see more of Croatia. A delicious three-course lunch is served as the ship sails from one to the other and, after Mljet, that afternoon the stop was Korčula, birthplace of explorer Marco Polo, an island of dense forest and medieval architecture. While the twins and I spent the day at a nearby beach, Hannah stayed on board, later reporting that she spent it in the pool with a boy from France and a member of staff: “We spoke in French and I even made jokes they understood,” she said.

Croisi is mostly known for river cruising, but their sea voyages and family credentials are equally as impressive, as is the variety of stops. One morning was spent wandering the labyrinthine old town of Trogir, bartering for bikinis in its market and eating ice cream before 10am; the afternoon’s visit was to Split, where the 1,700-year old roman remains of Diocletian’s Palace are a must-see.   

Meanwhile, are my children parlaying in French? You bet. They chat to fellow passengers on tender boat rides, on the exercise bikes sat on the top deck, and while watching shows put on by the crew. And the people they’ve spoken with praise their “impeccable” grasp of the language. Music to my ears.

The biggest challenge came during a four-hour hike through Krka National Park, one of the new “dynamic” excursions for more adventurous passengers. It’s guided – but it’s in French. The park is full of canyons and waterfalls, too many to count. Some bubble from underground, poking through tree roots and rocks. Others cascade from on high. We swam near one that gushed thunderously, its neon blue and green coloration looking otherworldly.   

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