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Croatia with Teens

Planning to go to Croatia in June - 2 families and there will be 3 teenagers with us. The dates we are looking at are June 22 - July 3rd. I was looking at flights from Los Angeles to Rome $850. Is it better to fly to Zagreb or is there a ferry we can take?

Looking at the map, everything looks amazing and its overwhelming. I'm looking for suggestions on the best places to go and how long is ideal in each place. For 6 people is it better to rent hotel rooms or AIRBNB homes?

Zagreb (2 nights)
Plitvice (1 night)
Split (2 nights)
Zadar (1 night)
Rovinj (1 night)
Dubrovnik (2 nights)

I don't know how realistic this itinerary is.
PS: willing to rent a car

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7012 posts

Please clarify your night-count. If you fly out on June 22, arrive on June 23 and depart on July 3, you have ten nights in Europe. Your listed destinations add up to only nine nights. An extra night would help a lot.

Many or most of your group will probably arrive sleep-deprived and jetlagged, so your arrival day may not be worth much. Your really productive days will be one less than the number of nights you have.

Trans-Atlantic Travel

With your wish list and limited time, you should try hard to fly to and from Croatia, all on one ticket. Or at least into and out of places that you can connect to Croatia quickly and easily via ground transportation; unfortunately, I don't really see such a place in the surrounding countries. Perhaps someone else will come up with a clever idea.

Rome plus ferry won't work; Rome's on the wrong side of Italy, so it would take hours on a train just to get to a ferry port. I believe there are some ferry and/or shuttle options from Venice, but mixing modes of transportation tends to require extra time, aggravated by the need to build in padding since you can't be sure when you'll be ready to leave the arrival airport.

I think flying into Venice or an airport near Venice would make sense only if you want to change your trip from "Croatia" to "Venice and northern Croatia". That would be a fine trip, actually. You could consider flying into and out Milan (Venice would be better but probably more expensive), then starting your Croatian itinerary in Istria (Rovinj). But I know everyone is thinking "Croatia" and probably most especially "Dubrovnik", so limiting the trip to northern Croatia might be unpopular.

While it is theoretically possible to grab that good deal on airfare to Rome and then take budget-airline flights to Zagreb and back from Dubrovnik or Split (if available), that gives you two unprotected connections. Since you'll be hanging out to dry if your flight from the US (or your flight out of Croatia to Rome) is late and you miss your connection, you have to build in a great deal of extra time to try to avoid (most of) the risk of buying six replacement tickets at probably-inflated walk-up prices. If I were doing the scheduling, I'd be building in a full extra day for the second leg of the return flight (and even so, I'd be nervous all through the trip). On a short trip with a lot of desired destinations, you really don't want to reduce the time available for Croatia by a full day.

Itinerary

I've been to all your planned destinations (though Split and Dubrovnik were decades ago). They are all interesting spots. But you have too many places stretched over too great a distance for the amount of time available. Too many teenagers probably won't help; can you get them out of bed in the morning? A string of 1- and 2-night stops will keep you constantly on edge, and you'll have too high a percentage of travel time to actual sightseeing time.

One technique for stretching a short vacation when you're flying in and out of the same city (as you may need to do) is to take the initial (jetlagged) day and use it to get to one of your other stops. If you're going to be half-dead anyway, you may as well sit on a bus or a train (awake or otherwise). If the trip needs to end in Zagreb, I'd consider spending the first night at Plitvice, assuming there are enough buses at the right time of day that you can be nearly certain of catching one of them. (Obviously, this depends on a not-too-late arrival time in Zagreb.) Or you could investigate having a driver with a van take you there. It's about 70 miles, and you'd be paying for the round-trip, so wouldn't be cheap, but for six people the per-person cost might be relatively reasonable.

But now you're in Plitvice without a car, so you'll need to bus to the next destination (there are buses to Split).

Or a Zagreb-Split train might work.

I'll comment on the itinerary in a separate post.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7012 posts

The itinerary needs at least some trimming, whether you have nine or ten nights. You want an enjoyable, memorable trip, not a mad dash. I'm also thinking that you probably will need time one night to do laundry, even if it just means rinsing out some clothes in your bathroom wash basin. (You're traveling in the summer, and European cars don't have a lot of trunk space.) This will be an exhausting trip if you're on the go from 8 AM till 9 or 10 PM every night. It may be very hot in June, which will not help.

If you have just nine nights...

I'd definitely keep Plitvice. It is special, and you only need one night there. Just be sure you spend the night before your visit in or near the park and get to the park very early the next morning. It's essential to be ahead of the day-trippers. By mid- to late-morning, the walkways are unbelievable crowded, which really detracts from what should be a wonderful experience.

The first place I'd cut would be Rovinj. I love Istria, but going all the way over there (assuming you don't ferry into Pula from Venice) for a few hours in Rovinj? No; not worth it. I wouldn't go to Istria for less than three nights, to allow time for seeing at least Rovinj, Porec and either Motovun or Groznjan (or both). So include Istria only if you decide to do the Venice + Northern Croatia thing. This is an area where you'd want a car, incidentally.

I like Zadar, too. If you're willing to drop Dubrovnik (a larger and more dramatic--also more touristy--Zadar-y kind of place), you can definitely retain Zadar. Zadar is significantly more convenient, geographically. Otherwise, Zadar may need to go, depending on what other decisions you make (i.e., how much you want to do in Dubrovnik and Zagreb). You can probably see the whole Zadar historic district in 4 hours or less, but you'd have to find a place to park the car and walk in, and at some point you'll need to eat. So it would probably be pretty difficult to see Plitvice (4 or 5 hours perhaps?) and Zadar and drive to Split the same day. Incidentally, I think you'd have to make a connection if you were traveling by bus from Plitvice to Zadar.

Two nights in Split will allow you to see Split but probably not get to an island (unless that's all you want to do). That's fine; we all have to make compromises. But three nights would allow you to breathe a little and see one of the islands or Sibenik or Trogir. As far as I know, there are buses between Plitvice and Split, though I think not as frequent as the buses to and from Zagreb.

Now we come to Dubrovnik. It will probably take at least four hours to drive there from Split with no stops. There's bus service also. Two nights (just over one day) will be enough for just the old town. No side-trip to an island, Kotor or Mostar.

Now you need to turn around and head back to Zagreb (if that's your departure point). The drive will take over seven hours with no stops at all. So with one night in Zagreb you will see nothing of the city. Two nights will give you a full day for sightseeing, which I think is the minimum needed if you go there at all. It's a handsome city with an appearance different from the coastal towns. There's a lively historic district and a variety of museums, both traditional and quirky. I believe the teenagers will like the Museum of Broken Relationships, and the small museum of naïve art is impressive.

With 10 nights...

I'd still skip Istria unless you want to drop Dubrovnik.

In summary:

Rovinj: skip for lack of time
Plitvice: 1 night
Zadar: skip or 1 night
Split: 2 nights (or 3 with a side trip: Sibenik, Trogir or an island)
Dubrovnik: 2 nights (or 3 with a side trip: Kotor, Mostar or an island)
Zagreb: 2 or 3 nights
Note that I have not built in dedicated beach time.

Remaing in Zagreb on arrival day may cost you a night, since you can't sleep in Zagreb and get to Plitvice early enough the next morning.

Posted by Jennifer
Tunbridge Wells
1642 posts

I too agree that you are trying to fit too much into your itinerary and Istria is the obvious place to drop.

If your flights are return from Zagreb, I would follow the itinerary above, but you may wish to consider dropping the car either in Split and taking the catamaran to Dubrovnik or dropping the car upon arrival in Dubrovnik and flying back to Zagreb. Open jaw would save you half a day's backtracking.

With 4 adults plus 3 teenagers, you are going to need 2 cars or a larger people carrier to include your luggage.

Consider Trip Advisor rentals or booking.com which offer much better value than Airbnb. I have just booked a place in Spain and Airbnb were 25% more expensive than booking.com for the same apartment.

You are travelling peak season, so I would try to limit your destinations to 4 maximum. You may struggle to find any apartments that are prepared to accept one night bookings at this time of year.

Posted by Maryann OP
Los Angeles
6 posts

Thank you so much for the advice and the information provided. This will help us a lot with the planning. We are still in the initial stages of planning so haven't booked flights yet but I did see decent priced flights from LA to Venice and also be able to leave from Dubrovnik to LA therefore would like to make that the last stop.

Posted by Maryann OP
Los Angeles
6 posts

So if we fly into Venice, we can take the ferry to Pula - I hope I'm not being too ambitious with this schedule

Istria 3 nights
Zagreb 2 nights
Plitvice: 1 nights
Split: 2 nights
Dubrovnik: 3 nights

We would leave from Dubrovnik back to LA that way we don't have to go back to Venice. Let me know your thoughts as they are very much appreciated.

Posted by Cro on the go
Istria, Croatia
42 posts

Your schedule is good, also look at other ways to get from Venice to Istria. Train bus combined is least cost, taxi transfer is next and ferry is greatest cost.

Posted by tgreen
USA
321 posts

what a fun trip.

Ask the teens whether they want cities or coasts.

If they love any of the GOT or even Star Wars, they will love Dubrovnik. But beyond that, there is a lot to do around the coasts. Many kayak rentals, swimming, etc.
Be advised that Croatia does not have sandy beaches.. It is rocks. So bring swim shoes.
I would skip so many nights in the large cities in the summer and head to the coasts.
We loved the island of Korcula. There was much more than water activities. They had some dune buggy tours, too. Don't miss the sword fighting show there. It is a historical dance/theatre.
Korcula would be a 2 night stay.

Plitvice will be very crowded in the summer. The kids can not get into the water. There is another natural park that allows swimmers.
Enjoy!T.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7012 posts

So you actually have eleven nights? That's great. I think your time distribution is reasonable.

I would research the shuttle option as to cost and reliability. I believe GoOpti has received positive comments here. It might be considerably faster than the ferry if it gets you to a convenient spot in Istria where you want to spend the first night. I don't think you'll want to spend 3 nights in Pula, from what other people have said. I haven't been there myself.

Also check about where you could pick up a rental car in Istria.

Posted by Maryann OP
Los Angeles
6 posts

So I've been trying to map the trip and not overwhelm us and so far this is what I have come up with - Please let me know your thoughts or ideas. This is the first trip I've had to map out like this and the more I keep reading the more places I would love to see

leave LA June 20th
Get to Venice June 21

June 21- rest
June 22 - explore venice
June 23 - take ferry to pula

Get to Istria - Do we need a car in Istria? or rent one before we leave to go to Plitvice?
June 23 - check into hotel
June 24 - rovniji
June 25 - vsar, rabac, porec

June 26 leave Istria and drive to plitvice
Check into hotel near the park

June 27 - Plitvice national park
Zadar??? krka national park???

June 27 Drive to Hvar - get accomodations there
June 28: go to SPLIT
June 29 -Hvar - Bol.
June 30: Hvar - Makarska

Do we drive to Dubrovnik or catch the ferry - I keep thinking of all the luggage we have and getting on the ferry or keep car and return it in Dubrovnik?

June 31-July 3: Dubrovnik

July 3 - get on plane from Dubrovnik to LA

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7012 posts

From personal experience I know that there is bus service linking Pula, Rovinj, the little village of Vrsar and Porec (not necessarily all on the same line). As of summer 2015 there was a way to visit either Motovun or Groznjan from Rovinj, but the schedule did not allow seeing both of them on the same day, and it's possible that only one of them had bus service. It's when you want to visit those (or other) interior towns that you need a car if you aren't prepared to take the once-a-week Inland Istria bus tour (Wednesdays in 2015), which economically doesn't make sense when you are a group of six. The inland area is pretty and far less touristy than the beachy coastal towns. If you opt for a car, check ahead of time about parking availability wherever you're staying. The historic center of Rovinj is pedestrianized, so I think you'd have to park some distance away from there. But your hotel probably would not be in the pedestrian zone, anyway.

Your reference to a lot of luggage has me concerned. A vehicle that holds six people may very well not accommodate all of their luggage. The same can be true for two smaller cars if you divide up. I mention that because it's easier to maneuver two cars, and it allows the groups to stop at different sights if they want to. Also, people here have said that it's usually less expensive to rent two small cars rather than a van. Luggage left visible in the back of a van (or inside a car, of course) is a magnet for thieves all over the world.

It will be a bit awkward if you try to get from Istria to Plitvice by public transportation. I believe it can be done, but you'll almost certainly need to travel out of your way and make a transfer. It's simpler to approach Plitvice from Zagreb. It's also simpler from Split, though I'm not sure it's faster; I've always traveled there from Zagreb. One other possibility would be to explore a private transfer from wherever you're staying in Istria to Plitvice. With six people, the per-head price should not be exorbitant.

Posted by Marie
San Francisco
89 posts

We are going with three teens almost your exact itinerary (June 22 - July 4)! We are flying into Pula and out of Dubrovnik. Our itineraries are very similar too - except we are going to Korcula and skipping Zagreb.

Look at Norwegian Airlines for one or both of your directions. I can see a flight from LA to Zagreb on your day for $432.50, and then you have to get home (we are flying Norwegian home from Dubrovnik). It's no frills (pay extra for luggage), but can save you some time with the Rome factor.

I took my three teenagers to Italy two years ago. Most teenagers are not going to want to change hotel rooms so much - I learned from experience!

Book your Hvar hotel ASAP. I had a hard time getting a Korcula hotel just two weeks ago - they go fast. But one thing I noticed is that people are always canceling on Booking.com, so if your hotel is not there right away, keep looking and you might be in luck!

Posted by Brad
Greeley, CO, USA
447 posts

Hey Maryann take my word for it you are trying to do too much. I am not trying to be pedantic but we have traveled with our 20 and 16 year old boys since they were 2 and 5. 6 times to Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Germany 4 times, France, Switzerland, Prague twice, Munich twice, Berlin, Dresden, Frankfurt 4 times, Stuttgart, Czech. Republic, Belgium, Austria 3 times etc) , 7th this summer (Poland and Croatia). Vietnam, Singapore. 6 times to New York City including New Years this year. 10 times to the twin cities, San Francisco, Hawaii, Phoenix, Santa Barbara twice, Green Bay Wisconsin twice and on and on. We stay at least two usually three nights in each place. Get a car. Public transportation is a waste in Croatia. There is not enough of it. Cars are simple. We have always had a car in Europe. You have to be able to hop in and go to the grocery store, travel easily to sights to see, go to McDonalds, etc. We turn the data off on our phones, and never drive more than 150 miles between stops. Just relax and enjoy each others company but also each of us does things with one kid alone or my wife and I will do stuff together. We never hurry. Ever. Our lives are hectic enough in the States. You will be at each others throats if you spend 100% of your time together. At least we would be. Have fun.

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
2543 posts

I have kids and we travel Europe all the time. I have two specific comments - 1) you are trying to do too much and 2) you must rent a car.

My thoughts on your itinerary are as follows:

In Istria, rent a villa with a swimming pool. Somewhere in the interior will be cheaper. You don't need to take the ferry all the way to Pula, if your intent is to visit other towns. On June 24 and 25, I would suggest spending one day along the beach - we really, really like the Kamenjak Peninsula and Safari Bar and I'm sure your teens will too. The other day, you can visit Rovinj (you can see it in an hour) and something in the interior like Dvigrad. Your June 27 is unrealistic, especially if you think you can squeeze in Krka or Zadar. To see Plitvice will take you most of the day - you will want to hike the entire park, trust me. After that long day, no way will you want to drive all the way to Hvar. Speaking of Hvar, can I suggest that you consider another place entirely? Split is a totally cool city and your teens will love it. I would instead suggest spending time in Sibenik or Zadar. If you want to spend time on an island, Hvar would not be my choice. We really love Brac and as you have Bol on your list already....Korcula would be a much more attractive option, in my opinion before heading to Dubrovnik. But again, I would suggest that you are doing too much anyway. Either focus on Split and south or Split and north.