We're planning to visit for 8-10 days with our 2 teenage kids in mid-late July this year. I've read amazing things about the country. Here's the catch: we have Starwood points we can use which will obviously save us money. There are Starwood options in Ljubljana and Zagreb (if Croatia also makes sense). I don't want to be beholden to them if there are places we should stay overnight where there aren't major hotels. I just don't know when a day trip from Ljubljana is more than enough to get the "feel" for the place. And I don't know how much there is to explore in Ljubljana itself. And finally, I'm not sure how important it is to have a car to get around.
From what I've read, the places we should try to include are Lake Bled, Piran, the caves and Plitvice Lakes. Here are my questions:
Are the caves an easy day trip from Ljubljana? Seems like there are thousands of them. Are there one of two that stand out? Are those a full day's worth of activity or something to do before or after an excursion somewhere else?
Are Lake Bled and Piran easy day trips and enough to experience them? Would it be worth staying a night or two at either place? How would you prioritize between the two?
Seems like Plitvice is pretty far from Ljubljana so I thought maybe we would spend 2-3 nights in Zagreb and use that as a base. I think I read there are no overnight accommodations in that park. If that's correct, would you find a place to stay right by it or just do a day trip out of Zagreb? Is it even worth adding Zagreb to this trip? Is it a pretty unique experience vis a vis Ljubljana? Could it be used as a base to explore anything else worth seeing?
How much time would you budget for just exploring Ljubljana and Zagreb?
Should we plan on a rental car just for day excursions or also when we're in a city and just exploring that city (i.e. is it easy to walk around or take public transit in Ljubljana and Zagreb)? Is parking in the city expensive or a pain?
Anything I'm missing that should be added? Am I being too ambitious with our travel plans? I'm assuming visiting the coast of Croatia is out of the question with this much time so that would have to be for a future trip.
Sorry for all the questions. I want to figure this out quickly before it's too late. Thanks for all your help!!!