Okay, so there aren’t too many ways to get up and down the coast of Croatia unless you have your boat there and for some reason I’m going to go out on a limb and say you don’t (unless of course you’re that English chap I met last year who had a sailboat docked in Dubrovnik.) That being the case, there are basically only two ferry lines to get from Rijeka to Dubrovnik. The first one is Marco Polo (I’ll be damned if I can find their actual website) and the other is Jadrolinija.
I’ve never taken Marco Polo. I’ve heard they’re fast, pretty affordable and good overall. This is what I’ve heard from Croatian friends and I generally tend to listen to them as they take these things all the time. I will probably give these guys a try the next time I’m in the big HR.
That being that, I have taken Jadrolinija; twice. My first time was from Dubrovnik to Rijeka. This was an overnight ferry (22 hours!) and I had a cabin. The weather wasn’t so hot outside, but it was comfortable. We generally stayed in our cabin which wasn’t a four star hotel, but was perfectly serviceable. At first it seems far too noisy to sleep on the ferry, but as the engines drown on, you get used to the sound of the chugging diesels. It lulls you in to one hell of a deep sleep that made me happy I was getting off at the end of the line instead of Zadar where you get off in the middle of the night. It wasn’t bad overall. I though, “Hey, I could do this again, no problem.” So, I did it again.
That was this time, hopefully my last time taking the Liburnija. This was the exact same ship and route that I took a year ago, but it was the opposite direction from Rijeka to Dubrovnik. There was one other big difference and that was that it was screaming hot when we left Rijeka, probably about 37C (95F) and it had been a long bus ride from Pula to Rijeka. Once on the boat, all seemed fine. It was the same as it had been before. We were in slightly different rooms, but they were the same layout. We made sure to get food beforehand to avoid the overpriced and rather lackluster ferry servings.
Right, so we’re all ready for the ferry right? Wrong! While the rooms are air conditioned during the day, they pull a nice trick on you and turn off the ventilation system at night because its so “cool” apparently. Yeah, that’s a good one. Since when has it been cool in a completely enclosed space (the windows don’t open, trust me) and when has turning off the air to passengers’ rooms ever been a good idea? It sucked. It really sucked. At some point around 2AM, you wake up in a grizzly sweat and this is after making sure to sleep nearly naked with no blankets on. After tossing and turning, you might be able to wrestle yourself back into slumber, but your kilometerage will vary on that one.
Once morning rolls back around, the air comes back on. But, at this point, you’ll probably be on the decks watching the islands go by. Don’t worry if you miss them here and there though because you’ll be going through them for about the next eight hours. And this is where its probably the hardest because a heavy monotony sets in with your trip on the ferry. Twenty two hours is a very long time. You realize this as you sit out in the sun, go down and take a nap, sit out in the sun some more, then nap a bit more. You’re very thankful once you hit Dubronvik and you’re thrilled to leave behind your ship prison.
It may seem from what I’ve written that the difference all comes down to the temperature outside, but that’s not entirely true. It mainly comes down to how many times you’ve riden the ferry. Most of the Croatians who ride it seem to get very drunk on the ride because that’s all there really is to do. I believe that there is one way in which the ferry is very acceptable and that’s the five dollars or so that it costs to sleep on the deck. I think this has to be the cheapest way to legally cover a distance I’ve ever seen, but you can only really do it during the warm summer months. The other catch is that you really need to do it in pairs in order to watch your belongings. If you’re not a deck-sleeping-backpacker though, I might recommend the Marco Polo route or possible even flying if you can afford it.