Captivating Croatia: Part 1 – Croatia Introduction and Planning

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Emily:  I’ve wanted to go to Croatia for the last several years.  I heard wonderful things about the country and how beautiful (and relatively affordable) it was compared to the rest of Europe.  It’s located in Eastern Europe and is just a few hours from Venice, Italy, making it a great side trip.

Last year, my friends and I organized a group trip to visit Rovinj, a small coastal town on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia.  It’s a gorgeous town full of romance.  Everything is stunning there, from the streets to the houses.  The food is also excellent.

We went for a kizomba dance festival.  Later in the trip report series, I will introduce you to kizomba and describe what an incredible dance it is!  The dance festival was amazing and Croatia is definitely a place I want to return and spend more time exploring!  The trip’s retail cost was ~$17,000 but I paid ~$900.

Croatia Introduction And Planning

Adventures Are More Fun With Friends! We Had a Blast Visiting Croatia and Experiencing an Amazing Dance Festival!

My Dance Family

Jeff (the only guy who came with us) and Sarita (above photo, far right) are both kizomba dancers in my city, and Sarita also teaches the dance.  Gissell (above photo, middle) managed a local dance studio and teaches fitness classes.

Robbie (pink hair) teaches salsa, bachata, kizomba, and an array of other dances.  I got lucky to travel with such an amazing group of friends!  We became family during our short time together in Croatia. You’ll get to see them more later in the series.

Captivating Croatia Trip Report Index:

The Basics

Traveling outside of the US requires some extra planning, but it’s well worth it.  I love meeting people who speak other languages, sampling the local food, and experiencing another culture.

If you haven’t traveled outside the US, or want some tips on saving potentially hundreds of dollars in credit card foreign transaction and currency conversion fees, read our World Travel 101 series.

This was the 1st major international trip I’ve planned and booked on my own.  I researched the cities I wanted to fly in and out of, and booked 2 one-way flights, because I wasn’t sure exactly when, or where, I wanted to return from.

English is widely spoken in Croatia, so you won’t have any communication problems.  The people are very friendly and the streets are extremely safe.

Cost Breakdown

 Retail CostCash CostMiles & Points UsedSources of Miles & Points
Two 1-way coach tickets from Austin to Venice~$1,000 per person or ~$2,000 for two~$18 per person or ~$36 for two30,000 American Airlines miles per person or 60,000 miles for twoHow to earn lots of AA miles
One night at the Gritti Palace Hotel~$1,100 per night030,000 Starwood pointsHow to earn Starwood points
11 nights in a shared apartment$317 per person or $634 for two$317 per person or $614 for twoN/AN/A
Two 1-way Business Class tickets from Paris to Washington, DC~$6,000 per person or ~$12,000 for two~$118 per person or ~$236 for two70,000 United Airlines miles per person or 140,000 for twoHow to earn lots of United Airlines miles
Two 1-way tickets on Southwest from Washington, DC, to Austin~$175 per person or $350 for two~$6 per person or ~$12 for two~14,000 Southwest points (or ~28,000 for two)
TOTAL~$8,592 per person or $17,184 for two~$459 per person or ~$918 for two30,000 American Airlines miles, 30,000 Starwood points, 70,000 United Airlines miles, and 14,000 Southwest points (or 60,000 American Airlines miles, 140,000 United Airlines miles, 60,000 Starwood points, and 28,000 Southwest points for two)

Flights

I booked the flights from the US to Europe using American Airlines miles.  It cost 30,000 miles plus ~$18 in taxes and fees.  The retail cost is about ~$1,000 per person 1-way, so using miles saved me a lot of money!  I flew to Venice because it’s so close to Rovinj, Croatia.  From Venice, we had to take a ferry (or bus) to Rovinj.

To get the best rates and most available seats, I looked for flights departing from large US cities like Atlanta, New York, and Washington, DC, into large European hubs like London, Paris, and Frankfurt.  Even if you pay cash for your flights instead of miles, this strategy can save you hundreds of dollars!

Croatia Introduction And Planning

I Used American Airlines Miles to Fly oneworld Partner Airline Air Berlin

I booked the flights in March, or ~4 months in advance.  I tried searching for Business Class, but no seats were available.  I kept checking back, especially during the week prior to departure, but still nothing became available.

I did get lucky that I didn’t have to fly on British Airways, or I would have had to pay hefty fuel surcharges of ~$700 for a 1-way trip.

Hotels

We had a 1 night stopover in Venice before we continued our journey to Rovinj.  I stayed at the Gritti Palace Hotel using 30,000 Starwood points.  It was a beautiful hotel in an excellent location!

Daraius and I have a lot of Starwood points, and using them for 1 evening at this hotel made sense.  In a future post in this series, I’ll review other Venice hotels where you can use your points.

Croatia Introduction And Planning

A Night at the Gritti Palace in Venice Can Cost Over $1,000 During Peak Season

Rovinj, Croatia Apartment

My friends and I stayed in a soba, which is a private apartment.  We decided to share the flat, so we split the cost.  My friend Sarita found the apartment via Booking.com, and it cost ~$317 per person for ~11 nights.

Croatia Introduction And Planning

We Shared an Apartment and Saved Tons of Money by Cooking Our Own Meals

Activities in Rovinj

Rovinj’s relaxing, laid back atmosphere makes it a great place to spend time taking it easy.  Being in a small town by the sea was a great escape.  There’s beautiful architecture, peaceful seaside restaurants with delicious food, and cobblestone streets to explore.

My friends and I chose to go to Rovinj for their annual dance festival that includes salsa, bachata, kizomba, and other kinds of dancing.

Croatia Introduction And Planning

Rovinj Was Charming, With Gorgeous Views of the Water

There’s also great shopping (especially for locally made crafts and art), restaurants, historical sites, and beaches to keep you busy.

Croatia Introduction And Planning

Watch Local Artisans Create in the Cobblestone Streets

The beaches are not the nicest since they are rocky, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it.  I also enjoyed the side trips you can take from Rovinj, including a trip to Plitvice National Park!

Croatia Introduction And Planning

Plitvice National Park Is Gorgeous!  It’s Famous for Its Lakes, Hiking and Biking Trails, and Waterfalls

Eating in Rovinj

The food in Croatia is very good quality and delicious!  Being a coastal town, there is a lot of very fresh seafood.  I have a food allergy and didn’t have any issues with the food being served to me.  Also, English is widely spoken, so it’s easy to read menus.

You Can Do It, Too!

My favorite way to get to Europe from the US is with American Airlines miles.

Here are ways to get lots of American Airlines miles.  And here’s our series on using American Airlines miles.  It could also be worth using an award booking service to book the flights for you.  If you’re considering taking a trip with American Airline miles, remember some award flights are increasing in price when you book after March 21, 2016.

1.   Using American Airlines Miles

Link:   American Airlines Award Chart

A flight from the US to Europe costs:

  • 30,000 American Airlines miles 1-way in coach
  • 57,500 American Airlines miles 1-way in Business Class
  • 85,000 American Airlines miles 1-way in First Class

You can use American Airlines miles to fly many different ways to the Europe, including on British Airways, Air Berlin, etc.

2.   Using United Airlines Miles

Link:   United Airlines Award Chart

To fly from the US to Europe, you’ll pay:

  • 30,000 United Airlines miles 1-way in coach
  • 57,500+ United Airlines miles 1-way in Business Class
  • 80,000 United Airlines miles 1-way in First Class

Note:   Award prices on partner airlines in Business and First Class are higher.

Here’s our series on how to use United Airlines miles.  And all the ways you can use United Airlines miles to fly to Europe.

3.   Other Ways to Get to Europe

Check out our posts for more ways to fly to (and within) Europe cheaply:

Getting the Miles and Points

I used Starwood points earned from the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express cards to stay in Venice.  The sign-up bonus is 35,000 points, which is the highest offer ever (ends March 30, 2016)!

But there are lots of other options in Italy and throughout Europe to stay for free or cheap!

The easiest way to get miles and points for Europe is by applying for certain credit cards.  Here’s a post on how to decide which miles & points to collect for your trip.

If you are new to collecting miles and points, start off by reading our Beginner’s Guide and applying for 1 to 2 credit cards to get comfortable with the process.  I have applied for 3 to 5 cards every few months, but do what you are comfortable with.

If you have questions on how to complete the minimum spending requirements, see the 40+ Ways to Meet your Minimum Spend.

Airline Miles

Check out these posts for ways to earn airline miles for your trip to Europe:

Hotels

There aren’t any big chain hotels in Rovinj, but the rooms are fairly cheap.  My friends and I stayed in a soba, or private apartment for 11 nights.

The total cost was ~$1,594 that was split between 5 people, which brought the hotel to ~$317 per person.  We weren’t located right in the city center, but we were very close and had a very peaceful ~15 minute walk to and from town.

However, you can combine your Croatia trip with Venice like I did, and use hotel points to stay in Venice for a fraction of the cost!  On a previous trip, Daraius and I stayed at the Hilton Molino Stucky Hotel.  This trip, I stayed at a Starwood hotel that was in the heart of the city.

I used Starwood points earned from the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest personal and small business cards to stay in Venice.

But there are lots of other options in Italy and throughout Europe to stay for free or cheap!

Here are all the ways to earn Hilton and Hyatt points.  And these posts might spark your imagination:

Also consider Airbnb for affordable stays with a more local feel.  Or you could mix and match award stays with Airbnb to stay in Europe longer.  Use my link to get $20 off your first stay!

Here’s how to choose a good and safe Airbnb, and my tips on how to negotiate a better price!

Bottom Line

Visiting Croatia was an unforgettable experience and rivaled my travels to several European countries including France, Italy, and the UK!

The beautiful scenery, romantic ambiance, perfect weather, delicious food, and rich culture made it a destination worth traveling to.

Traveling with my friends for a 2 week dance festival half way across the world was 1 of the best decisions I ever made!  We had so much fun with each other and I can’t wait to travel again using miles & points.

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11 responses to “Captivating Croatia: Part 1 – Croatia Introduction and Planning

  1. I am very surprised you decided to fly coach on a long haul, was it because Darius wasnt coming so it wasn’t worth spending it on someone else?

  2. What a great well planned trip! Makes me want to go their with a group of friends

  3. Good for you for flying coach. It seems like bloggers only wanna live the high life. Sometimes you just have to evaluate your situation sometimes it makes sense, sometimes not.

  4. @ Kyle – Emily said she tried to book business class, but 4 months out nothing was available, plus she checked back! Not sure where you’re going with the other part??
    Sounds interesting Emily, thanks for sharing.

  5. We did a tour of Croatia and Slovenia last October. Both countries were beautiful, and definitely worth a visit!

  6. @ Kyle- Being able to travel anywhere, whether it’s coach or any other class is something I am thankful for. As for Daraius, I would happily share my miles with him. He’s an amazing person and glad he’s still in my life.

    @ Anthony- Thanks for the positive comments! It was a wonderful trip and I hope you can go sometime soon.

    @ Lynn- Thanks for pointing that out! 🙂

    @ Rene M- Thanks for sharing your experience. I love seeing “lesser known” countries, too.

  7. @Kyle – As Lynn said, Emily tried to book business to Venice unsuccessfully, and she return to the states on business class. If you are going to make a snarky comment at least read carefully first.

    @Emily – I am (hopefully) going to Croatia later this year too, but taking the more touristy route of Zagreb-Plitvice-Split-Dubrovnik. So I am keeping my eyes peeled for the Plitvice part of the trip report.

  8. @Emily Awesome trip report. I look forward to reading the rest!

    @Kyle – Get a life bro

  9. I think Kyle’s question was innocent. I raised my eyebrows when I saw her flying in coach. Nothing wrong with flying in coach, but I did pause.

  10. @Emily – really enjoyed this trip report.

    My husband and I traveled to Slovenia and Croatia in May 2006, just as it was beginning to hit the travel radar. My grandmother was from Slovenia, but none of my family had ever been there, so I was the first and wanted to go before my elderly mother and her sisters passed away, so I could share photos with them. We stayed in Ljubljana for a couple of days, making a day trip out to Lake Bled. Our hotel included a day’s use of a SMART car at a rate that was cheaper than the rate for just booking a room – too funny!! Unfortunately, my mom only told me that my grandmother was not from Ljubljana about a week before we left home, so I wasn’t able to visit her home town.

    We then took the train to Zagreb (2 nights), then flew to Split (2 more nights) – wonderful city (1/2 day trip to lovely Trogir), and then the bus down the coast to Dubrovnik for 3 more days. We thoroughly enjoyed that trip – good food, good weather, good times! Want to go back and see more.

  11. @ Marilyn B- Glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you for sharing your experience! It sounds like you had a wonderful time!

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