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How to get from Italy to Croatia by Ferry

As a ferry-obsessed Seattle resident planning a trip to Italy and Croatia, I was excited to find that travel by ferry is a popular option for tourists crossing the Adriatic sea between Italy and Croatia.

I took the plunge, and navigated the Adriatic by ferry twice on that trip – once on an overnight cruise from Italy to Croatia, and a few weeks later on a daytime crossing from Croatia back to Italy.

Here’s what I learned about Adriatic ferry travel that I think every English-speaking traveler should know.

Navigating the state run adriatic sea ferries from italy to croatian coasts

Booking my tickets was easy enough (through Jadrolinija’s website or directferries.com) but information beyond when to show up was sparse- and English-language information about what to expect from an Adriatic ferry and how to best plan to travel this route was nearly non-existent.

In the interest of assisting other English language speakers doing Adriatic crossings aboard ferries, here’s a rundown of my experience traveling via Jadrolinija during peak season in July 2017. I first sailed on an overnight voyage from Ancona, Italy to Zadar, Croatia, and then two weeks later took a daytime trip back to Italy, from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Bari, Italy.

The Drama of Departing from Ancona Italy by Ferry

Ticking information varies, but Jadrolinija sternly warns passengers to arrive no later than 2 hours before departure (3 hours is the published requirement on some of the documentation I looked at). So when my already-cutting-it-a-little-closer-than-I’d-like connecting train from Florence, Italy was more than 1 hour delayed, making me miss my train into Ancona, I panicked.

Jadrolinija is not the best when it comes to putting out info on their ships- at least not in English. Even the ticketing information did not contain instructions on where to check-in! And only another blog clued me in to the fact that Ancona was a LARGE port, and the distance from the ticketing office to the ferry dock is not walkable.

Given what little I knew, when my train finally rolled into Ancona at 90 minutes before my scheduled departure, I was in a full-blown panic (mediated only a little by the fact that a phone call placed to the Jadrolinija office that informed me if I checked-in by 9 pm I should be okay)

The Ancona ferry ticket office informed me that both the Number 12 and the Number 20 bus, both of which would pick me up from the train station, would take me from the Ancona train station to the Jadrolinija office.

Choosing Taxi or Bus from Ancona Train Station to Ferry Port

So here’s the thing, I’m from Seattle, and even with Seattle’s above-average public transit, it’s *never* a good idea to take a bus when you are running late. So I started frantically looking for a cab outside of the train station.

Thankfully, before I managed to catch a cab, I saw the Number 12 bus pulling up to a weird little bus stop (more on that below) nearby. Despite having no idea how to pay for the bus, I hopped on and was immediately greeted by an American couple, also headed to the ferry, who looked as bewildered as I.

Like the smaller ferries in washington state, jadrolinija ferries board from the car deck.

Getting to the Jadrolinija Ancona Ferry from the Ancona Train Station.

To get to the Jadrolinja Ancona dock, exit the Ancona train station through the main entrance exit and- directly across from the exit- you’ll see a large and crowded bus stop. This is NOT the bus stop you want.

Instead, walk about 20-30 meters to the left of the large bus stop, to a triangle-shaped curb with a sign reading “12/20”. This is where the buses stop that continue on to the ferry offices (You must stop at the office before the port, all local ferry offices share a single building so don’t stress about being taken to the wrong ferry office).

After you’ve stopped at the office, the same bus will take you to the port where you’ll embark on the ship.

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Take the 12 bus from the Ancona Train Station to the Ferry Offices*,
then once checked in at the ferry office,
Take the 20 bus from the stop in front of the ferry office to the ferry terminal.

COST: I was a little unclear about this, but apparently these buses are free, paid for by the ferry companies. At least, I didn’t pay and another passenger indicated that was policy.

*What bus stop to get off at for the Ancona Ferry:

I was really anxious about knowing when to get off, but as it turns out, it’s nearly impossible to miss the stop for the ferry offices. The bus will arrive at a large building set apart from other buildings and marked very clearly with logos of various ferry companies. (note: Jadrolinija did not have a large sign, but smaller window decals)

Running a little late for my ferry meant catching this sunset view

 

Arriving Late for an Adriatic Ferry

Instead of checking in 2 hours in advance, as directed, my train rolled into Ancona Station with about 90 minutes to ferry departure. I’d read horror stories about lines, security, and passport control so I was really worried.

Thankfully, Jadrolinija seemed to have an Italian sensibility about the 2-hour limit- and it was more “suggestion” than “mandate”.

Although I don’t recommend testing your luck and arriving late, it was great to pass through customs and baggage checks with no delay. Even for my trip, in the peak of the summer season on a ferry course (Ancona to Zadar) that runs inconsistently, there were no lines when I checked in.

Passport control involved simply strolling up to the window and showing my passport. By this time I was a stone’s throw of the actual ferry and had 45 minutes to spare before departure, so thankfully was able to relax.

Seating on the ferry is not optimal

 

Ferry Ticket Types:

Should You get a Cabin, Reclining Chair, or Deck Seating for Jarolinja Overnight Ferry?

This is a trickier question than it should be, because the deck seating varies vastly from ship to ship. If you want to sleep (and have trouble sleeping in less-than-ideal spaces) book the cabin without question.  If you are young, poor, or adventurous, read on!

Unfortunately for me, cabins were sold out by the time I booked my overnight trip from Italy to Zadar, Croatia, so I booked a reclining seat.

Can we talk about this lighting situation?
On overnight crossings, any flat surface is converted to a bed by weary budget travelers.

Unfortunately on my outgoing vessel, the ferry named “Zadar”, the reclining seats seem to be a bit of a hustle to get passengers to pay a bit more for nothing. The recliners didn’t actually recline or have amenities like a simple tray table. After a few hours, I migrated from my “premium” seat up to a table on the main deck where I was able to work comfortably with a table and a reasonably supportive chair.

Thinking I’d game the system, on my return voyage (on the vessel “Dubrovnik”) I booked only deck seating- no extra upgrade to a comfy chair- and the deck seating was terrible. The Dubrovnik’s deck seating appeared to be intentionally designed to be uncomfortable and awkward to sit on, making this 8-hour leg of the journey a rough one.

Seating aboard the ferry

Pro Tip: In the reclining chair seating area, seats are assigned by number. However, like most of my experiences with transportation in Croatia and Eastern Europe, no one sits in their assigned seat and no one seems to care if you take theirs. When you arrive, pick a seat with a view and/or a power outlet nearby, park your bag in front of the power outlet (they’re a hot commodity!), and settle in.

Wb croatia ferry 0723 154201
seating in the deck area

 

Sleeping on Deck on Croatia Ferries

Before my trip, I heard rumors that many travelers- particularly young backpackers- booked the cheapest possible overnight ferry tickets and simply stretched out on the floor to take advantage of a “free” night’s lodging. As I boarded my fery, it was clear the rumors were true: every possible flat surface was claimed by the time I boarded.

Various couches are arranged in the club area, and savvy “deck” passengers (the lowest fare) arrive early to stake out the full-length couches, allowing flat sleeping (which I have to imagine is far more comfortable than the fixed “recliners” tickets sold as a “premium” option).

While the Ferry Dubrovnik offered no such luxuries, I was impressed at the number of couches aboard the “Zadar”- easily several dozen. If you are comfortable sleeping in a public space, have a partner or group to help watch your stuff, and can board early, this is the on-board accommodation I would actually recommended. Aboard the “Dubrovnik,” where the video below was filmed, there were fewer couches but still options for sleeping with some level of comfort on deck.

Economy deck passengers sleeping on couches aboard ferry "zadar"

 

Eating and Drinking on Croatia Ferries

Definitely, plan to bring your own food and drink. In Summer 2017 bottled water on the ship was priced at 5 Euro for 1 liter and food was equivalently overcharged. Overestimate your water needs, especially if the weather is warm.

While technically air-conditioned, on the return route, in particular, the temperature of the cabins hovered in the upper 70’s to lower 80’s and I found myself purchasing water to stay hydrated even though I’d packed two liters.

Jadrolinija croatian ferry - what to expect

Video Walkthrough of Jadrolinija Dubrovnik Passenger Deck

In all its weird glory: I managed a quick walkthrough video of a passenger deck, and you can get an idea of just how comfortable folks make themselves as they camp out between artificial plant jungles and the on-board dance hall.

On the return trip from Croatia in July 2017, I sailed from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Bari, Italy aboard the Jadrolinija Ferry “Dubrovnik”. On this return trip, unlike my first Adriatic crossing with Jadrolinija, I traveled on a daytime passage. This crossing made my first Jadrolinja ferry seem like a cakewalk!

Ferry Check In

Passengers are instructed to check-in no later than 3 hours in advance of their ticketed departure. My Ancona-Zadar Crossing had clued me in to the fact that the 3-hour requirement is, in fact, more of a suggestion than a requirement, so I arrived for my 12pm ticket at 9:30am. Passengers were corraled in the port waiting area until loading began at 10-10:30.

Electrical outlets are a hot commodity on croatia's ferries. Board early, find an outlet, and park your bag in front of it.
Electrical outlets are a hot commodity on Croatia’s ferries. Board early, find an outlet and park your bag in front of it.

Checking In for Jadrolinija Ferry in Dubrovnik

Jadrolinija ferry tickets don’t actually provide an address for check-in and departure. On this return to Italy, there was no address listed for ferry office check in so I walked down to the port to ask directions. The ferry ticket I purchased from DirectFerry insisted I check in 3 hours before departing since this was an international voyage, but I knew from my previous trip that was an exaggeration. Still, I arrived in port about9:30, for the 12 noon sailing, and found myself funneled into a seating area until passport inspection opened at 10:30.

Jadrolinija croatian ferry - what to expect

Deck Seating

If you are an average size human, expect the accommodations included with a “deck” level ticket to be less than ideal. As the photo above shows, the seating aboard this boat is scaled down for some reason. As a larger bodied traveler, I was miserable.

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Aboard the ZADAR

Aboard the ship “Zadar,” upgrading to a recliner seat was an unnecessary expense – I paid for the “upgraded” seat, but then moved to a deck seating table where I was able to work more comfortably for the whole trip with a table and reasonably supportive chair.

Aboard the DUBROVNIK

This vessel seems like it’s designed to make passengers uncomfortable enough to pay for an upgrade mid-crossing. Aboard the Dubrovnik, I suggest upgrading to the reclining seats- unless this looks like a fun place to spend 10 hours:

Jadrolinija croatian ferry - what to expect

Traveling as a Solo Traveler on an Adriatic Ferry

The least-vulnerable ticket for passage is the purchase of a cabin aboard the vessel, but my first voyage was sold out of cabins by the time I purchased and the second was a daytime sailing of around 7 hours, so a cabin purchase didn’t seem like a sound investment.

I felt hypervigalent about my property board the day-crossing where hundreds of people were wandering the halls through the whole voyage. The evening crossing, however, felt much safer because there were people near, but no one paying attention or moving around the ship.

Jadrolinija croatian ferry - what to expect
Sleeping passengers on the Ancona-Zadar Ferry (the ship Dubrovnik has fewer couches)

Overnight vs Day Trip Jadrolinija Ferries

I found the overnight ferry to be preferable to the daytime crossing. On the overnight ferry, the temperature was comfortable and once the ferry was about an hour into its course, almost every one of the passengers was settled into their sleeping quarters (either cabin or lounge couch) and I felt much more comfortable.

The daytime passage on the Dubrovnik (a ferry used for crossings from Bari Italy to Dubrovnik, Croatia, and back) was far more uncomfortable. The boat was crowded, had limited seating, and- as a crowded boat departing at noon in July- the temperature inside the vessel was nearly unbearable.

If you are choosing between a daytime crossing and an overnight ferry Adriatic crossing, I suggest choosing the overnight option. Even if you don’t sleep, you’ll enjoy better seating, comfortable cabin temperatures, and a stunning sunrise over the Adriatic.

Nisa

Sunday 26th of May 2019

Thank you, thank you, thank you! My 18 year old is traveling round Europe next month and is booked on the ferry from Ancona to Split. I've been looking everywhere for straightforward directions on getting from the station to the to the ferry building and haven't found them anywhere else. You have answered all my questions - Thank you.

Nic

Wednesday 15th of May 2019

Thanks so much for sharing your experience and insights. We are proposing to do Ancona to Zadar in September, however as I suffer with sea-sickness, I'm a bit apprehensive about the 10 hour trip. Whilst I appreciate these things are very weather dependent, what was your experience, and your observations of other travellers in this regard?

And how was the arrival in Zadar as far as locating transport to other destinations. Specifically on arrival in Zadar we want to get to Piltvice. Thanks in advance.

Jordan Sachs

Friday 3rd of May 2019

Hello, thanks for the great write up! I am planning on taking the ferry from Ancona to Split next month. The schedule says the ship will arrive in Split at 7am. Do you think its reasonable that I could make a day trip that leaves at a dock 15min walk away at 8am? How is the unloading process with this ferry company?

Lindsayanne

Friday 3rd of May 2019

Thanks Jordan! I hope you have a great trip! So, I did not sail in or out of the docks in Split, but I do remember frustration with the ferry schedule not being as tightly scheduled as I expected. Getting off the boat did require waiting, and queueing in line with a lot of other folks also in a hurry to get off the boat (though you could probably get in the front of the line by positioning yourself well in the last hour or two of the voyage). I probably wouldn't risk it- but if the day trip has any flexibility on when they leave (or a flexible refund policy) it might be worth giving it a try!

Nikita Mandhani (@nikita_mandhani)

Friday 19th of April 2019

Hi hi! This is so helpful. I'm planning to take a ferry from Split to Ancona and your details about the seating and food etc are so helpful. Would love to talk more about your trip and especially about the ferry journey. Let me know if you can help :)

Thanks!

Lindsayanne

Saturday 20th of April 2019

I'm so glad it was helpful and I'd love to answer questions- If I can! Go ahead and ask here- maybe someone else is wondering the same things!