An increasingly popular vacation itinerary combines the Puglia region of Italy and the Dalmatia region of Croatia. On opposite sides of the Adriatic they’re a study in similarities and differences. The same clear blue waters, fishermen taking their catch from the same seas and you’ll find walled stone cities on either side too, yet they have their differences too and it is those contrasts that make for such an interesting combination.
Getting between them isn’t the easiest thing to do though; there are no direct flights between any cities on the coasts so your only option is the overnight ferry between Bari and Dubrovnik. It doesn’t run every day (check the Jadrolinija website for the timetable) and the journey takes 10 hours, departing at 10pm and arriving at 8am, though you’ll need to factor in some extra time for check-in and departure (see below).
Travel cheaply, or in (modest) style
When buying your ticket you have a choice of seat or whether you want a cabin to yourselves, or berths in a cabin – note that members of the opposite sex cannot share a cabin with strangers, so you’ll need to take a whole cabin if you’re a couple or family group. You can choose whether you want a full bathroom with shower or just a wash-basin, or a cabin with access to a shared bathroom. Prices vary accordingly. Inside/outside determines whether you’ll have a window or not. The seat option means you’ll have a terrible night’s sleep so the extra expense of a cabin or berth is easily justified.
Bari itself is hardly the easiest city to deal with nor is it the easiest to leave. Once at the port you’ll be deposited by the terminal, ferry ticket voucher in hand, your proof of buying the ticket online. This isn’t all you’ll need though. Outside the terminal are shuttle vans to take you 2 km along the port to the ticket office of Jadrolinija’s sales partner. Once there head for the desks to the right, not the sales desks that seem most inviting. Here you will exchange your printout for your embarkation cards and check-in cards, if you’ve booked a cabin. Then it’s back in the next shuttle and time to queue up and board.
Shuffle through the passport line, go out onto the pier and walk up the ramp into the belly of the beast. You’re on your own with luggage, so pack light or get some training in before you travel – those stairs up to the sleeping decks are no joke (though you can find an elevator if you look). If you booked a berth or cabin then you’ll need to go and check-in, as you would at a hotel, receiving your cabin key. If you didn’t, find yourself a spot with chairs and settle in for the duration.
The cabin is sparse, the mattress uncomfortable (a sprung mattress that has probably seen better days, in my 2-berth cabin at least). An extra blanket on top of it did the trick to soften it but I only had that because I had the cabin to myself. You may be able to ask for one. Otherwise be prepared to sleep on top of your blanket. Ferries are noisy things, so bring earplugs. It’s not unlike taking a night train, without the rocking motion, hopefully!
When it comes to dining, all I tried was the self-service restaurant (also the location for the buffet breakfast the next morning) as it was nearly 10pm and I needed something fast. The menu clearly is trying to appeal to Italians, but the kitchen is staffed by Croats. so the safest bet was the pleskavice (a burger-style patty). The spaghetti for the bolognese looked tired and really who trusts non-Italians with Italian food? The Italian passengers certainly looked skeptical. Breakfast was also poor in general so it’s best to wait till you’re off the boat and can eat somewhere decent.
You’ll be woken up by a knock on the door around 7am, giving you time for a shower and breakfast. Unless you get to the stairs before anyone else, be prepared for a fair wait as everyone shuffles out, blinking in the Croatian sunlight. It’s quite a long walk from the boat to the exit of the port too, maybe a quarter of a mile, and you’re going through passport control so there’s no assistance with luggage here either. All told this should take about 30 minutes.
There is just one ship servicing the route so there are some daytime ferries in the Dubrovnik-Bari direction, making the crossing in seven and a half hours as opposed to ten for the overnight journey, to reposition the ship for its regular 10pm departure for the days of the week when the departures are on consecutive days. Night ferries have the same 10pm-8am schedule, day ferries leave at midday, arriving in Bari at 7:30pm. The ticketing procedure should be simpler from Dubrovnik at least!