Dalmatia is Changing: Jadrolinija Enters the 21st Century!

Paul Bradbury

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April 9, 2023 – Dalmatia is changing slowly – a rather unexpected upgrade in technology on the Jadrolinija ferries.

April in Dalmatia, and Easter on Hvar are among the two greatest joys this wonderful country offers, especially with the weather as exceptional lifestyle. 

Having lived in Dalmatian exile in Varazdin and Zagreb for almost 7 years now, each visit to Dalmatia out of season evokes memories of an extremely happy, and VERY relaxed, way of life. 

But a little incident on the ferry from Split to Stari Grad this week made my wonder if the unthinkable is true – Dalmatia is changing. 

A little background for those not so familiar with the way of life here. The Dalmatian words of ‘laganini’, ‘fjaka’, and ‘pomalo’ epitomise the way of life here. Nothing is to be hurried, and things function without paying too much attention to official detail. 

This was especially true when it came to Jadrolinija ferries, especially if you were a local. Although I always bought a ticket at the correct price, there were occasions when I was literally running to the ferry or catamaran as the doors were closing – there had not been enough time to buy a ticket. It was never a problem. I simply gave the cash to the Jadrolinija staff member, along with something for a coffee for him. Whether or not the cash went into the till was uncertain, but I was happy to have made the ferry and to have paid my way. Unlike one Split builder I knew, who used to come on once a week with a truck full of materials, slip the man 20 kuna and get on virtually for free.

Such is the way of life in Dalmatia, and in other parts of the Mediterranean. 


But Dalmatia is changing. 

The annual Easter trip to Hvar was made a little more complicated due to the poor recent weather (hard to believe, looking out at the gorgeous Hvar skies right now). 

Easter on Hvar is a special time, especially for families from Jelsa, with the UNESCO Za Krizen procession, which takes place through the night of Maundy Thursday, starting at 10pm. With the uncertainty of the catamaran, the only sure bet to get to the island was the 14:30 ferry from Split to Stari Grad, which takes two hours. My daughter was a little nervous that we might miss the ferry, so asked if we could leave very early in case there was traffic, or the motorway was closed at Sveti Rok due to the bura wind.

I did as she asked, and we were on the road from Zagreb at 07:15, driving in glorious weather along an empty motorway, arriving at the ferry terminal at 11:15, more than 3 hours before departure. There were only 6 cars in front of us. When I last lived on the island, the car loading was strictly on a first-come, first-served basis. I was pleased with myself. My daughter was pleased, and we also had 3 hours to walk around Split where I could introduce the kids to the joys of Tri Volta, the Discover Croatia shop and my Romanian friends at Break Time. 

Did I mention that Dalmatia is changing? I went to buy the tickets and was shocked to be told that while the kids could get on as foot passengers, I would have to wait for the 20:30 crossing (too late for the procession) to get to the island – the ferry was completely sold out! 

Unbelievable. Apparently, a couple of years ago, the way of selling tickets changed. No longer first-come, first-served, but now you can book online and reserve your spot. I was told that if I explained I was on the 20:30, I could wait in front of the ferry. Usually, several people bought tickets but never showed up, or were delayed on the motorway and would take the later ferry. As I was 7th in the queue, I would almost certainly get on. But I would have to wait until the last minute to find out, meaning I could not plan the day’s events. 

But this is Dalmatia, everything is chilled, I thought to myself. I knew that I would be first in the reserve queue, but this laganini lifestyle meant that I should have no problem getting onto the ferry. We returned to the ferry at 14:00 as instructed, and I showed the tickets to the guy checking and collecting, the 14:30 passenger tickets on top. And, as I inspected, a cursory check and we were waved on. We had done it, the kids were ecstatic, and so was I.

And then…

Something rather remarkable happened. As I was being guided close to the car in front on the ferry, it seemed there was a problem. The ferry guy had some kind of gadget in his hand. which told him that there was a problem with my vehicle being on the 14:30 crossing. He asked for my ticket and told me I had to get off this ferry as I was booked on the later one. Holding my hands up to the error, I immediately did as he said, waited second in the reserve line for a nerve-wracking 45 minutes (the ferry left late), before being allowed on – some 20 cars who had reserved tickets had not turned up. 

I felt pleased that such a level of control has come to the service, along with a twinge of sadness that a tiny slice of the old Dalmatian ways is disappearing. But I wonder how this is going to work in the season in the heat, when a tourist who gets on with a later ticket will try and argue his case to be allowed to remain. Loading the ferries in peak season is stressful enough. 

Any stressful thoughts soon disappeared on top deck, however, taking in the magical sea air on a perfect Dalmatian afternoon. 

Dalmatia in April, why aren’t you here? 


You can subscribe to the Paul Bradbury Croatia Expert YouTube channel here.

What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.





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