Imagine this: a bespoke holiday experience set in one of the world’s most beautiful locations, where you, your family, and your friends can literally choose your own adventure. From cuisine to cocktails, kicking back to sightseeing and adventuring, you set the rules. An entire crew will be at your service at all times, and no ask is too big — or too small.
That’s the dreamy experience I recently had on the gorgeous Adriatic Sea. I was invited to spend 5 days on-board the Ohana, a $3 million super-yacht based in Croatia available for private charter. The exclusive experience isn’t just for the jet set anymore; turns out this sort of vacation is actually more attainable than ever. Here are my top takeaways about the luxe travel option, and why it might just be the perfect way to celebrate your next big special event!
Destination: Dalmatian Coast
Croatia is a stunner. With more than a thousand miles of coastline, the pristine Dinaric Alps, hundreds of islands, and sparkling-clear water, its natural beauty is immediately evident. Throw in a temperate climate, loads of culture and history tucked into picture-perfect towns, and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met on my travels, and it’s not hard to see what makes this Balkan nation so very special.
Croatia’s no longer the hidden gem destination it was a dozen years ago. The jet-set and celebs routinely charter mega-yachts on the beautiful Dalmatian Coast, and locals described to me how summers often turn the otherwise idyllic islands into a frenzied free-for-all.
I was lucky enough to visit in shoulder season. The crush of summer crowds had dissipated, the vibe was laid-back, and the weather was still warm. A super-yacht cruise was the perfect way to explore the beautiful country.
The Small-Ship Experience
While I’ve cruised before, it has been on far larger ships; hitting the open sea on a yacht accommodating just 35 guests was a new experience. I was invited aboard Ohana by Goolets, a charter company based in neighboring Slovenia. The Goolets staff (the name is a wink to the gulet, a traditional wooden sailing vessel) works with each client individually to assess their interests and preferences. They then recommend a yacht from their preferred fleet and handle everything else. From building out the menu and bar to arranging activities, itineraries, and transfers, it all adds up to a customized, picture-perfect vacation.
“Attention to detail is what makes the difference,” Goolets founder Mitja Mirtič explained.
“When demands are made, they are expected to be fulfilled in an ‘over-the-top’ fashion. There is no room for mistakes.”
Upon embarking, I immediately felt at ease. The small but attentive crew warmly welcomed me with cocktails as my luggage was whisked away to my cabin. I met our stewards, deckhands, captain, and chefs; explored the 160-foot yacht; and settled into what would be my home for the next 5 days.
While I had a general sense of the itinerary, I’d not visited Croatia before, so my approach was simple: embrace it all!
From Culture Vulture To Water Baby
We left the gorgeous port city of Split and headed to three islands: first Brač and Hvar, then Korčula. Each was quite different; all were stunning and historic. While on Brač, I was able to stroll down to the famous horn-shaped Zlatni Rat and sunned on the pebbled, pristine beach. I wandered the town of Bol and sampled some lovely Croatian vintages at Stina Winery. On Hvar, I hiked up to its historic fort and marveled at centuries-old churches and squares.
Korčula’s walled city was an absolute gem, with its cobblestone streets, chapels, city museum, and belltower with an extraordinary view. As we headed back north, Makarska and Omiš were also explore-worthy stops. With Venetian, Ottoman, and Hapsburg influences all still felt in Croatia, there was plenty to experience at every port of call.
We also had time to enjoy the Adriatic, with swim stops each day. There were water toys — from inflatables and paddleboards to kayaks and even a wave runner. When I was ready to warm up, the upper deck hot tub fit the bill. And of course, the crew had guests covered with snacks, beverages, and extra towels.
The private charter experience allowed me to have the best of both worlds: I was able to learn about the history and culture of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast while also kicking back and enjoying the sun and water. It was perfect, thanks to the careful planning of the staff and crew.
A Warm, Family Feel
When I mentioned my upcoming Croatia adventure to friends, many jokingly asked if I’d be sailing on a disgraced oligarch’s super-yacht.
In a word, nope. As it turns out, Ohana is a family affair.
The Croatian tradition of sailing has been strong for generations. And with the destination now teeming with tourists, those traditions are more important than ever. Case in point: Ohana’s captain Josip Šerka also owns the super-yacht. The pride he took in her — and his crew’s performance — was evident. The level of service I experienced on-board wasn’t fussy or too formal. Rather, it was comprehensive and comfortable.
“These ships are not only large and super spacious with perfect services,” Mirtič told me. “They also have souls, and you can almost feel the energy and effort that was built into them.”
That soul was evident after dinner one evening. Captain Josip presented one of the youngest members of our sailing group with a cake, blazing with birthday candles. It was a sweet way to go the extra mile.
Not Exactly Below Deck — And That’s A Good Thing!
Many of us are familiar with the reality show Below Deck. The hit Bravo TV series takes viewers inside all of the behind-the-scenes angst involved with a yacht charter from the crew’s perspective. I watched a few episodes, with dread, prior to my trip. The last thing I wanted was drama of any sort.
Thankfully, there was none to be had.
Captain Josip admitted there have been a few eyebrow-raising requests of Ohana’s crew in past sailings, but he explained each was handled discreetly, effectively, and to the guests’ satisfaction. I’m glad our sailing group was more interested in kicking back than partying hard or being obnoxious.
A Bit Too Spoiled
During our 5 days at sea, I ate every meal on-board, with local seafood, hand-crafted pastas, and beautiful Croatian wine complimenting each dish. It was all delicious, but quite filling. I wanted to work some of it off and brought gear to do just that.
However, Ohana didn’t have a gym on-board, which meant no running. First world problem? Absolutely, but I did miss getting my miles in!
That situation will soon be remedied. While lovely and just 3 years old, Ohana is already getting a glow-up. This off-season, she’s undergoing renovations recommended by Goolets. Lower-deck cabins will be converted to add a theater and a children’s playroom. An outdoor gym space is also planned, as is a refresh of the outdoor dining space. These tweaks will further elevate an already-terrific experience.
My One Regret
Ohana set sail from Split and I booked two extra nights there prior to boarding the yacht so I could get to know the city. The islands we visited were gorgeous as well. The only thing missing? Dubrovnik, the gem widely considered one of the most gorgeous towns on the Dalmatian Coast.
In a typical charter experience, this wouldn’t have been an issue. It could have been mentioned to the crew and a stop there would have been scheduled. However, I’m still kicking myself for not factoring in more time to visit on my own. It was poor planning on my part; certainly not the fault of my gracious hosts.
On the bright side, it gives me the perfect reason to return to Croatia!
You Don’t Have To Be A Multi-Millionaire To Vacation Like This
Chartering the Ohana starts at about $100,000. That includes a mandatory advance provisioning allowance covering food, drink, and port taxes.
Crunch the numbers and this exclusive travel experience is now within reach. After her refit, Ohana will sleep 30 people. That’s on par, per person, with a week-long cruise on leading lines… one where you don’t get to choose your own adventure with your family or closest friends.
The vessels in Goolet’s fleet aren’t billionaire’s boats. You won’t find helipads, beach clubs, or huge swimming pools on-board. But their super-yachts are a lovely and affordable option absolutely worth considering for a big birthday, anniversary, or other special events (especially if you want to celebrate in one of the most gorgeous corners of the planet).
The new approach — balancing between traveling on a super-yacht and being mindful of budget — has proved to be a popular one. Mirtič says Ohana is nearly completely booked for next season and he expects interest to remain high.
“Do the ships have the same ‘glitz’ as mega-yachts that charter for [around $819,000] a week? Of course not,” he says. “Are people willing to pay [around $102,400] to charter a 50-meter, 10-plus-cabin vessel with super-yacht services? Heck yes!”
For more small-ship cruise experiences, check out these articles: