Taking the overnight car ferry from Split to is a time-efficient and cost-effective way to get from Croatia to Italy. Unfortunately, the information available online through ferry web sites isn’t very helpful. Here are some tips to make the entire experience easier and more pleasant:
1.) Operators: There are three operators: Snav, Jadrolinija, and BlueLine. All leave from the same port in Split. Prices are pretty similar across all three; the best deal will depend on which line has availability. (DirectFerries offers some nice comparison information and has a booking engine.) The overnight ferry (the best option if you are maximizing for time-efficiency) leaves Split at 8pm and arrives in Ancona at 7am.
2.) Purchasing tickets: You can pre-purchase tickets online, but your actual ticket must be obtained at the port in Split prior to departure. If you queue for the ferry with only your confirmation number, you will be forced to get out of the car and hold up the line. This will not be a pleasant experience.
3.) Ticket options: Different types of tickets are available: A reserved seat (quite comfortable with earplugs and a eye mask and blanket); no seat at all (I saw plenty of families putting sleeping bags on floors); or a cabin. The reclining chairs are just as comfortable, if not more so, than the “beds” in the cabins (bunks — very hard, very uncomfortable). One advantage of booking a cabin is that you get a shower, which is nice if you have a long day of car travel ahead once you arrive in Ancona.
4.) Ticket pick up: There are two locations for ticket pick up. Kiosks are located at the base of the old city, just before you turn into the port. These are handy to use if you spend an afternoon in the Stari Grad (the old city) before boarding. However, they are not open at all hours. The other location is in the building next to the dock. It is poorly marked and there is no parking.
Here is the easiest way to get your ticket: Drive into the port 3 hours prior to departure. Lanes will be divided and marked (for example, “Ancona, cars”). Drive into your lane. Park the car. Get out and walk into the ferry terminal. The offices are at the very back of the terminal (For Blueline, go to the Snav office). Along with your tickets, you will receive a sign to put in the front windshield of your car. Once you put the sign in your car, you can leave the car and go have something to eat or drink at nearby cafes. When you pick up your ticket, the agent will tell you what time you must be back at the car (usually about 6:30 for an 8pm departure).
Here is a Google map showing the kiosk and the main office: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zH0j8ppz-Ssk.kI_lmxd5GEgs
5.) Boarding the ship: If you reserved a cabin, you must go to reception first to pick up your keys. Lines are long and annoying, so don’t dally as you park your car.
6.) Food and Drinks: Amenities vary on ships, but all have bars on board with drinks (alcoholic and non) and snacks. You can pre-purchase dinner and breakfast on the boat. I recommend neither. A good meal at one of the restaurants in port is better quality and value. About the only advantage of eating dinner on the ship is that it gives you something to do until it is time to go to bed. If you purchase breakfast, you have to get up very early since the ferry arrives at 7am. Worse (in my opinion), you get a tiny cup of coffee that is cold by the time you find a seat. If you want more, you have to stand in a very long line. I recommend sleeping until the last second and then stopping for coffee and breakfast on the Autostrade. The first Autogrill (a rest stop with good coffee and a nice selection of breakfast food) is within a few miles of the ferry dock.
7.) Electrical outlets/charging devices: There are none (well, just a few). Do not expect to charge your phones, computers, etc. on board, even if you purchase a cabin. There are very few outlets on board (which people fight over). The one available outlet we found fried our charge cord (it actually smoked). Charge up before you go or bring a battery stick. Or take a good, old-fashioned book along.
8.) Wifi: Theoretically, it is available (10 Euro on Blueline). In reality, it is too slow to use. As the ship gets further out to sea, it is virtually impossible to connect. If you need GPS directions, do not count on the ship’s Wifi to download once you arrive in Ancona. Use an old-fashioned map to get to the Autostrada. Free wifi is available at the Autogrills (rest stops) so when you stop for your coffee and breakfast, connect to download your directions.
9.) What to bring onboard: Prior to embarkation, the doors to the area where cars are parked are closed and locked, so bring everything critical with you (medications, etc.) when you leave your vehicle. “Pack” based on the type of ticket you book. If you purchase a reserved seat, bring earplugs (the music from the bar is very loud and goes on well into the night), a sleeping mask to block out the light, a pillow and blanket, an itty bitty book light for reading, headphones if you plan to watch a movie on your computer (remember to bring an extra battery or battery stick since there is no way to charge up). If you buy a cabin, there is bedding (a very light blanket) and two towels, so you need only bring a change of clothes and whatever toiletries you need for morning.
10.) Photo Opps: Coming into Ancona is not great, but pulling out from Split is fabulous. You leave right around the blue hour, which is great for taking city-scape photos. As soon as you settle in, get outside on deck and secure a spot (also a nice place to enjoy a glass of wine from the bar).
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