Flying to Ljubljana, the New Gateway for “Venice” Cruises!?!

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You know those commercials you see – a glistening white cruise ship sailing down the Grand Canal in Venice, happy passengers waving to friendly Venetians as they set off on their Mediterranean cruise.  There was a time when that was a near daily occurrence with more than 1.6 million cruise passengers moving through the Port of Venice in 2019 and a record of 1.8 million in 2013.  But boy have things changed over the past few years.

Beginning on August 1, 2021 the Italian government, in response to local protests and a UNESCO warning of damage caused by the wakes of cruise ships, banned ships that are either heavier than 25,000 tons, longer than 590 feet (180 meters), taller than 115 feet (35 meters), or that employ more than a set amount of fuel in maneuvering. The ban not only captured all but the very smallest of cruise ships, but even large yachts are now banned from entering the lagoon.

It’s helpful to know that this change happened rather quickly in an industry where passengers often book their cruises many months or even years in advance.  Needless to say there were MANY cruises impacted by this change without much assistance from the Italian government in making alternative arrangements.  Oh, and this all happened just as the cruise industry was trying to come back from the pandemic shutdown.

a large cruise ship in a port
Venice Cruise Port in 2017 with ships from Oceania Cruises, Cunard, and Royal Caribbean

Cruise lines scrambled to deliver the cruises they sold by finding alternative ports.  Two immediately stepped up to handle the displaced ships – one is the Venetian cargo terminal.  It’s about as glamorous as it sounds at present, though there are plans to improve facilities.  The other port is one that was already a stop on a number of cruises in the Adriatic – Trieste, Italy.  This picturesque city has long welcomed ships whether it was under the control of the Illyrians, Venetians, Romans, or the Habsburgs.  But this port created other issues, because nearly all of the passengers are flying into Venice Airport (VCE) which is 90 minutes by car, 135 minutes by Bus, and 150 minutes by train.

a fountain in front of a building
Trieste, Italy Facing the Harbor

Initially many cruise lines began to offer complimentary transportation between an embarkation or disembarkation and Trieste, Italy, but now that itineraries have been changed, those headed to Trieste without cruise provided airport transfers are on their own.

Let me say that we love Venice, have visited several times, and I can’t think of a more magical airport to hotel transfer experience than your first time in a shiny wooden vaporetto speeding across the lagoon to your hotel.

a flag on a boat
Departing Venice Airport’s Boat Dock

But there are drawbacks, like hauling large luggage from dock to boat (quite a drop at low tide) and back up again.  Imagine René doing this with a mattress packed in his bag!  And now for those choosing to stay in Venice pre or post cruise, you’re likely to do this trip twice.  Why?  Because Venice is only accessible from the mainland by boat, so in order to get from VCE on the mainland to Venice it’s on a boat, to get from Venice to any of the transportation options to get to Trieste, you guessed it, you’re back on a boat to the mainland.

So when I began searching for flights to take us to our cruise departing out of Trieste I took a good long look at a map of the region.  We knew from a prior visit to the region that Trieste is much closer to the Slovenian border than it is to Venice.  A quick search showed that Ljubljana International Airport (LJU) to Trieste was 59 minutes by car, 85 minutes by Bus, and 163 minutes by train making it a faster trip by both car and bus than VCE.   Air service to Slovenia is somewhat limited, but there is good daily service to LJU from most major European flag carriers from their hubs as well as the numerous discount carriers.

Putting in some searches from major US gateways to LJU I came across an interesting routing that would allow us to experience some new-to-us flight experiences as well as an opportunity to visit the capital of Slovenia a country that we’d visited once before on a cruise that called on Koper.

a building with a stone wall
Square in Koper, Slovenia

So, after a conversation that began with “so why would we fly three flights on Star Alliance carriers to get to Ljubjana when we can take a direct flight on Delta from Atlanta to Venice?” My somewhat questionable argument prevailed (Melanie humored me and gave up her completely rational argument) and we were booked to fly: United from ATL to ORD, United from ORD to BRU, and finally Brussels Airlines from BRU to LJU.

As an added perk, I was able to finally complete my ATL airline lounge bingo card by visiting the one remaining lounge of the twelve lounges available at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport – the United Airlines United Club.

In subsequent posts I’ll cover the highlights of the trip including our experience in Ljubjana, Slovenia as well as the trip from there to Trieste, Italy our embarkation port. – Michael

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4 COMMENTS

    • @dee – Nautica is a good bit smaller than Vista; however, at 30.277 gross tons it’s still above the 25 ton limit for sailing in the Grand Canal to the Marittima/San Basilio cruise terminal used before the ban. Recent reports indicate that you will likely check in at the Marittima cruise basin then be bused to a pier on the mainland to embark in an industrial port. I checked Oceania’s website and it is still showing a Venice embarkation for Nautica’s sailings in October so you’ll probably board as just described; however, things remain fluid so I would look carefully when you receive your cruise package for details regarding embarkation.

  1. In August I flew DTW-CDG-LJU on AF. LJU was a nice airport, Slovenia is beautiful, and it was about a 1.5 hour car ride to Opatija in Croatia.

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