My bad trip – we wanted a fascinating money saver but the night ferry was The Shining on the sea

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Like many 21-year-olds before us, we were on a tight budget when my boyfriend and I traveled to Europe in 2016. We had decided not to spend more than €100 per day for accommodation, meals and transportation. It was entirely possible during the first few weeks of our trip to Italy that we started.

We walked everywhere until we blistered and our feet bled. We’ve stayed in hotels and hostels that are described as “rural” and “enchanting” in online listings, albeit different. We’re loaded with carbohydrates to stay satiated: pastries for breakfast, panzerotti and burritos for lunch, and pizza and pasta for dinner. We were having a great time, even though the lack of fruit and vegetables was wreaking havoc on our digestive system.

But as we prepared to leave Italy and head to Croatia, our initial budget dilemma took us by surprise. Do we spend €200 per person for an hour’s flight from Rome to Split, or €110 for a 15-hour train and ferry ride? Second, we decided to give it a try, considering that it also includes a meal and overnight stay in a cabin that promises “outside views”.

Related: A local guide to Split, Croatia: a city that walks on its stomach

We arrived at “passport control”, which required a woman to take a cursory glance at our documents and direct us to stuff our luggage into the scanner. The first red flag was cobwebs in the machine. The woman took our luggage through the fixed conveyor belt and we were allowed to go to the pier.

The second red flag was how few passengers got together. The ship was huge – I then googled it and found it had over 1,000 occupancy rates – but we were about two dozen people. It was early June so it’s not peak season yet, I explained to my boyfriend.

In retrospect, most travelers probably read the horribly bad TripAdvisor reviews and stayed away. (A recent reviewer said that to reach Croatia, swimming in the Adriatic Sea or walking for days across northern Italy and Slovenia are better options than catching this ferry service.)

As we took the elevator up from the car deck to the concourse, it was as if we had jumped into a time machine, but it was unclear what age we were in. and in the middle was a curved wooden bar, surrounded by matching wooden tables and red swivel chairs.

There were several old televisions bolted to the walls, and the man who went to the bar – bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Roger Moore era Bond villain Jaws – said it would be turned on to play its latest Euro game. Apparently there was wifi but we couldn’t find it.

Related: Summer vacation: Is it cheaper to go to England, France or Spain?

In the adjoining room was a cafeteria with linoleum floors and matching blue plastic chairs with blue plastic tablecloths, and we ate the only meal served here: a very sloppy spaghetti bolognese served on a steel platter.

Later we learned that there was a dining room with white tablecloths and three kinds of leather chairs, although no one ate there. There was a ballroom nearby, with a disco ball and bright, colorful lights to match the music, but there was no one on the dance floor. I can’t even begin to describe the bathrooms.

The hallway to our cabin was similarly empty, with a bunk bed, a plastic-covered window that obscured the “outside view”, and a hand shower that hung over the toilet. The only staff we saw during the trip were Jaws and the two people working in the cafeteria. The music playing throughout the ship was in a loop.

“I feel like we’re in The Shining,” my boyfriend whispered to me, even though there was no one else around. We were on the boat for less than two hours.

We went back to the living room and watched Euros on the grainy TV – under the watchful eye of Jaws – and then decided to sleep in our cabin. We put a chair at the door for security purposes, but all we could do was warn us of the impending doom, because we had nowhere to run.

We got through the evening, skipped breakfast at the cafeteria and went not to Split but to Zadar, where we were taken by a taxi driver to the bus station in five minutes by car, after which we had to pay extra to put our luggage in the car. bus.

We are planning another trip to Europe this year. We loosened the budget and banned night ferries.

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