We booked a week via Thomson at the Laguna Istra hotel in the Playa Laguna resort. We were keen to visit Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian region, but we couldn't find anything at the short notice so decided to give Istria a try.
We'd never been to Croatia before but have friends who raved about it, so our expectations were fairly high. Our holiday cost in the region of £1000 half board for the two of us flying from Manchester so wasn't what we would consider a very cheap holiday.
The flight etc with Thomson was fine and we arrived around 10:45pm at the hotel where we were told that a 'cold supper' was provided (more about that later).
The hotel itself was admittedly very clean (they are right about the steps though - if you have a problem with mobility, this is probably not the hotel for you) , but extremely dated. There was marble-effect plastic everywhere and peculiar green glass/plastic adorning the door handles, mirrors and chandeliers. It reminded a us a little of the hotel from 'The Shining'. Towels are absolutely minute so I'd advise you take your own. The swimming pool is also fairly small considering the size of the hotel.
They have a 'cocktail lounge' which is completely devoid of atmosphere with office-style lighting and a surly member of staff manning the bar. The restaurant is like a canteen and similarly completely lacking in any ambience. The range of food is ok, but we only ate in the hotel on about 2 nights out of the week. The restaurant does have a nice terrace and you can take your food out there, however at 10pm on the dot, a humourless old man comes around and starts taking the parasols down and stacking the chairs around you! It is pretty clear they don't want you to linger! This attitude was characteristic of the hotel staff who could really do with going on some customer service seminars.
Staff in general we found to be quite unhelpful and rude. While we had everything we needed, they were not particularly friendly and any efforts made to speak a few words of Croatian were met with a withering look and response in perfect English so we gave up and just spoke English in the end!
Another example of this bad attitude was at the end of the week, when our flight home was not until 8pm. We were advised by our Thomson rep that we could choose to keep our room for the day, for 'around £20'. In reality, this is £22 per person so would work out pretty expensive if there were a few of you.
When we asked if we could do this, we were told that we couldn't keep our existing room, but had to pack our bags and check out by ten am, only to be moved to another room to use for the day. We were already a bit annoyed by having to pay double the price we'd expected to and in my view this defeated the object of paying to keep the room. So we asked if we could move into the new room the night before and were told no. To cut a long story / argument short, we were basically stonewalled by the extremely rude, unhelpful and inflexible receptionist. This was the last straw for us in terms of the customer service at this hotel. The general atmosphere is rather sulky and mean-spirited. There is no effort made to accomodate the wishes of the guests, rather everything seems to be steered towards making the lives of the hotel staff easier.
If you stay halfboard, you are entitled to 'complimentary rolls and cakes in the cocktail lounge between 12pm and 2pm'. This sounded very nice but when you ask for these, 2 rolls and 2 cakes are slapped down on to one plate for the two of you to share. Hmm, very nice. The rolls themselves are hard and unbuttered, with a cheese slice and a slab of fatty ham shoved in!
Which leads neatly onto The Food. The cold supper we were given on arrival was a dollop of unidentified potato/pea stuff, a cheese slice and a piece of ham. Since we'd been travelling since midday, we could have done with something a bit more substantial. The food in the evenings is buffet-style and is okay.
There are lots of unidentifiable things on the hotel buffet which might, or might not have been Croatian-specialities - it would have been helpful if some of the food had been labelled, as I was really keen to try some Croatian dishes, but after a few brushes with liver and biting into something truly filthy I tended to stick to the fish, meat and vegetables. Actually - a point about the vegetables. Wherever you go - no matter how nice the restaurant is - if you order vegetables you will get a pile of overdone frozen vegetables (brocolli, cauliflower and carrot) such as you find in the freezer section of Sainsburys'.
During our week we went to Rovinj on a Thomson guided tour - which was lovely and well worth a visit. We also went to the Brijuni National Park. I was really looking forward to this as the guide books had said it was well worth a visit for the 'Safari'. The island itself was okay, but I would certainly not go back, and it probably wouldn't recommend it. The Tito exhibition was quite interesting and Tito's collection of stuffed animals is worth seeing for the comedy value but the 'Safari' consisted of a few oxen, some horses, one zebra and two elephants in a cage. Hardly the Savanna. There was a noddy train which took you around but raced past the Roman Temple and Oldest Olive Tree in the world with only a passing reference by the guide. We would have liked a bit more time to have a look at some of these things.
Our Thomson guide was pretty unhelpful when it came to local knowledge. Basically, if you don't sign up for the Thomson excursions don't expect any help or advice about bus times or stuff to see and do on your own.
We had also planned to go to Pula by bus but we missed the 10:30am bus and there wasn't another one until 4:30pm! There were very few buses from Porec bus station to the surrounding area so, be warned, if you plan to take the bus somewhere, make sure you plan it properly. So, instead we went on a glass bottomed boat tour. This was absolutely rubbish. You could barely see anything except some rocks and it was pokey and hot in the tiny little glass bit. The only fish we saw were plastic toy fish they had tied to rocks. I kid you not.
The Resort of Playa Laguna itself is ok, but again, quite dated. The restaurants are all very samey. If you like Pizza you'll be fine but apart from that there is very little choice. There are only 2 or 3 bars, which are okay, but we certainly didn't want to go there every night.
Porec itself is a nice little town and we spent most of our days and evenings there. There is a lovely restaurant in one of the towers and on the main square which were both really gorgeous and there are a few good, reasonably priced places you can go for lunch. However, if we had been staying 2 weeks I think we would have really struggled to find enough places to eat. There are some nice bars where you can go for v.cheap cocktails.
We did think though that the resort should have run a free shuttle bus service from the resort to Porec Centre. Both the boat and the noddy train cost £1.50p per person each way, which is not admittedly a lot of money but if there are a few of you going to and from Porec maybe a couple of times a day it works out as a significant amount and I think it is pretty mean of the resort not to provide a service free of charge.
We did walk the 5km on a few occasions which was a nice walk but after dark you have to walk through an unlit pine forest which I would not have fancied doing on my own. The road is dark and deserted except for a regular stream of local kids on mopeds, despite the fact that the road was supposedly pedestrianised.
So, in summary. We certainly wouldn't go back to Istria again. In a week, I think we experienced probably everything the region has to offer. We would like to visit Dalmatia, Dubrovnik and the Islands down the coast as Croatia is very good value for money once you get there. I think we would probably book separate flights and hotel as in my opinion the Thomson prices are extremely high considering the standard of the hotel and resort.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.