June 22, 2023
Hello from Cro!!
Travel was the name of the game on our 10th day together. We woke up for a buffet-style breakfast, then packed up camp and hit the road. Our destination: Mljet Island. A few sleepy hours of driving passed, but when we reached our lunch spot, everyone’s energy picked right back up. We dined on cuttlefish risotto at a beautiful restaurant by the sea. Audrey and Ridley were nervous to try it, but Wilson couldn’t get enough! A quick game of pickup soccer ensued before we hopped back into the van to catch the ferry to the island. Expansive views of the mountainous islands made the ferry ride feel short, and before we knew it, we were on Mljet. One grocery stop later, we were at our campsite for the next three nights: Camp Lovor. Once we set up our tents, everyone immediately changed into bathing suits with sights set toward the ocean. Despite the cool ocean waters, everyone was super excited to go swimming! Owen and Slater dominated the chicken fights as we enjoyed the beautiful Croatian waters and soaked up the sun. We are excited for more adventures on the island in the days to come!
We woke up with some eggs, toast, and fruit to fuel us up for swimming and our final hike as a group! We geared up and headed for the beautiful lakes and views Mijet has to offer. The hike up to our lookout point was tough, yet serene. Ryan kept the group’s spirits high as we pushed ourselves, and we all felt proud as we reached the fire lookout hut at the summit. With 360 views of mountains, lakes, and sea, Kelsy jumped at the opportunity to take some awesome pictures. We dined on PB&Js and Nutella sandwiches and laughed as Wright ate everyone’s leftovers and still went back for another sandwich. Our lunch stop wasn’t long though—seeing the inviting lake waters down below encouraged us to keep moving. Hot and sweaty from the hike, we all jumped enthusiastically into the saltwater lakes. For the next few hours, we relaxed, swam, and explored the water. Cate learned how to skip rocks while Owen took an afternoon snooze in the sun. Jack and Slater spent some quality time floating through the water and letting the current carry them this way and that. After everyone had their fill of sun and water, we hiked back to the van. We stocked up on tortellini, pork, chicken, and hot dogs at the grocery store as a reward after a long day of hiking. Chris, Ryan, and Wilson took charge in the kitchen, cooking up the delicious feast for the whole team. Though our bellies were full, we couldn’t resist the temptation of an ice cream stop at a nearby restaurant. We all sat and ate our desserts and listened to Slater play some music. We had Moonup on the beach nearby and ended the night sleepy and happy.
Our final day on Mijet was capped off by an incredible day of sea kayaking. We arrived early at our put-in and began our paddle through the serene Mediterranean waters. Hayes started the splash wars, and when we approached an area for snorkeling, Slater, Wilson, and Cate jumped at the opportunity. The group chose to take the long route around the island to maximize the beauty, and we finished up with the perfect lunch spread of seafood and charcuterie. Wilson, our most adventurous eater, loved the anchovies and fish pate! After a long day on the water, time back at camp was spent lounging in the hammock city the group creativity built in the trees. After a quick beach run, we had a delicious dinner at the restaurant near camp. After Moonup, Chris, Ryan, and Hayes went and caught the end of the Croatian national team soccer game back at the restaurant with some of the locals!
With a full day ahead, we set off for Dubrovnik by ferry with hopes for a special day ahead. We settled into our hotel and packed a daypack to adventure around Old Town. The group split into 3: lunch, shopping, and cliff-jumping into the Adriatic! Wright and Wilson braved the scenic cliff jumps, while Cate, Slater, and Jack got some great souvenirs to take home. Walking the streets of old town feels like you are transported centuries back. The limestone streets and labyrinth-like alleys which make up the city provided a unique adventure to all. We then made a trek up to tour the top of the wall, getting the opportunity to see the walled city from a different vantage point. We capped off the afternoon with gelato, and with Wilson and Wright mustering up enough courage and energy within the group for everyone to try out the cliff jump. The entire group made the big jump into the sea! Kelsy stepped outside of her comfort zone and faced her fear of heights as the group cheered her on into the water. Afterward, an incredible banquet dinner brought our group around a table one final time. The laughs shared seemed endless, and reflections on favorite moments of the trip were shared between Reese, Taylor, Wilson, and Wright. After a quick arcade stop on the way to Moonup, we found a spot on the beach to spend our final night all together. It was easy to speak from the heart while reflecting and sharing our favorite memories in what was nearly a 2-hour Moonup that flew right by. Us leaders made the kids superlatives on paper plates, and we felt Chase’s was so fitting as the glue of our group: “most likely to always be there for you.” This group truly learned so much from one another, and it was heartwarming to hear answers of the favorite memories we all had of each other from our adventure.
It was all systems go the last morning as we packed up our things and made our way to the airport. We flew together to Zagreb, then watched as the kids headed out on their flights home.
In these last two weeks, a group of 16 became a family. Each student was so unique and dynamic—everyone added something truly special. We watched the students learn and grow, form everlasting connections, and I think we are all sore from laughing so hard. Thank you to the families that made this happen and to the students for giving us the trip of a lifetime.
With much love,
Elle and Chris
June 18, 2023
Moondance friends and family,
Time has been flying here in Croatia! As the days keep coming and going, we are all feeling very grateful for the connections we are forming, beauty we are seeing, and memories we are making. Here’s what’s been happening over the last few days!
On day 7, Elle, Ryan, Chase, and Kelsy prepared a final breakfast at the Zavizan mountain hut in the Velebit mountains. Kelsy made some awesome homemade granola for yogurt bowls while Ryan fried up some eggs and Chase manned toast duty. After filling our bellies with the buffet style spread, we packed our backpacks into the van and started heading south. Winding mountain roads revealed unique landscapes— hills peppered with grey limestone mounds, horses resting and grazing at the pasture, and SO. MUCH. GREEN. The drive took us down from the mountain to sea level, where we all sat down for a surprise pizza lunch by the water. Comforted by the cheesy goodness, we took off for our next adventure: rock climbing in Packlenica National Park. We all took turns climbing the vertical limestone wall, cheering each other on as we watched our friends reach the anchors. Wright revealed his climbing agility, scurrying up the wall so quickly the belayer could hardly keep up! Audrey, who had sustained an ankle injury before joining us in Croatia, was a bit nervous before roping up. But her fear quickly turned to determination as she climbed. We all cheered when she reached the top.
Though our rock-climbing excursion was complete, we still had plenty of climbing to do. Our next task was to hike up, up, and up to Mario’s Mountain Hut, our home for the night. We focused and pushed ourselves for the 2-hour hike, knowing that good things were waiting for us at the top. And boy, were we right! Just as the rain started to sprinkle down, we arrived at Mario’s home. Mario and his family greeted us with hugs, shelter, and stories of his home—a lodging that has been in his family for over 100 years! He then took us back to “the black kitchen”, a soot covered cooking space where Mario and his family prepare Peka, a traditional Croatian dish of meat and potatoes that requires 4 hours of cooking time! We watched in awe as Mario revealed the dish he had been preparing, bellies rumbling and excitement growing as we got ready to feast. Dinner was fantastic and left us stuffed, but there’s always room for dessert! Ridley’s eyes grew wide as big slices of apple streudel were placed in front of us, and we all scarfed down the incredible pastry.
After dinner, Mario introduced us to his donkeys: Mishka and Chushka. Reese and Cate fearlessly approached, bread in hand, excited to meet the animals. Ryan and Slater quickly hopped on for a photo op, and a line quickly formed to have a turn riding one of the donkeys. Though Kelsy needed a bit of help getting on and off, her smile was contagious as she sat on the donkey’s back. After the donkeys went to bed, Chris led a game of bocce ball with Hayes, Owen, and a few others while Wilson, Wright, and Elle hiked down to the pool for a cold mountain swim. We reconvened for Moonup—today’s question was ‘What was the best decision you’ve ever made? The night ended with a musical surprise: Mario brought out his accordion! We listened as he and Slater played a few songs, then headed to bed before another big day.
We woke up bright and early on day 9. Mario prepared breakfast of bread, jam, eggs, and sausage, which we hungrily devoured before getting ready to hike back down the mountain. We left soon after, heading down the same way we had come up. After lunch on the road, we arrived at our excursion for the day: rafting on the Cetina River. Though the weather was less than ideal, everyone tried to make the most of the experience. Cate kept the energy high on her raft with some great one-liners, while Slater was having fun pulling folks into the water. We finished up the rafting trip, relieved to put on dry clothes, and headed to our campsite for the night, Autocamp Sirena. Though the rain was dying down, the wind was just starting to pick up as we set up camp for the night. We took refuge in the campsite’s restaurant, where we ate an amazing dinner of local fish, potatoes, bread, and vegetables. As we ate, we were serenaded by some Croatian musicians. They played some American classics (shoutout ‘Country Roads’!) and even taught us a local Croatian song, Dalmatzia. Sitting at the table with our arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders and singing along to familiar songs with our new Moondance family, we all felt a deep connection, love, and magic. In that moment, we felt the Moondance magic. The magic carried through as Slater joined the band for a few songs, singing and playing guitar for the (mostly Croatian) audience. A standing ovation swept through the room at the performance’s conclusion, and each of us was left with a special memory. And the memories didn’t end after dinner! Despite the wind, a few students decided to go for an ocean swim before bed. Chris joined Slater, Reese, Taylor, Chase, Cate, Ridley, and Hayes for a dip in the water. Jack set up his hammock and we all got ready for bed, braving the intense winds to tent camp on the beautiful site.
Signing off with love,
Elle and Chris
June 14, 2023
Dear Moondance families and friends –
These past few days in Croatia have been nothing short of transforming for the group. Let’s get you all caught up!
After our kayak, the group arrived back to camp and immediately wanted to jump back into the cold water! Reese spotted a rope swing and urged everybody over. Wright was able to retrieve it and Reese’s fearlessness was influential in getting the group to follow. We closed out our night with dinner and some delicious ice cream from the campsite restaurant. The group loved the ice cream so much that Jack even wants to buy the machine when he gets home! Moonup followed as we found a perfect deck overlooking the river. Slater treated us to an original song of his, which was unsurprisingly superb and even drew applause from others around the campsite!
We began our fifth day with a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, and croissants, followed by packing up camp to hit the road. As we waited for our mini-bus to arrive, Slater had the idea to play Birdie on the Perch- a game which everyone loved. Audrey and Kelsy came out victorious! Our LoD’s (Leaders of the Day) Owen and Kelsy were tasked with navigating a Croatian grocery store to find some of the items on our list. They rose admirably to the challenge, showing excellent teamwork, finding everything on our list we tasked them with. Our bus travelled up a long winding mountain road as we approached our new home for the next 3 nights. We parked the bus and dragged our bags about 100 feet up the driveway to the hut; when we reached our new home, you could feel the profound emotion and positive energy rising within the group. The view from the hut was unbelievably stunning in all directions. One side was comprised of undulating mountainous terrain, and in the other, the grassy meadow-like terrain sloped slowly downhill with a mix of valleys and peaks between us and the never-ending Adriatic Sea. Directly across from the front door was a shorter hike to the top of a peak. We could sense the view from up there would be special. Before the bags even made it in the door, our group bolted up the hill. This view was just the beginning of what was to come. Quaint, yet luminous coastal towns surrounded by small empty islands were encompassed by the hills of Italy at the end of the horizon. After leaving our bags inside, Jack led most of the group bouldering up a hill behind the hut. They found yet another view of the mountain range from one side with the never-ending sea on the other.
We brought Mexican cuisine to the hilltops of Croatia with burrito bowls for dinner. Slater and Wilson jumped at the opportunity to lead a dinner clean crew, which set an excellent precedent for how the group should treat this special space we were fortunate to be staying in. Moonup was held at the top of the peak we had climbed to upon arrival and Slater and Wilson began with music. They were convinced to play Taylor Swift -which Cate absolutely loved. Back at the hut, Slater took a queue of some of the group’s favorite songs to play- many of which we agreed he performed better than the originals! Our next day played out like a crescendo. We began with the Davis for breakfast- which is a Moondance classic of sautéed apples with cinnamon, peanut butter, honey, and granola- and French toast a la Ryan! While it was a hit, the weather sure was not. There is a weather pattern in the region known as “Bura”, which is a strong wind with rain and heavy fog that blows over the divide between the mainland and sea which we were residing. The weather presented us with a much-needed opportunity for a slow morning and catch-up rest. We found a brief break in the weather and began to prepare daypacks for a stroll around the botanical gardens near our hut. The fog which covered most of our surroundings slowly cleared, unveiling towering limestone rock formations peeking from the dark green trees which covered the rolling hills. Halfway back from the gardens, there was a significant turnaround in the weather. We could sense a desire for more from the group and our arrival at a fork in the trail with a path to the highest peak in Zavizan presented that opportunity. Wilson spearheaded a check-in on water and energy levels, while Reese made sure the group all had snacks. Throughout the 45-minute uphill climb, the group looked out for one another by calling out slick spots and providing encouragement.
As we neared the top, there were glimpses of stunning views back towards our hut across the mountain range, spurring the group forwards. The jaw-dropping view from the top made it all worth it! Excitement rang around the peak, as everyone wanted to capture pictures and videos of the beauty. Ryan and Chris led the group on a trail through the bushes and found a fully uninterrupted view of the sea. Elle recommended a moment of silence for the group to truly capture the beauty of the moment. After a smooth hike down and back to the hut, the group was energized like never before. The consensus in choosing the tougher, more rewarding route had a palpable impact in bonding the group closer. After a hearty lunch of big bowls of pesto pasta, it was time for the next adventure. Chris gathered the group for a big game of Sardines -a childhood favorite game similar to hide and seek. Expansive boundaries visible from the mountain hut were set, and our first hiders Ridley and Slater ran off! After 10 minutes, the rest of the group set off in pairs running around the scenic hills and valleys to find them. Quite the workout! Hayes and Chase were the first to find them, while the rest of the group slowly followed. As we geared up for the next round, the group became almost stuck to the hill we found ourselves sitting on, marveling at the picturesque beauty of the late afternoon light on the hills and sea. After about an hour of conversation and laughs, the group split into different ways. Wilson, Wright, Ryan and Chris jumped at the opportunity to scout what they felt could be a perfect sunset Moonup spot, while some stayed glued to the hill, and others trekked back up to the hut.
A day of perseverance and arduous adventure required a dinner to match it- roasted pork and steaks! The group, led by Jack, deservingly indulged themselves in a delicious and plentiful amount of steak, pork, and salads we had to offer. We had a race against time to catch the sunset for Moonup. Thoughts of doubt or tiredness never crossed the group’s mind as we could see the orange high in the sky from the sunset while climbing the hill to reach the grassy ridge. As each kid’s head popped over the ridge, their jaw would drop at the beauty of the indescribable colors reflecting from sky to sea in the horizon. We were greeted to the circle with a classic Owen fist bump, and a truly special Moonup was had. Tonight’s question: “What makes you happiest in life?” Listening to what brings our group joy paired well with what we agreed was the most unbelievable view any of us had ever seen. The kids returned to the surprise of hot chocolate and went off to bed with their cups full.
The 7th day of our adventure held a new challenge. As breakfast was prepared, the group packed for a long day-hike. Hayes started the morning off strong by cheffing up some delicious pancakes, helping the group wake up invigorated and ready to tackle the day. Elle and Taylor prepped hummus, cucumber, and pepper wraps to enjoy for lunch. Before beginning the hike, our LoDs, Hayes and Taylor prepped the group for our adventure. Hayes read a morning quote focused on appreciating each step of the journey instead of tunneling focus in on getting from A to B. His choice was especially helpful in inspiring the group to enjoy the little things in what would be an 8.5 mile, 2,000 foot elevation climb hike. Taylor and Kelsy guided some entertaining conversations and impressed the group with their hobbies and knowledge. Wilson kept the group moving with his energy and dedication as we made solid ground quite quickly. However, now it was time to make a decision. We came to a fork in the trail which presented the option of another mountain peak, which the group responded to with a resounding “YES!”. Wilson and Chase led the steep climb up to the top, where we were treated by another stunning and uninterrupted 360-degree mountain to sea view of the marvels the Zavizan National Park offers. The hike back felt like a breeze as we were entertained by games from Audrey, Ridley, and Cate. As we approached home with our hut in the near distance, Ryan and Chris ran up the steep hill to prepare a surprise for the group. Reese was the first of the group up as water balloons fell on all of us! The surprise was well taken by the group of hot and tired hikers who enjoyed the refreshment. The group was able to relax for a bit while Martina prepared a Croatian dish known as Burek. After dinner, Wilson and Ridley built a fire and we surprised the group with S’mores! Ryan got the limbo started- Kelsy and Cate came out on top- and an early Moonup commenced afterwards. More time was spent laughing than talking as we appreciated another beautiful sunset view.
After Moonup, most of the group went inside except for a few who wanted to see the sunset. However, it was quickly recognized that this was not a sunset to miss. Word was spread inside, and the group filed out with blankets one after another to the grassy field in front of the hut with a perfect view. It is challenging to describe how magical the view and moment was for the group! Its influence brought some to tears, and kept 14 kids completely silent for 45 minutes.
Parents, family & friends – everybody misses you! Here are some messages from the group:
Audrey: Hey Mom, Dad, and Bridget!! I am having so much fun, we did a longgg hike today but it was really worth it. I miss you guys so much, especially Archie, Hank, and Mexican food! I hope you guys have fun on y’all’s college visit! Happy early fathers days Dad, I am so grateful for you and everything you do for our family, have the best day! I miss you guys and will see y’all in a week! Love y’all!!
Cate: Hi! I am having so much fun and y’all would love it here. Give Winnie + Lake a kiss from me and tell Merrick I said hi. I love and miss everyone so much and happy early Father’s Day!! I survived the 8 mile hike today don’t worry. Tell Paige I say happy birthday on the 15th
Chase: Hi Mom, Dad, Hannah, and Caroline, I have met the coolest people and am having the best time! We need to come all together. Happy Father’s Day! Tell Paige happy birthday! Love y’all!
Hayes: Having tons of fun and seeing the best views ever. Super glad to show you guys pics when I’m back. Love you.
Jack: Dear family, I am having so much fun in Croatia, it is really pretty and the views are cool. I’ve been really enjoying the people and the activities. I am actually very glad you sent me on this! As y’all are probably expecting I am very much looking forward to the rest of the activities and being able to get back to destiny! (That was a joke [maybe])
Kelsy: Hello! I am having the most fantastic time in Croatia and I never want to leave. The views here are the most incredible I have ever seen. We are currently staying at a mountain hut by the ocean for the trekking section and I ave been absolutely loving it. Please stop ringing my AirTags because it makes a lot of noise and is incredibly annoying. Tell English I said happy birthday and hug on Ruby for me please. Also, happy early Father’s Day buddy! I love you both so much.
Owen: Dear parents- This is insanity. Very grateful. People are all very cool and counselors are as well. There has been the best sights I will ever see on this trip. I will not share too much as I Am looking forward to sharing with y’all and Olivia. Miss y’all.
Reese: Hi Mom, Dad and James- I am having the best time here, and I’ve never been anywhere more beautiful in my life! Today I played a board game with a 95 year old Croatian women who didn’t speak English but we spoke German. Tell duke and Glock hi! Cape cod: love it here!! Happy early Father’s Day!
Ridley: hey fam I am having so much fun here and it is so pretty and the sunsets are also really pretty. Miss you all and can’t wait to see you and I’m having such a great time and it’s so cool here. I miss you all and I also really miss Belle so tell her I say hi. Can’t wait to show you all the pics! Love you and see ya in a week!
Ryan: Having a great time and always seeing a great view. Love everyone in the group and counselors especially Martina. I lost my sunglasses the very first time I jumped in the water (sorry) and I’m allergic to apples now apparently. Miss y’all!
Slater: Mom and dad and family. I miss y’all so much but I’m having so much fun ! Croatia sure is special. Can’t wait to show you the pics. Everyone is loving the guitar playing and songs, I love my leaders and I’m having a blast. I’m hiking a Ton and having a blast! Miss y’all and can’t wait to see you
Taylor: Hey mom and dad and all family members who see this- I miss y’all so much and having such a great time, this trip has been life changing. We have hiked a good bit and surprisingly I have enjoyed it! Happy early Father’s Day, can’t wait to see y’all, only 7 more days!! We should go here on a trip our friend Martina can help us on where to go. Love y’all!!!!
Wilson: Met some incredible new people and having tons of fun! The views are spectacular and the water is pretty cold
We are now off to Paklenica National Park with a tight-knit group that are full of life, energy, and hungry for the adventure to come.
Until next time.
Chris & Elle
June 10, 2023
Howdy from the Moondancers in Croatia! We have had an action packed couple of days and can’t wait for what’s to come!
Our trip started off strong on June 7th, when Elle met most of our students in the Amsterdam airport. We flew together without issues to Zagreb where Chris was awaiting us with a spread of pb&js, fruit, and other goodies. We chatted, snacked, and pulled out some cards—Kelsy, Ridley, Audrey, Taylor and I sat down for a game of Old Maid as we waited for Reese to arrive from Paris. Once she arrived, we all hopped into the van to drive to Korana Village, our home for the next two nights. After settling into our bungalows, we walked to the campsite restaurant for dinner. Though jet lag was kicking in, spirits were high as we sat down to a comforting dinner of grilled chicken and French fries. Wilson had the great idea to swap chairs around during dinner, so we all switched up seats to get to know some new faces.
After finishing up with dinner, we headed back to camp for our first Moonup of the trip! We discussed some things that we each hoped to gain from the next two weeks and listened as Slater played “Something in the Orange” on guitar for the group. After Moonup, the kids sang along as Wilson and Slater played a few songs on guitar. We all went to bed soon after, tired from the big travel day and excited for what was to come.
The next day, our leaders of the day Slater and Ridley helped everyone wake up for a breakfast buffet loaded with eggs, cereal, fruit, breads, and cheeses. We fueled up for a big day then hopped back in the van, arriving soon after at Plitvice Lakes National Park. Almost immediately, we were met with an AWESOME waterfall (appropriately named ‘big waterfall’)! The next few hours were spent walking through amazing landscapes, admiring the lush green mountains, and marveling at the vermillion blue waters. Hayes remarked that he had never seen water so clear! We stopped on the trail for a sandwich lunch then took a boat ride back towards our starting point. After reaching land, the sky darkened as we waited for the tram to take us back to the entrance. Suddenly, it started POURING rain! The kids didn’t miss a beat—Ridley led the charge, laughing and splashing around as the downpour raged on. Soon after, most everyone was hopping around in the deluge! Later, as the rain lightened up, we played some new games to pass the time. Ryan taught us wavelength, a fun guessing game, and we played the whole ride back to camp.
The sun was coming back out after we got back to camp, so we took the students to a swimming area by the campsite. We swam, listened to music, threw a frisbee around, and took turns jumping into the water. Reese and Cate boldly led the way, showing no fear as they jumped. Jack was a bit hesitant at first, but we all were so excited when he took the plunge! After many fist bumps from Owen, we all headed back up to get ready for a delicious burger dinner. Bellies full, we ended the night with music and Moonup led by Slater and Ridley.
Todays LODs, Jack and Audrey, helped everyone wake up for our final buffet breakfast at Korana village. We had a little downtime after breakfast, so Wilson worked on learning ‘Cleopatra” on guitar while Chase and I sang along. We then packed our bags and headed out for the days adventure: kayaking on the Mreznica river! Life jackets donned and safety briefing complete, we partnered up and carried our kayaks to the water. We came up to a waterfall right away, and the guides led us through the drop one by one. As Audrey and Kelsy dropped down, you could hear Audrey’s screams of joy from a mile away! The river was so beautiful, with calm, smooth waters interrupted by cascading waterfalls. One of the falls was a cliff over 20 feet tall! The guides gave us an option to jump off into the water below or walk around the side—each and every student boldly chose to jump into the water below! Owen impressed all with his jumping form, earning a thumbs up from our kayaking guide. The smooth sections were no less exciting, and were punctuated by lots of splashing, balance contests and boat tipping. Jack and Elle found themselves in a full-scale splash battle with Wright and Hayes. We took a break from splashing to have sandwiches on the water, then paddled down to our take-out where the van was ready to take us to Slapic, our next campsite. The first few days of our trip have been a whirlwind, and we are excited for the many adventures to come!
Signing off for now from Croatia!
Chris & Elle
June 8, 2023
Hello Croatia Families!
We heard from our leaders and the group has landed safely in Croatia! The trip is off to a great start, and we cannot wait to hear more stories from their adventure.
Please remember our leaders and students will be unplugged during their trips but we will be posting up to three trip updates throughout the next couple of weeks! This will allow you to follow along with the trip and the students will also give a special shout out mid-way through! You can also follow us on Instagram, @moondanceadventures, to see more of what we are up to this summer!