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Croatia/Plitvice question

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I will be traveling with my mother to Croatia and Italy in early May. We are flying in midday to Zagreb (from US). Our main goal on this leg or the trip is visiting Plitvice Lakes. Originally I had booked a night in Zagreb and intended to rent a car the next morning to drive to the national park. We will overnight in/near Plitvice, then continue to Rovinj, overnight there and take the early AM ferry to Venice (I have checked the ferry schedule, it's why we have so little total time in Croatia).

My question is, given our short time in the country and wanting primarily to see the park, would it be a better idea to rent a car upon arrival to drive straight to the park area (spending two nights instead of one)? Will driving in Croatia be difficult to navigate? I have driven in Italy and Belgium before. Are the crowds so bad that it will be worth driving while jet lagged to be able to get a jump on them in the AM? Of course, this means we wouldn't get to see Zagreb at all but we would have more than a full day at the park.

Also would it be better to plan to take our time driving from Plitvice to Rovinj to see the countryside or try to get to Rovinj earlier and see the town more? What is the best driving route for scenery? I wish we had an extra day to spend but our schedule just doesn't allow it.

Thanks!

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