The single greatest asset of the eastern Caribbean island of Antigua is its tranquility. With quaint cobblestone sidewalks tracing through boutique shopping districts and stunning white sand beaches tempting visitors to linger, this port of call is a favorite destination for many cruise passengers.
Arriving in Antigua
Located east of Puerto Rico, this island nation is frequently visited by both eastern and southern Caribbean cruises. There are several docks available to arriving ships, including Heritage Quay and Nevis St. Pier in downtown St. John's (the island's capital and most populous city), as well as facilities to accommodate smaller vessels along the southern coast. As the country becomes a more popular destination, greater numbers of ships are including it on regular itineraries, bringing up to 10,000 passengers per day to the tiny nation.
Necessary information about Antigua:
- As a former British colony, the official language is English.
- The eastern Caribbean dollar is the official currency, but U.S. money is widely accepted. Since U.S. dollars are far more valuable, visitors should clarify which currency is quoted for prices before paying.
Cruise Ship Shore Tours
A wide variety of shore excursions are offered at this port, including rainforest hiking tours, jeep treks, pirate-themed cruises, eco adventures, and both historical and cultural tours. Popular excursions often visit Nelson's Dockyard, the site of many historical buildings, or the nearby island of Montserrat to visit the volcano which erupted in December 1997 and devastated the local population.
Sightseeing in Antigua
For cruise passengers interested in discovering the island's attractions on their own, the more popular sites to visit include:
- Nelson's Dockyard: This historic dockyard is situated in one of the world's best protected natural harbors, and the grounds include restored colonial forts, residences, and barracks that demonstrate the might of the British navy as it guarded the colony.
- Shirley Heights: Adjacent to Nelson's Dockyard and utilizing combined admission fees, the military fortifications at Shirley Heights were once the main lookout point for guards scanning for hostile ships. Barracks, arched walkways, and other structures recreate the post, and visitors will be stunned by the sweeping views of English Harbor.
- Betty's Hope Plantation: Located in the island's interior, this authentic sugar plantation gives visitors a chance to explore Antigua's economic past. Picturesque windmills add a soothing backdrop to the estate that was once powered by slave labor.
- Redcliffe Quay: Located right at the main cruise dock, this shopping complex offers boutiques and many local restaurants for guests to experience the island's flavor in a number of ways. Additional shopping is available at the Public Market complex five blocks to the south.
- Cathedral of St. John the Divine: This Anglican cathedral has been rebuilt and renovated several times, and the baroque structure with 69-foot twin spires dramatically overlooks aptly named St. John's.
- Devil's Bridge: On the extreme eastern tip of the island, this natural limestone arch has been formed from eons of water erosion. It is particularly impressive at high tide, when water shoots through dozens of blowholes with each wave.
- Public Beaches: All of the more than 300 beaches on Antigua are public, and most offer a variety of lounge chair, shade umbrella, and watersport equipment rentals for modest fees.
While a cruise may be a wonderful vacation, passengers should not relax their vigilance while in port. The most important thing to take note of on this Caribbean island is the erratic driving: because of the British influence, driving is on the left, and many of the narrow roads are riddled with pot holes. Signage is also inadequate in many places, and visitors renting cars should be sure they understand directions before venturing out on their own. Taxi service is plentiful however, and drivers are willing to serve as knowledgeable tour guides en route to the destination, though passengers will pay higher rates for this service.
With quiet mannerisms and a lack of high-profile attractions, Antigua is a relaxing and peaceful getaway in the eastern Caribbean. While visiting cruise passengers will not find world-renowned attractions, they will nonetheless be delighted with this exquisite port and its rich history and cultural background, as well as its superb natural characteristics that make it a memorable destination for any cruise.