Amid the beautiful Caribbean sea lies the gorgeous island of Antigua. Surrounded by 95 miles of coastline Antigua is the place to go to soak up some of the best Caribbean beaches – there’s even 365 of them – one for each day of the year! The nearby sister island Barbuda is just as stunning.
The capital of Antigua is St John’s, which also happens to be the largest town on the island. St John’s is a port at which many cruise lines dock whilst on a Caribbean tour and has rave reviews amongst cruise passengers. As with the rest of Antigua, St John’s is full of natural beauty, friendly locals, white sandy beaches and turquoise-blue waters.
Key facts of St John’s, Antigua Port:
Currency: The Eastern Caribbean Dollar (E.C) is Antigua’s official currency; although most places accept US dollars.
Population: The population of Antigua was 96,286 (as of 2018) and there are approximately 30,000 people living in St Johns.
Most ships that anchor in St John’s will dock at Heritage Quay which has space berths for 4 ships at one time. A new cruise pier was recently completed in July 2020 meaning the port now able to accept Oasis-class ships. Some ships, however, will dock at the adjacent Redcliffe Quay, or if there are several ships in port then they may decide to dock at the Deep Water Harbour Terminal which is 1.5km from St John’s.
Many of the main St John’s attractions are easy to reach from Heritage Quay and can be easily explored on foot. Alternatively, passengers will find a taxi dispatch kiosk at the terminal which offers official taxi rates. Many taxi drivers will offer reasonable prices for transfers to the beaches and many of them make excellent tour guides for trips around the island.
There are a couple of shopping malls once you step off the ship – one at Heritage Quay and the other at Redcliffe Quay. They both offer duty-free shopping and have lots of crafts and souvenirs to purchase. Heritage Quay has over 30 shops, places to eat, a casino and is often bustling with people. The slightly more quaint Redcliffe Quay has a more local feel to it, offering lots of handmade gifts and local produce. If you are lucky enough to dock on a Friday or Saturday then you will find a farmers market on the southern edge of the city.
St John’s Cathedral
St John’s Cathedral holds a lot of history and has twice been destroyed by earthquakes. Its latest reincarnation was built-in 1845 and comprises of 2 large baroque towers whose impressive size can be seen as visitors approach the island by sea. The cathedral is a must-see and is open every day. It is about a 10-minute walk from the pier.
Musuem of Antigua and Barbuda
Near to the Cathedral situated in the old courthouse is the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda. This is one of the oldest buildings in St John’s and the museum includes a variety of exhibits relating to Antigua’s culture, history, geology and geography. There’s also a gift shop featuring local handmade pottery and plenty of souvenirs. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday and closed on Sundays.
If passengers get bored of the onboard casinos then there is always King’s Casino which is the largest casino in Antigua. There’s plenty to try your luck here!
One of the most popular places to visit on the island of Antigua is Nelson’s Dockyard. The dockyard is named after the famous English Admiral, Horatio Nelson. A visit here includes the chance to explore the naval museum, historical 18th-century buildings, craft shops and see the gorgeous English Harbour with all its yachts moored up. Entry is $15 and pretty much all of the cruise lines will offer an excursion here.
For amazing views then head to Shitely Heights – a restored military lookout and gun battery situated 490ft above sea level. The view over the English and Falmouth Harbours is incredible. People say that the best time to visit is in the early evening to enjoy watching the sunset and the view all lit up once the sunsets. However, depending on what time you need to be back on board it’s unlikely cruise passengers will be able to enjoy this. Lots of tours often combine Shiely Heights with a visit to Nelson’s Dockyard.
Betty’s Hope Plantation
Betty’s Hope is a sugar plantation plant where visitors can see two fully-restored sugar mill towers and learn about the islands historical sugar production. Also on site is a small interpretation centre which details more historical information about the plantation. The plantation is open daily from 10am – 4pm and costs a couple of dollars to enter. It is a popular stop on island tours.
Be sure to catch a sight of Antigua’s natural wonder – Devil’s Bridge. This unique and natural formation is the result of millions of years of ancient reef formation and is really picturesque. It is formed due to the waves of the sea crashing into the coast, causing a natural archway to be formed. Again, lots of island tours will stop here as it really is a great photo opportunity.
With an amazing 365 beaches on this island, there is certainly a lot to pick from! Every beach on the island is open to the public and some of the best ones include Buccaneer Cove, Halycon Cove, Half Moon Bay, Darkwood Beach, Nonsuch Bay and Dickenson Bay.
We love the look of Dickenson Bay which comes well recommended. This stunning beach looks totally paradisical and there are lots of water sports available including parasailing which would be epic I am sure! There are beach bars and places to relax too – heaven or what!
Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour
For a more unique experience then why not try the Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour which is an eco-tour zip lining tour through the rainforest! The company offers a choice of tours including the ‘canopy tour’, offering 6 zip lines, or the ‘zip line tour’ consisting of 13 zip lines. To give you an idea of the cost the canopy tour costs $59 for children and $79 for adults. More info can be found on their website. Cruise lines tend to offer excursions here starting at about £60.
A popular choice with families is a trip to Stingray City. This allows visitors to get up close to the ‘brightest rays in the Caribbean’ and even feed them. Visitors will spend time interacting and feeding the stingray and also have an opportunity to do some snorkelling too. Tours last approximately 2 hours and cost $50 per person.
Alternatively, if mingling with stingrays isn’t your thing then the company also offer a tour to Laviscount Island to see giant tortoises, tropical birds and iguanas. This tour offers the chance to get up close and personal with these animals in the island’s sanctuary, followed by walks on the various nature trails or relaxing on the beach. This tour runs 4 times a day at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm and costs $50 per person. For those who are wishing to combine both the stingray experience and Laviscout Island tour, a joint ticket is offered for $75.
Whilst these tours sound really unique and fun and we can certainly see the appeal, we have heard mixed reviews. There are quite a few reviews on TripAdvisor detailing incidents where people have been bitten or bruised by the stingrays when feeding them and it does make you question how safe this is and also whether the stingrays really want the human interaction. I think these concerns are enough to put us off personally, but do make your own decisions and enjoy!
Tours / excursions:
Panoramic Antigua Tour
If you are looking for a relaxed island tour without too much exertion then the Panoramic Antigua tour might be a good tour to consider. This tour allows visitors to see the best sights in Antigua, including two local towns Freeman’s and Liberta which are picture-perfect. Other stops include the more popular Nelson’s Dockyard and Shirley Heights and includes beach time to chill too. This tour costs £49.40 and lasts for 5 hours which seems like a pretty good deal.
4 x 4 Island Safari
Another island tour that sounds really fun is the 4 x 4 Island Safari tour which can be reviewed and booked via TripAdvisor. The tour is approximately 5 hours long and takes visitors to all the main sights in a zebra-striped land rover! Highlights include the large fresh body of water ‘ Pot Works’, Devil’s Bridge, Betty’s Hope plantation for a lunch stop, followed by leisure time at Long Bay Beach. This tour costs £72 and has good reviews online. We are sure that many cruise lines will offer similar tours in length and attractions so do check which you think will be better value for money and suit your timings best, depending on your cruise.
Snorkel with Turtles and Sightseeing Tour
Another tour that we found online that sounds like it offers a good introduction to the island is the Snorkel with Turtles and Sightseeing Tour. This tour, also priced £72 offers passengers the opportunity to see Shirley Heights, Betty’s Hope, Devil’s Bridge, Nelson’s Dockyard and a 2 hour stop at Galleon Beach where snorkelling to see the turtles is optional. This feels like a really good mix of sightseeing, culture and relaxation but is roughly 6 hours long in total, so do make sure you have planned your timings to be back on the ship on time! Cruise passengers might feel more comfortable going with a cruise line excursion due to timings. For example, Marella offers a ‘Highlights of Antigua’ tour which is 3 hours long and includes stops at the Blockhour Fort Ruins, Shirley Heights and Nelson’s Dockyard. So whilst this includes less, it is a shorter trip and might be better time-wise, especially if you are not docked in port for long. This tour booked through Tui is £45 per person.
Historic Great House Afternoon Tea
Now, this is a tour that sounds right up our street! 25 minutes from the port lies The Great House Antigua which offers visitors a traditional afternoon tea experience. The house is located on a historical plantation and was built way back in 1670. The afternoon tea is served in the Palm Court and includes all the usual suspects from an afternoon tea – sandwiches, cakes and scones. Alongside the traditional jam for the scones, the plantations honey and island jelly are also offered. The cost of this experience is £60 and includes a printed booklet of the Great House’s history. We do love the sound of this excursion as we a big afternoon tea fans, although we wonder if we would be able to do it justice when there is so much food being eaten on the ship!
Eli’s Original Eco Tour
For those wishing to learn more about the ecosystems and history of Antigua’s 22 uninhabited offshore islands then this is the tour for you! Notable stops on this tour include the lesser-known Bird Island, Hells Gate Island the turtle project at Jumby Bay plus more. You are transported around the islands via boat and stop off at various locations for snorkelling opportunities. The trip costs about £85 per person which is a bit more pricey but offers a smaller and more unique type of boat tour. Lunch and refreshments are included too – bonus!
Boat to Barbuda at St John’s, Antigua
For those interested in exploring Antigua’s beautiful sister island Barbuda then take the Barbuda Express Ferry – a 90minute high-speed boat from St John’s to the pink-white beaches of Barbuda. The island of Barbuda is 30 miles north of Antigua and is a great location for swimming and snorkelling and features incredible pink-white sandy beaches. There’s also caves to get lost in and a large frigate bird colony to look out for. For those who have cruised to Antigua before, maybe jetting off to another island to explore is for you!
The ferry can be boarded from two different locations – at the ferry dock in St John’s Harbour or the Jolly Harbour Marina. Adult tickets cost $45 one way or $75 for a round trip.
Antigua has loads to offer to cruise passengers with a real mix of culture, natural beauty and relaxation opportunities. If you have cruised to Antigua do let us know what you go up to in the comments below!