Antigua – Something for Everyone

Technically, the country is Antigua and Barbuda but Barbuda is lightly populated and rural. Antigua and Barbuda became an independent state on November 1st, 1981 and is a member of Caricom, the Caribbean Common Market . The currency is the East Caribbean dollar (EC$) but US dollars are gladly accepted.

History buffs will love exploring English Harbour and Shirley Heights. In the eighteenth century English Harbour was a base for the British Navy and headquarters for the fleet of the Leeward Islands. The Heights had a garrison and fort commanding the high ground above the harbor. English Harbour was developed by Horatio Nelson in the eighteenth century and included Nelson’s Dockyard to service the fleet.

After closing in 1889, the dockyard has now been completely restored and it is the only Georgian dockyard in the world. Shirley Heights can be reached via a lookout trail and, from its’ height of 492 feet, provides views of Guadeloupe and Montserrat. Dow’s Hill Interpretive Center is located along the trail and offers a presentation of Antigua’s history. Observation decks at Dow’s Hill provide sweeping vistas of the harbour and surrounding islands and the ruined fortifications of Fort Berkeley are nearby.

Sailboat people know English Harbour as the site of Sailing Week, one of the Caribbean’s premiere sailing events each year. The event is so popular that accommodations are hard to come by and some people plan years in advance to attend. Even if you aren’t a sailboat person, the weeklong party is an overall great time. Accommodations in the English Harbour area include The Copper and Lumber Store Historic Inn, Admiral’s Inn & Gunpowder Suites and the Antigua Yacht Club Marina Resort nearby in the Falmouth area.

If you are looking for tropical beaches it is said that you can visit a different beach every day and not start over again for a whole year. There are a number of resorts to pick from including the longtime favorite Halcyon Cove just north of the capital of St. Johns. South along the coast are Keyonna Beach Resort and Jolly Beach Resort. At the other end of the island is The St. James Club, an exclusive all-inclusive property that has been a popular resort for well-to-do English tourists.

If you are looking for insight into life in Antigua and aren’t looking for a beach location, try staying in the middle of St. Johns. The Heritage Quay Hotel is frequented by business travelers and is located near the waterfront. It is on Heritage Quay a popular shopping and duty free district, near King’s Casino and not far from Redcliffe Quay, a tourist shopping, craft and restaurant area. Nearby is the cruise ship pier which can be very congested on days that ships are in. St. Johns also offers the Antigua Museum and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. A short trip from the city is Betty’s Hope, a former sugar cane plantation.



Cruising the Caribbean Part I

Cruising the Caribbean

The first thing that should be obvious is visiting the Caribbean ports on a cruise actually end up sharing the vacation experiencing with just being on a major cruise ship. The ships are like an all-inclusive resort with the added advantage of moving to a new location every day. Each ship is a combination of theme restaurants, fine dining rooms, theatre entertainment, night clubs, spa experiences, pools with hot tubs, casino gambling, kids summer camp, shopping and much more. The ports of call are just icing on the cake.

There are many options in cruising into the Caribbean from selecting the cruise line, to deciding on an embarkation port and picking the cruise length and its itinerary. Generally the available cruises range from three days to fourteen and the available embarkation ports include Galveston, New Orleans, Tampa, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, New Jersey and San Juan. Most of the major lines are involved including Disney, Holland America, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and recently MSC. Ship sizes range from under 2,000 passengers to between 5,000 and 6,000 for the RCL Oasis class ships. Depending on the cabin choice and cruise line selected, prices per person range from just over $100 to thousands of dollars.

Our three preferred lines are Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Carnival but that is based on our experience. We have friends that equally prefer other lines. Over the years, because of loyalty programs and their benefits it becomes natural to settle on just a few. The benefits can include free internet, laundry, drink packages along with parties, loyalty lounges, priority boarding and more. Our first cruise which was with our children was with Royal Caribbean and we quickly discovered how family oriented they are with a great kids program as well as family activities. We have cruised a number of times with Carnival, initially because their pricing is more economical. Generally we find their passengers much younger singles and couples who tend to party all day and into the night. More recently we find ourselves cruising more often with Celebrity. We think they cater more to people looking for longer cruises to more different locations and that they represent, we believe, a notch up in service. Royal and Carnival are both in the Caribbean year round while Celebrity sails only in the winter season. Celebrity also offers more, longer cruises than the others.

In deciding which cruise to select there are common elements to all of them. Your are going to be served good food, provided a selection of excellent entertainment venues and visit some exotic places with great beaches. After that the choice is based on time available, budget and what your interests are. Another thing to consider is theme cruises and headline talent offerings. Over the past year or so Carnival has started offering cruises with a series of headliner acts on board. They have included Jay Leno, Jim Gaffigan , Tim Mcgraw, Jeff Foxworthy and more. One would think that the other lines will respond with similar offerings in the future.

Before booking our recommendation is to find a local travel agent that you can work with. The costs are the same and working with an agent can actually save you money (more on how we do it in another post).