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Antigua Cruise

Antigua, Leeward Islands

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Along with the island of Barbuda, around thirty miles to its north, the island of Antigua is an independent country in the Leeward Islands – and a very popular stop-off for cruise ships touring the eastern Caribbean.

Your ship will probably deposit you at the cruise dock in St. John’s, the island’s capital on the north west coast. There’s a tourist information center just a hundred yards from the quay, heading into town, that will give you plenty of information about the town and island. If you’d like to learn a little more about the history of the island, and of St. John’s in particular, you might like to drop into the local museum. It’s housed in the old court buildings on Market Street, and contains exhibitions and information about the development of Antigua and of neighboring Barbuda.

There’s a lot more to do in St. John’s than simply learn about the island’s rich culture and history, though. The town is home to one of the most flamboyant and exotic markets in the Caribbean, where you can buy souvenirs of your visit as well as fantastic locally grown produce. Once you’ve tasted super-fresh pineapple and banana grown within a few miles of the market where it is sold the stuff you buy back home will never seem quite the same again.

There are interesting things to see and do outside of St. John’s, too, although getting to them may require a bus or taxi ride – your cruise line, possibly, will have organized transport around the island for you. Southwards of St. John’s is Nelson’s Dockyard (there are quite a few of these in the Caribbean) where the great English admiral was temporarily based. These days it is no longer a naval dockyard but a well-equipped marina that attracts sailors from across the region and the world. The internationally-famous Antigua Race Week operates from here, seeing competition between sailing boats in a huge variety of classes from tiny dinghies through catamarans to ocean-going yachts. Shirley Heights, a section of elevated ground right outside the dockyard, is a great place from which to look down and admire the intricacies and activity of the marina below. It’s an especially useful vantage point during Race Week.

If you would like to enjoy a little peace and quiet, you have a number of options. You are unlikely ever to have problems finding a quiet – or even deserted – beach on Antigua, though you may have to go a little way out of St. John’s to guarantee success. Heading to the south side of the island can be a good bet – most of the vacation resorts with their large numbers of guests and private beaches are on the stretch of coastline immediately to the north of St. John’s. Relaxing on the white sand of a completely deserted beach is one of the great luxuries of a visit to Antigua. The weather comes pretty much guaranteed. Apart from the odd tropical storm (of which you get plenty of warning) the sunshine and temperature (hot, but pleasantly moderated by sea breezes) remain constant throughout the year.

If you feel like a relaxing time that involves a little more activity than simply lying in the sand drifting off to sleep, you could pay a visit to Parham Harbour in the north of the island. This sleepy little village is a wonderful place, dominated by the structure of St. Peter’s church. This remarkable building, built in the nineteenth century, is octagonal in shape, and built in an Italianate style – not quite what you’d expect in the Caribbean, but entirely in line with Antigua’s habit of springing quiet, low-key, pleasant surprises on its visitors.

One of these surprises – or is it really a surprise? – is the quality of the food on offer. If your ship is docked overnight in St. John’s it is highly recommended that you take the opportunity to eat out. In St. John’s itself the Redcliffe Tavern is a fascinating building, decorated with artefacts of an industrial past. The menu is a fusion of traditional and modern European influences with contemporary Caribbean cuisine. The food is great, but, as in so many places on Antigua, dining at the Redcliffe is worth the asking price for the atmosphere alone. If you’re willing to travel a little further in search of something even more special, try Alberto’s at Willoughby Bay. The cuisine here is unashamedly Italian in origin. But, despite operating in one of the most crowded of world-food marketplaces, Alberto’s has achieved international recognition as a truly great place to enjoy Italian cuisine.

If you can, try to book a place on a cruise that spends a couple of days or more in Antigua. There’s a whole world to be explored here, both on the beaches and in the hinterland. So much in one small island!

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