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Ocean cruising in Antigua & Barbuda

Alluring Antigua is the main island in the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. If heaven were to be a place on earth, Antigua would definitely be in the running – quintessentially Caribbean fringed by sandy beaches and waters with colourful coral reefs, with year-round sunshine and the sweet smell of coconut whistling on the warm breeze. While its sandy coves pull in travellers for lazy days sunbathing, swimming and sipping Piña Coladas, its main town St John’s pulls with candy-coloured colonial architecture, museums, farmer’s markets, rum bars and a charming marina. On a cruise to Antigua, history lovers will delight at Antigua’s rich naval history, once the naval base of Horatio Nelson and with military lookouts and museums dotted around the island.

Why choose Antigua cruises

Antigua is a popular cruise destination and port of call on Caribbean cruise itineraries, so most major cruise lines like Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Viking and Royal Caribbean dock in St John’s – with a new pier under construction for this Antigua cruise port. For a more intimate experience and chance to see more of the island, consider a luxury yacht-style cruise line SeaDream Yacht Club, Windstar or Star Clippers – which can dock in smaller Falmouth Harbour on the south coast of the island packed with private yachts and home to the famous annual yacht races. Luxury lines like Seabourn and Silversea also sail to Antigua, so there are many options for an Antigua and Barbuda cruise.

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Antigua cruises: Best places to visit in Antigua

St John's

St John’s is Antigua’s shabby, bustling capital, steeped in colonial history and a former British naval port but also bursting with Caribbean tradition. No one comes to the Caribbean for the towns, but being next to the cruise terminal, St John’s is a great way to start your Antiguan adventure. There’s plenty to do, from simply wandering its colourful, faded streets to checking out the St John’s Cathedral, a 19th-century Anglican church and the hilltop 17th-century Government House. On Saturdays, a lively market in the west of the town gives visitors the chance to barter over spices, crafts and handmade trinkets, while the stylish Heritage Quay has many international duty-free shops selling Swiss watches and bone china.

Nelson’s Dockyard

Antigua is brimming with maritime history and once played host to Horatio Nelson’s naval base and fleet. Today visitors on a cruise to Antigua can see the restored Nelson’s Dockyard where the man himself resided in the 1780s. Set along English Harbour, the dockyard includes a marina, two hotels, craft and food shops (try the fresh black pineapple) and the Dockyard Museum set in a former naval officer’s house. The dockyard is part of the Unesco-protected Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, which also contains Clarence House – a great colonial villa – and Shirley Heights, an old military lookout. The dockyard also plays host to some of the island’s yachting events such as Antigua Sailing Week and the Antigua Charter Yacht Meeting – both great spectacles.

Stingray City

Head 30 minutes east of St John’s for once of the most thrilling experiences of your life, the chance to swim and snorkel with loveable southern rays. In Antigua’s Stingray City, travellers can embark on a snorkel adventure taking in coral reefs and colourful fish, along with swimming beside and feeding the southern ray stingrays – which are known for being gentle and even playful. The gin-clear water allows you to see straight to the bottom where the rays bury themselves in the sand and the experience includes a glass of rum punch. There’s even the chance to see hawksbill sea turtles and embark on a combination tour to Laviscount Island to see the Aldabra giant tortoise – the world’s oldest living animal.

Betty’s Hope

Antigua has a tumultuous history, being a British colony and major explorer of sugar, which resulted in the island having sugar plantations. The only two surviving structures of the first sugar plantation on Antigua – Betty’s Hope – are two restored sugar mills, which you can visit today. The sugar mills are an open-air museum and visitor centre serving a reminder to the horrors of the slave trade. The visitor centre houses exhibits from the plantation's history with pictures, estate plans, artefacts and a model of the original site in 1800 when 300 slaves worked there.

Pillars of Hercules

The Pillars of Hercules are one of Antigua’s greatest natural attractions - and best Antigua cruise excursions - limestone pillars on the corrugated coastline formed from the lapping of waves over thousands of years. The pillars resemble something from ancient Greece – hence the name – and are a fantastic sight to see, reached by an equally fantastic hike from Galleon Beach through towering cactus and agave. Secluded sandy coves surround the pillars so you can relax and enjoy the sun. Boat tours of the island with stops at the pillars are also a popular way to take in this amazing natural sight.

Dickenson Bay

Let’s be honest, the reason you come to the Caribbean is for powder-soft white and pink beaches and aquamarine warm waters fringed by palm-trees. Antigua has 365 stunning beaches and one of the most famous – and most beautiful – is Dickenson Bay right outside the capital. Dickenson Bay has soft sands and tranquil seas, making it perfect for sunbathing and enjoying a gentle swim or paddle, and has places to rent kayaks, Hobie Cats and book onto catamaran cruises to nearby islets and banana boat rides. Make sure to stop at the famous Ana’s on the Beach bar for a fruity rum cocktail or local ice cold Wadadli beer.

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is a spectacular paradise-like neighbourhood in south-eastern Antigua, home to one of the Caribbean’s best beaches and five-star resorts like the Rosewood Antigua. Home to sugar-soft white sands, the crescent-shaped bay is a sea of white and green – the emerald from the warm clear waters and the luscious vegetation from the surrounding hills and national park. Protected by a reef, the bay is perfect for snorkelling on calm days and on windier days proves a great surfing spot. A small hole-in-the-wall serves snacks just off the beach and nearby you’ll find the popular bars Beach Bum Bar & Café, Tina’s Hotspot and Smiling Harry’s Thirst Quencher.

Fort James

History lovers should add Fort James to their Antigua travel list, the fort at the entrance to the St John’s Harbour and one of the many forts built by the British in the 1700s. The fort was built on fear of a French invasion, high up on a headland overlooking the town and bay. Today visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like for the 75 men that lived in the 36 barracks at the site, with the remains of a handful of rusty cannons and part of the fort’s once imposing wall. The main attraction, however, has to be the cinematic views of the harbour – truly stunning.

Iconic ports

Antigua cruises: What to do in Antigua

Head to a beach bar

You’re in the Caribbean, so why not head to a relaxing water-side beach shack or bar to enjoy some delicious rum cocktails or traditional Caribbean snacks? Some of the best include Rum Bus Beach, the Nest-Beach Bar and Ana's on the Beach.

Visit the distillery

Antigua was once packed with rum distilleries, but today it only has one remaining – perfect for a day trip. Head to the Antigua Rum Distillery in St John’s to visit their tasting room and sample their sweet delights.

Head to the beach

Cruising to the Caribbean is all about beaches, so make sure to see as many of Antigua’s 365 stunning sandy stretches as possible. Ffryes Beach, Dickenson Bay, Darkwood Beach and Hawksbill Bay are some of the best.

Visit a market

St John’s has a colourful, bustling and chaotically Caribbean Saturday market, where you can haggle over wares like sorrel, black pineapple and sugar apple. A smaller craft market is also attached to the main market.

Go on a hike

Past its white sandy beaches, Antigua boasts stunning countryside and has some great walks and hiking trails. Try Walling's Dam to Carlisle Bay and also make the journey up to Shirley Heights.