While not far from popular Eastern Caribbean ports of call, only a handful of cruise ships call at the island of Antigua. Consider yourself lucky if your upcoming cruise itinerary includes a day at this off-the-beaten-path stop, the larger of the two islands in the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
Known as the sunniest of the Caribbean islands, Antigua has plenty of rich history and scenic sights. It also hosts several celebrity homes and 365 picturesque beaches. On our recent Windstar Cruises trip aboard Wind Surf, my wife and I ventured off to check out some of the most notable locations. Here's our rundown.
First stop: Dow Hill
We booked this shore excursion ahead of time with Windstar. Because the ship was tendering at this port of call, we didn’t want to take any chances with booking a private excursion. Most larger cruise ships dock in St. John’s, the nation's capital. Given the small size of Wind Surf (a vessel with 300 guests), we could get closer to the attractions by docking in Falmouth Harbor on the southeastern side of the island.
Our tender arrived on shore around 8:45 am, and we were divided into smaller tour buses to head off for our morning explorations of the island. Our first stop on this tour was about 20 minutes later at the Dow Hill Interpretation Center. Along our drive to this lookout point, the guide provided some general orientation to the island and our planned itinerary.
Along with this stop, we would visit two more lookouts, followed by a 90-minute stop at Nelson’s Dockyard, a heritage site and marina in English Harbor.
Part of the country’s national park, Dow Hill Interpretation Center offers a 15-minute museum-like presentation. As the only tour group here, we watched the three-dimensional presentation that details the six eras of people who helped shape the island. The presentation was optional, and some visitors decided to skip it.
While informative, the presentation is a bit dated and not exactly Disney World level animatronics or special effects. Still, it was more interactive than simply listening to a tour guide or watching a movie about the history and culture of the island.
Following the presentation, we were escorted around the grounds for our first (of many) glimpses of English Harbor.
At this vantage point, we could get a perspective of Freeman’s Bay, the Pillars of Hercules and Fort Berkeley. This late-1700s fort included a bomb-proof magazine to protect the harbor from approaching ships.
When enemy ships approached, the guards could barricade them in by pulling a chain between the two jetties, rendering them trapped. After about 10 minutes of photos and brief narration, we were on to our second stop of the tour, the Blockhouse.
More views of the harbor
The Blockhouse was about five minutes farther south from the Center. This late 18th-century structure is home to several original and restored buildings, including officers’ quarters and the ammunition storage areas.
From this vantage point, you can see the eastern coast of the island and Mamora Bay. This part of the island is home to all inclusive resorts, other tourist areas and Eric Clapton’s home. We also learned that there is a rehabilitation center founded by the musician located in the same region of the island where celebrities like Britney Spears and Whitney Houston spent time. So, that is your random factoid of the trip.
The windy conditions up here made getting photos difficult though. We were only at this stop for 15 minutes until we were rounded up and shuttled to the high point of the tour, quite literally, at Shirley Heights.
At Shirley Heights, you have some of the best views of the English Harbor from almost 500 feet above sea level.
Though it was similar to the other stops, our guide provided some brief explanation about this part of the fort. Then we were given time to walk around on our own and grab some photos. The stop lasted about 15 minutes. While here, you could also browse some of the vendors or read a few of the informational signs surrounding the Guard House.
One final stop
Honestly, we found the next (and final) stop on this tour to be the most interesting, especially if you're a history buff. We arrived at Nelson’s Dockyard by 10:30 am as all of these sites are relatively close to one another. This UNESCO Heritage site includes several original and restored buildings from the 18th and 19th century. Our tour included admission to the area, as well as a 15-minute guided tour.
The short guided tour oriented us to the general layout of the grounds, which includes some shops, a restaurant/bar and a museum. After the tour, we were given an hour to explore on our own and enjoy a complimentary drink. Of course, we had to get the Dockyard’s signature Rum Punch made with the island’s 151 proof rum.
We also did a quick loop through the museum. This former admiral’s home now houses some nautical tools, maps and other artifacts from the dockyard and the era.
The grounds are beautiful, and we were lucky to have some amazing weather. The historic buildings add a nice backdrop to the working harbor, which still houses several yachts and modern vessels.
You could easily spend a few hours here enjoying the various vendors. We had just enough time to grab a souvenir in the gift shop and some island rum.
Although it was a rather short tour, getting to view some of the island’s most significant landmarks and vistas was an enjoyable way to spend the morning. For those who want more, you could easily fill your afternoon with more sightseeing or some beach time.
For us, we headed back to the ship for some lunch and an afternoon on the pool deck!
How about you?
Have you visited Antigua on a cruise? What was your experience like? Or, if you'd like to visit, contact a Cruiseable travel expert at 1-877-322-3773.
This article originally appeared at EatSleepCruise.