Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Antigua Cruise Port: Tips, Attractions, Weather

The color blue dominates the sky and waters at Hanson's Bay, Antigua. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
The color blue dominates the sky and waters at Hanson's Bay, Antigua. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

The Antigua cruise port at St. John’s was hectic and filled with people on the day we arrived. It was no surprise because it is a popular stop for eastern Caribbean cruises.

Antigua attracts about 250,000 people a year for hotel and resort vacations, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. But it attracts twice as many who stop for just the day on cruises.

One reason for the island’s popularity with cruise visitors is the size and quality of the shopping district right by the docks. It’s in the Heritage Quay district in St. John’s, the capital of Antigua.

Another possible reason is the fact that the island claims to have 365 beaches or one for every day of the year. That may be true, but cruise visitors won’t have to wonder which ones to choose.  We offer the top picks below.

We found the shopping to be good and the beaches to be average. But we enjoyed both anyway.

Quick Travel Tips

  • Antigua is known for shopping, beaches and historic attractions.
  • Historical attractions at Nelson’s Dockyard and English Harbour are especially well known.
  • Taxis closest to the docks tend to charge the most. Negotiate price.
  • March and April are the best times to visit for good weather.

Where is Antigua?

Antigua is about 300 miles east to southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and only 60 miles east of St. Kitts. Eastern Caribbean cruises often visit all three of these destinations.

Other common ports of call lie to the south of Antigua including Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia and Barbados.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Walking Around Attractions

The cruise port of St. John’s, capital of the islands, has one of the better and bigger shopping districts among major Caribbean cruise ports.

Cruise visitors can immediately start shopping and dining off the ship by the docks at Heritage Quay and Redcliffe Quay districts. (A “quay” is a waterfront promenade consisting of a structure or series of structures.)

Heritage Quay is a duty-free shopping district overlooking St. John’s. The nearby Redcliffe Quay also offers shopping in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city.

St. John’s Cathedral on Church Street, built in 1845, is a dominant attraction in the city with its white towers on a hilltop. It is less than a half mile from the docks.

History and culture buffs may want to see the nearby Museum of Antigua and Barbuda on Long Street. It also is less than a half mile northeast of the docks.

An arts and crafts market is by the west end bus terminal. A fruit and vegetable market with additional shops is by the arts and crafts market.

There are no beaches within walking distance. Find more about beaches below.

Shore Excursions

Cruise passengers may want to do some shore excursions on their own if they don’t want to pay the extra cost for a guide.

For example, the historic Fort James and Fort James Beach are two and a half miles from the cruise docks. Passengers will need a taxi or rental car to reach them—or a lot of energy if they want to walk there. Note that Fort James is mostly in ruins; the beach is the main attraction.

Guided walking tours of St. John’s start at about $40 per person. Other than St. John’s itself, the best known attraction on the island is English Harbour. It is about 36 minutes by car or excursion bus from the cruise terminal on the southeast corner of the island.

View of English Harbour from Shirley Heights.
View of English Harbour from Shirley Heights. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

English Harbour was the most important British Caribbean naval base from its beginning in the 1700s until its closure in 1889. The base is now part of the 15 square miles of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park.

Points of interest there include Clarence House, a home built for the future King William IV (1765-1837) when he served under the legendary British admiral Horatio Nelson as captain of the H.M.S. Pegasus.

Other attractions include Shirley Heights, a fortification overlooking English Harbour, and Half Moon Bay on the western tip of the island. It is a popular destination for walking, riding and the pink sand beach.

Some excursions include both the Royal Navy Dockyard and a visit to Turner Beach in one package. Prices start at about $65 per person.

Like Grand Cayman, Antigua has a Stingray City where visitors can snorkel with stingrays in shallow water and even touch them. The attraction is a 30-minute drive to the eastern side of the island. It is available as a cruise line shore excursion. Excursion prices start at about $75 for adults including transportation.

Zipline lovers can ride nine lines up to 300 feet long plus a beach visit at a starting cost of about $130. Antigua Rain Forest Canopy Tour is nine miles south of the St. John’s cruise terminal.

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

Millers Beach
Fort James Beach, also known as Millers Beach and Fort Bay Beach, is the best beach nearest the cruise port.

Unlike some other Caribbean islands such as St. Maarten, Antigua does not have any good beaches right by the cruise terminal or within walking distance. So visitors will need a taxi, rental car or excursion bus to reach one.

Fort Bay Beach, which is about a 10-minute taxi ride from St. John’s, also is known as Fort James Beach, because the ruins of Fort James lie at the southern tip. The fort doesn’t have much left to see, but it has nice views of the St. John’s harbor. Most visitors get there by taxi.

The beach is good enough for an afternoon visit thanks to white sand and a small number of nearby recreational activities, especially jet skis.

Deep Bay Beach also is near St. John’s. Other major beaches with easy access from St. John’s include the resort-dominated Runaway Bay and Dickenson Bay to the north of the city.

Some cruise lines offer excursions to Runaway Bay and Long Bay Beach on the eastern side of the island. Prices start at about $50 per person including transportation.

To the south lie less-developed beaches that are somewhat more difficult to reach. They are Hermitage Bay, Galley Bay and Hawksbill Bay. Note that one of the four sections at Hawksbill is nudist.

The beach known as probably the best on the island is Half Moon Bay, which is popular with nearby hotels. But it is on the east side and farthest from St. John’s, about 40 minutes away. It is part of a national park and a good family choice because it is protected by a reef.

Shopping and Restaurants

Like most cruise ports, shopping is right there by the dock. The main shopping area is Heritage Quay; it is a three minute walk north of the cruise terminal. It has many stalls filled with colorful things to buy, some local and some not.

Redcliffe Quay is next to Heritage and provides much more shopping and dining. Visitors who walk a little farther will find themselves on well-maintained streets with more traditional shopping.

Shopping near the docks tends to have less expensive and more authentic arts and crafts sold in stalls. Shops on the main streets had higher quality goods that were more commercialized and expensive.

Restaurants near the docks include:

  • The Admiral’s Inn, International/West Indian, located at Nelson’s Dockyard
  • Big Banana 17°61°, Italian, at Redcliffe Quay
  • Colombo’s, Italian, English Harbour
  • Crazy Horse Saloon, bar and grill, lower Redcliffe Quay
  • Chicken Hut, restaurant and bar, St. John’s
  • The Inn at English Harbour. International/West Indian, English Harbour
  • Shirley Heights Lookout, West Indian/Seafood, Nelson’s Dockyard

Getting Around

Car rental agencies are mainly concentrated at V.C. Bird International Airport and in St. John’s. But most agencies deliver cars to your location.

Check prices and availability for all of the agencies, call to see if the car will be delivered to your location and also call in advance to reserve a car.

Taxis are plentiful, and drivers will negotiate prices. When we negotiated a price to go from the cruise dock to Miller’s Beach, our driver remained by the beach for more than two hours until we were ready to return.

Public transportation in the form of buses was not available.

Weather / Best Time to Go

Antigua monthly rainfall
Average monthly rainfall in Antigua. © 2020 Scott S. Bateman

Antigua weather consists of warm temperatures year round that average in the mid 80s Fahrenheit.

The monthly high temperatures average about 83 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and 87 degrees in the summer through mid-fall.

Rainfall is low from January through April, moderate in the late spring to mid-summer and reaches a high point from September through November during the annual Caribbean hurricane season.

April is the best time to visit Antigua for a combination of warmer temperatures and low risk of rain.

Other Tips

  • U.S. currency and most major credit cards are accepted everywhere. We never had a problem paying with U.S. currency during any shopping.
  • The suggested tipping amount is 10-15 percent, including taxi drivers.
  • Cruise ship passengers who are “in-transit” and stay less than 24 hours are not required to present a visa.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
November 06, 2023