Complete guide for cruises to the port of Antigua in St John's: where is the terminal and cruise ships dock, best things to do, what's in downtown, how to get around, and all you must know to explore Antigua on a cruise.
Antigua is one of the most popular destinations in the Eastern Caribbean cruise itineraries. Most cruise lines visit the island all year round although the peak season is between November and May.
Thanks to the diversity of its charms, Antigua appeals to visitors that travel on all classes of cruise lines. Be it on the mega-ships of Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean, or the intimate luxury of Regent, Crystal, Seabourn, or Silversea. The paradisiacal beaches, the easiness to explore on your own, the natural beauty, and historical landmarks are some of the unique features of Antigua, which appeal to all types of cruisers.
Nelson's Dockyard Museum, Antigua
Photo © IQCruising.com
Amongst Antigua's top attractions, the Nelson's Dockyard, Shirley Heights, Betty's Hope Plantation, and Devil's Bridge are must-see sites to visit. St. John's itself, within walking distance of the cruise port, also has a few interesting historical landmarks to explore on your own. And the beaches of Antigua are unanimously rated among some of the best in the Caribbean.
Shirley Heights, Antigua
Photo © IQCruising.com
The beaches of Antigua are as stunning as numerous. In fact, the island proclaims to have as many beaches as there are days in the year. On these beaches the sugar-white sand blends with clear turquoise clear waters in idyllic settings backed by resorts, restaurants, grills, and bars offering all kinds of water-sports and activities. Even more tempting, you can easily take a taxi at a very affordable cost to any of these beautiful beaches.
Where Ships Dock in Antigua
Cruise ships dock on a beautiful bay, know as St. John’s harbor, although many times referred to as Heritage Quay, which is, in fact, the name of the cruise terminal of the Antigua cruise port. Until recently, the port only had two piers perpendicular to the city of St John's (the Capital of Antigua). However, a third pier was built on the northern shore of the bay.
Currently, as many as five cruise ships may dock simultaneously in Antigua. The exit gates of all the three piers are around 500 feet (150 meters) from the cruise ships' gangways. Be aware that the port security will check your boarding pass at the gates to the piers on your return.
Because cruise ships dock at Heritage Quay, at no more than 5-minutes-walk from the piers to downtown St. John's, the landmarks, and attractions of Antigua's main city and capital are easy to reach on foot and comfortable to explore on your own.
What's in the Cruise Terminal
Once passed the exit gates of the Piers, cruise passengers will be on a large open-air terminal known as Heritage Quay but many do not realize that close by there is a very quaint spot to explore - the Redcliff Quay.
Heritage Quay Terminal
Heritage Quay, with over 30 prestigious duty-free shops, a food court, and a casino, is itself an attraction for many cruise passengers. For those that love shopping when cruising the Caribbean, this is one the places to exercise your bargaining skills in stores such as the ubiquitous Diamonds International, Tanzanite International or Colombian Emeralds but also others like the Body Shop, Sunglass Hut and Goldsmiths.
Heritage Quay, Antigua
Photo © IQCruising.com
To the right (facing St. John's) the cruise passenger shouldn't miss a visit to the Redcliff Quay which is connected to the Heritage Quay by a boardwalk along the south shore of the deep-water harbor. Redcliff Quay (a quaint and very neat spot in St. John's) is a must-see, particularly if you like to taste local flavors.
Redcliff Quay, Antigua
Photo © IQCruising.com
Besides a good number of handicraft shops (and higher-end ones) ideal to buy gifts and souvenirs, there are a handful of cafes, bars, and restaurants to enjoy Caribbean delicacies but also Belgian waffles, a Pizza, a glass of wine or just a bottle of Wadadli (the local beer).
Top 14 things to do and see on a cruise to Antigua (St. John's)
Antigua is a very safe cruise port for passengers to choose from a great diversity of attractions to enjoy. Nelson's Dockyard is a top highlight for those into historical landmarks. For the most active, there are lots of thrilling activities. And the beaches of Antigua areas famous as numerous.
- Don't Miss: Nelson's Dockyard, Betty's Hope Sugar Plantation, and Shirley Heights
- Must See: Devil's Bridge (Natural Wonder) and Nelson Four Poster Bed (at the Dockyard Museum)
- Must-Do: Dive in the amazing waters close to Falmouth Harbor. Sail aboard a catamaran. Discover coves, seclude beaches and uninhabited islands by kayak.
- Exciting activities: Kite-surfing, Windsurfing and Stand Up Paddling in Nonsuch Bay. Experience the Antigua Rainforest's Canopy tour including a Zip Line
- Best Beaches: among hundreds of beaches, Half Moon Bay, Nonsuch Bay, Dickenson Bay, Halcyon Cove, Buccaneer Cove, and Darkwood Beach are rated among the best.
- Resorts with day passes: Hawksbill (20-minute drive, all facilities, US$ 40.00 from 11:00 until 16:00 ). Sandals (15-minute drive, all facilities, US$ 120.00). Nonsuch Bay Resort (40-minute drive, all facilities, 10:00 am and 6:00 pm, US $150.00)
- Adventure: Embark on a hiking adventure on different possible trails from Freeman's Bay up to Shirley Heights to marvel at exotic plants, spectacular vistas, and lush vegetation.
- Golf: there are two golf courses in Antigua. Cedar Valley Golf Club ( 18-hole, 70-par course, 3 miles north of St. John’s) and Jolly Harbor Golf Club (18-hole, 71-par course, East end of Antigua).
- Best Shopping: Heritage Quay (next to Piers) and Redcliff Quay (300 meters from Piers - on the right). Open between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. Best-buys: Jewelry, Watches, Souvenirs.
- Quick Bites: there are a few nice places to enjoy a light lunch close to the cruise pier. Hemingway's is on St. Mary's Street, just outside the cruise terminal. Big Banana, C&C Wine House, and Napoleon are the places to go on Redcliff Quay.
- Local Flavors: Antigua's beer, Wadadli (Carib name for the Island) is famous. English Harbor 5-Year-Old Antigua Rum and Cavalier Rum are top of the line. Fungi and Steam Fish is a local delicacy. Conch Fritters, Chicken Stew, Papaya Pie, Lobster and Fresh Fish are popular local recipes.
- Visit the highlights of St John's downtown: St. John's Anglican Cathedral. Open every day. | Antigua and Barbuda Museum. Open: Monday to Friday, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm; Saturday, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm; Closed Sundays
- Religious sites downtown: St. Michael's Mount Catholic Church is 0.7 miles (1 kilometer) from the cruise terminal. Taxi Fare: US$ 6.00 (one way) and the Ebenezer Methodist Church on St. Mary's Street.
- St. John's Public Market: 1/2 mile from the port at the end of Market Street. Open between 7:00 am and 6:00 pm.
Getting around Antigua is easy, affordable and considering that English is the official language communicating couldn't be more straight forward. The local population is very friendly and not pushy. In fact, unless you ask locals for directions the residents of St John's will not approach the cruise passenger.
Within walking distance
The cruise terminal is right by St. John's and therefore there isn't a shuttle bus as all the historical landmarks of the city are within walking distance. More about Downtown St John's below.
Taxis in Antigua
In the Heritage Quay Terminal, you will find a Taxi Dispatch Kiosk with official taxi rates. Prices are reasonable and taxis are the best way to go to any of the fabulous beaches in Antigua. Most taxi-drivers are reasonably good guides as well and, considering the size of the island, can take you to most highlights in a half-day tour. Although drivers are required to show a rate card (fares are officially fixed), make sure you agree on a fare before entering the taxi. For a half-day tour, you shouldn't be paying more US$ 120 (for the taxi with as many as 4 passengers).
Renting a car is not the best solution unless you are familiar with driving on the left and are willing to discover your way around as roads are poorly signed. Besides, a temporary driving license will be imposed ($20) in addition to a minimum of $50 for a one-day rental.
What's in downtown St. John's
Outside the Heritage and Redcliff Quays, you will find yourself in downtown St. John's. This small town (with around 30,000 souls) has a charm of its own and safe to walk around and explore on your own. Locals go about their business and will not harassing visitors but if you need any help with directions they are very friendly.
Landmarks, churches and museum
Within walking distance, less than 10-minute walk from the pier, the Anglican St. John's Cathedral is a must-see, which has been under restoration for some time. As you sail into St. John's the magnificent towers dominated the skyline and you will see these baroque structures as you walk around.
St. John's Cathedral, Antigua
Photo © IQCruising.com
Close by, on the corner of Market and Long Streets, the old courthouse (dating back to 1750) is now occupied by the small but interesting Museum of Antigua and Barbuda.
Walking the main streets of St. John's, the cruise passenger will not miss imposing buildings such as the Ebenezer Methodist Church on St. Mary's Street, and numerous banks with well-known international names. But you will need to walk to the end of Market Street (to the south) if you would like to explore a typical West Indian Public Market with its colorful stalls and lively bargaining.
Antigua Basic Info
|St. John's Population:||30.000 - one third of the Island's total.|
|Language||English is the official language.|
|Tourist Information:||Small Desk just outside the Pier Gate, on the right.|
|Entry Requirements:||Valid Passport IS required for citizens of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. A valid photo ID (such as a driver's license) is required to enter the Piers. Cruise ship visitors are not required a visa provided that they arrive in the morning and depart the same evening.|
|Currency:||The Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$) is the official currency. However, U.S. dollars, traveler's checks and credit cards are widely accepted.|
|ATM's:||On the main streets in Town - 5 to 10 minute walk from Pier.|
|Post Office||Lower High Street - open 8:00 am to 3:00pm | There is also a Post Office in Nelson’s Dockyard.|
|Internet||Most Cafes and Restaurants on both Heritage and Redcliff Quays.|
|Phones:||Country Code: 1-268. Many US phones may work but is advisable to check with your provider to avoid roaming charges.|
|Electricity:||Standard American 120 V current but also 110 V in resorts.|
|Rent-a-Car:||Avis, Hertz and Dollar.|
|Driving:||Driving is on the left.|
|Drinking:||Legal drinking age is 16 years.|
|Smoking:||Smoking is prohibited in public buildings but may be allowed in bars and restaurants outdoors.|
|Emergencies:||Dial 999 - 911|
|Pharmacies:||St. John's Pharmacy - right outside the Heritage Quay at the start of St. Mary's Street.|
|Hospital||Mount St. John’s Medical Centre - Queen Elisabeth Highway 10-minute drive from Pier.|