Greetings Internet Stranger! It is impossible to spend 24 hours in Antigua on a shore excursion and not feel relaxed at the end of the day. The locals in Antigua kept telling me that a popular phrase on the island is “Antigua Nice”. Antigua is indeed a very nice place to relax and vacation. The island supposedly has 365 beaches, one for each day of the year.
I do sometimes wish I’d had the kind of inherited wealth where I could do nothing all day but hang out on a different beach each day. But then after a year, would I have to move to a different Caribbean island because I was “over” all the Antiguan beaches? Maybe I’m glad to not be fabulously rich after all.
In any case, we won’t be spending that much beach time during our 24 hours in Antigua. I visited the island on a Royal Caribbean cruise of the Southern Caribbean, and I always try to pack as much into each port stop as I possibly can. Don’t want anyone to mistake me for one of those people who just cruise as an excuse to lie about on deckchairs and eat unlimited soft serve! I am all about cultural experiences.
So get off that beach towel, Internet Stranger! We’re going to learn some Caribbean history! But first, it’s time to get drunk!
24 Hours in Antigua: Shore Excursion
What to Pack and Where to Stay
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
The Caribbean can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
If you’re not visiting Antigua on a cruise ship and you’re looking for great deals on hotels, just click here.
24 Hours in Antigua: Shore Excursion
Morning: Explore St John’s
St. Johns is the capital of Antigua, so it makes sense to start our 24 hours in Antigua here. It’s certainly not a huge city. Just about 20,000 people live there. But there’s definitely enough to see and do to occupy your morning. I had a rum tasting shore excursion planned, but before that there was definitely enough time to walk about St. John’s. Allow me to take you shopping!
Approximately top 5: st john’s edition
1) Best of Books
There’s nothing I love more than being able to recommend a local bookstore. Best of Books has an excellent selection of used and new books, especially books about Antigua or British mystery novels you can take with you to the beach. Antigua used to be a British colony, and they still have a robust selection of English children’s books. If you’re an Enid Blyton fan and have longed to collect the Famous Five series, this is definitely the place for you!
2) Rum Tasting
The Flavors of Antigua rum tour is probably one of the most “local” experiences you can get on a Royal Caribbean shore excursion. You are driven to a small restaurant/rum shop called In the Backyard that is open for a local clientele on weekends. The owners, a husband and wife team, take turns handling the tour duties. The husband presents the rum and the wife prepares lunch.
Local rum shops like In the Backyard have been popular in Antigua for a long time. As with many Caribbean islands, sugar was the number one industry in Antigua during the colonial period. Our host gave us a little sugar cane to chew on, to make the history portion of the tour more delicious.
Rum is going to be popular on any island where sugar is made because rum is distilled molasses, a byproduct of sugar production. But Antigua doesn’t have the same history of commercial rum production that some other islands like Puerto Rico or Barbados have. The main local distillery on the island now is the straightforwardly named Antigua Distillery. We got to sample three kinds of local rum from the Antigua Distillery.
The first tasting was the Cavalier White Rum. White rum is aged for less time than dark rum, hence the lack of color. This was also the least delicious of the three rums. Our guide told us he didn’t expect us to enjoy the white rum much neat because it’s largely used as a mixer in drinks like a mojito.
Next we kicked it up a notch with the Cavalier Gold Rum. This was actually enjoyable to drink on its own, though the flavor still wasn’t too intense. The guide said you’d still be more likely to mix this in a rum drink like a Dark and Stormy than drink it on its own. I should note that both Cavalier White and Gold rums are crazy cheap and easy to find in St. John’s if you’re looking to bring an unusual mixer back home.
24 hour treat: english harbour rum
Now this dark beauty is definitely a rum to sip. This is the English Harbour 5 year rum. It was named after the famous English Harbour landmark in Antigua. (We’ll get there later.) I can imagine Lord Horatio Nelson and Lady Hamilton sipping this while embarked on a romantic tryst.
After we were finished with the rum tasting, our guide’s wife brought out some local cuisine she had prepared herself. We feasted on conch fritters, jerk chicken, and salad, all under the watchful eye on Vivian Richards, the famous Antiguan cricket player. The little chocolate kiss was a special present because we were all taking the tour on Valentine’s Day. I know it is every little girl’s dream to spend Valentine’s Day on a cruise ship all by herself enjoying a rum tasting tour. As usual, I was killing it with every aspect of my life choices.
Even though the lunch food was delicious, the best snack we got was this Antiguan pineapple. The local pineapple is as sweet as Vivian Richards’s batting. (Hope that’s the correct term. I know nothing about cricket.) It’s not exported to the US, so if you’re American, you better nom on as much as you can while you’re on the island.
24 Hours in Antigua: Shore Excursion
Afternoon: Explore Antigua
The only thing I like better than taking one shore excursion during 24 hours in Antigua is taking two shore excursions during 24 hours in Antigua. I had seen and eaten all I wanted of St John’s in the morning. Now that I was full of rum and pineapple, it was time to take on the rest of Antigua. Any cruise will offer shore excursions that take you to Shirley Heights, the most famous viewing point on the island, and Nelson’s Dockyard, which is the major historical sight. I’m sure whatever shore excursion you choose will entertain you with…
Approximately top 5: 24 hours in antigua
1) Antiguan Churches
If there are 365 beaches in Antigua, I feel that there must be almost as many churches. Surely there is at least one church for every Sunday of the year. My favorite thing about these houses of worship is that each seemed to come in a different color. All Saints Anglican Church was yellow.
St Barnabas Anglican Church is green and red. The green gives the church a kind of “Halloween” feel, but it’s actually natural. The Antigua green stone comes from the area, so there are other buildings around with the same eerie green glow.
The most impressive color is probably the bubble gum pink of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which is a Catholic church. The community in which this church is located is called “Sweets”, so I assume the pink color is a tribute to cotton candy or some other pink, sweet deliciousness.
The blockhouse is the last remains of an 18th century British officer’s house. Presumably he would have stayed here to be on the look out for Spanish or French ships looking to get a piece of the British colonies. (Antigua and its neighbor Barbuda were British colonies until 1981.) But you’re not really here to see the old blockhouse. You’re here to get the same spectacular views of Antigua that the British officer would have seen.
Isn’t that amazing? You can see why so many celebrities like Eric Clapton have chosen to build homes in this area. And even if we can’t build a villa with our “Layla” money, we’re still luckier than that British officer. We don’t have to worry about pirates or dying from scurvy. This is one of the best viewing points on the island because it doesn’t get as crowded as Shirley Heights.
Also there’s a lady here who sells beautiful bracelets made out of vintage beads and fishing line for only 8 dollars. Definitely look her up during your 24 hours in Antigua! I always get compliments on her work.
3) Shirley Heights
Technically the Blockhouse is part of Shirley Heights, but this viewing spot is what most people think of when they imagine Shirley Heights. It’s also known as The Lookout. Every Sunday there’s a giant party here, so you should definitely go and crash it if you’re lucky enough to have your 24 hours in Antigua on a weekend.
Shirley Heights was neither named after Shirley Jones nor Shirley Bassey nor Shirley You Can’t Be Serious. It was named after the British governor of the Leeward Islands (which includes Antigua), Thomas Shirley. This port we are staring at from this viewpoint allowed the British to dominate this entire area of the Caribbean. It has excellent natural defenses from invasion by sea.
I’m pretty sure it has terrible defenses from invasion by air, but why are you planning an aerial invasion of Antigua, you monster? Do you want to deprive the world of delicious beaches and pineapples? Have a heart!
4) Nelson’s Dockyard
Once we’re done with Shirley Heights, we can actually go and experience that harbor for ourselves! Nelson’s Dockyard is part of a National Park in Antigua, so you’ll be able to take a tour here led by an Antiguan park ranger. My favorite fun fact he taught us was that in its heyday, this shipbuilding dockyard was extremely inefficient. The men built ships at a snail’s pace.
Why, you ask? To save money, some genius thought it would be a good idea to pay shipbuilders in rum. And how efficient do you think men who work in the hot sun all day and get exclusively paid in rum are? The answer is: not at all. I have no engineering experience at all, and I think I could have told you that paying workers in booze is a terrible idea. How did the British have the world’s greatest navy? Why didn’t all their ships just collapse as soon as they got in the water?
The dockyard is still used to this day to repair ships, but they compensate their workers in actual currency now.
5) dockyard Museum
You’ll have some free time to explore after the ranger tour. I strongly suggest you explore the artifacts at the Dockyard Museum. There’s no extra charge to go inside. You can learn about Lord Horatio Nelson’s time stationed in Antigua. He was only there for three years. As an American, I was amused to find that he was sent to Antigua to try to prevent other nations from trading with the fledgling country. I call that sour grapes, England! You lost! Let us have our trade!
Ahem. Don’t know why I’m getting so emotional, as all that took place more than 200 years before I was born. Just to show there’s no hard feelings, here are some of the Nelson artifacts I found at the museum.
The beam from Nelson’s ship is interesting, but death masks are so creepy. Nelson was killed in battle! Who was really thinking about taking a cast of his face just after he died? Also Nelson looks about as happy in that mask as you’d expect someone shot and killed in battle to be.
6) Dockyard bakery
If you’re anything like me, looking at death masks is going to make you hungry. Stop in at the Dockyard Bakery for some cheap and homemade treats. Just remember to bring cash. They will not take credit cards, but like most places in Antigua, they will accept US Dollars.
I strongly recommend getting one last crack at the Antiguan pineapple by ordering the pineapple turnover. It’s made with local pineapple; I asked. And the filling is as sweet as a yacht build by workers who aren’t getting paid in rum.
24 Hours in Antigua: Shore Excursion
Evening: Enjoy the Ship
As I mentioned, this was Valentine’s Day. Usually on Valentine’s Day, there aren’t going to be a lot of activities for singles on the ship. I got to celebrate the holiday by sharing a dining table with an elderly couple who had been married for 45 years and clearly hated each other for at least half of that. (If you think I’m exaggerating, the husband kept asking his wife if she couldn’t lose weight so she’d look a bit more like me. I know of no greater sign that a man is not fond of his spouse. I can only assume he was attempting to goad her into leaving him.)
Of course, my real Valentine was the person who made this towel heart for me. I went to sleep to dream of my other true love, Antiguan pineapple. Best Valentine’s Day ever!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Antigua: Shore Excursion
What would you do with a 24 hours in Antigua shore excursion? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Antigua? Have you ever paid subordinates in rum? And when I die, do you promise not to make a death mask of my face? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Antigua. If you want to see some of the other itineraries from my cruise, check out St Thomas, St Kitts, Barbados, and St Lucia.