Flights are plenty from the US via American Airlines, Delta, United and JetBlue's new direct route from New York (JFK) to VC Bird International Airport (ANU) on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. "As our 34th destination in Latin America and the Caribbean, Antigua and Barbuda offers another opportunity to strengthen JetBlue's position as the leading brand for Caribbean travel," said Umang Gupta, director of JetBlue Getaways. Four hours by air from New York, the sister islands are packing a punch for high season. "This new JetBlue service is a wonderful milestone as it is the first inaugural flight into the VC Bird International Airport and represents an important step in increasing the airlift to our country, which is an important part in the success of our tourism industry," said Hon. Asot Michael, minister of tourism, economic development, investment and energy. Day trippers
Convenient for day trippers, cruise ships dock at the finger piers called Heritage and Redcliffe Quays in the capital city of St. John's, just 5 miles west of the airport. Built in 1988, the 900-foot dock that accommodates up to four big cruisers a day is a ten minute saunter to the bus station for a ride to English Harbour and Nelson's Dockyards. Depending on the day of the week, the small harbor town is either nicely sedate when no ships are in dock or crazy busy with thousands of arrivals. The largest of the two quays; Heritage is ideal for those who like to shop, as everything from cameras and computers to designer duds and souvenirs are duty-free. Sports bars welcome cocktail sippers, enterprising artisans showcase their crafts at pretty stalls, and when the sun sets, views of St. John's Harbour are spectacular. Less touristy, adjacent Redcliffe Quay is a waterfront promenade with a myriad of alleyways, former warehouses and tree-shaded courtyards. On the southern edge of town, the Farmer's Market is open Friday and Saturday mornings with chatty vendors hawking edibles like the sweet black pineapple which alone is worth the stroll from the pier. Also close to the pier, Hemingways, with its airy verandah, is where to enjoy a cool cocktail and the local saltfish stew called Bulljoy, with a side of garlic bread for dipping.
On the opposite side of the island from the capital city of St. John's, Cades Reef is a two-mile-long barrier reef teeming with underwater marvels. Twenty minutes by boat from the southwestern coast, the underwater show is spellbinding, from pink-hued coral and brilliant blue and yellow fish to starfish that nuzzle the ocean floor. Reef sharks make periodic appearances, nurse sharks take shelter under the coral overhangs and spiny lobsters, noisy parrotfish, slippery moray eels and fast swimming barracuda also call the reef home. Super easy for snorkelers to navigate, there is little or no current, water temperatures average 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and underwater visibility ranges from 50 to 140 feet. The underwater wonderland can be explored by solo snorkelers or on tours like Island Routes' Sail and Snorkel that includes lunch and plenty of rum punch. (www.islandroutes.com)
A tour with Tropical Adventures includes snorkel gear (www.tropicalad.com) and Treasure Island Cruises adds on-board music to the snorkel mix. www.treasureislandcruises.ag
Beds for Heads
Beds for heads run the gamut from swishy boutiques and all-inclusives to guesthouses and cottages. Fan favorites are the all-inclusives like Galley Bay with three open-air restaurants, three welcoming lounges, live entertainment, cocktail parties and beach barbecues.
Hermitage Bay is discreetly hidden in a cove on the southwest coast.
Sandals Grande Antigua salutes the beach on Dickenson Bay.
For romantics, Carlisle Bay sits pretty on the south coast (www.carlisle-bay.com) and St. James Club aims to please with uber-luxe and newly-built Royal Suites. www.stjamesclubantigua.com
Good Mood Food
There is nothing watery about Goat Water, a robust fusion of onions and peppers and goat meat that is slowly simmered, thickened with flour and studded with Johnny Cakes; those addictive golden-brown fried dumplings. Served over steamed rice, a piping hot bowl is theatre for the taste buds at hot spots like Russell's at Fort James in St. John's, at beach bars and at many eateries when the cruise ships are in town. Although recipes may vary, creative chefs make their mark with a sprig of thyme, a celery stalk and a subtle note of cinnamon and clove. For a cold swig on a hot day, Wadali is the local beer, while the preferred adult beverage is rum, like the locally-distilled Cavalier and English Harbour.
Fried, Floured and Fabulous
Good things come in small packages at Nelson's Dockyard overlooking the yacht-stocked English Harbour. It's called 'Seafood Friday' - one of the tastiest treats in the capital city of St John's. On the dockside lawn of the charming 14-room Copper and Lumber Hotel, constructed by Lord Nelson in 1783 to store copper and lumber used to build ships, the spirited soiree gets underway at 7pm with smiling chefs like Alex and welcoming bartenders like Marlon ready to greet guests. Come hungry for scrumptious apps like dumplings and saltfish cakes, and stay for the seafood rice that is jam packed with shrimp and mussels and a side salad splashed with a piquant passion fruit marinade that is perfect for sharing. Snapper so fresh it's still angry goes for between $19.00 and $21.00 depending on the size, and with plenty of carbs like potatoes, rice, macaroni and boiled corn, you're guaranteed a full belly. For chowhounds, there are plenty of choices like buttery lobster and seafood pasta. If meat is your muse, look for Chef Sergia whose infectious smile is easy to spot at her flame-licked steak grill. Local spin master Kuma keeps the Fry lively with his Caribbean rhythms until 10pm. Reservations are appreciated: 1-268-460-1058. www.copperandlumberhotel.com
On Any Sunday
It's an uphill trek past military ramparts from the 18th century that were once part of the British naval base, but well worth it for the unrivaled panoramas over English Harbour. Every Sunday from 5 pm, The Look Out at Shirley Heights is a hive of fun as chefs fill bowls with goat stew and pumpkin soup; bartenders pour plenty of 'English Harbour Five Year Rum' and steel-pan players keep folks on their feet. You can venture to the top on your own, or join Island Routes' Shirley Heights Jump Up for the hottest sunset party in town.
Southeast of St. John's, Nelson's Dockyard National Park is a striking reminder of the once-formidable power of England's navy in the West Indies. As early as 1671, English ships took refuge here from hurricanes and today, the park's centerpiece is the restored Georgian naval dockyard once used by admirals Nelson, Rodney, and Hood. The museum salutes the 18th-century with pirate memorabilia and war mementos. Tours of the dockyard and nature walks along the trails are available for $5.00, which includes access to
Named for a daughter of the owners, Betty's Hope is one of Antigua's iconic images, standing high on a windblown hill in the center of the island. Once a sugar mill that relied on slave power and gusts of wind, there is a small museum that remembers the bygone era with documents and photographs.
Pigeon Point at Falmouth Harbour is for casual swimmers with its calm water and gentle surf. North of St. John's, Dickenson Bay is one of the finest swaths with a wide strip of sand that is softer than baby talc. Ideal for families with small children, mom and pop restaurants are nearby and vendors rent waters sports equipment. More secluded strips are north of the Bay along the northern crown of the island. For a negotiable fee, entrepreneurial locals will take newbie sailors to one of the many uninhabited offshore islets, with Prickly Pear the top choice for its awesome coral gardens.
Privacy seekers rave about Johnson's Point on the southwestern coast. Nothing fancy, the beach tempts with mounds of white sand, clear water and schools of fish in a rainbow of colors. Past the hamlet of Old Road, Carlisle Bay is one of the most celebrated shores with two long beaches and groves of coconut palms. The Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean at Curtain Bluff where the ocean is ridiculously blue from the convergence. Driving north toward St. John's and heading west at the turnoff for Five Islands, four Hawksbill Beaches on the Five Islands peninsula are a quartet of silky sand and coral reefs.
Barbuda - Solitary refinement
A 15-minute flight from Antigua or a scenic ferry ride, Barbuda is worth the trip. Hang out on the endless stretches of pink sandy beaches like Access Beach, which was renamed Diana, Princess of Wales Beach in 2011 on the day she would have turned 50. A favorite of the Royal, who holidayed there in the nineties with the young princes William and Harry, the three-mile powdery stretch is the sandy sanctuary of choice for visiting yachtsmen, notables seeking a paparazzi-free zone, and couples who want to get away from it all.
Make a plan
The calendar is chock full of sunny fun like World Class Antigua Sailing Week April 13-19, and the summer carnival celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.