Antigua is located in the Eastern side of the Leeward Islands. The unique selling point of the island is that it has 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. Although I visited many beaches during my frequent stops in Antigua whilst working on the cruise ships and more recently during our family holiday, I cannot (unfortunately) vouch for all 365!
This guide has been written to help you plan your perfect family holiday. We shall start with…
What makes Antigua so special?
In addition to picture perfect beaches, steady trade winds have made Antigua one of the most popular sailing destinations in the world with many major sailing events taking place annually. The small capital of St John’s, home to the cruise ship terminal, has some lovely boutique shops which sell unique clothes and local arts and crafts. There are also several independent quirky bars in St Johns if shopping is not of interest!
Best family attractions & excursions in Antigua
The island has several ‘must see’ attractions including the popular Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, located in the historic English Harbour. It is the only surviving Georgian naval dockyard in the world and today consists of several restored buildings and a museum which stand as a memorial to Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Royal Navy.
The Dockyard was originally used during the 18th and 19th centuries when the Caribbean was at war with the French, Spanish and Dutch. I have visited many times and always find it an interesting place to soak up the history, enjoy the restaurants, art galleries and gift shops and have a nosey at all the fabulous yachts!
During our family holiday in Antigua we organised for a taxi driver to take us on a guided tour of the main sights including the Dockyard and up to the Shirley Heights Lookout. The lookout which is part of the Shirley Heights military complex, is located at the most southerly tip of Antigua and provides an incredible view over the English Harbour (unfortunately it was a rather gloomy day so my image above does not do it justice!)
In addition to sightseeing, the island offers many fabulous excursions. A thrilling rib ride around the entire island stopping in English Harbour was my particular favourite as Shore Excursions Manager.
I can also thoroughly recommend booking a helicopter flight over Monserrat. The small island just off the Antigua coast was destroyed by eruptions of the Soufrière Hills Volcano in 1995. I vividly remember everyone onboard our helicopter being chatty and excitable as our helicopter flew over Antigua and then there was silence as we saw the devastation on Monserrat below. Today a new capital is slowly being rebuilt in the safe zone north of the island.
Other excursions I enjoyed during frequent calls into Antigua include a mangrove kayaking tour, snorkeling with stingrays, a deep-sea fishing excursion, a jeep safari and quad biking tour.
Best family accommodation in Antigua
We were fortunate to stay at three fabulous properties during our family holiday in Antigua – Carlisle Bay and Curtain Bluff located on the south coast of Antigua and Jumby Bay Rosewood Resort, a private 300 acre island located two miles off shore from Antigua. All three offered exceptional family facilities including kids clubs, water sports and a variety of dining options.
The highlights of each resort…
Carlisle Bay – We stayed in a luxurious two-bedroom beach terrace suite which had direct beach access. This worked exceptional well for us as Charlie, who was two at the time, still napped for a couple of hours every afternoon. After a full morning on the beach or playing in the pool we would enjoy a fresh delicious lunch at one of the restaurants and then put him down for a nap. We were then free to enjoy a couple of blissful hours relaxing on our private terrace area or on the beach.
Images – Carlisle Bay beach terrace suite and resort beach. In the mornings we enjoyed watching the locals fish with huge nets from our terrace.
Another huge advantage of staying at Carlisle Bay was they allow infants from as young as six months to attend the kids club. (There is a charge for infants aged 6 months – two years). Whilst Charlie played with his new friends in the well equipped and purpose-built kids club, Richard and I enjoyed some of the water sports on offer. (For families with young babies this is worth keeping in mind as many kids clubs in the Caribbean do not allow children under the age of three).
Curtain Bluff – Located just along the coast from Carlisle Bay is Curtain Bluff. The all-inclusive luxury resort sits on a rocky cliff between two stunning beaches, a calm beach for watersports and swimming and a surf beach. The resort proudly attracts an 80% client return rate and it was easy to see why as the attention to detail and the facilities on offer were exceptional.
Images – The two beaches of Curtain Bluff. All facilities including water sports are included in the room rate.
We took full advantage of the complimentary water sports including a ride on a paddle boat and a snorkeling trip to a nearby reef (Cade’s Reef). Richard also enjoyed a scuba diving excursion and a deep-sea fishing trip. The highlight of his holiday was dining on the fish he had caught during a morning fishing expedition. As he and another guest had caught so much, other guests were also served the ‘catch of the day’ which he was jolly pleased with himself about!
Jumby Bay – We were absolutely blown away with the level of care and customer service we received at this Rosewood Resort. From the moment we arrived on the private island all members of staff referred to us by our first names and no request was ever too much trouble. Our welcome gift of chilled champagne when we arrived at our beach villa set the tone for our three night stay. Even Charlie had his freshly squeezed fruit juice chilling on ice!
We stayed in a one-bedroom incredibly spacious pool suite. It had a private courtyard entrance, vaulted ceiling, living area, master bedroom with a huge bathroom and a private outdoor garden with rain shower and large bath tub. Our private pool and terrace area overlooked the white sandy beach and turquoise blue sea, it was paradise! Whilst on the island we enjoyed many of the complimentary facilities including exploring the island on bike and I water skied for the first time in nearly ten years!
Top tips for a family holiday in Antigua
*** Do not miss the weekly BBQ party at Shirley Heights Lookout on Sunday evening. The food is delicious (particularly the jerk chicken!), the steel drum music is contagious and the sun setting over the English Harbour from a view-point of 490ft above sea level is truly spectacular!
*** Visit Stingray City to snorkel with stingrays (and learn how to do the stingray shuffle!) This was always our most popular excursion in Antigua when I worked on the cruise ships, particularly with families as the water is fairly shallow and so even young children can enjoy the experience.
***If you are not a sailing enthusiast it is worth avoiding travelling to Antigua during the sailing regattas as hotels and flights can be pricey due to the spectators who travel to the island. (The main sailing event takes place during the last week April). We visited in May, slightly outside of the peak season, and experienced great weather for our fortnight stay with just a few rain showers in the afternoons.
Best time to travel to Antigua
The best time to visit the island is between mid-December and mid-April, which is the Caribbean winter season. If you are looking for a good deal, flights and hotels drop significantly outside of this peak season and yet as mentioned above the weather is not that different May – June or early December.
September is the month to avoid as it is peak hurricane season and due to its location Antigua is often on the hurricane path. The island is also very hot and humid between August – October.
Getting to Antigua
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic operate regular direct flights from the London Gatwick to VC Bird International Airport in Antigua. (BA fly daily and Virgin fly three times per week). The flight time is 8.5 hours.
Twin island holiday options
Antigua is a great island to include as part of an island-hopping holiday. Direct flights are available from Antigua to islands including – Nevis, Anguilla, St Maarten, St Barts and the British Virgin Islands. For inter-island flights Liat (liat.com) is the main carrier. Liat has a reputation for not being particularly reliable so keep this in mind if you are booking onward international flights and do not book tight connections.
For more information about Antigua check out the official tourist board website – http://www.visitantiguabarbuda.com/destination/antigua/
We hope Travel Loving Family’s guide to Antigua is helpful in planning your family holiday.
Disclosure – We were invited to stay at Carlisle Bay, Curtain Bluff and Jumby Bay to familiarise ourselves with the resorts when I worked for a UK luxury tour operator. All opinions are (as always) our own. All images are copyright Travel Loving Family