Port of Call Spotlight: St. John's, Antigua

Special Correspondent

If when you think of the Caribbean, you conjure up beaches and more beaches, Antigua may be the island for you. It has 365 beaches -- presumably one for each day of the year. And it is not just quantity, but quality too: Antigua's beaches are beauties, for the most part with white facial-powder-like sands and clear aquamarine waters protected by coral reefs.

Popular beaches include Dickenson Bay on Antigua's northwest coast, with wide sands and calm waters, and Pigeon Point on Falmouth Harbour, arguably the best beach near English Harbour and thus, convenient for cruise ship passengers (but it may be crowded, particularly if there is more than one ship in port).

Top attraction in Antigua, after the beaches, is Nelson's Dockyard National Park, 11 miles southeast of St. John's. A popular stop on shore excursions sold onboard ships, this site is one of the eastern Caribbean's foremost attractions and palpable proof of Britain's naval power in the Caribbean. The focal point of the park is the restored Georgian naval dockyard, frequented by British ships since as early as the 17th century and once used by Admiral Nelson and other British admirals in the 18th century. It served as headquarters for the British fleet in the Leeward Islands in the late 18th century. Although Nelson never lived in the Admiral House --it dates from 1855--his telescope and tea caddy are exhibited in the house as well as other nautical memorabilia.

Other points of interest in St. John's include the 19th century St. John's Cathedral, an Anglican house of worship at Church Lane, between Long and Newgate Streets. Destroyed by earthquakes the church, with its two baroque towers, has been rebuilt three times since it was built in the 17th century. History buffs may wish to check out the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda on Long and Market Streets, housed in the colonial, 18th century, Court House and featuring exhibits about the island's history until its independence from Britain in 1981.

If your ship is in port on Friday or Saturday mornings, you may wish to check out the colorful market, with crafts, fruits, vegetables and flowers on the southern edge of the city, at the south end of Market Street.

Popular shore excursions sold onboard cruise ships, in addition to city/island bus tours, include rainforest canopy tours for sip-lining over twin cables above the tree tops; catamaran sails to beaches for snorkeling and other water sports; boat cruises, perhaps on a replica of a pirate ship; fishing excursions; and scuba diving trips.

British woolens and linens make good, duty-free souvenirs and for island tastes, try the mahi mahi in a puff pastry with Creole sause at Coco's, on Mount Prospect, Jolly Bay, and the fish soup and marinated conch at the Commissioner's Grill on Redcliffe Street in St. John's.

Cruise lines that call on St. John's include Azamara, Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn and Silversea.

IF YOU GO -- For additional information on St. John's, visit www.antigua-barbuda.org

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