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Trip Report Antigua Trip Report - 01-2009

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Here's our belated trip report on our January trip to Antigua. The following is the web link to our pictures on Webshots:

http://community.webshots.com/user/foodiechan

Air Travel/Rent-A-Car

We flew direct out of JFK on Delta’s new route to Antigua. Both the in-bound and return flights took roughly 4 hours – good enough for a movie or two on the plane’s entertainment system, or a quick power nap. Upon arrival Antigan customs and immigration were both a breeze. I was told that they are trying to lengthen the runway to accommodate jumbo jets. That said it looked as if the airport structure itself is ready for additional traffic.

The car rental counter was right at the airport. We booked a car with Thrify on Travelocity before we left – they were able to find our ressie and at the price that the car was booked for. We rented a “jeep” (a Toyota Rav 4) which is much recommended (more on this later).

Getting Around the Island

I was pre-warned that the roads on Antigua are full of potholes. It turned out to be average on my scale. Yes, some secondary roads are really bad but the main roads were not terrible. Be aware of those speed bumps though.

In Antigua you drive on the left, which was not a big deal. Also expect to drive a right-wheeled vehicle. This threw me off a little because while on Tortola and Virgin Gorda although you drive on the left you are still using left-wheeled (cars made for the American market) rentals. Not so in Antigua.

Other than this adjustment, you will find road signs lacking on the entire island. Even on major intersections they are not a sure thing either. What that means: expect to get lost a little at the get go. The official Antigua map was not very detailed, but it was helpful because they mark churches and gas stations on the roads, which become very helpful markers when road signs are absent.

Our Rental

We rented an apartment from Calvados Heights, which comprises of the main house and an adjoining garden apartment. Our host, David, is the quintessential chap and was very welcoming throughout our entire stay. Dave lives on site in the main house. Although we do have David as a “house-mate,” generally speaking we were able to retain much of our privacy, partly because of the set up of the house, and not to mention David always tried his best to “stay behind the scenes.” One night we invited David to join us for dinner at the house and we had a great time.

Normally we would have preferred a rental with the most privacy, but consider some of the negative press surrounding crime towards tourists in Antigua, we thought Calvados Heights was a good choice As it turned out, our neighborhood felt save.

Beaches

Antigua had lived up to its reputation for having some of the highest concentrations of great beaches. Although we fell short of visiting all 365 that the island had boasted to have, we found a few really beautiful stretches of sand.

Our favorite would be a toss up between Deep Bay (on Five Islands) and Long Bay (on the east end of the island). Deep bay was very quiet when we visited. Although it is the beach for the Grand Royal resort, their occupancy was low due to renovations etc and we pretty much had the whole beach to ourselves when we visited. The only eye-sore was when a catamaran with day trippers from a cruise ship decided to drop anchor and terrorized the beach for a good 90 minutes.

Long Bay had some of the calmest waters, and with some ok snorkeling near the shore. It is book-ended by two resorts – Pineapple Bay and Long Bay so the beach itself is quite built up. That said the view was just stunning. We camped out over at the Long Bay resort area, where they allowed you to use their facilities if you spend money on food and drink. Dave the manager of the beach restaurant was very nice, and we had a great time there.

Some of our other favorites include Turner’s Beach, which is anchored by the Turner’s Beach Bar, with the Restaurant OJ’s in the middle, and another restaurant Gibson’s towards the north end. Turner’s Beach is nice because there’s plenty of space to spread out and to get away from the crowd. Towards Gibson’s on the other end, my wife was able to pick up a couple of fairly large conch shells.

Frayers Beach was very nice as well, but the scenery was ruined by a big bright orange tent set-up for yet another catamaran docking for lunch. We chose to go to the far end of the beach where there was a little shade, and took refuge there…until a group of six decided to camp about 20 feet away from us and started smoking their cigarettes.

We also made a brief stop at Jolly Beach near Jolly Harbor, but concluded that it was simply too crowded and over developed for us. The legendary Half Moon Bay was a little disappointing as it was primarily a surfer’s beach, and not the best to lay down and enjoy a beverage with yor favorite book.

A few other beaches like Hawksbill and Carlisle are gated at the entrance, as resorts were built on and around the beach. The Carlisle Bay resort was swank.

Overall the water on the beaches are clear and almost always turquoise blue in color. The only real eyesore were the preponderance of smokers (I need to remind myself that there are a lot of Europeans here) on the beach, and cigarette butts that they left.

Food and Drink

Upon David’s recommendations we visited a number of pretty good restaurants.

OJ’s – in the middle of Turner’s Beach, makes some of the best local fish. We had both the grilled and fried whole snapper there and both times they were right on. The snapper was very fresh.

Gibsons – just a few steps away from OJ’s serve slightly more refined cusine. We especially liked the pineapple shrimp curry.

The Red Octopus – is a local joint in the English Harbor area. Murphy the owner is friendly and very hospitable. He serves local food and we had local mahi-mahi, lobster, and goat water there. Not the most fancy, but we love local food and this is exactly what we looked for.

Trappas – another place near English Harbor. This restaurant serves an eclectic menu. For some reason we craved fried foods that night and that’s all that we ordered. With an icy cold Wadadli it was perfect.

As for drinking we stayed close to home and frequented the Mad Mongoose at English Harbor. A lot of people from the boats (I mean yachts not cruise ships) hang out there which makes evenings there quite lively. We also watched the Obama inauguration there too. In fact we befriended two other couples, and one of which owns a boat and is on their two-year journey of travelling and living on the boat. We were invited to their boat that night for some snacks and beer (we brought steak and beer) – what a highlight!

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

We spent a morning walking around Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbor, and took some pictures of the old building and such. On our final day we went up to Shirley Heights to take in the vista and of course, took the “money shot” of English Harbor and Nelson’s Dockyard etc. Due to the traffic we chose not to venture into St. John’s their capital city. With 2 and sometimes 3 cruisers at port it was not worth fighting the congestion.

Their official currency there is the EC (Eastern Caribbean Dollar) which is about EC$2.60 to USD$1. Most places would take U.S. money and give you change back in EC.

Over all we had enjoyed our stay in Antigua. While it was definitely a little over-developed for our taste, we had enjoyed ourselves. We just wished that the island would become less dependent on the cruise ship business, because we truly experienced paradise on our last day, the day where there were no cruise ships in port.

Cheers,
Ed and Peg

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