Port and Shore Excursions
This is the island where I felt least safe on our trip (though, honestly, it wasn't that bad), and although poverty is supposedly worse in Dominica and St. Kitts, it is more visible in Antigua. We were told that corruption in the government has led Antigua to be less successful in its transition from British colony to independent Caribbean nation than some of the other islands. Still I was very glad to go to Antigua and found the views of the harbor to be incredible. In a voyage where each island is more beautiful than the next, Antigua's harbor is still remarkably breathtaking. History buffs will also love Antigua. I think my mom would have liked Antigua more if there hadn't been pressure from numerous taxi touts to take a tour with them as soon as you got to the pier as they seemed a little secretive and unhappy. Perhaps they weren't legal guides and they had to be furtive about asking tourists to ride with them. I think the best thing to do is to say "I already have a tour, thank you" and you'll be fine. However, this is one island where I would suggest going with a planned activity organized by your cruise line as opposed to winging it on your own. We took a "Best of Antigua" tour and our guide was great -- both friendly and informative.
I think Barbados must be much nicer than it was during our experience. The port seemed kind of bland and industrial, and our "Two Coasts" tour was uninspired. A big part of the problem was that we couldn't hear our driver 90% of the time as he droned on about which parish we were in without explaining why that might be important information. Barbados was also fairly dry and plain, so it paled in comparison to the incredibly lush Dominica which we saw the day before. On the other hand, the rough Atlantic coast was exactly as it looked in the guidebooks, and it was a sight that shouldn't be missed. The unusual rock formations and pounding surf made for an experience that was unlike anything we saw anywhere else on this voyage. Also, between the gaggle of hotels on the Caribbean side of the island, we could glimpse fantastically blue water and people enjoying things like parasailing. There were also gardens and an orchid farm that our tour didn't stop at, so I think Barbados is probably much nicer that what we witnessed. My one piece of advice would be to do something besides Carnival's "Two Coasts" tour. I should add that of all the islands we visited, including St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, this is the one where I felt safest, so if you want to skip a structured tour and venture out on your own, this seemed like the place to do it.
I don't think you go to Dominica with the idea of lovely beaches, Caribbean blue water, and plush resorts although it's a beautiful island. This is where you go for eco-tourism. You'll see lush rain forest, pristine waterfalls, and tropical birds and flowers everywhere. This is supposedly what the Caribbean islands used to look like, and I think I believe it. Things are not so primitive that you worry about the safety of the roads or lack of facilities, but Dominica is indeed one of the poorer islands. Dominica is covered in orchards and fruit tree groves, and you'll pass banana plantations, pineapple farms, coconut groves, and practically every fruit imaginable, and I was impressed with how the system works in Dominica. Farmers pick most of their fruit, but they are to leave some of the lower quality produce in their fields, and the poor and hungry are allowed to take it to feed themselves as long as they don't sell it. That struck me as a very wise system, and I think for such a small country, Dominica functions very well. So it may not be a place for beach lovers and shoppers, but it's definitely a green paradise.
St. Kitts is late in making the transition for a sugarcane-based economy to a tourism-based economy, and in a way, that makes St. Kitts an interesting destination. While there are already a lot of resorts, there is an unspoiled quality to the island. We did a tour of a famous fort as well as Romney Manor which had an interesting batik studio as well as a lush tropical garden. After seeing the incredible scenery in Dominica, St. Lucia, and Antigua, St. Kitts is only "moderately amazing" as it's not lush or blessed with a stunning harbor, but there are sweeping views from the mountains of neighboring islands such as Nevis, Saba and Statia. Like Antigua, there were taxi touts pressuring cruise passengers to take tours with them, but they were less pushy here and when you said "thank you, I already have a tour," they seemed pleased enough with that to say "All right then, have a good time." While I enjoyed St. Kitts very much, I don't think I would pick a cruise specifically for this island the way I might to see St. Lucia or Dominica.
This is one of the beautiful places I've ever seen. We did a Best of Saint Lucia tour, and the scenery was phenomenal. We didn't even see the Pitons which are Saint Lucia's most famous landscape, but we couldn't be disappointed. Our guide was mostly wonderful--very informative and friendly. While it wasn't as lush as Dominica, the flowers, palm trees, and mountain views were unforgettable. While minor issues like safety on narrow roads means I would sooner suggest Aruba or The Cayman Islands to someone unadventurous who is made nervous by the little independent countries in the Caribbean, this is really the island I find most fascinating. Let me reassure you that I felt safe here--I just come from a family of worriers, so I know that St. Lucia will feel like an "adventure destination" to some people when I honestly think it's probably comfortable for just about anyone. There was a little bit of noticeable homophobia in St. Lucia (the guide said "This is a Christian country. We don't support `it.'") and that mars things slightly, however you'll find that problem in, I think, every single English-speaking island in the Caribbean. If that's a deal breaker, then you'll do better with a trip to the Dutch Caribbean (Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, St. Maarten) or the French Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barth's)or Puerto Rico (even considering the recent incident) instead of this kind of cruise.
I'd heard this island was overrun and a tiny bit seedy, but it was actually beautiful and friendly. We were scheduled to go on a tour of St. John, but it was canceled, so we went on a "Best of Saint Thomas" tour. The views of the blue sea and pristine beaches from the mountains were stunning. We stopped at a mountaintop "bar" that's famous for its banana daiquiris, and we had virgin daiquiris that were fantastic. We also stopped at a beautiful mountainside garden and historic home. I think on this cruise where the other islands were Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, and St. Kitts, St. Thomas is your best bet for shopping, but we didn't take advantage of that and were very happy with our tour and our friendly guide. Sure, I've heard that St. John is far more beautiful, but St. Thomas is very pretty in its own right.