Not all Caribbean islands are the same. For beautiful beaches and bountiful snorkeling visit St. John. For sailing and maritime history, vacation on Antigua.
With two-thirds of St. John protected as part of the Virgin Islands National Park, the island delivers a laid-back getaway with plenty of eco-adventures. On park hikes, wind your way through lush vegetation to scenic outlooks and to beaches as well as to the ruins of a 19th century sugar mill. Even though Trunk Bay, the most famous of the parkís snorkel sites, shows wear, the underwater trail still circles you above brain and fan coral and through schools of rainbow colored fish; however, avoid Trunk Bay when cruise ships are in port.
If you donít mind twisting, rutted roads, then pack a picnic lunch with plenty of water and rent a jeep for a beach safari. Play on such nearly deserted strands as the north coastís Leinster Bay and the south shoreís Lameshur Bay. Before swimming, always check conditions first with park officials.
Then come back to good food. Fish Trap, Cruz Bay, a casual eatery, dishes up shrimp and other seafood as well as burgers. Friendly Zozoís, Gallows Point, serves pastas, veal and pistachio encrusted mahi-mahi. Along with villas and boutique hotels, offers resorts with childrenís programs.
History-minded families who like beach hopping by boat should visit Antigua. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the British fleet found safe anchorage at deep water English Harbour, restored as Nelsonís Dockyard National Park. Tour some buildings, browse others turned into shops, and see if you and your kids can tell time by studying the 1777 sundial.
Both yachties and sun worshippers crave the many beaches carved by the islandís irregular coastline. Families flock to Dickenson Bay on the calm Caribbean side. To discover more hidden shores, explore by boat. Through Adventure Antigua, Eli Fuller, local Antiguan and a former Olympian, takes you to little-frequented reefs and out-of-the-way islets.
Accommodations and food on Antigua range from fancy to plain. Some luxury resorts offer seasonal childrenís programs as do some budget-minded all-inclusives. East, at trendy Carlisle Bay Resort, delivers tasty Asian cuisine. On Sundays, Shirley Heights Lookout serves barbecued chicken and ribs to the beat of steel pan and Reggae music. At this lively party, join the Rastas, grandmothers, teens and toddlers and dance with your kids under the stars.