The government of Antigua has provided new information on the progress and future plans of its cruise infrastructure developments. During a cabinet meeting, the Minister of Information covered extending the cruise port to include Rat Island and the ongoing discussions regarding a beach club at Fort James initially announced in partnership with Royal Caribbean back in 2019.

Antigua has been at the forefront of developing its cruise infrastructure, constructing a $30 million berth for Royal Caribbean Oasis-class ships, as well as Carnival Corporation’s Excel-class ships. With the development of Rat Island and Fort James, the island shifts its focus to smaller cruise ships and yachts, and daytime activities for large cruise ship guests.

During a cabinet meeting on March 20, 2024, the Antiguan government announced its decision to develop the north side of Rat Island. The location for the development is a small spit of land on the north side of St. John’s cruise terminal. The location is now home to the famous English Harbour Rum distillery. 

The initiative is designed to enable berthing for yachts and small cruise ships, while larger cruise ships will continue to dock at the Antigua Cruise Port and Heritage Quay. The project’s cost has yet to be determined, but according to the information Minister, the expected return on investment is seen as justifying the expenditure.

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The extension aligns with broader plans to enhance the attractiveness and utility of the capital city, St. John, for both residents and visitors. Nicholas did not specify whether the project would be government-funded or involve private investment but noted the government’s readiness to lead and attract investment.

“I think it would be fair to look at it as the government’s continued approach towards economic development, and if you look at it from the way we’re looking at it, we’re looking at certainly enhancing the value of the land that is sitting there idle,” Melford Nicolas stated to Loopnews.

Cruise Ships Docked in Antigua (Photo Courtesy: Antigua Cruise Port)

The development is expected to have a significant boost effect on the local economy and benefit taxi operators, restaurant owners, and other entrepreneurs by providing new business opportunities. 

The government would also want to investigate the possibility of developing an entertainment and dining hub on Rat Island, similar to what is available now at Heritage Quay, and what has proven to be a huge success in Nassau, Bahamas

While Antigua explores the possibility of introducing a dining and entertainment hub similar to what Nassau offers, the development of a Royal Caribbean International beach club in Nassau is already in progress. In contrast, Antigua is still in the discussion phase with the cruise line for its beach club project.

The government and Royal Caribbean had announced plans in October 2019 for a $100 million beach club at Fort James. However, the pandemic put these plans on hold. With cruising back to normal, discussions about this project have resumed, although Royal Caribbean has provided no definitive answer for the development on the peninsula at the entrance of the Bay of St. Johns.

Photo Credit: Gerwin Schadl / Shutterstock

The Antiguan government had hoped for Royal to start construction in 2024, but the project is currently under review: “The matter is up for review, and at some point in time, it will be either a green thumbs up for that particular project to execute it, or if Royal Caribbean are not able to execute as planned, then we will consider that a closed issue and move towards another level of development,” Nicholas stated.

One reason for the delays could be the rising construction prices, which have increased the project’s expected final cost. Initial costs in 2019 were estimated at $80 million, while the latest projections sit at $100 million. 

Regardless of the outcome, the site at Fort James and the development of Rat Island are viewed as critical elements in maximizing the benefits of cruise tourism for Antigua and Barbuda. 

With the opening of the $30m Oasis-class berth at the Antigua Cruise Port and a rise in homeport visits from both large and small cruise ships, the addition of more berths and activities will be seen as a welcome addition by cruise line executives.

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