On 4 February 2012 we left the gray skies and bare trees of western North Carolina for 10 days of Antigua’s sun and sea breezes . . . The Monday flights to Antigua from Patrick AFB, Fla., and the Wednesday flights back to Patrick, are about as sure a thing as you can find in the Space-A world, since they can tell you on Friday if you’re going. (Call (321)-494-5631. They have their own sign-up form.)
At Patrick AFB, we stayed in a $39 (now $41.50) TLF family unit, with two bedrooms, and even a washer/dryer. Facility renovations began right after our stay in February 2012 and will open for guests in a few months. Breakfast at the golf course right inside the south gate was OK and convenient. We left our POV right in the passenger terminal parking lot.There are eight DV units right on the beach. We stayed there once before, but found them inconvenient in that they’re off the main base on Highway A1A and require a device to enter the gate.
We had signed up for the flight when we were at Patrick 60 days before. Show time was 0900, and the DC-8 was configured for about 30 passengers along with cargo and was staffed with flight attendants so friendly and helpful that they must’ve been in a time warp somewhere since 1950. We left around 1300 for the three-hour flight. Lunch consisted of a sandwich, chips and cookies, along with a variety of beverages. The Federal commercial contract flight Departure Tax was about $16 per person.
Antigua is on Eastern, not Daylight Savings Time, so we got to V.C. Bird International Airport about 1700 local time. After deplaning, be sure to sign up with the Air Station representative for your return flight. U.S. currency is accepted everywhere.
We stayed in Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) on Dickenson Bay on the northwest corner of the island, in a cottage on the property of long-time island residents. You can Google “VRBO Dickenson Bay, Antigua” for photos and rates. Prices vary with the seasons. We paid $1,200 for nine days. Four people can sleep comfortably in the cottage – one bedroom has twin beds, the other a king. This was an excellent choice for us.
Our hosts could not have been more gracious and helpful if we had been paying $5,000 a day, lovely people! A real benefit was having their maintenance man, Gerard, pick us up at the airport; we paid him $20. On the way to the cottage, he took us to the supermarket so that we could buy supplies. Food prices are breathtaking since nearly everything comes in by ship.
The cottage was comfortable, clean and well maintained and attractively decorated with vivid island colors. There are two bedrooms separated by a breeze-way. The owners provide a cell phone for guests and there is internet access. Many TV channels are available.
All the equipment one needs to make a meal is in the kitchen. Linen changes and general housekeeping was offered more frequently than we expected. The weather in early February was gorgeous with warm, sunny, breezy days and cool nights, perfect for snuggling down in the king-size bed. We spent many beautiful days on the patio surrounded by gorgeous landscaping, reading and watching the little yellow birds and lizards.
Around the Island
Just across the road from the cottage is the Sandals resort complex. A 10-minute walk gets you to the beach. Everyone can use any of the numerous beaches dotting the island. In Antigua Village, there’s a small grocery store and a couple of beach-front restaurants. Putters, on the way to the beach, is a pub-like restaurant open for dinner at 1700 seven days a week.
Renting a car would’ve given us more opportunity to explore, but doing so with an 80-year-old driver, keeping to the left, on terrible roads with aggressive locals, didn’t seem like a good idea. There’s a taxi driver whom the owner can contact who’ll do day tours of the island. The owner, a 30-year resident and the Swiss-born wife of an American citizen, had books in the cottage on the history of Antigua, which affords a good grasp of the local culture and political scene, especially US involvement in the local government.
Antigua won independence from England in 1981, but thanks to corrupt politicians, the people, most descended from slaves brought there in colonial times to work on sugar cane plantations, still live in an undeveloped country. For example, there is a magnificent cathedral in the capital city of St. Johns
that is literally falling apart for lack of maintenance. It’s unsafe to get near enough to take a picture. One sees lovely big houses surrounded by flowers next door to tumble-down shacks. Antigua’s most prosperous section is in the southwest, where the ruins of English forts sit high above the sea. The National Park has a small interpretive center and incredible views of English Harbor, where the huge yachts of the super rich lie at anchor.
Gerard was on hand at 0415 to drive us to the Air Station. Our lovely hostess gave us a 0330 wake-up call. The letter of instruction from Patrick AFB to Space A travelers emphasizes that on Wednesday morning, passengers must be at the Air Station gate NLT 0500. Phone the Tuesday before departure to ensure that the plane is on schedule and that seats are available (268-462-3223.) Note that the Air Station is not at the airport, but rather a separate location; do not ask a taxi driver to take you to the V.C. Bird airport. Departure Tax for two amounted to $58.
After processing in at the Air Station’s passenger terminal, we had breakfast – great buffet – at 0630, and about 0700 while still in the dining hall were instructed by the P.A. system to board the bus waiting at the door. The bus took us to the plane directly. We landed at Patrick about 1100. Very nice people working in the terminal at both ends.
We had wondered if we could still have a good time traveling Space-A at our age, but we found that we could, and did. Years ago we’d have been down at Shirley Heights dancing to the calypso band and splashing in the surf in the many coves around the island. Nowadays sitting on the patio enjoying the beautiful scenery was good too.
One of the best parts was chatting with interesting fellow passengers – a retired military man who now works as a courier making deliveries all over the world; a civilian contractor who also travels worldwide in his job of acquisitions; an attractive retired couple fleeing Michigan’s ice and snow to RV through Florida until springtime. Viva Space-A!
Cliff Weathers, COL, USA, Ret.
and wife, Margie Weathers
Far-western North Carolina
Cliff served as a U.S. Army chaplain for 30 years.
Reprint from May-Jun 2012 • Volume 42, No. 3