Welcomes are big in Antigua despite its rather small size – it’s just 22km long. Stepping off the plane you're greeted by a warm blast of air, live calypso and an ice-cold fruit punch – all three will fast become firm friends.
Antigua (pronounced Antigwa) is one of the quieter Caribbean islands and a great choice for families. Notable home-owners include Georgio Armani (we all struck a pose while sailing past), Eric Clapton and Oprah Winfrey, but the real stars are the 365 beaches.
We found it hard to say no to some of the many excellent activities available, from the rainforest canopy tour with ziplines to the Subcat Antigua dives of up to 30m. We particularly recommend Paddles (antiguapaddles.com), a fun yet educational eco-adventure involving guided kayaking trips in the mangroves, the natural water filters for the island's coral reefs (which also keep the sand so white). The mangroves are a bit like a nursery for barracuda, sea cucumbers and more, as well as being a feeding ground for hawksbill turtles (who feast on abundant turtle grass), exhausted after a night of laying eggs. We all held and examined a gargantuan starfish, which was hard and shell-like, not like the ones we see in UK rockpools.
After kayaking, we were taken to the uninhabited Bird Island, where Antigua's only snake, the (harmless) 'Antiguan racer', lives, having been brought back from near extinction. We saw one on a hike to the top. From the island we snorkelled the reefs, and on our return journey we saw pelican nests, stuffed full with goofy grey young, from the boat.
There's also Tropical Adventures (tropicalad.com), the island's top excursions operator, whose trips include the Land & Sea Safari, with an island tour by 4x4, taking you into the jungle and stopping off high above Nelson's Dockyard with its superb views, then an afternoon on the $1-million catamaran Mystic, with snorkelling and an on-board BBQ.
Antiguans, we discovered, celebrate really well, with festivals for almost every occasion and all ages, including sailing week in April, Carnival in July, and a literary festival in November. There are also kite, food, comedy, and cultural festivals, among them a huge music festival in June. Antiguans of all ages are famously sports mad, and the countless sports tournaments include cricket and football at the headline-hitting Viv Richards Stadium, which has a capacity of 20,000 people – almost a third of all residents. Even our guide had just retired from international athletics.
Other regulars not to miss are Sundays at Shirley Heights, with steel bands and reggae, a party atmosphere and an open-air BBQ. For beach sports, try Sand Haven beach on Sundays and Tuesdays, hosting cricket, football or volleyball, plus nightly music.
Read more about family holidays in Antigua, including our hand-picked recommendations for family-friendly resorts and hotels.