Diving with your family, while offering an awesome adventure together, also presents specific challenges and considerations. Your children’s experience, ages and interests will guide you in selecting the best dive vacation destination. It has been through experiences, both good and bad, that we have finally figured out what works best for our brood-and we are still learning as our kids continue to mature (read: demand more specific requirements).
The first consideration is how much diving everyone wants to do. For the family that wants to dive nearly every day (lucky you!), a true dive resort is likely to be the best option for a number of reasons. Typically, they offer packaged pricing which more efficiently includes the cost for many dives. In addition, they are often set up for frequent diving. For example, dive lockers located down by the dive shop and boat docks encourage kids to dive when there is less equipment schlepping involved. With fresh water cleaning stations nearby, caring for their equipment properly is less daunting. A dive resort will also have equipment available for rent or, in some cases, use at no charge, for the growing kids who do not yet have all of their own swag.
Alternatively, if you have the sense that the kids or family won’t be diving as frequently, there are other features of a resort that may become important. Ensuring other activities are available make the vacation a well-rounded and memorable one. If parents want the option to dive without kids, it is important to ensure there are safe, age-appropriate and fun activities for the kids to participate in while you are out with the fishies. With little kids, a kids’ club or camp that will supervise and feed your children while you are away is ideal. Some resorts will even do age-appropriate snorkeling and scuba lessons in their camps.
With teens, ensuring they can access food and have a safe place to hang out is an important consideration. While it is tempting to encourage (or in our case, bribe) your kids to dive frequently with you when you first arrive, as they have become teens with legitimate stress in their life, they know when they need down time. I have learned that giving them some relaxation up-front actually ends up providing refreshed and enthusiastic divers later in the week. We now embrace the childless diving days.
You may wish to research dive schedules ahead of time. With kids that rise at the crack of dawn, a couple of early dives starts the day off in an exciting way, leaving the rest of the day to swim, snorkel, adventure nearby or relax after lunch. In our case, my teen slugs prefer to sleep in. We have balanced this a number of ways. Sometimes my husband and I will dive once and have them join us on a second dive. With some research, we have found resorts that offer three daily dive times. With the second two starting in the late morning, we can now all enjoy two dives in a day as a family. We have been fortunate to have boat captains that allow us to keep our equipment on the boat between dives. This is a huge incentive for our children to get them back for a second dive with us. While you may be starting to draw a picture of my children which likely includes laziness, I prefer to think of it as not making their vacation seem like too much work. Remember, my goal is to have them enthusiastically diving with us.
We have found that our youngest son is deterred from diving when long boat rides are involved. While we sometimes have unexpected surprise visitors along the ride, often a long ride offers only potential for seasickness and boredom. As a result, we have investigated destinations where there are short rides to great diving sites, calm waters for before and after, all contributing to his enjoyment and excitement. We happily indulge him on this, with little sacrifice. We have also been fortunate enough to have some great divemasters that can make any dive exciting. They are interactive with the kids and are sure to show them interesting creatures during the dive.
The key to a successful family dive vacation is to set your expectations appropriately. This is not necessarily the trip to make everyone trek to a far-away site where conditions are challenging. Flexibility will allow for everyone to have the kind of diving fun they want. For example, on our first trip to Belize, the only person, beside myself, willing to get up by 5am and take a 3 hour boat ride to the Blue Hole was my daughter. Everyone else had a needed day relaxing by the pool, my husband got to catch up on some work emails which gave him peace of mind for the rest of the week, and we were back for a family dinner. That was not how I had initially envisioned it, but everyone would mark that day as a success.
Diving as a family offers a great time to share unique experiences, bond over the excitement of what you discover, and adventure to beautiful places together. The right location exists for everyone with a little up-front research. Remembering your priority of nurturing a love for the sport and sharing it for years to come should remain forefront in all of your planning.