As a family, we initially struggled to find our activity, that thing we could all enjoy and learn together, and go back to on vacations time and time again. We may just have found our thing thanks to Family Dive Adventures.
While I love skiing and alpine climbing, my wife, Sally, can’t stand the cold. Our 12-year-old daughter, Lillian, loves skiing too and thrives in the cold, but our other daughter, Sylvia (9 years old) will begin a meltdown shortly after her lips turn blue. It’s been challenging for us to pinpoint an activity-based lifestyle for our family where we can all enjoy the same adventure.
One day, at an adventure travel conference during a lecture by Margo Peyton, the founder of Family Dive Adventures (and a member of the Diving Hall of Fame), it hit me: we needed to try scuba diving. My wife loves water. Most dive destinations (at least that we’d go to) are warm. All the experiential elements we craved were there — adventure, challenge, learning — and I started to realize that diving could become our family thing.
Family Dive Adventures approachable programs
Best of all, Margo’s tour operation specializes in programming to teach entire families how to dive. Sally and I quickly dove (pun intended…) into some online PADI certification courses and booked one of Margo’s camps in Bonaire. Located just off the north coast of South America, near the western part of Venezuela, Bonaire is one of three islands, along with Aruba and Curacao, which make up the Dutch Caribbean’s ABC Islands. We flew there, excited yet full of trepidation, with the hope that diving might just become a good fit for all four of us together.
Bonaire has incredibly clear water, a nearly unspoiled ecosystem (it has protected its marine resources for some 35 years), and is often ranked as one of the Caribbean’s top dive destinations. Bonaire National Marine Park offers nearly 90 dive sites, is home to 57 species of soft and stony coral and hundreds of recorded fish species. There are numerous locations to dive right from shore, many companies run regular boat dives, and experienced divers can simply rent a truck and gear and drive right up to sites.
While Sally quickly took to it like, well, a fish to water (sic), we naturally worried whether the girls would like diving. We were concerned about Sylvia, who is accident prone and fearful (often getting scared in bed at night that the house is going to catch fire or a tornado will hit). One scary, short but perhaps airless moment underwater could imprint on her, literally, for life. But she came up to us on the second day and simply stated, “I really like diving. It’s cool.” Sally and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Bonaire diving has opportunities for all
Both our girls loved the patient, well-paced training methods of Family Dive Adventures, who use Buddy Dive Bonaire, a dedicated dive resort in Kralendijk, for the company’s Bonaire camp. They spent the first few days in the pool, just learning about their dive gear, how to use it, underwater hand signals and, of course, safety, safety, safety.
But the itinerary was also brilliantly diverse too, adding to the mix crafts, games, fish identification classes, snorkeling, a slack line crossing on the dock, tubing, and even some tours around the island’s historical sites. One activity, hugely popular with all the kids, was a trip to a local donkey preserve.
I think the parents’ highlight might have been the chaperoned outdoor pizza and a movie night for the kids, which allowed the adults to slip away to a high-end restaurant for a date night. Perhaps the kids’ favorite activity was actually the roving scrums of other kids with whom to play. As the kids of various age groups got to know each other, they eventually took to sitting at their own tables during meals, leaving the adults to tables of their own, free to have real adult conversations. The parents also took shifts at the pool at night after dinner, watching all the families’ kids splashing about so the other couples were free to linger at their tables.
Bonaire restaurants satisfy many tastes on dive trip
The resort restaurants include the casual, beachside Blennies, and the higher-end Ingridients that offers delicious Mediterranean cuisine with French, Spanish and Italian influences. A totally adequate grocery store is just a 10-minute walk out the resort’s front gate, as are restaurants, a drug store, toyshop, and spa. We took a night off from the resort and dined at the Sonia Home restaurant one night and sated Sally’s need for more vegetarian options (and our kids’ need for ice cream). Unfortunately, this restaurant has now closed — maybe we ate too much ice cream?
While our daughters were getting hooked on diving, Sally was absolutely smitten, thanks to Family Dive Adventures. As we completed our own pool time and shallow water dives, she became more and more comfortable in the water. Just as soon as we were certified, she was on the dive boat exploring the depths. The serene, tranquil beauty of the undersea world seduced her. She was continuously emerging to the surface with a wide smile, babbling about all the amazingly brilliant sea life we’d just seen.
There are more than 350 fish species found around the island. Among the brain coral, sea fans, and orange and yellow tube sponges, we also spotted multi-hued parrot fish, barracuda, lean trumpet fish, balloon fish, various types of grouper, moray eels, and dozens upon dozens of others.
Barracuda, octopus, coral, seahorses and more while diving
Stories of fish sightings ran freely through out conversations at meals, on the docks, and virtually everywhere. While we chimed in with our mating cowfish sighting, we were respectfully jealous when other divers ticked off tales of spotting seahorses, a six-foot giant green eel, turtles, and an octopus, flashing through various colors as it flew around the corals.
Wreck divers would be interested in exploring the nearby Hilma Hooker, a 240-foot freighter wreck that is 60-100 feet below the surface of the water between two reefs.
The Bonaire diving camp week finished up with the so-called demo dive, where the kids too young to get certified get to dive in the shallows with their parents (a great family photo opportunity). Afterward, everyone spent the last day diving, snorkeling and generally frolicking in the waters around Klein Bonaire, a small offshore island that is home to hundreds of dive sites, outstanding coral formations and abundant sea life. And, way too soon, the week was over.
Now that we have two daughters hooked on diving and I have a spouse seriously smitten, the dive magazines have started to show up at our house, there’s talk of our next dive trip to various possible destinations, our oldest absolutely wants to get certified, and I think Sally has already booked me into a wreck diving certification course.
Looks like diving might just become our thing after all.