Could We be… A SCUBA Family???
I’m a skier. Raised in New England, I cut my teeth on the icy slopes of the White Mountains. Eventually I moved west and learned to ride powder, ski the trees and pop through double-black chutes. My dream was always to imbue my family with the same passion for flying down snow covered slopes.
But there’s a problem: my wife hates the cold and our 8-year old starts shivering within fifteen minutes on a slope, no matter how much we bundle her up. During a presentation about diving though, it suddenly dawned on me… while we apparently may never be a ski family, diving could be another option. It’s not only (generally) warm but often located in tropical locals (a bonus for my spousal unit). Could we become, instead of a ski family, a SCUBA Family?
We headed to Bonaire to find out.
Bonaire is one of the three ABC Islands; the three western-most islands of the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. They lie just north of Venezuela and are, in west to east order, Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire.
Bonaire is well known as a great dive destination and a particularly good one for beginner divers. The Dutch Caribbean island has incredibly clear water, an unspoiled ecosystem (they’ve protected their 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, and many companies run regular boat dives.
When going with an entire family though, especially one new to diving, it’s critical to work with a guide service, resort, or tour operator. The company we went with, Family Dive Adventures, specializes in an array of programming for adults (both those already certified and newbies), teens, middle school kids, and even small children. Kids as young as 11 can actually get PADI certified during the trip.
While our kids began to learn to use their diving gear in the pool during the first few days, it didn’t take long for them to get hooked. Sylvia, the 8-year old that turns blue at even the thought of snow, came up to us on the second day and bluntly stated, “I really like diving. It’s cool.” My wife and I exchanged a happy glance as we both mentally thought, ‘Phew!’ We were in.
While older kids worked on advanced skills and certifications, the younger kids’ diving instruction was broken up by other activities such as crafts, tubing, snorkeling, fish identification, and inland island tours to see the tiny huts slave traders once used to store their human commodities and a donkey sanctuary (donkeys, also a result of the island’s former life as a hub for the slave trade are everywhere on the island). The schedule wisely included an outdoor pizza and movie night for all the kids, so their parents could enjoy a slow-paced gourmet meal, or slip away for a date night.
Perhaps the best kids’ ‘activity’ though was actually the abundance of other kids with which to play. As the kids got to know each other, they eventually took to sitting at dinners at their own table, leaving the adults to tables of their own, free to have actual conversations. The kids also all piled into the nearby pool after dinner, as parents rotated turns watching them all.
Amidst all the squealing, laughing, singing and general goofiness of happy kids, the adults actually got to enjoy the diving. While certified divers hoped right onto prescheduled morning and afternoon dive boats, my wife and I quickly wrapped up our PADI certification (having done the written coursework beforehand, online, we were certified by Wednesday afternoon). Soon we were exploring the fascinating marine world, first right from the dock of our boutique resort and soon enough joining the more experienced divers on the boats.
The serene, tranquil beauty of the undersea world instantly seduced my wife. She, as I suspected she would be, was immediately hooked, continuously emerging to the surface with a wide smile, babbling about all the amazingly brilliant sea life we’d just seen.
Marine life abounds in this scuba diving paradise with more than 350 fish species found in Bonaire’s water. Among the brain coral, sea fans, and orange and yellow tube sponges, we swam with multi-hued Parrot fish, Barracuda, lean Trumpetfish, Balloonfish, various types of Grouper, Moray Eels, and dozens upon dozens of others. Dinner conversations were punctuated with stories of sightings of various animals. While we bragged about seeing mating Cowfish, we were notably jealous when other divers told us tales of seeing Seahorses, a six-foot Giant Green Eel, turtles, and an octopus, flashing through various colors as it flew around the corals.
Advanced divers also got to explore the Hilma Hooker, a 240-foot freighter wreck that lies at 60-100 feet between two reefs (and, since we got home, I think my wife has already scheduled us to get certified for wreck diving).
Our fabulous week of diving concluded with the ‘demo dive’, where the kids too young to get certified yet get to do a shore dive in the shallows with their parents (a fantastic family photo opportunity) and then everyone spends 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.
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: We connected through Atlanta on Delta, and then flew four hours directly to Bonaire.
WHERE TO STAY: We stayed the week at Buddy Dive Bonaire, a dedicated dive resort in Kralendijk. The resort has two restaurants; the casual, beachside Blennies, and the higher-end Ingridients, which offers Mediterranean cuisine with French, Spanish and Italian influences. A very adequate grocery store is just a ten-minute walk out the front of the resort, as are restaurants, a drug store, toy shop, and spa. We took a night off from the resort and dined at the excellent and tony (yet still kid-friendly) Sonia Home restaurant one night, and sated my wife’s need for more vegetarian options (and our kids’ need for ice cream) by picking up Suriname and Java food at The Tasty Treat.
FEES: Note that Bonaire National Marine Park has a fee for all park uses. You must purchase (and have displayed on you) a Nature Tag, one for diving and another forany other activities. The proceeds are used to help manage and conserve the park.