Family Dive Vacation - Tips from a SUPER Mom
By Carolyn Pascal Guarino
ell, it happened. A few short years ago your only thoughts about your next vacation were the bar, a little local cuisine, maybe some music, a full moon and...well you get the idea. Ahhh, the simple pleasures of a bygone era.
But our lives are so much fuller now: full of play dates, play stations and play dough; school calendars, church calendars and sports calendars. When did it happen that getting time off work was the least of your problems in planning a vacation? Well, it happened. But don't forget, we're the generation that can have it all. That means if you've got the will to find your way back to an era that included diving among other pleasurable pursuits, I'm hereto tell you that it can be done! And you need not leave the little ones behind (unless your sanity depends on it).
Here are a few practical tips if you're ready to take the plunge and have it all. I'm sure after your first family dive vacation you'll be able to add to my list, and I welcome your input for a follow-up article.
Mean Different Things at Different Resorts
Unlike babysitting services, which are pretty self-explanatory, kid's programs can be anything from a supervised swingset to a full week's program of mind and body enriching activities. Don't wait till you're at the resort to realize you've invested in the former. Check ahead for as many specifics as you can get from printed material, the internet and word of mouth. If you find a lack of information on kid's programs, there's probably a good reason. A resort that doesn't cater to kids may suit you just fine-as long as you don't expect otherwise. Remember, your happiness will have a direct correlation to the happiness of those around you.
Does Not Have to be Part of the Adventure
It's Possible that in the "good old days" the more remote and harder to get to spots were the most attractive to you. Let this be a gentle reminder that island-hopping with a couple of bags and a few seasoned travelers may not reflect the realities of your life today.
Did you ever feel like just getting your family out of the house was a major ordeal? Well, remember that feeling when considering your next dive destination. Whenever possible, I opt for nonstop flights and pre-arranged airport transfers. (The only thing worse than missing a connection is arriving in a foreign airport with more bags and family members than you can comfortably handle.)
Many "exotic" dive destinations charter their own flights from major gateways and arrange airport transportation, so you need not forgo a more remote setting.
Condos, Cottages and Suites
Were Invented for a Reason
Yes, I know a hotel room next to the dive shop works just fine. Sure a fridge and some extra space would've been a nice luxury to store cold beer, some wine and extra gear, but one you could easily live Without. That former luxury may have just become a life saver. Unless you're at an all-inclusive resort, meals are a significant added expense. If you can economize on breakfast and lunch, you can relax when your dinner costs more than your hotel room per night. In addition to saving money, waking up to a cup of coffee on your balcony gets the day off to a pretty pleasant start.
Local grocery shopping can be fun, too. Stocking up on favorite cereals, juices, bottled water and snacks will become an indulgence you won't want to live without. When traveling with babies or children with special dietary needs, check ahead on the availability of those items; If your brand of diapers and formula are eaSily accessed on location, consider packing only a minimal supply and replenishing as needed. Likewise, bring YOur own if you anticipate difficulty in obtaining critical supplies (resort drug counters are painfully limited).
I guess I always knew theoretically that condos/suites were an excellent option for traveling families. Now I can report first-hand that given the choice between cramming a roll-away into an average-sized hotel room, forgoing any kind of privacy, and having to pay room service prices for every unexpected thirst, my vote would have to go for the extra space. Connecting rooms are another good option when a hotel makes more sense than a condo. So consider the alternatives and the wise words of my friend Eileen who repeatedly declares, "It's my vacation, too!"
Travel Size Items Serve a Purpose
I used to shrug my shoulders when friends would observe with humor the large size of the toiletry items I traveled with. When packing for one, it hardly mattered if I brought enough shampoo to last a month. But as the number of required toiletries has increased, the quantity of those items has decreased in direct proportion. Which leads me to Tip #5.
Words of Wisdom to Mom
My husband is laughing as, after my many years of traveling, I have yet to learn how to pack efficiently. I may never learn, but I do understand it's the right thing to advise. Although I don't like to stereotype, particularly by gender, men do seem to instinctively know they can wear a sports jacket, slacks and maybe even a shirt more than once. I don't want to accuse my fellow women of having a harder time with this basic concept, harder time with this basic concept, but if the shoe fits...(pack it).
How do you go about packing light? Well I have learned that black, white and beige can be very versatile wardrobe options. If you're traveling to a casual dive resort, think open-air, flat shoes, wrinkle-free, day to night kind of clothes (I always carry a cotton sweater to guard against over airconditioning).
Leave all but the most essential pieces of good jewelry behind. It's one less thing to have to worry about (I guess that's a strong argument for costume jewelry).
Children could use a few activities to occupy their plane, restaurant and general down time, but you need not transport their playroom to your hotel room. My experience has shown time and again that the more I bring, the less is actually used. And once again, you'll worry less if the traveling toys are easily replaceable rather than the opposite.
Dive Guilt Free
The best way to achieve guilt-free diving is to make sure everyone knows what to expect. If someone is going to be left on beach/pool duty while you're off exploring at sea, make sure they approve of the plan. It should not come as a surprise to you or your family that the dive boat leaves at 9:00 am and doesn't return till noon. Make sure you choose a location and resort that can satisfy not only your diving desires, but your family's other interests as well. Whether it be tennis, golf, shopping, sight-seeing or just plain sun and sea, make sure it's accessible (i.e.: if you find yourself saying, "We'll figure it out when we get there," stop and think again). "Ocean view" may not mean you're on the beach, and "Access to town" may mean a 25 minute and $25 taxi ride.
After diving, plan an activity that everyone will enjoy. Maybe this is the time for the family to try snorkeling. We started our daughter off in the pool and she was comfortable with a mask and snorkel well before she could swim. The next step was floating in the sea hand in hand, complete with pointing and squealing at each passing yellowtail. The picture books come to life and the most memorable experiences are made.
Depending on the children's age there are wonderful new ways to introduce them to scuba. From new equipment specially designed for a child's first scuba experience to resort courses and full certifications for 12 year olds, there are many ways to turn your children on to the wonders of the world below. There are also group travel programs for teenagers interested in a summer that includes diving, sailing, marine biology and certification training.
Many resorts and dive centers offer U/W video and slide shows, marine ID programs and U/W photography seminars. Dolphin and other marine encounters are another great way to include your family in your special interest. These experiences will be fun and educational at every level.
Some destinations get virtually no rainfall and have very consistent temperatures year-round. This is not the case in most places however. Beware of rainy/hurricane seasons, water conditions in winter vs. summer, and seasonal price variations. If you're working around school holidays, remember that you're not alone. Spring break, Thanksgiving, and particularly Christmas books up to a year in advance, so advance planning is advised.
It also gives you a better opportunity to gather information and pre-book unique dives that may be in great demand.
Also, check on the dive center's cancellation policy. You'll find everything from no refunds under any circumstances to full refund no questions asked. (Usually it's somewhere in between.)
Sunburn, bug bites and stomach aches can undermine the best laid plans. Make sure your supply of sunscreen, insect repellents and antacid tablets are used before it's too late. I've found carrying a few band-aids and basic first aid supplies akin to carrying an umbrella--if you do, chances are you won't need it, but if you don't, you will be sorry.
Do you feel more comfortable traveling in groups where most of the arrangements are made for you? Then a trip arranged through a dive shop, dive club or packaged tour may offer you the benefit of someone else's experience.
If you don't want alot of surprises, especially when it comes to cost, look into all-inclusive resorts where you won't have to sweat out the expense of every mealtime and sports activity. All-inclusives are also a great way for families to enjoy different activities at the same resort at the same time, many with organized kid's programs for various age groups.
The free-spirited adventurer that is looking for maximum independence should consider a condo, car rental and local currency. It is very possible that you could be happy with any of the above scenarios, in that case defer to the best interests of the family as a whole.
This is it: your family, your quality time, your priority, your personal life. You can do it. You can travel, dive and make memories to last a lifetime. Then you can become your own neighborhood expert on how to have it all!