A Childs Delight
Discover the Underwater World as a Family
BY JOEL SIMON
Today families have more choices than ever before of how to spend leisure time with their kids. These decisions are important-family vacations can have a strong influence on shaping your child's long term interests.
As an active member of the travel industry, my friends, most of whom have children, are constantly asking what they should do on their family holidays. Fair enough-but I'm biased. I love snorkeling. It's no secret. And I think a snorkeling vacation is one of the most ideal family activities around. But before arriving at the obvious conclusion, I usually ask people to reflect on their own childhood.
Take a moment to think back on the activities you enjoyed as a kid. Maybe it was roller skating, bicycling or horseback riding. Maybe you played team sports such as Little League baseball or football. Typically, these childhood memories hold a special and intimate place in the hearts of every grownup.
Now think about how many of these activities you still do in one form or another. I've asked many people how their careers were fostered by their youth. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that a majority of people have been positively influenced by childhood experiences.
I meet accountants who have always loved numbers, chemists who, as kids, nearly blew up their basements and veterinarians who recount menageries of childhood pets. The same holds true for hobbies or recreational interests.
For those who have continued and developed childhood fascinations, inevitably another issue arises: rejuvenation. An activity may make you feel young again or experience the same joy you did as a kid. Inevitably these are the activities and, more importantly, the kind of emotions parents enjoy sharing with their children. This leads to discussion on what recreational options are suitable for diverse ages and represent interests that are fascinating on many levels. Often this leads to snorkeling. (Well, to be honest, occasionally it also leads to Europe, Yellowstone or Disneyland.)
While not unique, one of snorkeling's great attributes is its appeal to participants of all ages. During nearly 20 years of leading group snorkeling programs, I've worked with people from 8 to 80 (actually 87!) years old. But perhaps the greatest distinction is that people of varied ages can easily join each other when snorkeling and experience a similar sense of joy.
In today's world of jet planes, highly developed travel services and a wide range of resorts, planning a snorkeling vacation for the family is not difficult. However, some advance thought and preparation are wise. This is easy enough but what exactly are the right steps and questions to best ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday? Perhaps because snorkeling is a relatively new recreation, many travel experts may not yet be well acquainted with snorkeling's specific needs.
Few travel agents (and even many dive resort managers) have really given snorkeling the consideration it deserves, especially where the well-being of your children is concerned. These needs and services are, in fact, evolving with the increasing popularity of the sport. Here are some recommendations. Whether you deal with travel agents, directly with resorts, cruise lines or dive operators, make sure they understand you are interested in snorkeling, not diving. Many travel experts will be familiar with the needs of scuba divers but not necessarily those of snorkelers.
I believe snorkeling is most enjoyable when done in calm, shallow, protected water, especially with children. Ask about these water conditions! And, although available dates are limited for kids in school, find out when seas are optimal for specific places.
For novices, snorkeling instruction can get everyone off to a good start. Ask if this is available. Many dive resorts assume no teaching is needed for this activity. Not true. In fact, there are now fine instructional materials available. PADI, NAUI, SSI and NASDS all produce and distribute snorkeling teaching tools, some geared specifically to children.
Using these books and videos can really get kids excited about their vacations. And, it's a good way to start learning (or reviewing) snorkeling skills while still at home. There are also fascinating documentaries on marine life available at local video shops and libraries. I also recommend investing in a simple fish identification book to take along with you. It's both enjoyable and educational to review the creatures you've seen in the water.
In recognition of family snorkeling holidays, some resorts have designated certain weeks or months specifically for parents and their children. During these periods, your kids are more likely to find friends their own age and infrastructure, such as child care or interpretative sessions in basic marine biology, are more readily available.
Find out if boats are offered for snorkelers only. Many resorts are happy to accommodate snorkelers by including them with the divers. This can be awkward and the dive sites are sometimes inappropriate for snorkeling, particularly with kids.
If you and the kids don't have all your own equipment, inquire about the sizes and availability of rental gear, especially fins and (if needed) wetsuits. And, while most people float easily in tropical seas, parents sometimes feel more comfortable when their kids wear flotation devices. Find out if lightweight snorkeling vests, float jackets or foam belts can be obtained.
Remember, a properly fitting mask is the most important piece of snorkeling equipment. Often, you will have a greater selection of masks close to home than at a resort's rental counter. If you invest in one piece of gear for your kids (and yourself), it should be a properly fitting mask.
In new areas, as at home, we are all concerned with a child's safety. With this in mind, it's important to ask about some unsavory issues: local crime, possible disease or hazardous marine life. During certain months, jellyfish may plague Australian beaches and, although rare, sharks can present a potential hazard to snorkelers in some areas.
Overall, snorkeling is as safe for children as it is enjoyable for everyone.Holiday memories are created not only by where you are but who you're with. When the next opportunity arises to spend quality time with the kids, consider a snorkeling vacation for an intimate and rewarding experience for the entire family.