There is nothing more exciting than sharing the underwater world with your children. But planning a dive vacation with kids means considering their depth limitations, stamina and the suitability of the environment. They may not be able to dive past 60 feet; they may not want to stay out on the water all day; and you may not want them exposed to an entire beach full of 20-something party animals. Look for destinations that offer other activities and plan only one or two dives per day. Also, choose somewhere that embraces younger divers so the kids don’t feel like — and aren’t treated like — they’re a nuisance. There are many options, but here are our picks for the top dive destinations for kids.
Bonaire is a shore-diving heaven. Consequently, a family can dive at their own pace without worrying about dive shop and boat schedules. You’ll simply pick up full tanks from your dive resort and go whenever and wherever you want. The diving is good year-round, which helps with scheduling around school. Bonaire is also an excellent choice for snorkeling due to its lack of strong currents. If you do dive by boat, novice divers and kids will appreciate the short, calm trips to sites. Several resorts on Bonaire cater to families and offer programs for kids, as well as family-friendly activities such as kayaking the mangroves, kiteboarding, and topside exploration.
Fiji is a divers’ paradise, but more specifically the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort on Vanua Levu offers diving suitable for teens and adults as well as activities such as snorkeling, coral painting, volleyball and lessons in Fijian. Younger kids can take the PADI Bubblemaker program or SASSY, which is a combination of snorkeling and scuba. The resort is pricey, but it offers a kids club where kids 6 to 12 go exploring in groups of five plus a chaperone. They also offer educational games and activities, including a junior chef program where kids harvest produce from the resort’s organic garden and assist with meal prep for a day.
Belize is well-known for its boat, shore and liveaboard diving options on the second largest barrier reef in the world. Resorts in Belize offer oversized townhomes, ideal for families. Some also offer Bubblemaker and Junior Open Water certifications to keep the kids busy during the stay. Diving in Belize is generally quite easy, with little to no current. There’s lots to see in the shallows, making it ideal for kids. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Atoll and Shark Ray Alley are all good sites for kids. You can easily combine a dive-snorkel tour at Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley as well, with the deepest dive at only 30 feet. Topside activities on Ambergris include kayaking, paddle-boarding, and hobie cat rides.
Mustique is a small private Caribbean island and part of the Grenadines. The conditions here are great for young divers. The PADI Bubblemaker program is even available through shops and resorts, taking place in the ocean rather than a pool. The island is only 2.2 square miles but boasts homes and villas for rent versus typical hotel-room vacationing. Most of the homes are or were owned by celebrities. In fact, David Bowie sold his villa here because he said the island was too peaceful and tranquil to get any work done. The land fauna includes tortoises, heron, and iguanas and the surrounding reef makes diving from anywhere a treat.
The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys make up North America’s only living coral barrier reef. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offers snorkeling for kids and makes the famed Christ of the Deep statue accessible to the whole family. Junior Open Water divers can visit various sites in the park, no more than 50 feet deep, on daily dive tours with their parents. The Keys offer many topside activities and options as well. These include boating, paddle-boarding, sailing and bike tours, depending on the island or islands you visit.
Bermuda offers pink-sand beaches and clear, blue water with wrecks and reefs galore at a depth of only 30 to 40 feet. Scuba divers love the unlimited visibility around Bermuda. But there are other attractions to keep the family busy as well, including snorkeling and an interesting opportunity for kids on its Atlantic side. Kids age 5 and over can do an undersea walk wearing a “water helmet,” literally strolling through the water with fish swimming nearby. You needn’t be certified for the experience, so if family members are on the fence about diving, this could give them a little taste of the underwater world. Topside you can check out the Royal Navy Dockyard with the Bermuda Maritime Museum, various lighthouses and the Crystal Caves with underground saltwater pools.
Whatever levels and ages of divers in your family, there are lots of places where all can enjoy what they love — you just have to do some research of your own before selecting a location. These dive destinations for kids should offer some good starting points so that everyone can get as excited about planning the next trip as you are.