The British Virgin Islands have plenty of
dry adventures for non-diving partners
''Not another diving vacation? They're so boring. Let's go skiing, to a spa, Disney World, even to your mother's - anything but diving!''
Blasphemy? Perhaps to divers, but not to a non-diving spouse or travel companion. For them there's nothing worse than being trapped on an island dive resort (or even worse, a live-aboard) surrounded by divers with nothing to do but listen to tall scuba tales all day long.
You and I may love the monotony of a nothing-but-diving vacation - the primal rhythm of eat, sleep and dive - but unless your companion is paperback book addict, it can be pretty wearisome being trapped on the boat or beach every day.
You could go it alone, but I classify that as a desperate act and not really much fun. How about alternating vacation choices annually? One year diving, the next year your spouse gets to choose. Maybe you'll luck out, but maybe your spouse will choose the ''Marathon Bus Tour of Every Little-Known, Dusty and Dreary Museum and Cathedral in Central Europe.'' Maybe that's not such a good idea after all.
Instead, how about a destination that offers both great diving and a lot of activities and distractions for your non-diving companion. OK, but where? Well, lots of big mega-resorts promise ''fun for the entire family,'' but sometimes the diving's not so hot or the whole experience is a little too contrived - conga lessons at 4 p.m. is not exactly how you want to spend your surface intervals.
So what do you say to a entire country (albeit a tiny one) devoted to safe, fun adventure with plenty of stuff to do and scores of islands to explore. Throw in some outstanding diving and lots of travel options and you have a winner - the British Virgin Islands.
Located just to the east of Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, the BVI is just beginning to gain recognition as a complete vacation destination. The two main islands, Tortola and Virgin Gorda, are surrounded by dozens of lesser islands. Some, like Peter Island, Cooper Island and Jost Van Dyke, are large enough to have tourist facilities that range from posh to cozy to funky. Others are completely uninhabited and laden with enough secret coves and private beaches for the next 10 episodes of Survivor.
With almost 100 sites scattered across 25 miles of tropical archipelago, there are sites for beginners, experts, camera fiends and the rest of us. Healthy corals and bountiful fish populations provide something worth looking at and no matter what the weather, there's always a calm shore to dive.
Yacht chartering is big business in the BVI and certainly a vacation option worth considering because it works for both types of people (divers and non-divers - are there any other types?).
If you're an experienced yachtsman, you can charter a ''bare boat'' and captain your own ship - doing whatever you want, whenever you want. For those so inclined, this is an incredible way to spend a week or two. There's nothing like sailing from island to island, exploring remote anchorages and charming beach bars, all from the comfort of your own private yacht.
If you're not comfortable diving without the convenience and security of a local dive guide (or if your non-diving companion objects to being stranded alone on a sailboat while you take your friends and explore below), all the local dive operations offer ''rendezvous diving.'' They'll pick you up at your yacht and take you divings while your boatmates party on or even sail on to the next anchorage. If your companions leave a forwarding address, the dive boat will drop you off there. Now that's service.
If you choose to do the BVI from a land base, you still have plenty of opportunities to see and do more than just your resort. Find a seat on the top deck of an inter-island ferry, enjoy the view and in less than a hour you'll find yourself on Virgin Gorda, Peter Island or Jost Van Dyke.
Virgin Gorda is home to the Baths, a jumble of house-sized boulders strewn along the shoreline. A self-guided path wanders through the grottoes and pools (the actual ''baths'') and is great fun and a cool place to snorkel.
To go further afield, there's a fleet of day-sail boats to take you wherever you want. And if you don't know where that is, they'll show you. You can even rent a fast and seaworthy powerboat to zip through the islands on your own.
Norman Island tends to attract more than its fair share of fun seekers. Maybe it's the calm water or lure of the Caves, a series of water-level caverns where the Creque family unearthed pirate treasure a century ago. Today it's a fun snorkel spot. For others, Norman's attraction is the Willie T. If you're offended by boisterous partying, steer clear of this floating bar-restaurant anchored in the island's Bight. However, if ''body shots'' on the bar and free T-shirts for jumping naked off the top deck is your scene, then welcome to paradise.
The more wholesome can try their hand at windsurfing, which is popular here for the same reasons as sailing. Increasiningly popular are sea kayaking and even mountain biking. If you want, you can get a lift to the top of the hill and make an easy ride back down.
Prospect Reef Resort has recently started a dolphin encounter program. The resort also offers a Culinary Package in conjunction with the New England Culinary Institute to help participants sharpen their cooking skills.
The ''sunken island'' Anegada (maximum elevation of 26 feet) is a great day away. The island is really little more than a crushed coral atoll and the remaining submerged reef around has claimed literally hundreds of ships over the year. (It is currently off limits to scuba divers to allow the coral to replenish.). With its miles and miles of unbroken and undeveloped sandy beaches, it is a trip back in time to a simpler, less commercial Caribbean. If you go there by air, the sight of all the islands spread out below you across an emerald sea is a magnificent treat.
Driving excursions are a great way to see the islands and often times a thrilling (if uninvited) adventure. However, recent road widening on Tortola and Virgin Gorda, along with the installation of guard rails, make the steep hills and winding roads less intimidating. It's virtually impossible to get lost - the islands are that small - and there are no ''wrong neighborhoods'' to stumble into.
If shopping is your bag, St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands has duty-free shopping and is a short ferry ride trip away. There's nothing like a day in bustling city to make you appreciate the peace and tranquillity of the BVI.
Part of the fun of the BVI is making your own adventures. Whether it's exploring the cool summit of Mt. Sage, with its vestigial rain forest, or beach-hopping via a roller coaster of a road, or getting into a philosophical discussion with a rasta-surfer at Bomba's Shack in Capoon's Bay, it's these unplanned discoveries and encounters that you'll cherish long after your tan has faded. In fact, many divers find they've got to come back next year because they were so busy topside that they didn't get in enough diving.