Sea CruiseThe Junior Open Water divers on their way back from their first open-water dive at Chain Reef.
The apple seemed to have fallen far from the tree — really far.
My four-year-old daughter didn’t like snorkeling, and I feared that unless I got her through that important gateway to scuba, she’d never join me underwater as a passionate diver. From birth, I had done everything I could to expose her to the wonders of the underwater world: the right sea-centric bedtime stories, the coolest marine-life DVDs and a steady stream of new Sport Diver issues. Watching her react positively to the images and video was encouraging. Soon she began to recognize specific marine life, and eventually she began telling people, ”My daddy is a scuba diber.”
Swimming lessons at the YMCA followed and she made steady progress in our backyard pool. Next came goggles and then a mask, which felt “funny” on her nose. But she wanted absolutely nothing to do with her bright yellow snorkel. Despite my best efforts, I simply could not convince her that it was the key to seeing all the awesome stuff underwater. Then we got the opportunity to visit Grand Cayman's Kids Sea Camp — a program that combines everything an ocean-loving family could ask for in a vacation: loads of diving for the adults, kid-tailored PADI certification and specialty courses for kids 10 and up, SASY and Seal Team scuba-prep offerings for younger children, and educational experiences and fun social events for everyone involved. And the experience changed her mind.
The Littlest Turtle
Descending into Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport, I held Hailey up to the window so she could see the bright reefs that fringe the island.
“Wow,” she said. It was just the reaction I was hoping to hear.
The Cobalt Coast Dive Resort was bustling with youthful exuberance when we arrived that afternoon. With a big seaside pool, sandy beach, open-air restaurant and bar and the PADI Five Star Dive Center Divetech located conveniently on site, the waterfront enclave seemed tailor-made for Kids Sea Camp. And KSC families filled the entire resort, so it seemed more like a friendly gathering at a huge beachfront house than a resort stay.
Hailey was the youngest camper that week, but it didn’t take long for her to immerse herself into the social mix, plunging into the pool, hunting hermit crabs on the beach and making new friends with the other kids in her Turtle program. While I went diving with the adults and my wife relaxed with a book or shopping in George Town, each morning the youngsters would report for the day’s duty, which ranged from marine education, art projects, field trips to pet turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm and build sand castles at Seven Mile Beach, opportunities to try SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) and snorkeling lessons. Despite the enthusiastic instruction from KSC and Divetech staff, Hailey still wouldn’t accept the snorkel — no matter what they tried. But this experience was not about pressure to perform, so we let patience prevail and let her play.
A Glimpse of the Future
Sometimes taking “me time” on a family vacation to go diving comes with a side dish of guilt. Traveling to a destination with such amazing underwater diversity as Grand Cayman can make that situation even more difficult. Thankfully, the Kids Sea Camp vacation is designed to keep everyone entertained. While my family was engaged in their own activities each morning, I got to get wet with other moms and dads who were just as over-the-moon happy to be underwater as I was. Through the course of the week, we dived all the hot spots, including my all-time Cayman favorite — Ghost Mountain, a towering pinnacle off the North coast that’s literally crawling with life. And just like my daughter, I was making new friends, too, including some very unlikely ones.
Toward the end of the trip, I skipped a couple of adult boat dives to join both the Junior Open Water divers and Advanced Open Water teens. And it was the best decision I’d made all week. Grownups can get jaded. Kids marvel at everything, and it’s contagious. They were by far my favorite buddies of the trip. Watching the teens, armed with their new SeaLife cameras — a cool bonus of the Grand Cayman KSC program — going nuts over a coral garden was a true highlight. But joining the JOW gang on their first open-water dive at the shallow, sunny Chain Reef, and witnessing their jubilant initiation into the dive tribe was priceless. The best dive of my entire year. And it gave me a glimpse into what could be Hailey’s future, hopefully.
The Benefits of Peer Pressure
The big finale of KSC Grand Cayman is a family trip to Stingray City, the island’s world-famous, shallow-water marine life encounter. I harbored no expectations for Hailey. I was sure she’d enjoy the boat ride and maybe share some of the excitement with the participants once they’d surfaced from the feeding experience. While the others on our boat dropped to the sand, my family and I floated on the surface, watching the action below. Hailey seemed content to gaze down between breaths at first. But soon she grew frustrated, unable to really enjoy the show.
That’s when I heard something that warmed my heart: “Mommy, I want my snorkel.”
Listening to my daughter giggling through her snorkel as she clung to my wife’s arm was truly magic. I dived below, snapping photos of them, and today, those images are some of my most prized. When the feed ended and the divers emerged, Hailey could laugh with the other kids about how the rays swooped and swirled, rather than feeling left out of the fun. In this case, peer pressure was a great influence on my youngster. The fun, welcoming atmosphere of Kids Sea Camp helped motivate her to persevere through a tough challenge. Today, she’s nearly five, and that mask and snorkel are totally worn out. For her birthday, she’ll open a shiny new set, along with a pair of fins. Hopefully, she’ll be reminded of all the fun she had on Grand Cayman and be inspired to take the next step in her evolution as a diver.