We got to Curaçao early to spend a little time getting used to the place. My kids, although avid swimmers, had never really felt comfortable in the ocean. Sea Camp changed everything. The first day in Curaçao, my kids wouldn't go past where they couldn't touch the bottom of the water. By day two, they were swimming the channel with local kids, back and forth. I was thrilled.
I had spent my whole childhood enjoying the ocean, and I'd always watched Jacques Cousteau and even got to go to some of his lectures through Cal Tech in California, but after seeing Jaws, I was terrified of getting eaten. Years later, after a really wonderful impromptu snorkeling shark experience with about 50 wonderful leopard sharks, I finally became a scuba diver, a rescue diver and then a divemaster. I finally realized many of my dreams of interaction, observation and the amazing feeling of being in what I think is heaven that scuba diving has to offer. I thought my kids would never see it that way. They were always nervous because of the shark movies they'd seen, whether we were snorkeling or kayaking. Those days are over now.
My son, who really had an aversion to studying, read his scuba certification book nightly with an enthusiasm I had never seen. He worked hard, and his instructor, Steve, worked with those kids in amazing ways. Every day, I saw a personal and intellectual growth in both kids that I could never have imagined. The best part is, they were just having fun and had no idea what huge obstacles they were overcoming.
I have to say, the most exciting day for my husband and me was the day we dove with them for the first time. I dove with Megan, as she wasn't old enough for open-water certification but got her confined-water certification. She actually showed me around the "In Ocean Aquarium" and knew what animals hung out where, what their personalities and tendencies were and how to interact with them. She took me to all the different areas so I could experience all her new friends: the friendly stingrays, the enormous goliath grouper and the blowfish that just loved to hover right in front of your mask all the time. We laughed and giggled underwater at all their personalities as if it was the most natural thing in the world. She monitored my air and me as if she had to make sure I would be OK in her newly found playground. It was great!
My husband went with Michael on his open-water dive. My son had done it. He was certified. He could go out off of the rocks with his equipment and make good decisions about the current and depth; he was really good at buoyancy and was a natural at looking out for others. There he was in the open ocean, loving and appreciating its vast, amazing beauty with respect and awe, just as I had always dreamed he would get to do.
Michael's always been like me, feeling close to animals and nature. I used to try to describe to the kids the amazing and beautiful experiences I've had as a diver, how it feels to lay on the sandy ocean floor and look up through the kelp with the sun shining through, how it feels to play copycat with the sea lions, what to do and what not to do so you can enjoy being a guest in their world. Now when we talk about it, Michael gets that same look, that one only divers know and share.
This experience wasn't available when I was a child. We could only watch the occasional Jacques Cousteau special and dream of what it might be like. But now, my children and I have a world of exploration, beauty and heaven to explore together. It would be impossible to describe the feeling, as a parent, that I have every time I think about the joy on their faces at their own accomplishment, and whenever I remember the relationships, both human and animal, that they developed through Kids Sea Camp. We're going again, for two weeks, to do different programs. My kids, who love piles of presents under the tree, were ecstatic when I asked them if it was OK if we did a really small Christmas so that we could go to Sea Camp instead.
Nothing in the world has given them what Sea Camp gave them, and we are so fortunate that we have the opportunity in today's world to give our kids this gift that will start them on a path that will last a lifetime. I am so grateful to Margo for having this dream for her and her kids and making this program a reality for those of us who see the great value in it but never really thought it was a possibility. Not only is it a fun thing to do, but it makes a huge change in the children and the parents who have done this. Our lives will never be the same, and we have been truly blessed by the experience.
Mom of Michael and Megan Marshall
2003 KSC Curaçao
Last winter, as I was beginning to plan my annual summer dive trip, I encountered some roadblocks. As the single divorced mother of an eight-year-old boy, I had to make sure he would be cared for while I was away. His father recently moved out of state and was inaccessible. My parents, 74 and 84, offered to watch my son, but admitted it was becoming more difficult to entertain an active boy for an entire week, especially with no other kids in the neighborhood to play with. When I logged onto the Kids Sea Camp Web site, I immediately contacted Margo. I soon received the information packet and knew that I had found the solution to my problem.
When I go on a dive trip, I dive as much as I can. For me, it's a once-a-year endeavor that I literally submerge myself in. How could I be a mother and dive at the same time? I decided that attending Kids Sea Camp would provide the answer. By week's end, I had logged thirteen dives, made friends with several other divers and had quality vacation time with my son. While I was diving, my son had great instruction with well-planned daily activities. He was well cared for and made friends while at KSC. The additional bonus of KSC Curaçao was having access to the Curaçao Sea Aquarium and the dolphin interactions at Dolphin Academy.
Mom of Kelvin Durig Buerkle, age 8
2004 KSC Curaçao
My thoughts as a mom on Sea Camp
I had been debating whether to put down my deposit for the 2005 Kids Sea Camp in Curaçao. We couldn't decide whether we wanted to try a new location or take a year off. But after speaking with Emily at Caribbean Adventures (formerly of Kid Sea Camp) and finding out what a special alumni week they had planned for us "oldtimers," how could I not make our reservations!
We had such a wonderful time in Curaçao last year, we learned that one week was not enough, so this time we signed up for a two-week stay. We enrolled our daughter, Corley, in the Dolphin Training Program the first week. It was such an incredible experience watching as she put "her" dolphin, Teresa, thru her paces. The way those beautiful animals interact with people is amazing!
I highly recommend that any family go to camp and take time to have their own dolphin swim. My swim will always be a treasured memory. Our second week of camp was the diving week. Corley began her junior open-water certification. Getting to dive with her on the final day on the Tugboat dive was such a thrill -- seeing how she had learned to operate her equipment and be a responsible diver made me realize what a wonderful teaching crew they have from Ocean Encounters.
All these experiences and so many more -- from taking a daytrip to Klein Curaçao, diving the Mushroom Forest, meeting new friends and renewing friendships made the year before and, of course, golfing with Nolo -- made it easy to come back.
On another note, it's amazing what a small world we live in. Part of our vacation plan was to bring my older daughter, Sara, along with us. She was certified six months before she was sent overseas to do a tour in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, and she had never gotten to dive in the ocean.
While we were waiting for her to arrive, my husband, Jon, overheard a diver talking about his dive buddy who was a paratrooper. Sara is a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, and of course it made me curious. I introduced myself to him and asked where he was stationed; to make a long story short, his name was Rick MacIntosh and he and Sara had been in Ramadi, Iraq, together. This made for quite a reunion later that week when she arrived and an interesting "You'll never guess who I ran into while on vacation" story. The beautiful waters of Curaçao made for a very memorable first ocean dive experience for her, and she now understands why we are so hooked on Kids Sea Camp!
Mom of Corley Clark, age 11
Curaçao KSC 2003 & 2004
We have taken our son James with us on every dive trip we've taken -- sometimes with and sometimes without babysitters -- and it's usually worked out for us. But when we learned about Kids Sea Camp, we knew it was exactly what we were looking for all along. So much so, in fact, that we began to wonder, "Could it really be as good as they say?"
Well, it was better than advertised! The kids were kept so busy with all the wonderful activities that the days just flew by! Animal encounters, ocean art, stories, snorkeling, SASY, etc., etc., etc.! Best of all, there were enough responsible and professional instructors to ensure that all the children got all the individual care they needed. Both kids and parents made friends instantly. The families had many opportunities to gather for beach cookouts, and the kids even had their own movie and pizza night. And yes, there is plenty to do for nondivers!
Do yourself and your kids a real favor and attend a Kids Sea Camp destination in 2005!
Tim & Jill Kolakowski
Parents of James, age 7
Sea Camp allowed us as parents to enjoy great morning dives each day knowing that the kids were well attended to.
Upon returning to the hotel each day after diving around lunchtime, the kids were so consumed with the content of their programs, they barely recognized our return!
The afternoon allowed us adults to get out and enjoy some more activities before returning to get the kids at the end of their afternoon sessions. As if the scheduled kids' activities weren't enough, it wasn't uncommon for the instructors and counselors to continue to interact with the kids well beyond the end of scheduled times, and quite often into the evening, as well!
Perhaps most rewarding was that by the end of the week we got to experience the wonders of the oceans with our newly certified Seal Team members together as family.
To quote the kids, "That was the most awesome vacation we've ever had!"
Indeed it was!
Mike Jones & Natalie Kunkel
Parents of Ian and Morgan Jones, ages 8 & 10
Grand Cayman 2004