For those hoping to combine a family getaway with a few decent dives, planning a vacation can be difficult. The logistics of travelling to exotic destinations like Micronesia or Indonesia are often overwhelming – from the challenge of keeping your kids entertained during a long-haul flight, to the hassle of trying to organise travel vaccinations for the whole family. The cost can get astronomical too, particularly if your kids are already in school, meaning that you have to plan your trip around peak holiday times.
Often, choosing a destination with plenty of different options for flights and accommodation helps to keep the cost manageable. Picking a location that doesn’t require vaccinations or malaria prophylactics is also a good idea, while remote destinations that necessitate lengthy or complicated travel plans are usually out of the question. You also need to pick somewhere that has child-friendly activities as well as excellent diving, so that the vacation is fun for everyone – especially if your kids are too young to dive.
In this article, we look at five destinations that fulfil all these criteria, whilst still providing some world-class diving.
Florida Keys, United States
If you’re looking for quality tropical diving, Florida Keys is a rewarding choice. Whether you choose Key Largo or Key West as your base, you can expect good visibility, balmy water temperatures and a proliferation of marine life supported by the region’s healthy coral reefs. Getting there is easy, thanks to the wide choice of domestic and international flights that serve nearby Miami Airport. From there, it’s an hour’s drive to Key Largo. Once you get there, a wide range of accommodation options cater to every budget.
Some family-friendly resorts, like Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, have dedicated kids programmes, which keep your children entertained while you enjoy a morning’s diving. Under professional supervision, they can take part in ocean-themed games and education initiatives. When you’re not diving, the Keys’ spectacular beaches and tranquil canals provide the perfect backdrop for a fun-filled family day out, while greater Florida is home to iconic entertainment venues including Universal Studios and Walt Disney World in Orlando.
One of the three main islands that make up the Maltese archipelago, Gozo is famous for its warm water, crystalline visibility and incredible underwater topography. Sheer walls, graceful submarine arches and a wealth of caves and caverns are all part of the island’s appeal, while a number of deep sites make it an excellent choice for technical divers. Wrecks are a large part of the Gozo experience, with highlights including scuttled ships Karwela and Cominoland. For families, Gozo is safe, disease-free and easily reached from mainland Europe.
The island has a good range of child-friendly hotels, all of which serve as a base for exploring Gozo’s land-based highlights. When you’re not in the water, organise an outing to one of the island’s many beautiful beaches; explore the historic streets of picturesque capital Victoria; or pay a visit to the island’s prehistoric archaeological sites. Life on Gozo is all about the appreciation of the outdoors; but on rainy days, shopping malls and indoor entertainment facilities are a half hour ferry ride away on larger Malta island.
For divers, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula offers a smorgasbord of underwater adventures. Near Cancún, Isla Mujeres is the site of an annual aggregation of hundreds of whale sharks, while the peninsula’s subterranean river system supports a series of cenotes – freshwater sinkholes filled with crystal clear water and defined by fantastical geological formations. At Playa del Carmen, it’s possible to enjoy close encounters with bull sharks, stingrays and nurse sharks. Best of all, Cancún’s bustling tourism infrastructure makes it a realistic option for families.
Family-friendly resorts offer kids’ clubs, babysitting services and a wide range of activities for everyone to enjoy in between dives; while fussy eaters will benefit from a wealth of Western-style restaurants. Outside the hotels, the region is a veritable family playground complete with adventure activities, historic Mayan ruins, idyllic beaches and famous waterparks. With that being said, pregnant women should be aware that the Zika Virus is endemic in Mexico, although to date there have not been any cases reported in Cancún.
Durban, South Africa
Just south of Durban lies the sleepy coastal town of Umkomaas, best known as the launch site for South Africa’s famous Aliwal Shoal. Here, divers can come face-to-face with tiger, bull and oceanic blacktip sharks on high-adrenaline baited dives; explore the Shoal’s vibrant reef system; or dive the breathtaking wreck of Norwegian cargo ship the Produce. Africa may seem like an ambitious choice for a family holiday, but Durban is malaria-free, safe for tourists and blessed with a good infrastructure of hotels, restaurants and attractions.
uShaka Marine World offers a great way to introduce your kids to a bevy of ocean creatures, while several upscale shopping malls offer entertainment on rare bad weather days. Your kids can meet some of Africa’s wildlife in perfect safety at Crocworld Conservation Centre, while nearby Tala Game Reserve provides the ideal introduction to the magic of an African safari. If your children are slightly older, the possibilities for land-based adventures are endless, with abseiling, whitewater rafting, snorkelling and horse riding all on offer in the immediate vicinity.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Surrounded by the warm, clear waters of the Caribbean, Grand Cayman has something for every diver – regardless of your experience level or interests. Plunging some 1,800 metres/ 6,000 feet into the depths, the island’s North Wall is famous for its unparalleled wall diving; while sheltered inshore reefs boast incredible coral cover. Purpose-sunk wreck the Kittiwake is another major highlights of Grand Cayman diving. With over 110 flights to Grand Cayman every week including a nonstop service from Miami, this tropical paradise is wonderfully easy to reach.
Family-oriented hotels like Wyndham Reef Resort make life easy with all-inclusive packages, a wide choice of restaurants and a range of activities geared towards kids of all ages. If you’d rather organise your own outings, there are plenty of opportunities for family bonding on Grand Cayman. Take your children snorkelling in one of the island’s calm bays, or introduce them to the rays at iconic Stingray City. Book a boat trip or a watersports adventure, visit the blue iguanas at Botanic Park, or swim with turtles at the Cayman Turtle Centre.