Families can bond over experiences and sights that are unique to scuba. // © 2013 Thinkstock
Anyone who knows a diehard scuba diver, or is one themselves, knows that these people will use any free time they have as an excuse to get back under the water. Therefore, it came as no surprise that on my most recent family vacation my dad, a scuba diving fanatic, chose Cozumel, Mexico, as our destination. The island is not only beautiful, it’s also the definition of a scuba diver’s paradise. The water is crystal clear and boasts more than 30 reefs full of underwater wildlife. As a result, countless dive shops and instructors line the island’s coast.
I was the last of my family to arrive in Cozumel, and once I did, I saw that the diving was already in full-swing. My wetsuit and flippers were handed to me almost immediately, and I was told to be ready in 10 minutes because Jorge and El Capitan would soon be pulling up to the dock of our beachfront hotel. I had no idea who Jorge and El Capitan were at the time, but I had a feeling I would be spending quite a bit of time with them over the next few days.
Part of the Sunrise Divers Cozumel team, Jorge and his boat captain, a young man named Bertin, made our trip an exceptional one. Despite having their headquarters in Playa Uvas, they picked us up by boat each morning from our hotel, El Cid La Ceiba Beach, which was about a 10-mile car ride away. Assuming we would be picking up additional divers, I was surprised when Jorge asked which site we would like to dive that day in our small group of four (including the instructor).
We chose Paradise Reef for our first dive, a 30-foot plunge down to a beautiful reef swarming with colorful fish, sea turtles, sting rays, eels, lobsters and more. The small size of our group made all the difference — there was no need to wait around for a large group to stay together.
We came up out of the water and onto the boat to find an assortment of cold drinks and sliced fruit waiting for us. Our Sunrise Divers guides helped us remove and store our equipment as we munched. For our required hour-long break between dives, we had expected to sit on the boat and wait, but thankfully this was not the case. Our captain was once again open to any requests and gladly took us to meet up with my mom, who prefers lounging on the beach and enjoying a margarita over scuba diving. We had a snack and showed her a few photos of the highlights of our dive. Then, one hour later, we were back on the boat with Jorge and Bertin, speeding toward a shipwreck dive site. Jorge took us inside the ship — by far my favorite site of the dive tour — with flashlights in hand. We toured every room, compartment and even the engine and found some interesting wildlife making its home in the ship’s nooks and crannies.
We had such a great time our first day that we took advantage of Sunrise Divers’ Two Tanks Dive service — which includes two dives, boat pick-up, snacks, tanks, guides and marine park fee — every day for the next four days. Jorge and Bertin, both Cozumel locals, felt like our good friends by the end of the trip.
On that diving trip in Mexico we discovered that a family vacation that includes a bit of adventure brings everyone closer together.
Family Diving Tips
Scuba diving is a great family activity, so long as children are a bit older. Kids ages 10 and up can complete Junior PADI open-water certification, which allows them to dive as low as 40 feet with a parent or dive professional. At age 12, child divers may dive to a depth of 60 feet. Eager children as young as eight years old can learn dive skills in a pool through the PADI Seal Team program.
According to Steve Riddle, PADI course director and training and operations manager at Aquatic Dreams Scuba Center, in Modesto, Calif., finding the right PADI course and teacher is important.
“When checking out dive operations, ask if they have instructors that work well with kids,” said Riddle. “Parents should also know that younger divers may need assistance with some of the terminology introduced in the course.”
Just as important as learning from a qualified instructor is diving with an experienced and PADI-certified guide or dive shop. Michelle Rosenberg, a certified diver and a mother of two, thinks diving is ideal for families but strongly recommends using a private guide at all times.
“As a mother, I feel more secure knowing there is an expert guide with us, not only to handle any equipment or dive issues that come up, but also to be a tour guide pointing out wildlife,” said Rosenberg. “When diving with kids, you may not be diving very deep, but things can happen, so it is good to have an expert along.
Rosenberg also emphasized the importance of taking care of young ones between dives.
“It’s important to stay hydrated between dives,” she said. “Most dive packages include two dives, so if the boat doesn’t provide beverages, families should bring them along.”
Riddle pointed out that not all destinations are ideal for families.
“Agents should verify that the destination offers dives that are good for that specific group,” he said. “For example, if there is a 10-year-old diver, are there dives shallow enough for his or her certification?”.