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For a traveler with ambitions to experience a destination through adventure, the downside of a trip to an ultra-luxe hotel is the sheer difficulty of leaving the comfortable amenities of the property.
I could see, for instance, how someone staying at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Maui would find it hard to budge from a cabana facing a three-level pool overlooking the ocean.
Fortunately, the attentiveness I found poolside was matched by the lovely folks at the Ambassadors of the Environment program, a partnership between The Ritz and Jean-Michel Cousteau to create experiences that nurture a love connection to the ocean. The idea is: If kids and adults adore something, they’re more likely to look after its livelihood.
The Ritz offers several programs for guests of all ages, from guided hikes to excursions in Kapalua Bay, which features a coral reef right off the shore.
My group of five girlfriends, joined by a father and his 10-year-old daughter, chose Cities Under the Sea, a 2.5-hour snorkel and underwater-photography excursion.
While I’ve participated in plenty of other snorkeling excursions, I’ve never had such a well-executed experience. The service during the activity was excellent, and the emphasis on learning was inspiring.
Our naturalists, Ali and Pavi, were well-qualified, enthusiastic ocean lovers. Among other accomplishments, Ali studied marine biology at the University of Florida, and Pavi was once a dolphin trainer.
Ali began the excursion with a brief, easy-to-follow presentation on how everything in the ocean is connected. Oftentimes, I zone out when snorkeling because I don’t know what I’m seeing, and it can be hard to create a real connection to what’s in front of me — so it was helpful to see photos and names of all the species we were looking for prior to going out.
Once we were dropped off at Kapalua Bay, we geared up and stepped backward into the water.
Pavi swapped my dysfunctional mask with her personal mask, and Ali pointed out humuhumunukunukuapuaa (the Hawaiian state fish), red slate pencil urchin, sea cucumbers, four sea turtles (including two swimming together and one coming up for air) and more.
At one point, while I was alone pondering the name of the blue stuff around me, Ali appeared and mouthed to me: “That’s blue algae; it’s endemic to Hawaii.”
After our excursion was over, we gathered on a shady hill of grass overlooking the bay, comparing highlights and snacking on apples, string cheese, Maui potato chips, water and fruit sodas.
Perhaps the best part is that the memories were all captured digitally on our underwater cameras, available for free download just an hour after the excursion was over. After all: Everything is connected.