Imagine having your children learn about the ocean ecosystems by swimming alongside a turtle, octopus or dolphin in their natural habitat. Not only does SCUBA teach kids about the world’s precious oceans and how to respect the environment, but it also encourages valuable life skills like working with a buddy and being adventurous. And unlike other sports, you don’t need to be a great athlete to SCUBA dive.
The right resort can help your entire family try out this new skill, and possibly even get certified, during a vacation. Kids as young as 8 can safely learn to SCUBA dive, but must be at least 10 to become certified with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). You’ll return home with unforgettable vacation memories, and maybe even a lifelong hobby the whole family can enjoy together. From the Caribbean to Spain, these resorts have world-class reefs as well as family-friendly activities out of the water. Ready to take the plunge?
1. Hawks Cay Resort – Duck Key, FL
No shoes, no shirt, no problem, pretty much sums up the easy-going ambience of the Florida Keys, considered the SCUBA diving capital of the U.S. The Florida Keys are 100 miles long, but there’s no need to travel all the way to Key West. Make the Middle Keys your home base. Hawks Cay Resort in tiny Duck Key is a great choice. Two hours south of Miami International Airport and 90 minutes north of Key West, it has its own marina with a full-service dive shop. Daily dive trips take guests out to Duck Key’s world-class reefs. Or the family could try out SNUBA (where the tanks float above and divers are connected via hose). Eager divers can take the classroom portion required for PADI dive certification online before arriving, do their open water dive requirements during the trip, and return home with a certified diver I.D. card.
Younger kids will love making a splash in the resort’s pirate-themed water park or spending a day at the award-winning kids’ club, Camp Hawk, while parents will appreciate some downtime at the Calm Waters Spa. And the entire family will enjoy getting to swim with dolphins at the resort’s Dolphin Connection. Fun Fact: Hawks Cay Resort is the only resort in the mainland United States where guests can view and interact with dolphins onsite, in their natural habitat.
2. Beaches Ochos Rios Resort & Golf Club – Ochos Rios, Jamaica
Beaches Ochos Rios Resort & Golf Club includes meals, drinks, kids’ programming and water sports (including diving) in nightly rates.
New to SCUBA? A short $100 resort course in the dedicated SCUBA practice pool will have you diving that day and allows you one complimentary dive per day throughout your trip. Want to get certified? Take the eight-hour PADI course online before your trip and you can leave vacation with your PADI divers card. Beaches has certified more than 100,000 divers at their resorts (with two other locations in Negril and Turks and Caicos), so you know they’re pros! Certified divers get two complimentary dives per day during their vacation.
Beaches is a great option if you’re traveling with a younger child in tow, as its Sesame Street-themed kids’ club is legendary. Imagine a tea party with Big Bird or baking cookies with Cookie Monster. That’s what’s on the menu at Beaches. While you and your tweens or teens are out SCUBA diving, your younger child will have the vacation of their dreams in the complimentary kid’s club. After picking up your little one, head over to Pirates Island, a massive water park with slides, kid-friendly pools, water cannons and a lazy river.
3. Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman – Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Resting on Grand Cayman’s famous Seven Mile Beach, the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman beckons ocean explorers with its “Ambassadors of the Environment” kids’ program, developed by Jean-Michel Cousteau. His grandfather, Jacques, introduced generations to the wondrous riches of the sea. You won’t find your kids coloring and playing video games at this hotel kids’ club. Instead, trained environmentalists who delight in introducing kids to the natural wonders of the Caribbean, are running a classroom your kids will never want to leave. These environmental and cultural “ambassadors” lead outings for all ages, from snorkeling to kayaking to underwater photography. Ritz Ambassadors offers drop-off programs where kids as young as 4 can visit nearby Stingray City to pet, feed and swim with these odd-looking creatures. Or sign up for an underwater thrill ride aboard the Atlantis submarine.
The Ritz also has a dive operator on property to introduce beginners to diving. More experienced divers can book trips to the famous North or West Wall reefs, or explore the U.S.S. Kittiwake wreck. A retired submarine rescue ship, Kittiwake was the first U.S. naval ship sunk in another country to create an artificial reef. Landlubbers can submerge themselves in duty-free designer shopping in Grand Cayman’s capital, George Town.
4. Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa – Oahu, HI
Encourage your little mermaid to find Nemo and all his tropical friends at Disney Aulani’s Rainbow Reef, the only private snorkeling lagoon on Oahu. The Underwater Explorers package is a two-hour SCUBA lesson taught by a minimum of two dive instructors. Guests 10 and older can learn the basics of SCUBA diving, then practice the skills they’ve learned while swimming alongside colorful schools of fish in the safely secluded Rainbow Reef. The Underwater Explorers package includes a water bottle and Rainbow Reef I.D. card that helps kids identify and remember exotic fish they swam with during their Hawaiian adventure.
5. The Breakers – Palm Beach, FL
Imagine the offspring of a tennis court and a yacht. That’s the vibe you get at The Breakers, the grande dame of Palm Beach resorts. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, this sprawling resort feels like a tribute to the jazz age, from the Rolls Royces at the valet, to the gilded furnishings and frescoed ceilings. Naturally, staff are clad in the pastel pink and green uniforms of Palm Beach icon, Lily Pulitzer.
Amidst all this opulence lies a sweet beach with an expert water sports staff. The remains of an old pier is any easy swim from the hotel and daily SCUBA and snorkel outings take guests out to explore it. SCUBA diving charters on a boat can also be arranged by the water sports desk. This region of Florida is the world’s second largest nesting site for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle. Come during turtle hatching season, May through September, and you’re likely to have a sea turtle sighting. Kids as young as 8 can experience SCUBA diving in the pool by signing up for the Bubble Maker class.
After your SCUBA excursion, take a deep dive into some world-class seafood at the oceanfront Seafood Bar, best known for its tabletop aquariums. That’s right, custom-made aquariums serve as dining tables and countertops at the bar! Just be sure to ask for an aquarium table when you make your reservation.
6. Atlantis – Paradise Island, Bahamas
Ready to race down a 60-foot waterslide through a glass tube surrounded by sharks? It’s just one of the endless aquatic opportunities at the mammoth marine-themed Atlantis. Home to one of the largest open-air aquariums in the world, there’s something for everyone here, including those tough-to-please teens. Atlantis’ teen lounge, Crush, is pretty much a teen’s version of Shangri-la with floor-to-ceiling video game terminals, a mocktail bar and uber-hip dance floor with pulsating lights. Best of all? No parents or younger siblings allowed after 8:30 p.m.!
Adults might enjoy the casino, spa and many restaurants, but Atlantis also has plenty of action underwater, with multiple daily dives. New to diving? Not a problem. The introductory Discover Scuba Diving class is offered poolside every morning. After the pool lesson, you can head out on a SCUBA dive from the Atlantis Marina that same day.
If the Las Vegas-like excitement of Atlantis is not your style, there’s a more serene and budget-friendly option next door—cozy, calm Comfort Suites Paradise Island. Guests here have complete access to all the amenities at Atlantis Resort, including SCUBA excursions.
7. Hotel Mediterranean Palace – Canary Islands, Spain
Planning a family trip to Europe? No reason why you can’t explore the ocean. Spain’s Canary Islands are teeming with underwater treasures. Year-round sun, warm, clear water and dramatic underwater volcanic seascapes make the Canary Islands Spain’s version of Hawaii. Though it’s off the radar for most Americans, each year millions of Europeans visit the islands of this Spanish archipelago at the eastern edge of the Atlantic, just off the coast of Africa.
The sprawling 530 room Hotel Mediterranean Palace is located in Tenerife, the largest and most populous Canary Island, perfect for party people, as well as ocean lovers. Facing one of Tenerife’s most popular beaches, Playa de las Americas, this oceanfront resort has a kids’ club and everything from sailing and surfing to tennis and mini golf.
8. Ocean Club Resort and Ocean Club West – Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
With miles of pristine white sand and calm water, the British islands of Turks and Caicos are a perfect spot to introduce kids to diving. The three-story condo unit properties of Ocean Club Resort and Ocean Club West are a great place to call home. Screened-in porches let you peacefully enjoy your coffee or glass of wine while looking out at the ocean (or your kids in the lushly landscaped pool). Save money by making meals in your unit’s kitchen, or grill up dinner on one of the barbecues by the pool. These casual sister properties are not the place to come if you’re looking for a non-stop party and endless activities. There’s no kids club, no video game arcade and no salsa lessons by the pool. But if an incredible dive vacation is what you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.
Ocean Club and Ocean Club West are a mile-long beach stroll (or complimentary bicycle or shuttle ride) apart along Grace Bay, which regularly makes the world’s “Best Beaches” lists. The well-established Dive Provo, in the Ports of Call shopping center across the street from Ocean Club West offers daily dives for everyone from beginners to advanced divers and will work with guests to get them PADI certified during their trip.
Which property to stay at? Ocean Club West is in a more bustling part of Grace Bay, with restaurants and shopping across the street and a large grocery store two blocks away. Ocean Club rests at the end of the hotel section in a quieter section of the beach, known for shell collecting. A peaceful 15- to 20-minute walk down the beach from Ocean Club will pay off with your pick from hundreds of large, perfectly formed conch shells— a great souvenir from the conch capital of the Caribbean.
9. Mount Cinnamon Resort and Beach Club – Grand Anse, Grenada
Known as the Spice Isle of the Caribbean, Grenada’s clear waters are filled with underwater treasures, from shipwrecks to an actual underwater museum. Both beginner and advanced divers will get a thrill from Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park, where 50 sunken sculptures have created an artificial reef. Each fall Grenada hosts the week-long Pure Grenada Dive Fest, showcasing the island’s rich underwater ecosystem.
A great place to stay on the Spice Isle is Mount Cinnamon Resort and Beach Club, resting on the cliffs above the island’s best beach, Grand Anse, only a short drive from the island’s capital and largest city, St. George. An onsite dive shop offers three daily dive trips, including underwater photography and night dives. Above water, there’s tennis, yoga, a spa, sailing, paddleboarding and fishing.
Andrea Guthmann is a Midwest Emmy award-winning freelance journalist, mother of three and Master Gardener. Her travel stories have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Parent, Daily Herald, Cruise Critic, Midwest Living and more. She enjoys sailing Lake Michigan and visiting the world class museums and restaurants in her sweet hometown, Chicago. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @AndreaGuthmann, or on her own website, Garden Trippin’.