The President of Palau attends Kids Sea Camp with Margo Peyton

Kyrie O’Connor (kyrie.oconnor@chron.com) is deputy managing editor/features for the Houston Chronicle
One of the challenges of a family vacation is finding something a whole family might actually want to do. Kids Sea Camp is one of those unique vacations.

For the active and slightly adventurous, scuba diving can be the ticket. Resorts and related programs increasingly offer both diving for adults and lessons for children. It’s an excellent and painless — if not inexpensive — way to teach kids to have a love of the ocean and an active, engaged life. And with luck, you’ll instill in them a passion that will make them want to take vacations with their old parents for decades to come.

Palau, Rock Islands

Kids Sea Camp is one such planned vacation, offering programs for children as young as 4 up through the teen years. Begun in 2001 by Margo Peyton, who still runs it, Kids Sea Camp offers a week’s worth of diving at resorts around the Caribbean — and such far-flung destinations as Fiji, Palau, Galapagos and the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It is affiliated with PADI, one of the two major diving accreditation organizations. While the kids are in “class” during the day, the adults dive.

From Texas, one of the most convenient Sea Camp programs is off the coast of Honduras with turquoise waters and some of the best reef diving in the Caribbean.

Families can stay at the meals-included . Many families are multi-year alumni of Kids Sea Camp, returning to the thatch-roof bungalows right on the key, some with air conditioning. With the proximity of the Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences, which specializes in dolphin studies, there are dolphins at the resort and ample opportunities to play with — and learn from — the bright and mischievous mammals, including a popular family dolphin encounter.

Kids are divided by age and skill set, with the 4- to 7-year-olds learning basic water skills and how to snorkel. Kids 10 and up can take PADI Junior Open Water class, which leads to scuba-diving certification. (Parents, be prepared for some homework time after hours. The lessons are not easy.) For the kids who pass the test, there’s a celebratory final dive with the parents.

Adult diving conveniently leaves directly from the resort and includes a morning and afternoon dive, wreck dives and two night dives. You can expect to see all sorts of corals, sea turtles, rays, barracudas, lobsters and hosts of parti-colored fish ranging from tiny to grouper-size.

Of course, diving isn’t for everyone, and nondiving parents can head to the resort pool (and/or bar), tour the island, do some daredevil zip-lining, become a dolphin trainer for a day, ride horseback, hang out at cafes in other parts of the island or simply take a boat taxi a few hundred yards to tiny Bailey’s Key and play Robinson Crusoe — with beach chair and book — for a few hours. You can even snorkel right off Bailey’s Key. (One warning: Don’t try to telecommute on your vacation. Internet connections are iffy and not worth the angst. OK, two warnings: Bring industrial-strength bug repellent. The insects are as vibrant as the sea life.)

When the day is done, the age groups join together for organized evening events, including live music, fire dancing and painting. Meals at Anthony’s Key, in the multilevel, mostly open-air dining area, are their own adventure, with kids artfully dodging the endlessly patient waiters, switching tables among their new best friends while the parents sip a cold one and watch the orange sun set over the Caribbean. The bar closes at 10, but you and the kids will be conked out long before that.

Kyrie O’Connor (kyrie.oconnor@chron.com) is deputy managing editor/features for the Houston Chronicle.