Intelligent Travel (Kids Sea Camp Palau) by National Geographic author Rainer Jenns

Amazing traveling with your kids

Intelligent Travel (Kids Sea Camp Palau) by National Geographic author Rainer Jenns

Anyone with young kids certainly knows about the lifestyle modifications that need to be made in order to raise children. Among other things, you just can’t go out as much or stay up as late as you did BC (before children). And when it comes to traveling, most parents somehow feel obligated to forgo their dream trips or favorite vacation activities for more family-friendly destinations and accommodations that cater to kids.
This seems particularly true in the case of scuba divers, who too often take a complete sabbatical from the sport while bringing up their kids. After all, how are moms and dads supposed to go diving with young children in tow?

My wife and I found ourselves in this boat after our boys were born, and although I still managed to finagle my way back in the water every now and then, Carol and I rarely”‘buddied up” underwater, and we certainly weren’t planning vacations that revolved around diving like we once did.

I learned that compromising our love of scuba diving for the sake of our two young sons proved unnecessary. Not only was I enlightened to the fact that children as young as 10 years old can now become certified divers, I discovered a tour company that catered to families like ours: parents who want a family dive vacation and the kids get a chance to make new friends and participates in their own underwater adventures.  Kids Sea Camp (KSC) was started 14 years ago by Margo Peyton, a travel consultant, dive instructor, and mother of two who wanted to bring together like-minded people who love the ocean, diving, beaches, snorkeling, and travel, and offer them the opportunity to share their passion as a family. After initially launching with just one trip and one other family, KSC now offers hundreds of kids and adults each year the opportunity to learn and enjoy scuba each year.  In honor of her dedication toward helping kids and adults gain a greater appreciation for our oceans and creating family diving events around the world, Margo was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2009 and has contributed to 5,000 certified divers to-date.

It didn’t take a lot of persuasions to get Carol and the boys on board. After perusing The Kids Sea Camp list of itineraries, which now include destinations like the Cayman Islands, Bonaire, Yap, Utila, Fiji, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Roatan, Australia, Greece, Florida and the Galápagos, we decided on Palau, which I had been told by the famous underwater photographer David Doubilet has some of the best diving on earth. We called Margo and booked the Palau family adventure.

One of the biggest draws to KSC is the fact that they can fully train and certify any adult or child ten years or older during their trip. Our original plan was to have the boys (who are now 11 and 13) go through the PADI certification program included on the trip. After all, how cool would it be for them to become certified in the waters of Palau, teeming with marine life and practically unlimited visibility?

We certified the kids over the summer so they could join the other teen divers on the trip and take full advantage of the amazing reefs surrounding this Micronesian island. Our kids had a fantastic time experiencing their first ocean water dives with their fellow certified teen divers; however, I did take note of the fact that the kids who were getting certified during the trip had done the PADI e: learning prior to arrival and didn’t miss a beat.

For children under ten, Kids Sea Camp also have programs there’s SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) with lots of underwater pool adventures as well as fun educational in ocean activities. Children ages 8-10 can participate in the PADI SEAL Team Program, a course that only with Kids Sea Camp includes dive time in the ocean where they learn the basics of diving. But regardless of how old they are, the whole point is not just to supervise them, but get them exposed to scuba diving and have them share the experience with their parents and other children their own age.

Palau has some of the best diving in the world, and the good news is that the hassle of getting there is more than worth it. Since we were traveling with Kids Sea Camp, the long flights and three layovers allowed us to get acquainted with some of the other families in our group. Since KSC has been in operation for 14 years now, most of the dozen or so families represented had been on one of their trips before. It didn’t take me long to realize why they returned. The kids, regardless of age, seemed to bond immediately, while the adults shared a quick camaraderie. This really was the best of both worlds for Carol and me: fun with the kids combined with the freedom to pursue our passion for diving.

One of the beauties of Palau is that its premiere dive sites are not particularly challenging, in other words, you don’t need advanced open water training or Nitrox tanks to enjoy them.  The water temperature was a balmy 84 degrees while the visibility on most dives was easily 100 feet.  Even when it rained, which could happen quite suddenly in this tropical region, it didn’t bother us too much since we spent most of our time underwater.

We signed up to explore the islands with Sam’s Tours, and our first stop as a group was to Jellyfish Lake. The marine lake is the bizarre consequence of thousands of years of evolution–over time millions of golden jellyfish were isolated in its waters and they migrate horizontally across the lake each day following the sun’s rays to capture their nutrients. What makes these jellyfish so unique, however, is the fact that you can swim freely among them, since they lost their stingers from never having to fight off any predators.

But perhaps Palau’s most famous dive, and thus most visited site, is the Blue Corner. Before swimming out to the corner itself, we descended to about 90 feet (the kids were limited to 45 feet) to see some magnificent gorgonian fans, anemones, giant clams and soft corals along the sea wall, which stretches thousands of feet down.

We were immediately greeted by a cruising gray reef shark, a precursor of things to come. We floated with the current like a bunch of kites in a strong wind. The concentration of marine life, including large schools of jacks, trevallies, and barracuda swimming all around you was just incredible.

Perhaps the only downside to our first family dive trip was that it set the bar incredibly high for the kids.  With time to savor the wonderful week we shared together and remind them not to expect marine life like that every time we go diving, which we all hope thanks to Kids Sea Camp will become a regular family activity for us from now on.