Family finally finds their vacation answer

“Honey, I think I found what we have been looking for!”

By Patti Snyder

In the spring of 2010, I sat at my computer late one night, searching for family vacations. Sam was 5, and we recently had adopted our son, Hunter, also 5, from China. My husband, Andy, and I were avid divers. While Andy’s diving background was drysuit diving in the cold ocean off the coast of Scotland, I preferred warmer waters. As avid cave divers together, we loved diving the springs in Florida. Having kids meant that cave diving was in the past for us. While we enjoyed the beach and boating, our passion has always been scuba diving, so we started searching for the perfect family vacation.

Unfortunately, we thought, kids and scuba diving would not go together very well. As I sat at my computer, hopeful, I entered various words into the search engines online: “family diving,” “kids scuba diving,” “family vacations.” Kids Sea Camp popped right up, and I turned to my husband and said, “Honey, I think I found what we have been looking for!”

I read everything I found about Kids Sea Camp and its founder, Margo Peyton. If you Google either of those phrases, there are pages of great stories and information, and it’s all positive.

I called the next day, and Margo answered the phone. We spoke at length as I had many concerns because Hunter couldn’t swim and he couldn’t speak English, and Sam, who has ADHD, is not one to sit through a course. Maybe it was selfish on our part, but I just knew we had to go.

Margo assured me it would all work out, and we booked our first of many trips to Buddy Dive in Bonaire for June 2010. At this point, Hunter was not too enamored with the ocean as his first water event occurred at home, when he fell in the pool and sank to the bottom. This soon was remedied with swim lessons, and by spring, he had donned a wetsuit and was playing in the waves in St. Augustine, Florida.

When we arrived at Buddy Dive, we were apprehensive. What was I thinking going off diving while my two 5-year-old kids were left with the Kids Sea Camp staff? My fears were allayed when I watched the kids feeding beautiful parrot fish off the dock. They were laughing and having the time of their life. By the end of the week, these two 5-year-olds were making new friends, learning about fish and even managed giant strides off the dock in SASY gear. They loved their instructors and learned how to set up and use their gear. We have never looked back.

Over the past eight years, all of our family vacations have been with Kids Sea Camp. There were challenges along the way. The hardest part for Sam was completing the book work for his Jr. Open Water class. But you put Sam in a wetsuit and scuba gear and the little diver in him takes right over. Sam and Hunter love zero gravity, and that little kid that once sank to the bottom of the pool is now a varsity swimmer and triathlete. They want to experience life to the fullest, and nothing holds them back. We have taken them diving at Kids Sea Camp Bonaire, Grand Cayman, Roatan, Utila, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and, coming up this month, Belize, and then our first liveaboard Kids Sea Camp in Socorro Islands is planned for this December.

Some of those KSC places have seen our faces more than once. Each time we go, we reconnect with families we have met before and meet new ones. We have watched as our kids (and other families’ kids) have transitioned from SASY to Seals to JOW to AOW divers. We are all divers and watching our kids become divers is a bond we get to share.

I am really the lucky one. I have three men in my life that share my passion for the sea. Not all of the places Margo researches for Kids Sea Camp pass her muster, because it takes a special family-friendly place, a special family-friendly PADI dive instructor and a special local family-owned operation for her to feel safe entrusting “her kids” in the underwater world.

Margo is a PADI instructor whose whole life is dedicated to keeping kids safe while teaching them about the ocean. All of the resorts are PADI five-star dive centers. Then there are the extras that are included, like private boats, kids dive gear, private instructors and even Margo and Tom. There are other things to do, like zip-lining, chocolate tasting, spas, jungle biking, beach volleyball, fire dancers, sunset cruises and cultural excursions.

Kids Sea Camp is more than just diving. Learning underwater sign language (yes, there is a useful course on that), learning to use Sealife cameras, learning about coral reef restoration and understanding our impact and role as responsible divers. Then there is the tradition of family poetry writing. Inspired by the Sealife camera prizes, Andy sets out to write about this magical journey at each destination, the highlights of the week, the precious moments captured in the smiles on our sons’ faces each day.

There is overwhelming joy expressed in these poems, as each trip creates lifelong memories for Kids Sea Camp families. And when Andy reads his poems he is always choking back emotion and tears, as is the entire group.

You see, it was wreck diving off the coast of North Carolina that brought us together 28 years ago, and it’s Kids Sea Camp that rekindles that with the perfect family dive vacation.