Family Travel Forum's insiders guide to the best scuba destinations for divers with young children, with recommendations for superior childcare in Andros, Bahamas and Turks & Caicos.
For six years, my husband Michael and I have made an annual scuba diving pilgrimage. When our son Alexander was born three years ago, we vowed that we’d continue to pursue our passion for diving. Well, we have, but our criteria for the perfect holiday have changed. Now we look for resorts that have great diving and outstanding childcare facilities. Whether you’re interested in tennis, golf, sailing or whatever, there’s probably a resort out there to fit your family’s needs. You just have to know what to look for. With a bit of planning, effort and some compromise, our last two diving holidays with baby in tow – to Andros, Bahamas and Turks & Caicos – were big successes. Interestingly, the two resorts we stayed in were polar opposites in terms of size, atmosphere and overall vacation experience, but both had the key ingredient: excellent childcare.
Small Hope Bay Lodge, Andros
Our first scuba adventure with Alex (16 months at that time) was to Andros, a relatively undeveloped Bahamian Out Island. The overwhelming majority of tourists on Andros come for the diving and game fishing. We stayed at the small, family-run Small Hope Bay Lodge (800/223-6961, 242/368-2014), that caters to serious scuba divers and tranquility seekers. The 20 beachside cottages are basic and clean with no phones or TV, and only half have air conditioning. If you want some extra space, there are a few larger family cottages with two bedrooms. Small Hope Bay defines the word “laid-back”. All you’ll need is a bathing suit, shorts and a few T-shirts (we didn’t wear shoes to dinner once).
Our diving experience was outstanding. Andros offers one of the most diverse and least explored dive environments in the Bahamas. Its eastern coast boasts the third longest barrier reef formation in the world. Daily, Small Hope Bay offers morning two-tank dives and afternoon single-tank dives. Night dives are run several times a week. For the truly adventurous (and qualified), there are variety of specialty dives including cave, blue hole and deep dives. The staff was among the friendliest and most experienced of any we have encountered in our scuba travels. The boats, although they had seen a bit of mileage, were fast with plenty of seating and gear storage room.
During our week of diving we encountered exquisite reef gardens, many large creatures including sharks and rays, and spectacular plunging wall drop-offs. My favorite dive was to one of Andros’ famous blue holes: a circular depression that leads to spectacular sub-sea caves and caverns.
Of special interest to divers traveling with young children, is the proximity of the dive sites to the resort. Every day, we were able to have a leisurely family breakfast, get Alex set up with his babysitter, do two superb dives and be back in time to help our fussy eater get his lunch down. This provided us with the perfect blend of “scuba fix” and relaxing family time together. Although Small Hope Bay does not have scheduled kids activities, it does provide babysitting for kids ages 2-9 for a reasonable fee and complimentary service between 6-8:45pm. The resort reserves dinner as adult-only time and kids dine together in a special game room supervised by babysitters. Alex’s babysitter was a young woman – Val – who has been working at the resort for several years. While we were diving, Alex and Val played in the kid’s games room, went for walks along the beach, and played in the shallow tidal pools. One of the many special things about this small resort was that all the staff and management were very kid-oriented. Everyone knew Alex, and he had many friendly people looking out for him in addition to his babysitter. One thing to be aware of is, due to the island’s remoteness, the resort does not have fresh milk. Obtaining diapers can also be a great challenge.
Overall, Small Hope Bay is an ultra-friendly, wonderful place to bring your children if you’re looking for a serene, family holiday focusing on relaxation, the natural environment and superb diving at your doorstep. It’s not the place to come if you or your children want lots of luxurious amenities and scheduled activities. Their all-inclusive rate includes meals, beverages, bar drinks, watersports, basic diving lessons and taxes. Small Hope Bay also offers adult and teen diving packages, as well as convenient flight service from Fort Lauderdale or regularly scheduled commercial flights from Nassau.
Beaches Turkoise Resort and Spa, Turks & Caicos
For our next scuba holiday (Alex was 26 months) we decided to try the Beaches (888/BEACHES) Resort and Spa in Turks & Caicos – a sprawling, new, high-end, all-inclusive catering primarily to young families. This resort has everything, and then some – several restaurants and swimming pools, a spa, a state-of-the-art kids’ themed area, diving, tennis and a stunning, endless stretch of beach. Choice of accommodations ranged from deluxe rooms to beachfront villas. If our previous vacation at Small Hope Bay could be defined as “Robinson Crusoe”, Beaches would have to be Disney Land.
The Turks & Caicos Islands are often cited as one of the top scuba destinations in the world. Our diving experience with the Beaches Resort on-site facility was very positive; the diving staff was extremely professional and safety-conscious. The dive boats are new, spacious and clean, with good equipment if you don’t have your own. During our visit, the resort offered a daily 10am one-tank dive (back at the resort by 12:30pm) and an 8am two-tank dive (returns approximately 1:30pm). The later boat took us to Grace Bay, directly in front of the resort, where we encountered healthy coral life, an abundance of tropical fish, and shallow walls. For more dramatic walls and a better chance of seeing the “big stuff”, sign up for the 8am dive that takes you to sites around West Caicos.
Michael and I were thrilled to encounter several large eagle rays, a school of dolphins, nurse sharks and our first-ever sighting of a hammerhead shark. For us as parents, the one drawback of the 8am dive was that it kept us away from Alex for both breakfast and lunch.
As for the childcare, Alexander (and his mother) were quite content. While the daycare officially opens at 9am, there was no problem making special arrangements to accommodate the diving schedule, and the Ultra Nannies also accompanied the wee ones to lunch. The Kids Kamp offers separate groups for infants, toddlers, school-age children, pre-teens and teens. The infant nursery is an air-conditioned room, perfect for gentle care and resting comfortably and toddlers have a room of their own with a daily schedule of indoor and outdoor activities. Although Alex was still a bit young to enjoy the action at the Pirate’s Island activity center, it looked to be a big hit among the older kids (5+) and teens. It is built around a huge sailboat, set in a freshwater pool with a couple of awesome water slides. The area also includes an XBox Center, volleyball, lawn chess and a fun 50’s style diner with extremely kid-friendly fare.
Aside from the daycare nannies, we were very impressed with the overall friendliness and attentiveness of the resort staff. The dining room staff loved to clown around with the kids and were quick to help out Mom and Dad if Junior needed a bit of encouragement. The housekeeping staff made sure that our mini bar was promptly restocked with milk, juice and yogurt after our initial request. The ease of booking an after-hours babysitter was a real bonus when we wanted to indulge in a Beaches gourmet, adults-only restaurant.
Overall, this is a beautiful resort with every possible frill. If your idea of a great vacation includes lots of pampering, an amazingly uncrowded beach, and loads of activities to keep the kids (and you) busy, Beaches fits the bill. The diving is terrific (although the better sites are a good distance from the resort) and the childcare is good.
Prices are a bit steep if you don’t avail yourself of the many activities and amenities. Beaches all-inclusive rates include all meals, beverages, bar drinks, daytime childcare, and all watersports — including scuba diving. The only extras are spa treatments and evening babysitting. You can fly there via non-stop charter from a few east coast cities or transfer through Miami or Dallas to the island.
In Pursuit of Adult Passions
How To Maximize Childcare Options
- In order to pursue your passion, be sure the resort you select excels at it.
- Confirm in advance that advertised childcare options will be in effect during your stay.
- Spend time on arrival introducing your child to the childcare facility and new caregivers.
- Explain to your child that some vacation time will be with other children and new friends.
- Bring along familiar comfort items to soothe your child during nap and quiet times.
- If you allow for fun time together every day, both you and your child will enjoy the vacation.
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