Posted Tuesday, April 4, 2006
It started as a simple concept: If you have kids and love to dive, then you should have a place to go have your cake and eat it too. Thus was born Kids Sea Camp.
If I could save time in a bottle, as the old Jim Croce lyrics go, I would like to capture and savor some of the special moments spent at Curacao Kids Sea Camps and not just under one generic label that would blur with the passing years, but specific moments that would coax a smile and a knowing nod just with the memory.
The first moment would be the first Kids Sea Camp almost five years ago, when my daughter Melissa was just 6. We arrived at Lions Dive Resort in Curacao, with the inaugural group of Kids Sea Camp families, just in time for supper. There in the middle of it all was Margo Chornlesky, who originated the idea of the camp. She had two young children, Robbie and Jennifer, owned a travel company and loved to dive. She wanted to be able to have it all when she traveled, to go on a trip where she could dive and do something meaningful for her kids. She wondered if there were other families, single parents and grandparents who wanted to juggle underwater adventures, adult time and kids without dropping anything.
Well, there we were, the test group of 26 kids with relations in tow, and we were about to find out!
That first evening, the managers of Lions Dive Resort weren't quite sure how to plan the seating for our group. As we stood there deliberating over which families would sit where, the kids all gravitated to the table closest to the water and bonded the minute the shackles of shoes and socks came off. The adults shrugged their shoulders, grabbed a chair and bonded over the first cocktail.
The folks at Ocean Encounters Dive Center "a PADI 5-Star IDC" and Curacao Sea Aquarium had spent the year communicating with Margo and each other about every detail. They felt that a breakfast buffet would work best: Counselors would connect with the kids there and by 8:30, after the sun-screened hugs, the dive boats would show up for the parents with everyone good to go.
THREE CATEGORIES OF ADULTS
With the kids off playing with dolphins, sea lions and sea stars, the adults had the day to themselves. Adults fell into three main categories. The hard-core "dive or die" group escaped, guilt-free, every morning, every afternoon and even some nights. The "one more cup of coffee" contingent reviewed their options before diving in. (Sometimes the discussion lasted till noon, and then lunch became the obvious choice.) Lastly, there were the "ask me again later" folks, whom you would have to wake up from a nap under a palm tree or pry away from a good book if you really wanted them to pursue a plan. I can't honestly tell you which of the groups was preferable, but I can tell you that over the years I have traversed all three like an expert.
The Infamous "Mom Who?"
While the parents pursued their activities, the kids had their fish ID lesson of the day, made colorful marine mobiles out of plastic bottles, were introduced by name to the resident life at the Curacao Sea Aquarium and, of course, got wet. The Animal Encounters lagoon is right out of a parent's wish list.
I wish my kids could experience fish, turtles and sharks in their natural habitat without dealing with dive boats, currents and open water. I wish there were a shaded area for suiting up and down, ladders for easy entry and lots of observation decks for curious grown-ups.
That wish was granted thanks to Dutch, the visionary behind Curacao's Sea Aquarium and Royal Resorts next door. Bubble Maker, Seal Team and Junior PADI Open Water certifications are scheduled each day in the Royal Resorts' pool and the Animal Encounters Lagoon. Here, children are introduced to scuba with age-appropriate PADI programs. By 4:30, when camp officially ended, you might imagine that the kids would've had enough of the water. What really happened is that the counselors were in the pool with the kids at the designated pick-up time, having too much fun to check the clock. That's how the now-infamous expression "Mom who?" was conceived.
On the second day we made a grocery run. While I loaded up on mac and cheese, soft drinks and Doritos, my more discriminating sister-in-law returned from the same shopping trip with a selection of Dutch cheese, imported crackers, three different types of hard salami and wines labeled "Select." So we toasted the day from her patio overlooking the pool.
I loved to hear the dive stories each evening. We heard details about the famed Superior Producer shipwreck and the day's excursion to the Mushroom Forest. Ocean Encounters' owners Nolo, Monica and their sons Leo and Christian were the ultimate hosts. They made all the guests feel that they were family friends, and by the end of the trip, they were.
PADI, Sport Diver, SCUBAPRO and SeaLife Reef Master Cameras joined forces to put on a treasure hunt extraordinaire. Armed with pails and high hopes, the kids set out along the shoreline to find the gold coins that were carefully "hidden" just minutes earlier. The nice thing about this semi-competitive activity was that everybody won. There were enough masks, fins, snorkels, wetsuits, T-shirts, caps and toys to go around, and the value was much more than monetary.
REALITY CAN WAIT
By the end of the week, we had been to the ostrich farm, observed stalactites forming in the Hato Caves and dined at the one-of-a-kind European village of KurÃ¡ Hulanda while the kids reveled in their very own gourmet Pizza and Movie Night.
By then, asking the kids to tell you their favorite memory yielded everything from snorkeling and diving to pizza and prizes. The adults, however, recognized that swimming with dolphins and sea lions is not something that every kid gets a chance to do. These programs are experiences of a lifetime, a fact that our children will one day appreciate.
Thinking about the upcoming Sixth anniversary of the program and how it's grown from just 26 kids over one week to a projected 200 over eight weeks in multiple destinations such as Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Honduras, and Fiji all this summer makes me proud to be a part of it. My daughter is now in middle school, she's a PADI Junior Open Water certified diver, and she's looking forward to the Ocean Discovery program being offered this year for kids her age. An 11-year-old on a dive boat with her peers I'm not sure even Margo would've imagined that.
There are so many repeat families who want to reconnect each year that there's a designated Alumni Week. Enthusiasm for the experience is contagious, and so it grows. The kids report on Kids Sea Camp at school, and it's a cool thing. And everyone with a pre-teen knows that it's good to be cool.
Carolyn Pascal, Scuba Mom
For more information on all Kids Sea Camp programs, call 800-934-3483