When we’re young, the sky is the limit for the adventures we can get up to. At least it was for me. Sadly, my exciting pre-children weekends of adventure made way for play dates, kiddie sports, visiting attractions and children-focused activities. Before I knew it, those crazy adventure filled days were behind me. This past year, I began to miss the old adventure loving me and tried to find ways to seek adventure, while also including my kids, Matt (12) and Eva (7).
Our first family adventure activity was scuba diving. Luckily, parents can learn how to scuba dive together with their kids as PADI (Professional Association of Diving
Instructors) offers courses for youngsters from eight years old. In the UAE, we are blessed with perfect scuba diving weather all year round, so it seemed like a great fit for our first family adventure activity.
There are PADI centres throughout the UAE, but to get started, we stuck close to home and went to Dive Atlantis at the Atlantis Hotel. We started with the Open Water course. I was impressed with how good the team were in working with children, teaching key skills in a fun and easy to understand way, while still enabling them to be safe in the water. Atlantis is well set up for its introductory PADI courses, and you do your first few training dives in the dive centre’s pool, before further expanding your skills in the Ambassador Lagoon, swimming with 14 different types of sharks and rays as well as 65,000 other marine animals. It’s great to actually be in the water and see so many sea creatures at one time, especially for children and particularly when learning to dive. Having that initial experience in the Ambassador Lagoon is what hooked my son Matt on scuba diving and left him wanting more.
Once you have your PADI Open Water qualification, adults can go to 18m and kids 10 years and older can go to 12m, which is more than enough to see great sea life. After gaining our PADI Open Water certification at Atlantis, Matt and I were keen to dive more and see a greater diversity of sea life, so we headed to the East Coast.
Our next stop was Divers Down, who are based at the Miramar Al Aqah Hotel in Fujairah, to take our PADI Advanced Open Water course. This allows adults to go to 30m and kids to go to 21m. Divers Down are a well-run and professional dive centre that cater for absolute beginners all the way to highly experienced technical divers. There are always plenty of families taking courses or going out for fun dives whenever we are there, so we always feel right at home.
The East Coast offers a range of great fun dives for families. Some of the highlights for my son have been the black tip reef sharks, moray eels, turtles, lively cuttle fish, groups of 8-10 squid at a time, curious clown fish who might just try to nibble your finger if it’s mating season, and a playful jaw fish that will sometimes let you drop a shell down its hole and spit it out again. Great divesites with kids include: Dibba Island (16m), Hole in the Wall (15m), Martini Rock (3-22m) and Shark Island (16m). For more advanced divers, you can also explore Car Cemetery which holds around 50 wrecked cars spread out around 60 square metres featuring plenty of nudibranchs, moray eels, the odd manta ray and a few seahorses, if you look closely. Perhaps the most popular with my son is Inchcape 2, a wreck that sits at 21m, and is home to several nudibranchs, moray eels, rays and beautiful corals. Although you need a PADI wreck diving qualification to penetrate Inchcape 2, there is plenty to see circumnavigating the outside of the vessel.
My daughter Eva isn’t quite old enough to start the PADI scuba programme yet, which starts from the age of eight years old, so she will often join us on the dive boat and go snorkelling or free diving while we’re under water. You need to check with the dive centre before you go, as each centre will have different policies. Often you will need to hire a PADI guide who will accompany your child in the water while you’re diving. But this offers a great opportunity for the whole family to stay together, yet still have an adventure.
If you have kids who are a bit too small for snorkelling independently, or who don’t want to be on the water, many hotels that have dive centres will also have babysitters that you can pre-book, or kids’ clubs, such as at the Al Aqah hotel, that they can go to while you’re diving.
Matt, Eva and I have managed to squeeze in about 30 dives/snorkel trips together as a family over the past year, both in the UAE and in Bali. Eva is now counting the days until she turns eight years old and can join the PADI Bubble Maker (2m) and Seal Team (4m) pool-based scuba programmes.
Useful resource to find dive centres, learn about different qualifications, and sign up for e-learning
Tel: 04 426 3409
PADI Open Water course – 2,400 AED
PADI Seal Team – 1,450 AED
PADI Bubblemaker – 490 AED
Fun dive in Ambassador Lagoon
(certified divers) – 950 AED
Tel: 09 237 0299 (Fujairah)
055 988 8687 (Dubai)
email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Fujairah) email@example.com (Dubai)
PADI Open Water course – 1,900 AED
PADI Seal Team – 1,400 AED
PADI Bubblemaker – 275 AED
Discover Snorkelling – 350 AED
Skin Diver – 550 AED
Explorer’s “UAE Diving” book
Great resource listing all of the UAE’s dive sites and useful UAE scuba information
– 149 AED
Words + Photos by: Jen Hardie
Jen is an avid boxer, scuba diver, runner, rock climber and hiker who can often be found exploring the very best of the UAE and the world with her two kids Matt and Eva.