Popular Water Sports and Activities
The following is just a sampling of the many water sports and water-based activities available to vacationers in the Caribbean. Some of these activities require that participants be physically fit. In some cases, previous experience is strongly recommended, but not required.
Sailboats, kayaks, motorboats, paddleboats, and other types of boats that you can manage by yourself can often be rented by the half-hour, hour, or by the day. All-inclusive resorts typically include unlimited use of nonmotorized boats. However, you may have to pay an additional fee to rent any type of motorized craft. Contact your hotel or resort's activities desk to determine what type of boats can be rented.
When participating in any type of boating activity, be sure to wear a lifejacket, even if you consider yourself to be a good swimmer. Kids and teens especially should always wear a lifejacket, proper sun protection, and rubber-soled beach shoes when engaged in any type of boating activity.
Boat Tours, Dinner Cruises, and Party Cruises
No matter which Caribbean island you visit, you will find a wide selection of boat tours to enjoy. In addition to choosing the type of cruise, you'll also be able to select the type of boat you travel in. Boat tours typically host anywhere from twenty to 100 or more passengers. Some cruises anchor for awhile offshore and allow passengers to go snorkeling, scuba diving, or swimming off the boat.
If you're traveling with kids or teens, a traditional sightseeing boat tour or a sunset cruise will be appropriate. A dinner cruise tends to provide a romantic setting for couples and may not be suitable for kids or teens. What kids and teens will love, however, are high-speed motorboat rides and tours.
For family members over the age of eighteen (or twenty-one on some islands), party cruises can be a fun way to meet people, socialize, and enjoy the tropical climate. Party cruises typically offer loud music and an open bar (serving unlimited drinks for between one and four hours). These cruises are definitely not suitable for kids and teens.
Depending on the type of cruise or boat tour you choose, bring along a light jacket, a change of clothes, a bathing suit, and a towel. You should also consider bringing snacks and bottled water if food won't be provided aboard the ship.
The Caribbean offers excellent deep-sea fishing. It's important to choose a tour operator that offers an experienced crew and quality fishing gear. Deep-sea fishing trips tend to last either a half-day or a full-day and typically are not included in an all-inclusive resort package. If this will be your first time fishing, be sure you sign up for an introductory fishing expedition.
Consult with the tour operator to determine what you'll need to bring on a deep-sea fishing excursion. Snacks, drinks, and all necessary fishing gear are typically provided.
Depending on where you go, Jet Skis can often be rented by the half-hour or by the hour. This is an activity that typically is not included with vacation packages at all-inclusive resorts. Plan on spending at least $50 per half-hour to rent a Jet Ski. No previous experience is necessary. Many Jet Skis will hold one, two, or three passengers, but they must be driven by an adult (or someone over the age of sixteen under parental supervision).
Almost all Jet Ski rental companies will insist that all passengers on the vehicle wear a lifejacket. This is definitely something you should do regardless of the rules. Also, kids and teens can often ride as passengers on a Jet Ski, but they aren't allowed to rent one on their own without adult supervision and consent. It's best to wear a bathing suit with the lifejacket, although a light wetsuit can also be worn.
Parasailing is a fun sport that is a cross between skydiving and water-skiing. As in water-skiing, you are pulled behind a boat, but instead of wearing skis you strap a parachute to your back. As the boat moves forward, the parachute fills with air and pulls you aloft. The experience is typically very smooth and exhilarating. Unless you're afraid of heights, this is a fun activity for anyone over the age of 12.
The safest way to experience parasailing is if you're launched off of a dock in the middle of the water, as opposed to off of the beach. The typical ride lasts anywhere from five to fifteen minutes (or longer) depending on the tour operator. You'll typically pay extra for parasailing, since this activity isn't included in most vacation packages offered by all-inclusive resorts. Wear a bathing suit. Otherwise, all equipment will be provided.
Rafting is another fun and unusual activity that lets you paddle a big rubber raft down a river, enjoying the water and all the scenery as you float by. Depending on the intensity of the water, this may be a calm and soothing ride or a very active adventure. At the very least, plan on wearing a bathing suit and lifejacket. Other safety gear, such as a helmet, may also be required. A rafting trip can last anywhere from one hour to a full day, depending on the location, the tour operator, and your experience level.
Consult with the tour operator to determine what you'll need to bring on a rafting expedition. Snacks, drinks, and all necessary gear are typically provided.
Regardless of whether you're an experienced sailor or a lifelong landlubber, you can take sailing lessons and then rent a small one- or two-person sailboat. You can also charter a larger sailing vessel (complete with a captain), depending on your interests and skill level. Smaller sailboats are usually available for rent by the hour, although this is an activity that is included at many all-inclusive resorts. Consult with the tour operator to determine what you'll need to bring when renting a sailboat. All necessary gear, including lifejackets, is typically provided.
Scuba diving is an amazing experience that lets you see ocean life from an entirely different perspective. To experience even an introductory dive, you should be in excellent physical shape. For experienced, certified scuba divers, the Caribbean offers some of the most incredible and beautiful dive sites in the world. For people over the age of twelve who want to experience scuba diving for the first time (without getting certified), introductory classes and dives are offered by dive schools, dive operators, and some resorts.
An introductory dive typically entails in-person instruction by a dive master on land. This instruction should last about one hour. After this, participants put on the dive suit and equipment and practice the scuba technique in a pool or in very shallow water. Finally, the class includes a short dive (thirty minutes to an hour) with a certified dive master as your guide, in which you dive to depths no greater than forty or fifty feet.
Introductory scuba-diving lessons and tours tend to book up quickly, so make your reservations well in advance. Seek out a referral from your hotel or resort when looking for a qualified dive instructor or dive master. The cost of an introductory dive ranges from $50 to $200 per person. This activity, from start to finish, will take at least three to five hours. Ideally, if you'll be diving with a group, insist on no more than three or four people for each dive master/instructor.
Make sure you work with a certified dive master when embarking on an introductory scuba dive. If after your preliminary instruction, you're not 100-percent comfortable actually taking the dive, seek out another dive instructor and guide.
The dive operator will provide all of the equipment you need, including a wet suit. You should only need to bring a bathing suit, towel, and optional change of clothing, along with sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses (for the boat ride to the actual dive site.) To ensure that you'll remember your experience, consider purchasing a disposable waterproof camera, so you can take underwater photos of your experience.
A much cheaper and less challenging alternative to scuba diving is snorkeling. This is an activity that virtually all hotels and resorts offer. With just a few minutes of instruction, you can begin snorkeling, even if you're not a strong swimmer. Snorkeling involves swimming on the surface of the water with a mask and snorkel (breathing tube) that let you can keep your face underwater while looking at the underwater sights.
All of the necessary gear—including a life jacket, fins, mask, and the snorkel—will be provided by the resort, hotel, or tour operator. You can also purchase your own snorkeling gear starting at around $100 for a basic, well-made set. You'll often save money if you purchase your snorkeling equipment from a U.S. sporting goods store instead of a local shop for tourists in the Caribbean.
Many Caribbean vacation destinations now offer snuba diving, a cross between scuba diving and snorkeling. No experience is necessary, and you need to wear very little equipment. Almost all of the gear (such as your air tank) floats on the water's surface while you dive below, giving you maximum mobility as you explore underwater. Snuba diving is ideal for anyone over the age of fifteen, even those who aren't necessarily strong swimmers. This is an activity typically offered by tour operators that also offer snorkeling or scuba diving.
Consult with the tour operator to determine what you'll need to bring when participating in a snuba diving tour. Typically, all you'll need is a bathing suit.
Atlantis Adventures (www.atlantisadventures.com) is one of the only submarine tour operators in the world. The company has several locations throughout the Caribbean, on islands including Aruba, Barbados, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Curacao, St. Croix, St. John, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas.
Prepare to take a unique and exotic submarine adventure as you dive 100 to 150 feet toward the ocean floor. You'll see incredible ocean life and even several sunken ships through the submarine's portals. The entire adventure from the time you board the submarine is about ninety minutes long and includes live narration by the copilot.
Built at a cost of $3.6 million, each Atlantis submarine holds forty-eight passengers and makes up to nine dives per day. The undersea journey is surprisingly smooth, although if you're claustrophobic, being enclosed within the submarine itself probably isn't the best idea. Also, there are no restrooms available on the submarine, so plan accordingly.
An Atlantis submarine ride provides a memorable and exciting experience for people over the age of four. The cost is $84 per adult and $34 per child (ages four to sixteen). To save $10 on each adult ticket, make your reservations online at www.atlantisadventures.com. Advance reservations are definitely required. This is an extremely popular attraction, and rides book up quickly.
You can wear normal street clothes when embarking on a submarine ride, since you'll stay totally dry. No special equipment or experience is needed. Eating and drinking are not allowed on the submarines.
Many areas of the Caribbean offer beaches with waves the perfect size for learning how to surf. At these beaches, you'll often find surfing schools or instructors that offer lessons as well as rental equipment. Surfing is a fun and challenging activity for teens and adults who are physically fit, and it definitely takes skill and plenty of practice. To avoid injury, definitely take lessons before trying this sport on your own. For kids, body surfing (which requires no board) and boogie boarding (which requires a small board you lie on) are more popular activities. Boogie boards are often provided free or can be rented from hotels and resorts.
Depending on where you'll be surfing, either a bathing suit or a wetsuit will be required. If the water is cold or rough enough to necessitate a wetsuit, you will be able to rent one along with your surfboard. Rubber-soled beach shoes may also be worn.
Throw on a bathing suit and take a dip in the ocean, swimming pool, or in a lagoon at the bottom of a waterfall. The opportunities for swimming throughout the Caribbean are plentiful. If you're not an experienced swimmer, stick to beaches and pools where a lifeguard is on duty and the water is calm (with little or no undertow). Of course, as a parent, you should always supervise your children when they're in the water, regardless of whether a lifeguard is on duty. This is definitely the most popular activity (aside from sunbathing) in the Caribbean.
A bathing suit, towel, and sunscreen will be all you need to enjoy hours of fun swimming at a beach, in a swimming pool, or in a lagoon.
Swimming with Dolphins
While not offered on all of the Caribbean islands, the chance to swim with dolphins is something that kids and teens in particular will remember for a long time. The tour operators that offer this activity typically invite guests to swim in an enclosed area with one or more bottlenose dolphins. All interaction with the dolphins is carefully supervised, and participants wear provided lifejackets.
Some swimming-with-dolphin programs offer little more than a chance to pet a dolphin as you stand in waist-high water. Others allow you to interact and actually swim with the dolphins. Determine, in advance, what the program offers. This activity costs anywhere from $50 to $200 per person, depending on the program. When available, swimming-with-dolphin programs tend to be extremely popular. They book up quickly, so make your reservations early.
Aside from a bathing suit, everything you'll need will be provided by the tour operator. Be sure you leave all metal jewelry, including rings, watches, bracelets, and earrings, in your hotel room or store these items in a locker. They should not be worn when swimming with dolphins.
Windsurfing is a cross between sailing and surfing. It requires skill and a lot of upper-body strength. It's also a popular activity throughout the Caribbean and one that's offered at many resorts. If you've never experienced this sport before, it's important to receive proper instruction before trying it by yourself. Boards for windsurfing (along with experienced instruction) are available by the half-hour or by the hour. This is a sport that teens and adults in particular will enjoy. It's not suitable for kids or anyone who isn't physically fit.
Plan on wearing a bathing suit and a lifejacket (provided). Rubber-soled beach shoes or a light wetsuit are optional.