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My four year old daughter Alexa has already chosen her favorite dive destination in the Caribbean, the Divi Tiara Beach Resort on Cayman Brac. She has been there five times already, although her first visit was at three months old, and she says she doesn’t remember much from that trip. She likes it because the beach is right outside her door, the sea is calm and she can go wading along the water’s edge, looking at the fish and shells. If she’s feeling adventurous, she can put on her mask and snorkel to watch the Squirrelfish, Sergeant Majors, pufferfish and octopus that hang out around the dock. She even saw a Spotted Eagle Ray and a Moray Eel there last time. There are paddleboats too, so she can venture a little farther offshore (with mom or dad, of course). But the absolute high point of her last vacation to the Brac was when the parents and kids went out on the dive boat to a calm, crystalline coral reef along the island’s leeside. Here we were able to snorkel above pristine Elkhorn and Brain Corals in less than ten feet of water.
Our family enjoys the casual nature of this resort. The dining is buffetstyle with most meals taken outside by the pool. About the only time we ever eat inside the restaurant is when it’s too hot or rainy to sit at the outdoor tables. Any parent who has had to try to entertain a restless child while waiting for the menu to come, the order to be taken and the food delivered (on island time) will appreciate the convenience of the buffet format at the Divi Tiara Beach. Of course, divers like it, too, because meals don’t interfere with the dive boat schedule. They can easily eat dinner before going out on the night dive or grab a late lunch even after making a morning two tank dive off Little Cayman. That the food is quite good and varied is an additional plus.
Lexy spent hours each day at the freshwater pool. Because other families have discovered the many virtues of the Divi Tiara Beach Resort, there were always other kids for her to play with. These parents have come to realize Cayman Brac is probably the safest island in the Caribbean, with virtually no crime. Once settled into the Divi Tiara Beach property, there are no roads to cross or traffic to avoid. An offshore coral reef breaks any wave action so the water just in front of the resort is usually as calm as a pond. There are plenty of hammocks beneath swaying palms so mom and dad can relax while the kids build sandcastles. There are even plenty of babysitters available for the times mom and dad might rather be out diving. (Note: The resort doesn’t have babysitters on staff, but there are plenty of teenagers, often the children of the staff, who will babysit. The going rate seems to be about U.S. $5 per hour, payable to the babysitter. It is easier to book babysitters during the summer when the teenagers are not in school. While it is possible to book childcare on location, it is probably easier to arrange in advance directly with the resort rather than going through the U.S. reservations system. See the local numbers at the end of the article.)
General manager Stevo Schwartz is taking the family orientation of the Divi Tiara Beach a step farther with an innovative Great Escapes Camp for children ages 4 to 11. This new program operates Sunday through Friday, perfect for the one week Saturday to Saturday dive/ lodging packages most guests book. Kids are occupied from mid-morning through the afternoon with activities such as snorkeling lessons, beach games, pirate movie production (including an island tour as backdrop), arts and crafts, kid’s scuba (in the pool), the Divi’lympics (featuring such timeless competitions as coconut toss, egg carry and crab races) and the popular boat snorkel expedition. With this program, mom and dad can go out diving, confident the kids are not only being well cared for but having fun as well.
The convivial family atmosphere of this resort shouldn’t mask that this is one of the most efficient dive resorts anywhere. To understand why, consider the following:
Infrastructure: The Divi Tiara Beach Resort offers 71 rooms: 24 are standard, 21 deluxe and 14 luxury. There are 12 one bedroom apartments. In addition to the freshwater swimming pool mentioned above, there is a lighted tennis court, conference center and a popular beachside bar. All rooms are air-conditioned and feature direct dial telephones. Rooms other than the standard category offer satellite television.
Should a textbook of classic dive operations ever be written, this one should have a chapter of its own as the model to emulate. With innovations directed by Peter Hughes, the Divi Tiara Beach Resort features a beachside dive shop complete with underwater photo center, E-6 film processing lab, classroom with light tables and expansive guest gear storage area. A fleet of dive boats (four 40 foot custom twin diesel V-hulls and one 38 footer) docks right alongside the dive facility for absolute ease of loading. A pair of massive 50 cfm compressors and 120,000 cubic feet of air storage supply the compressed air and plans include a nitrox installation, which may be in place when you read this.
As impressive as the dive infrastructure is, it is the level of guest services that makes it work. Upon check-in at the dive center guests are assigned a mesh gear bag and a hook number. They write their name and hook number on the sign-up board to pick from a series of dive options; morning, afternoon or night dives at either Cayman Brac or Little Cayman. Guests merely show up at the boat at the appropriate time. Their BCs and regulators will be set up on the tanks and their other gear stowed beneath the seats in the mesh bags. Following the dives the guests return their gear to their mesh bags; once at the dock they can forget about equipment until the next dive. The staff will rinse the gear and return the bag to its hook. Taking guest services to a new high following the final dive, the equipment is rinsed and actually returned to the guest’s room.
The Diving: The portfolio of dive opportunities on Cayman Brac and nearby Little Cayman is exciting and diverse. The newest addition is the wreck of the Russian Warship #356. Sunk purposely as a dive attraction on September 17, 1996, this 330 foot vessel sits in 55 feet of water at the stern and about 100 feet to the sand below the bow. Her bow juts out over a sandy slope with guns fore and aft making wondrous photo-ops. There are plenty of wall dives along Cayman Brac, including such favorites as Anchor Wall, East Chute (home of another shipwreck, the Cayman Mariner), and Wilderness Wall, as well as great shallow dives perfect for fish photography. Tarpon Reef is obviously named for its resident school and Green House Reef, Snapper Reef and End of the Island all offer a good variety of reef tropicals.
Little Cayman is easily visible from the west end of Cayman Brac and the best sites along Bloody Bay Wall and Jackson Bight are but a 45 minute boat ride away. With the top of the drop-off in only 20 feet of water and vertical walls decorated with Black Coral, vibrant rope and tube sponges and Strawberry Vase Sponges, these areas are wide angle delights. Somehow the marine life on Little Cayman seems tamer; Nassau Groupers, turtles, Eagle Rays, Horse-eye Jacks and schooling snappers and grunts all usually pose willingly for the camera.
For further information about the Divi Tiara Beach Resort or to book a dive vacation there, phone (800) 367-3484 or (919) 419-3484. To contact the resort directly on Cayman Brac, dial (345) 948-1553 or fax (345) 948-1316.