FLORIDA KEYS — Family time in the Florida Keys means moms, dads, 'tweens and teens can bond during a variety of soft adventure learning vacations. Together, they can try new sports in the active-lifestyle destination, learning skills in as little as two days or embracing the ultimate experience on a weeklong adventure.
Learning to scuba dive is increasingly popular among families. The calm, clear waters surrounding the island chain, which parallels the continental United States' only living coral barrier reef, provide the perfect learning environment for parents and children — as well as a lifetime of diving fun, adventure and memories.
Kids as young as 10 years old can learn to be junior scuba divers. Scuba divers also can become underwater photographers, treasure hunters, marine biologists or even underwater archeologists.
Learning options range from introductory one-day courses through open-water certification classes with three to five days of training covering concepts such as basic physics and physiology, ocean waves, marine life and monitoring time and depth during a dive. That is followed by pool and open-water dives at the reef. Students learn about underwater coral and natural formations during an ocean dive, immersed in bright colors and a variety of reef fish and marine life.
Some of the first recreational dive training centers in America were opened in the Keys. Dozens of dive charter operations are staffed with working professionals who actively teach and train every day.
For information on dive training centers in the Florida Keys, visit fla-keys.com/diving.
Families also can learn or improve upon angling skills by teaming up with one of the region's professional fishing captains for a private learning charter or joining a group for a party-boat fishing experience.
Women in particular, from grandmas to pre-teens, can enjoy friendly mentoring during the annual Ladies, Let's Go Fishing! seminar and tournament. The hands-on weekend, dubbed the "no yelling school of fishing," introduces female anglers to offshore, inshore, bottom and fly-fishing tackle and techniques in a nonintimidating atmosphere.
Ladies train with fishing tackle and tools, practicing spincasting, throwing a cast net, tying knots, boat handling, backing a trailer and gaffing a grapefruit. One of the most popular experiences for new anglers is learning to reel against pressure — with an unsuspecting male playing the role of a hooked fish.
For information, visit ladiesletsgofishing.com.
Families can get underway and hoist the sails during sailing lessons, targeted to novice sailors who want to experience on-the-water training. Basic through advanced cruising, live-aboard cruises and charters are offered in the waters off the Keys.
Florida Keys Sailing, located in Marathon, offers training for a sailing license to charter or rent a sailboat. Classes range from day sailing trips (with lessons but no tests!) to three-day soup-to-nuts learning courses, after which sailors should be skilled enough to skipper a 24- to 30-foot boat.
Five- and seven-day bareboat cruising classes offer serious candidates the skills to captain and charter a 40- or 50-foot sailboat anywhere in the world, and be able to take the family out for a cruise. For information, visit sailfloridakeys.com.
At Islamorada's Florida Keys Sailing Academy, aficionados can train aboard the Cour Volant, a 2002 Jeanneau SO40 built in France. Sailing classes range from one-day mate classes to weekend cruising refresher courses and three-day basic keelboat classes that explore sail theory and safety at sea.
At the conclusion of the course, students can safely and comfortably take a 25- to 30-foot boat out day sailing. Also popular among "maiden" voyagers are the academy's classes taught by women for women. For information, visit learntosailfloridakeys.com.
For families with young adults age 18 and older, Marathon's Dolphin Research Center offers unique entry-level and career-focused courses to learn more about the marine mammals — perhaps the ultimate vacation experience.
Established in 1985, DolphinLab enables students of many ages to learn about dolphins in a unique natural setting of outdoor classrooms and 90,000 square feet of seawater lagoons, The experience gained appeals to individuals who aspire to be trainers or research scientists in the marine mammal field.
Each weeklong course offers hands-on activities, seminars and discussions with expert educators about marine mammal care, training, research and environmental issues. Basic DolphinLab is a seven-day class perfect for the supreme dolphin enthusiast. Adult-focused career classes are fully accredited through Florida Keys Community College, and participants earn college credits.
Younger students age 15-17 can enroll in a seven-day Teen DolphinLab or Dolphin Camps for ages 10-12 and 13-14, where students meet the resident dolphin population and observe their behavioral and physical characteristics as a way of learning respect for each individual. For more information, visit dolphins.org.
Scott Schroeder, center, a U.S. Army Special Operations Chief Warrant Officer, scuba dives with his son Zachary, left, and wife Laura, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key West. Schroeder and his family participated in a recreational therapy program organized by the Task Force Dagger Foundation that focuses simultaneously on injured soldiers, their spouses and children. Photo by Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau
Kids as young as 10 years old can learn to be junior scuba divers, offering families the opportunity learn a new sport and gain a lifetime of diving fun, adventure and memories. Image courtesy of Hall's Diving Center.
It is estimated that one in four anglers is women, and Islamorada, the sport fishing capital of the world, is host to an annual women-only weekend of learning.
Novice sailors who want to experience on-the-water training, as well as learn how to self-charter can learn to sail in the Florida Keys. Image courtesy of Florida Keys Sailing.
DolphinLab is a seven-day class perfect for the supreme dolphin enthusiast, and appeals to individuals who aspire to be trainers or research scientists in the marine mammal field. Image courtesy of DRC.