Travelling with kids can be stressful at the best of times, factor in a pandemic and the requirements for a scuba diving trip and you I can tell you it heightens tenfold, especially with a young family. You must find the right balance of diving and fun for the kids and our 9 nights trip to Marsa Shagra with an additional 5 nights at Jungle Aqua Park Hurghada just nailed it for us this time!
In today’s climate a holiday away with the family can seem a mountainous task, with so many hoops to jump through before even being able to go away some may be deterred by this. Personally, in these kinds of circumstances I like to break it down into mini tasks, first and most importantly make sure you get the families passports out, do this when you have a good half hour to spare with no distractions. Check over everyone’s passports with a keen eye, check expiry dates and just make sure you have at least 6 months validity on each passport from the proposed return date. On a side note, pre-Brexit this was not a concern for European travel but now it is, so bare this in mind.
Always make sure you check FCDO advice for the country you want to go to and research Covid-19 test centre and procedures for your area and the dates you want to travel. More and more are popping up as time goes by so you should not find it too much of a task. For the 4 of us I was able to book a drive through test 48 hours prior to our departure at Heathrow airport which was a seamless task with lots of staff on hand. It was painless for me but my other half struggled with his gag reflex, like anything in life though unfortunately some sail through and others have it tougher. The results were emailed over less than 7 hours after with the fit to fly certificates attached to them!
Ensure you have adequate travel insurance in place, we have an annual family policy but not everyone does, it is easy enough nowadays to go online to purchase one or even a one-off policy to cover just your holiday. For diving trips do ensure you have the relevant cover DAN insurance offers comprehensive cover, Westfield is also another option, do your research and choose a cover that suits you best.
In all honesty when booking your trip, you are best off booking with a Tour Operator like Ultimate Diving, a package holiday which includes flight, transfer, hotel, and diving which will be cover by the Package Regulations so any changes that arise will be managed accordingly with little to no stress to yourself. Also, you can be safe in the knowledge that the resorts the tour operators are using will be fully COVID-19 safe. Ensure you give correct names as they appear on the passport, DOB, passport numbers and expiry dates.
Next you need go dig out your dive gear, ensure dive watches/computers, regs and other kit are serviced and workable. Make sure the kids try on wetsuits in plenty of time, mine grow at the rate of knots so what fitted them last year they can barely get over their legs this year! Harry completed his Junior Open Water on this trip ?? and Rosie did her Bubblemaker. Both were very excited and neither had any worries at all. I think engaging the kids with diving this early on in their lives is a massive positive. Not only does it enable confidence building, but it allows them to take a methodical and responsible approach to the sport that will be easily replicable throughout their lives.
Oddly, it seems to not matter how organised you are, whether you get packed 5 days ahead of your departure date or the day before, the morning you are due to travel you always end up rushing around like a crazed person, re-weighing bags, re-packing, taking things out! Tensions are always high, and nerves are always frayed!
Trying to cut down on luggage this year was a huge failure on my part, I just thought we could save some money and that we would not need as many clothes as it is much warmer in Egypt than the UK over Christmas. Inevitably I got that wrong, all that happened was I invariably tried to fit everything I would normally take into 3 bags instead! What did not help was that one of the 3 bags was a dive bag, and I had to fit in a least a present for each of the kids!!
Credit where credit is due, the kids were great and showed such maturity, having to constantly wear masks and be accountable for changing them every few hours what rock stars! Harry is just 10 years old and helped with cases, loading, and unloading the car, pulling them around the airport and checking in! Can you believe the zip on my backpack broke? The mere thought of my laptop tumbling out and crashing to the floor smashing to pieces had me dashing to sports shop to purchase another at high speed! Rosie my youngest at 8 years old, diligently pulled her case along even though she was starving to death, I am sure she was just transfixed on getting to PRET as quickly as she could to devour a sandwich and pack crisps! The thought of hanging around for 2 hours at the airport prior to the flight is always a daunting prospect but it undoubtedly flew by, I did not even get to the book shop to buy myself a book as I had hoped too.
The walk to the gate was not too monumental which makes a nice change. As we approached the spiralling queue zig, zagging round the lounge I certainly struggled to see social distancing in play though everyone diligently wore their masks. Unusually neither of the kids moaned once about any of the queuing or hanging around, extra checks or having to pull masks off so staff could see their faces properly. The extra paperwork being checked off meant it all took a little longer but not a massive imposition at all.
Surprisingly, the new EasyJet planes are refreshingly enjoyable, plenty of legroom in standard seats though I am only 5-foot 5 inches ha ha, leather seats that are easily cleanable, the flight was uneventful and went remarkably quick I was so surprised! Currently you do not need an Egyptian Visa this is due to come back into play in April 2021 I believe, for a small fee we can always have these arranged prior to travel so its no bother anyhow. On exiting customs, the RSDS driver was waiting for us along with some of our other lovely guests. We all piled into the fully airconditioned RSDS van and began our 3-hour transfer down to Marsa Alam. In all honesty this was the part that I was most concerned about, it all went rather smoothly with no word from the children, we stopped for a comfort rest and all had a good spend in the shop stocking up on chocolate, biscuits, and crisps!
Finally, we rounded the bend and saw Marsa Shagra in sight, we all bestowed massive grins as we pulled along the dirt road that winds round down to the resort! Our second home! As the van door was opened the warm air hit our faces and we were greeted with smiles and welcomes. We went straight to dinner once we arrived, it was about 8pm so we were hungry!
Every time we visit, we always have chalet 59 this year we felt the kids were old enough to share their own, the chalets are in blocks of 2 so they are attached to each other, so the kids were right next door to us. It worked much better than all 4 of us in 1 chalet. Its nice to have the 5-7-minute walk back to the chalet to be honest, walk off the lovely dinner and star gaze, it is a perfect end to an evening.
The next morning was full of excitement and buzz! I was looking forward to getting in the water and Harry was super excited about starting his Junior Padi Open Water! He met his instructor, Andy and got started straight away, Tom and I had a check dive booked in for after lunch, so it was just a matter of relaxing and eating until then! Setting up gear was second nature even though it had been well over a year since I had even thought about it, I was excited to get in and do a shore-to-shore dive on the North reef, this time of year visibility is best in the morning. The South reef is the one to do an early dive on then switch over to the North, the currents and tide bring in much need particles for the marine life to flourish. I can only try to communicate with you the eco system that Hossam and his team at the Red Sea Diving Safari have managed to maintain and flourish over the last 30 years, in my humble opinion it is some of the best in the world, this is evident in the simple fact that on the reefs you will find small baby fish as well as medium and grown-up larger fish. The coral soft and hard is healthy and rich with colour and teeming with life. The north and south reef are different and equally fascinating in their own rights, on the north side the reefs are more wall like with a visible sandy bottom, varying sizes of bommies are dotted around the sandy bottom each with their own families of fish happily busying themselves around their home. On some of the larger bommies you will spy hundreds of different fish in residence including cardinal fish, butterfly fish, cornet fish, yellow saddle goat fish, parrot fish trigger fish, red breast splendour wrasse and black spotted and masked puffer fish to name just a few. If you look above you on a dive you can spot schooling mackerel, schooling unicorn fish, around and below you will find groupers, sleeping turtles, and if you lucky dolphins. On one day we had dolphins in the house reef and on the north reef one afternoon a whale shark! Which was the highlight of the trip even though Rosie and I were on the boat so only saw the magical moment from above! Luckily, Tom and Harry were kitted up for Harry’s last open water dive to complete his course, so they managed to grab their snorkels and get in and up close and personal for a swim alongside this majestical and playful creature <3 Is there a better Christmas present?
Christmas Eve was a lavish spread all COVID safe, I barely managed to sample half the delights that were laid out behind the plastic screen, there was even a Turkey which was cooked to perfection. The spread of deserts itself was enough to feed anyone’s chocolate cravings, with a delicately made house out of dark, milk and white chocolate as the centre piece!
Harry completed his Junior Open Water course in 3 days and on the 4th day we sat in the room going over the PDF’s on the computer, no books due to COVID restriction but luckily, we are all pretty tech savvy, and it is actually a good way to do the course, I was glad I was going over it with him! Managed to brush up on my knowledge. I am by no means an experienced diver, I had quite a few years off diving when I had the kids. Even though I have been to RSDS before I had only done shore to shore and zodiac to shore dives, I was building up to a zodiac-to-zodiac dive on the house reef and I can tell you, I was feeling nervous, but it was breath-taking, and the SMB ascent was way easier than I had built it up in my head! The outer reef dives both on South and North zodiac to zodiac are very different to inner house reefs. Here you will find sloping mountainous reefs, teeming with life and colourful hard and soft coral, blanketing down to about 17 metres. Not much sand to see but lots of nooks and crannies to explore and more turtles, Tom and I spent about 15 minutes with a sleeping Turtle that had 2 pilot fish lounging on its back <3
We are extremely lucky to have the chance to take Harry along with us and let him experience this underwater natural phenomenon that is hidden under the waves at Marsa Shagra. In the days that followed, after obtaining his Junior Padi Open water the 3 of us did 8 dives together! I buddied with Harry, but it made barely any difference only being able to go to a max depth of 12 metres, there is plenty to see, explore and wonder at RSDS at that depth and I am very, very excited to many more trips there in the future!
When our time at RSDS came to an end I was slightly tempted to try to talk the kids into staying a bit longer, but I know they were desperate to get to the water park. Especially Rosie, she was looking forward to the exhilarating slides and possibility of friends her own age. The transfer up was long and uneventful, the kids slept most of the way as we decided to leave after dinner, so they were fed, and we did not have to worry about missing dinner at the Hurghada hotel. As a family we choose the Aqua Jungle Park in Hurghada as it was the one with the greatest number of slides, I must admit even I was a little in awe of it. A sprawling resort with 4 or 5 pools, one of the pools even winds it way from one end of the resort to the other! A spa, gym, 5 restaurants, an ice cream parlour, 2 coffee shops and even a few shops on site. It was truly a wonderful family resort, to give you an idea of size there were 1000 rooms, each room was attached in a block of 4, with plenty of options on type of room available, from pool view, garden view, aqua park view, 1st floor, ground floor, twin room, double room, we had a family room which had a second area with 2 single beds that could be closed off with sliding doors! It was perfect for us!
Our room was literally opposite the aqua park which could not have been better placed, the next morning we had to drag the kids to breakfast with promises of going straight to the water slides when they opened at 10am! They had a wonderful time with a variety of about 15 slides ranging from easy, medium to fast all of which they could go on. Tom and I even went on most of them we really all had a fantastic time, there was a family slide you needed a 4-seater ring for which was awesome fun! As well as some fast, rapid like ones that flung you from side to side before shooting you into a pool! The food was relatively good for a hotel buffet, there were a few restaurants open that you were free to wonder round and top up your plate with various foods. The days flew by quick enough, before we knew the time had come for us to head home. Nothing had changed with regards to our return so we new we had to self-isolate for 10 days on our return, but we had the option to have a test and release on the 5th day to release us early which is an option we opted for! For our return to the UK, we needed to go on the Government website to fill in out the Public Health Passenger Locator Form, we did this the day before our return flight, it was simple and only Tom and I had to fill it out not the children which made it easier. The completed form is then sent to your email so you can show it at passport control in the UK, there were even passengers off the plane stood to the side filling in these forms at passport control when we arrived, sadly the airports are not busy, so it currently is not an issue. Before we knew it, we were home, and I was faced with a mountain of washing and in a freezing cold climate again!!!!