Where to Unearth Gorgeous Adventures on and Under Tropical Seas

Family fun awaits with an underwater adventure along the clear blue waters of Grand Cayman. (Photo: Marriott International)

In photographs, the rich, vibrant colors of tropical waters — the blues, the greens, the aquamarines — almost look artificial, exaggerated. But their beauty is very real and very accessible, just a few short hours away, where the warm seas of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic beckon us to unlock the secrets that lie above and below.

Aruba: Snorkeling through the Past

Grab your mask, fins and snorkel for adventure among Aruba’s underwater coral reefs, marine life and the mysterious wreck of the Antilla, a 400-foot German freighter scuttled in 1940. Go in comfort on a luxe catamaran with Red Sail Sports, the water activity and adventure partner of The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba.

With more than 25 years of experience and a custom fleet of catamarans and dive boats, Red Sail also offers diving lessons and trips, deep sea fishing charters and island safaris.

Grand Cayman: The Grace of Stingrays Up Close

Swim with some of the friendliest residents around Grand Cayman — stingrays. Hundreds show up every day to feed from boaters at Stingray City, one of the few places in the world you can swim side-by-side with the creatures as they gracefully glide through the clear shallows.

For a more private encounter, the concierge at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman can help you charter a power catamaran excursion to Stingray Sandbar.

underwater adventures
Find your center on a standup paddleboard adventure. (Photo: Courtesy of Ritz Carlton)

Cancun, Mexico: Fine Art, Natural Beauty

Experience one of the world’s most unique museums at Cancun’s underwater gallery Museo Subacuático de Arte. Seeing the hundreds of life-size sculptures reposed silently in the shallow depths — gradually transforming into a coral reef — brings a profound sense of our intimate and delicate connection with the natural environment.

View the museum and stunning marine life by scuba diving, snorkeling or glass bottom boat.

St. Thomas: Private Island Excursion

The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas is a stone’s throw from St. John and just a little farther from the British Virgin Islands, so it’s easy to go island hopping in one day. Create a customized itinerary to St. John, Tortola, Norman Island or numerous nearby small islands and cays, with an experienced captain at the helm.

Choose from a luxury power boat or a sail on the resort’s 53-foot catamaran, Lady Lynsey — both of which depart directly from The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas.

Naples, Florida: Ocean Family Fun

Spend family time on the gentle waters of the Gulf of Mexico with an afternoon of parasailing, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. Or enroll your young ones in the Ritz Kids Nature’s Wonders program at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, where they’ll learn about and discover Florida’s sensitive ecosystems.

The ocean-focused session, led by resort conservationists, immerses young guests in a colorful, living eco-sanctuary that features 11 aquariums with sharks, crabs, turtles, eels and other sea life.

underwater adventures
Hook the catch of the day. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida: Harnessing the Elements

Key Biscayne — a family-friendly island just across the bay from Miami — affords calm waters that are perfect for windsurfing. Combining sailing and surfing, the sport teaches you how to harness the natural elements to skim across the water’s surface. It involves balance but doesn’t require major upper body strength.

Advances in equipment have made windsurfing easier for beginners, and with the benefit of some instruction, you can be up and sailing the first day.

San Juan, Puerto Rico: Big Game Adventure

Just a mile from the shores of San Juan, the sea floor drops 600 feet, and the 28,000-foot deep Puerto Rico Trench is only 75 miles away. With deep water so close, you don’t have to go far to find big game fish such as blue marlin, dorado, wahoo, sailfish and tuna. Winter season from October to early March is one of the best times for angling.

Half- or full-day charters are available, and most boats are 32 to 50 feet and hold six passengers.

South Beach, Miami, Florida: A Standup Sport

Start your day on the waters of Miami with a morning of standup paddle-boarding. An offshoot of surfing, with roots in Hawaii, the sport has been rapidly growing in popularity. You need just a minimum of gear, and it’s simple to pick up (remember to wear a life jacket). You’ll probably get so caught up in the stunning views of the Florida Gold Coast, you won’t even notice that you’re getting a terrific workout.

Sarasota, Florida: Spotting Marine Wildlife

Sarasota Bay is home to bottlenose dolphins — look out from the beach and you just may spot them playing in the waters. The federally protected West Indian manatee — a large, gentle creature that can live more than 60 years — also can be found in the area.

For close-up views of the area’s wildlife, check out Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, including two touch tanks, a 135,000-gallon shark habitat and manatee and sea turtle exhibits.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Explore the Open Waters

Fort Lauderdale is surrounded by the aquamarine Atlantic Ocean, making the area a world-class sailing haven. Take in the salt air breezes and city skyline in the peaceful comfort of a private charter sailboat during a day sail, or book a romantic sunset dinner excursion aboard a private yacht.

This article originally appeared in Journey Into the Ritz-Carlton.