Watery wonder in Turks and Caicos
The only downside was that, unlike a five-hour flight to Hawaii, getting to the Turks and Caicos required a full day of travel and a connecting flight on the East Coast.

The resort worked well for my family too. While Kathleen, Maddie and I dived, Anders, our 10-year-old, kept busy at the Kids Club with a buddy he met from New York. They also took a "Bubbles" scuba course, in which they learned the basics in a pool. And we snorkeled together too, just off the beach.

Beaches also offers windsurfing, night scuba diving trips, a dozen miles of white sand beach, paddle boarding, trips to outer islets, sailing and other activities.

But one day, I decided to break free from the all-inclusive cocoon. I hopped in a cab and headed a few miles away to the Leeward marina, where I met Big Blue sea kayaking guide Ben Zirin.

We headed out into the shallow, crystal-clear waters between the mangroves, where we startled a snoozing lemon shark that bolted when we were nearly on top of it. As we paddled on, a warm and gentle rain fell on our backs.

Zirin explained the difference between the black mangrove and the dominant red mangrove plant, the latter of which sends out roots from above the waterline. He also brought up a conch shell, complete with its inhabitant. But the best discovery was a slimy mangrove jellyfish that he placed in my hand. Fortunately, it did not sting.

As we paddled toward a cul-de-sac in the mangrove, a nurse shark shot under our kayaks, zipping out toward open water.

Back at Big Blue headquarters, co-owner Mark Parrish, a marine scientist by training, said he came to the islands from his native England to work on a conch farm in 1997 and found a home.

"It's a little tricky getting from island to island," he said. "But that just means there is so much to discover here, especially if you are interested in learning about the islands' flora, fauna and geography, to say nothing of exploring and having fun."

Back at Beaches, we hunkered down for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, which later morphed into Superstorm Sandy and caused much destruction along the East Coast.

After Sandy moved north — it sideswiped the Turks and Caicos Islands — we waited a day and then decided to try one more dive.

But the Caribbean was still angry. Even down in the coral, 50 feet below the surface, the surge was strong. Worse, I felt as if I were skiing in a whiteout because of the low visibility.

I grabbed Maddie's hand so she wouldn't be swept off to Cuba, and we kicked hard to stay with our group. On the surface, I told her we'd visit again some year down the road, when the seas were calm once more.