This issue we highlight winter escapes – something I think about a lot during a January spent in Wichita, Kansas. My parents were fond of winter escapes, and growing up we were fortunate enough to partake in many.
Looking back on my childhood, I find it incredible that I didn’t realize how much of a luxury it was to grow up with an airplane. When my family of five needed to travel, we would just pile in our Bonanza and off we would go. It was as simple as that – or so I thought. But while my siblings and I enjoyed free FBO popcorn and cookies, my father was busily making travel arrangements, flight planning, pre-flighting, then packing luggage and children into the airplane. As the youngest, I was always squished into the very back of our Bonanza F33A alongside the suitcases. But I didn’t mind; it was cozy!
The majority of our flights were to visit relatives in South Carolina for holidays and special occasions. But we also embarked on annual family vacations, often finding a warm beach during winter. More often than not, that entailed flying to the Bahamas by way of Fort Pierce, Florida. There we would grab a bite (at the Airport Tiki), fuel up and prepare customs paperwork. But the part that really stuck with me was my father’s briefings regarding the life raft procedure should we be forced to ditch in the water. We rarely received such a serious safety briefing, which made the occasion especially important (and without fail, my mind would conjure visions of the “Jaws” aftermath we were sure to encounter if the situation did indeed occur).
For the first couple of Bahamas trips, we ventured to Paradise Island. I have little memory from Paradise except playing at the hotel and swimming with dolphins (they scared me as much as the aforementioned idea of Jaws had). But when I was around 10 years old, my father discovered a Bahamian gem – Small Hope Bay Lodge located on Andros Island. Tucked away from the more tourist-laden islands, Small Hope is an all-inclusive resort offering a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere. Coincidentally, it’s owned by a pilot who provides discounts to private pilots who fly in their personal aircraft.
For nearly 60 years, Small Hope has been introducing divers and snorkelers to the Andros Barrier Reef. The reef is the third-largest in the world, stretching 140 miles along the east coast of the island and rimming the Tongue of the Ocean. Small Hope rotates through more than 60 dive sites with three regularly scheduled dives per day, both shallow and deep options. Additionally, the island teems with Blue Holes (underwater cave systems) – some of which guests can visit for a dive or swim.
With its spectacular scuba diving, relaxing atmosphere and diverse guests, Small Hope provided my family with priceless memories. For us, it was the perfect “winter escape.”