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Dive Review of Aggressor/Parque Central in
Cuba/Jardines Gardens

 
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Aggressor/Parque Central : "Jardines Aggressor I - Rec Dive Detroit trip - Cuba May 2016", May, 2016,

by Gary Russo, MI, US ( 1 report with 3 Helpful votes). Report 8919 has 3 Helpful votes.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling 4 stars
Value for $$ 3 stars
Beginners 5 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments It was with a mild amount of trepidation that a group of avid divers from Rec Dive, Detroit booked the first voyage of the Cuban Jardines Aggressor in Dec 2015 for a trip at the end of April 2016. At the time Americans traveling to Cuba had travel restrictions, no credit card access, no cellular service, no Wi-Fi, no Internet and no DAN Insurance. The allure of seeing Cuba while it was still in its genuine state was the primary draw.

After months of waiting the Rec Dive group finally left for Cuba, flying from Detroit to connect with a charter flight from Miami. The flights were uneventful but the Havana airport didn’t seem quite ready for tourists. We had to wait two hours for bags. The Oceans for Youth staff met us at the airport and took us to the Parque Central Hotel. It was modern, clean, had a nice rooftop pool and a decent breakfast. Best of all it was located near the Parque Central square and an entertainment district a few blocks away. We attended a 2 hour conservation presentation by a retired marine biologist who helped setup the marine sanctuaries in Cuba starting in 1996.
Then we toured the city by bus and were amazed by the 1950’s cars and Art Deco buildings. The Cuban people genuinely seemed to appreciate seeing Americans in Cuba. As a people the Cubans are friendly, gregarious, interested in learning our culture and sharing their culture. We toured the cities squares and cathedrals. We visited a few restaurants and clubs with live Cuban salsa bands. We even visited Hemingway’s where they claim to have invented the daiquiri. After two days in Havana, the only thing left was a 5 hour early morning bus ride to the port where we boarded the Jardines Aggressor I. The ride was a lesson in farming culture as we saw horse drawn carts and 1950’s tractors.

The Jardines Aggressor I was refurbished in Cuba and was completed in February this year ahead of schedule. The ship is designed to carry 20 guests and 10 crew. In 2017 there are plans to add the Jardines Aggressor II which is supposed to be a larger ship.
The ship was up to the typical high Aggressor standards. Being the first full guest voyage you would expect some minor issues. The rooms were typically small but comfortable and quiet. There was a nice air conditioned eating area and lounge. Outside there was a shade deck with hot tub for 4 and a sun deck. Make sure to wear sunscreen and watch out for the sun ! The staff was eager to hear our opinion of the operations. We offered just a few tweaks. This boat was up to the typical Aggressor standards we all were used to.

For diving we used two tender skiffs to take divers to dive sites. The skiffs were fast, smoothed and staffed with great crews. Nitrox was available and the hot showers and Aggressor famous hot towels (toalla caliente !) were also in great demand. We did have a few suggestions on how to improve the skiffs. These improvements included better tank and camera storage. The back roll entries and the dive ladder exits were a little cumbersome too.

The Jardines Aggressor staff was excited that we were there kicking off their new ship. They were very knowledgeable and experienced since many work on the other dive boat the Avalon. The support staff and cooks were awesome. The Italian chef made pasta every day. Our cruise director Joel even taught some of us Cuban Salsa dancing and how to make mojitos.

As far as the diving was concerned, we had high hopes after what we had read about the Avalon excursions on Under Current. We left port for a 50 mile, 5 hour boat ride, to the Jardine Gardens. This grouping of uninhabited barrier islands is where we find the protected marine sanctuary and coral reefs. It is one of a 3-4 marine protected areas in Cuba setup in 1996 limited to fly fishing and diving. This pristine area appears to be tightly managed by the Cuban government. Besides a few fly fisherman, we were the only ones we saw diving the reef the whole week. I am sure the Avalon was out too but we never saw the ship.

Water temperature was a mild 82 degrees. We wore 3mil wet suits and some divers only wore shorts. The currents were generally mild with a max depth of 60-80 feet most of the time. There were only a few swim through caverns. The marine life is similar to my personal favorite dive sites in Cozumel. But everything seemed much healthier here. We saw large sting rays, schools of tarpon, and many varieties of groupers including a few Goliath groupers which swam with us on our dives. But the real difference in the Jardines Gardens is the six to eight foot Caribbean reef and silky sharks on nearly every dive. They are attracted by the dive masters using a bait box and only minimally fed. This method seemed contrary to the conservation philosophy we were presented but when asked the crew felt like this technique was used to keep the sharks and groupers in the protected waters. I am not a marine biologist, but this did seem to make sense since we no longer see these kind of sharks in most of the popular Caribbean dive spots. There is nothing more impressive that swimming with a group of reef sharks, huge groupers and even free swimming nurse sharks.

The Jardines Aggressor I offered 3 dives a day plus a night dive every night. We only lost one afternoon of diving due to weather – the rest of time the weather was nice with gorgeous sunsets and sunrises.

Overall we were very excited seeing Cuba before it is opened completely to US visitors. The diving was very good, especially diving with the sharks and groupers. Our only hope is that Cuba can preserve this rare diving environment. The Aggressor folks did it right. This trip was probably one of my favorite trips right up there with the Palau and Galapagos Aggressors. The only drawback is the expense for us to travel legally to Cuba. When the restrictions are lifted this cost will probably drop significantly.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 251-500 dives
Where else diving Caribbean, Australia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Galapagos, Palau
Closest Airport Havana Getting There Detroit to Charter flight from Miami. Had to wait 2 hours for our bags in Havana

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny Seas calm
Water Temp 82-°F / 28-°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 60-80 Ft/ 18-24 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile no
Enforced diving restrictions Max depth and dive duration was suggested.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 5 stars Tropical Fish 5 stars
Small Critters 4 stars Large Fish 5 stars
Large Pelagics 5 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 4 stars
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments The vessel was setup well for photographers with rinse tanks and dry tables. The skifs needed to improve how they handled cameras on the way out to the dives. There was a large TV for viewing photos and videos.
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Report currently has 3 Helpful votes

Subscriber's Comments

By ronda friendin CA, US at Jun 04, 2016 18:38 EST  
I seriously doubt that feeding sharks in Cuba brings all the sharks in from the rest of the Caribbean, yes sharks sense a struggling fish and blood from a great distance but from Cayman etc. is a little much. But what is completely believable is this behavior is something that benefits the Aggressor Fleet. For sure has nothing to do with environment.
By report author: Gary Russo in MI, US at Jun 28, 2016 07:24 EST  
I don't think that their practice brings in ALL the sharks from the Caribbean but it does seem to entice a decent amount of sharks and groupers to live in the reefs rather than in the unprotected waters outside the reserve. FYI I wanted to correct the Detroit Dive shop is REC DIVING !! Sorry Jim and Diane !
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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