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Dive Review of Avalon Diving/Ocean Doctor/Tortuga floating hotel in
Cuba/Jardines de la Reina

 
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Avalon Diving/Ocean Doctor/Tortuga floating hotel: "Jardines de la Reina Tortuga Floating Hotel", Sep, 2015,

by Barry Zigas, DC, US (Sr. Reviewer Sr. Reviewer 7 reports with 2 Helpful votes). Report 8520 has 1 Helpful vote.

No photos available at this time

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

Accommodations 4 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 4 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 4 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments Ocean Doctor runs sanctioned people-to-people trips to Cuba and works with the Cuban government to develop, improve and monitor ocean and marine conservation. Their trips include 3 full days in Havana with organized meetings and tours of Old Havana and a more rural community, along with the 5 days of diving on the Jardines. While pretty expensive, the accommodations, meals, and transportation are all included; the Ocean Doctor trip leader and the Cuban guides were terrific; and food and the Havana hotel were first class. The vibrant Cuban culture suffuses Havana's street life; we were free to walk around, shop in small privately owned shops that have begun to flourish under recent liberalization, and see impromptu musical groups in the parks. The iconic 1950's American cars are still much in evidence, though there are many more other, late model cars from Europe than I saw when I visited in 1978. It wouldn't be Cuba without cigars, which are for sale in the hotels, special shops and from "entrepreneurs" on the street who solicit buyers pretty aggessively. US visitors will be taken aback by the amount of smoking in hotel lobbies and bars. Mojitos and other rum-based drinks are ubiquitous.

The Tortuga Floating Hotel is a basic and comfortable lodge with family-style dining room on the first floor and 8 bedrooms along a single corridor on the second floor of a moored barge. En suite baths with showers; plenty of hot water. Beds made every morning, new towels day 3. Avalon Diving Center also has two liveaboards, Avalon I and II, but they were docked for repairs on the mainland during my trip. Meals are served family style, although guests can have eggs to order at breakfast. Lots of fish, lobster tails at almost every dinner and/or lunch, and Cuban dishes featuring fish, beef, pork, rice and beans. Beer and wine as well as spirits are available. The food was uniformly good, sometimes really good, never poor, and very plentiful.

Dives are made from skiffs that ferry divers from the Tortuga out to a variety of diving sites marked with permanent mooring buoys, rides ranged from 10-20 minutes. Mine took 8 divers plus captain and 2 divemasters. The 6 other divers staying went in a smaller skiff. The crew fills the tanks between dives and leaves equipment on for the duration of your stay. The skiff was a bit cramped. Tanks are bungee-corded to the center rail, but not secured in tank holders. Our captain liked to run the skiff full out on return trips, so it sometimes got quite bumpy and gear did sometimes shift around. Small cubbies under the bench seats for fins and weight belts. Back roll entrances, reboard on a ladder with help from the crew when needed. No rinse tanks on the skiffs for cameras.

New Cressi equipment is available for rent; I used their BCD and regulator and they were in good condition and worked fine. Tanks are filled to 200 BAR or 3000 lbs, depending on your equipment. Some divers in my group got a few short fills, so worth checking before the skiffs shove off. Nitrox only available on Avalon II, but given the 3 dive/day schedule and dive profiles straight air worked just fine. Morning dive after breakfast, 2nd dive after a surface interval back at the Tortuga or one day on a mangrove island beach where the iguanas and jutias curiously swarmed us. 3rd dive mid-afternoon. No night dives -- combination of Cuban government restrictions on boating after dark and dangers of navigating the mangrove island channels in the dark.

Good dive briefings at each site, with info on likely wildlife. Light touch after check out dives, but our group tended to follow the divemasters. Deepest dive was to 90'; most are on shallow walls with 50-70' foot depth. Turn around at 70 BAR/1000 psi, safety stops on all dives. Most dives 50-60 minutes.

The corals at Jardines are plentiful and very healthy, both hard and soft. Sharks on nearly every dive -- we saw silky, nurse and Caribbean reef. Hammerheads and whale sharks are frequently seen, but not on our trip. A trio of remoras played among our group like eager puppies during one safety stop. Masses of tarpon, schoolmasters, jacks. Plenty of green morays, black and striped groupers, broad range of tropicals. Big green and leatherback turtles, sting- and eagle rays. Lionfish are firmly entrenched; the dive guides routinely speared them and fed them to sharks, eels, grouper, turtles or anything else that would take a bite. This is less to attract the sharks than to try to manage the invasive lionfish population and encourage natural predation. No other feeding on dives.

There are no dedicated camera facilities on the skiffs or on Tortuga itself. There's one large garbage can with circulating fresh water on Tortuga for rinsing everything, and a large spool table on the afterdeck where people dried cameras. This was an inconvenience only for one diver who had a massive housing and multiple strobes; he decamped to the forward deck's separate table. The after and foredecks are canvas-canopied with chairs and some sofas for lounging between dives and after meals.

Ocean Doctor sponsored presentations on the reef and Cuban marine conservation policies after dinner, and the Cuban dive guides provided great context, as well as generously and candidly talking about life in Cuba, which is in great flux as normalization with the US seems to be moving forward. The Tortuga staff were unfailingly friendly and attentive; guests felt very welcome and looked after.

Many in our group said they'd come in order to see Cuba "before it all changes." Having been there in 1978 there has certainly been a lot of change, but there also has been much less than you'd expect. The Cuban government's approach to normalization with the US and economic reforms is cautious and unlikely to lead to rapid proliferation of MacD's or other US chains, although it's worth keeping in mind that many everyday Cubans will tell you that they are anxious for rapid change and would love to be able to buy Big Macs and KFC, a different perspective than tourists might have. Cuban wages are generally very low and the cost of living, though subsidized, means many scrape by, moonlight to earn money privately, or deal in a gray market. Outside of Havana on the looong bus ride to Jucaro to get the boat to Jardines we saw very few autos, and many horse drawn carts and farm equipment. Despite more investment in Havana, much of the housing in the Old City is pretty worn, and housing in the countryside is very modest. Cubans joke that "The government pretends to pay us and we pretend to work." On the other hand, we saw no evidence of the crushing poverty and horrid slums that are commonplace in other islands like Haiti or even mainland Belize or Mexico. Significant amounts of consumer goods are brought in by Cubans visiting families on the island, which makes debarking at Jose Marti Airport quite an experience. Cuba is a great experience that's unique in the Caribbean. Divers should visit now because it's a great place to visit with great diving on Jardines, not because you're afraid you'll miss something unique if you don't go right now.
Websites Avalon Diving/Ocean Doctor   Tortuga floating hotel

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 101-250 dives
Where else diving Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Mexico, Turks and Caicos, Belize, Florida, Grand Cayman, California, Turkey
Closest Airport Havana Getting There Long long drive from Havana to Jucaro, then 3-5 hour boat trip to the reef

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, dry Seas calm, choppy
Water Temp 80-90°F / 27-32°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 30-60 Ft/ 9-18 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Depth limits noted in every briefing, turn around at 1000 psi/70 BAR, safety stops all dives. Dives were generally in groups, but plenty of leeway for individuals with our divemasters.
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? no

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas 1 or 2
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 4 stars

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

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's 4 stars Shore Facilities 3 stars
UW Photo Comments No dedicated rinse tanks or equipment tables. Crew very helpful in handing down equipment after backrolls and taking back at dives' end. No dedicated charging stations although outlets in the rooms worked fine for this. Just about everyone in our group had a camera and/or GoPro and everyone got great shots.
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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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