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Dive Review of Avalon/Ocean Doctor in
Cuba/Jardines de la Reina

 
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Avalon/Ocean Doctor: "Cuba - Land & Sea Adventure", May, 2014,

by Robert Nissenbaum, CA, US ( 2 reports with 4 Helpful votes). Report 8055 has 4 Helpful votes.

No photos available at this time

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

Accommodations 5 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling 5 stars
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments I had wanted to go to Cuba for many years to visit the island and dive, long before the Anderson Cooper 60 Minutes feature. I had long had a fascination with Cuba and its political/social history, as well as the tales of ocean conditions resembling the Caribbean of decades past.
I had for years looked into planning a trip, but hadnít done so due to the complications as a US citizen of needing to enter Cuba from Mexico or the Caribbean. Then I saw the Anderson Cooper feature and knew I wanted to go soon, before the inevitable time when relations will again normalize with the US government and American economic interests and tourists will change the island forever. That time is coming, probably after Castro passes on, but its coming.
I had an old friend living in the DC area who had a connection to the Ocean Doctor organization based in DC, and last Christmas time I received an invite from him to go on the maiden voyage of the Avalon II, a brand new, beautiful live aboard being launched by the Spanish dive and sport fishing venture that operates at Gardens of the Queen, in partnership with the Cuba government.
It was an opportunity to dive and hang out with Dr. David Guggenheim, a marine scientist, conservation policy specialist, submarine pilot, ocean explorer, educator and founder of Ocean Doctor who has been working with marine scientists and officials in the Cuban government for 15 years, trying to foster Havana and Washington DC relationships in order to share marine science information and policies that will aid ocean conservation in the Caribbean.
In addition to his lofty credentials and being a fountain of ocean science knowledge, Dr. Guggenheim is simply one of the nicest persons you could hang out and dive with for 10 days. The Ocean Doctor organization smooths all the rough spots of the trip and its a first class, near hassle free journey from when you arrive in Miami for the Havana flight, to your landing back there 11 days later. Visiting Cuba is going to a place suspended in time. Especially the countryside feels like driving across America in the 1950ís.
The first three days of the trip were spent in the Havana area, sight seeing and having the opportunity to meet leading Cuban government scientists and educators, mostly pertaining to their ocean preservation work. Enjoying the local cuisine and wonderful live music almost everywhere we went was a special treat. The locals are very warm, friendly and appreciative of US visitors, in spite of the US trade embargo.
Its a very early morning 6 hour bus ride from Havana to Jucaro and then a 3 hour boat ride out to Gardens of the Queen, our home base for the next week. However the transportation is first class on land and sea. And the Avalon II is a very comfortable and luxurious dive boat. The Avalon dive masters as well as the entire boat crew made our week on the ocean a pleasure. All our needs were taken care of so we could focus on what we came for - the spectacular diving.
Iíll just mention a few of my favorite highlights of the diving as many very comprehensive accounts about diving at Gardens of the Queen have been written by others, and anyone interested can also watch the Anderson Cooper 60 Minutes feature on YouTube.
The general impression of the reef system is how vibrant, colorful and healthy they appear. Not just a few, but everywhere you look. Its a thrill to once again see in Cuba waters the massive Goliath Groupers that have disappeared from elsewhere in the Caribbean over the last two decades.
The shark population is abundant compared to elsewhere in the Caribbean.
The population density of lovely, very large sea fans and sponges is incredible. Huge elkhorn coral as far as you can see in some areas around the mangrove islands is stunning. The mangroves are the perfect breeding ground for the dense schools of a myriad variety of fish.
That Cuba has managed to preserve their ocean environment so successfully provides encouragement that the rest of the Caribbean can gradually be improved and restored by learning from the Cuba policies.
The Ocean Doctor Cuba trip may be viewed by some as expensive. The trip can be done without going through the Ocean Doctor organization. However I felt my money was very well spent as the funds help support Ocean Doctorís vital non-profit work fostering the relationship and encouraging cooperation between the US and Cuba governments, even while the trade and information embargo still exists. And as mentioned, Ocean Doctor makes the whole experience from start to finish a wonderful and entertaining adventure, without having to worry about the politics, hassles, or other issues that may arise.
Websites Ocean Doctor

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 101-250 dives
Where else diving Cozumel, Fiji, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Hawaii, Florida Keys, Jamaica, West coast Mexico, Channel Islands, Monterey
Closest Airport Havana Getting There American Air flight to Havana from Miami, all arranged by Ocean Doctor

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy, rainy, cloudy Seas calm, choppy
Water Temp 80-82°F / 27-28°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 75-125 Ft/ 23-38 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Dive plan provided. But everyone allowed to dive per experience level and air capacity.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? no

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles 1 or 2 Whales None
Corals 5 stars Tropical Fish 5 stars
Small Critters 5 stars Large Fish 5 stars
Large Pelagics 5 stars

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

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 5 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 5 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments Avalon is very accommodating to UWP. Noel Lopez, the head of dive operations, is an avid and excellent photographer. Noel and others assist UWPs in every way possible.
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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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