Cuba - Gardens of the Queens 2018


Photography Master Class, Crocs and Sharks

in the Gardens of the Queen

On the Avalon II with Ron Watkins & Amanda Cotton

Jardines de la Reina, the best underwater studio in the world, is the perfect location to learn and practice photography of large, toothy sharks and crocodiles in Cuba's first ever marine protected area. Warm, crystal clear waters full of wildlife to capture safely and access to the expertise of two master photographers, Amanda Cotton and Ron Watkins await you on this trip co-sponsored by Bluewater Photo & Travel and Big Animals.

This is no ordinary trip. The boat will have 3 skiffs instead of 2, there will be 16 guests instead of 18, Cuba's best dive guide Noel will be on the boat, Nitrox is included, and you will receive personal photo instruction from Ron and Amanda to help you get amazing photos. Both Ron and Amanda have experience diving these waters and photographing crocs and sharks in Cuba.


Dec 30, 2017 - Jan 6, 2018

Double Occupancy:

 $6,400 p.p.


Go to:

Package Details - Why Travel with Us? - Trip Overview

Dive Overview - Itinerary - Trip Leaders

Accommodations - Booking & Payment - Underwater Photos


Package Details


✓ 7 nights onboard the Avalon II, double occupancy 

✓ 5 days of diving, 4 dives per day. Day 6 two dives 

✓ Nitrox 

✓ 3 diving skiffs, only 6 divers per vessel 

✓ Only 16 guests

✓ All meals on board the boat

✓ All licensing for legal travel from the US 

✓ All group transfers 

✓ Port fees, Park fees, and Nitrox all included

✓ Amanda and Ron leadership



✗ Domestic and international airfare to Cuba 

✗ Meals which are not specified

✗ Gratuities to crew. Gratuities to driver/guide/restaurant/hotel bellhop/maid and some venues

✗ Independent transfers and touring

✗ Single occupancy 

✗ Alcoholic and soft drink


Trip Details

WHERE: Jardines de la Reina, Garden of the Queen(Marine Protected Area)

DATES: Dec 30, ’17 - Jan 6, ‘18 

DURATION: 8 Days in Cuba 


AVAILABILITY: 16 spaces available 

PRICING: $6,400 p.p. based on double occupancy. single accommodation on board + 75% of space price

REGISTRATION: Deposit of $2,200

VESSEL: 120’ Avalon II

ACTIVITIES: Educational exchange, activities including diving, snorkeling and photography 

TEMPERATURE: Air (60-85F/15-29C); Water (75-82F/24-28C) 

DIVING CONDITIONS: Fairly easy diving, little current, 60ft (20m)+ visibility


 Back to Menu


Why Travel with Us?

Why Bluewater?

"Bluewater helped me out when I needed it most, the airline wouldn't let me board because of a Visa issue. They saved my butt" - Ray Tsusuki

✓ Great support if flight/weather issues occur

✓ Gear discounts and other benefits

✓ We book resorts/ liveaboards that offer the best overall value


BigAnimals’ Unique services

Raising the bar of services in every adventure we operate around the world is our policy. We lead by example with an immaculate safety record for 35 years. Each expedition is carefully scouted before offered to the public and we schedule departures only during peak season for diving and photography. For Cuba, we offer legal & hassle free travel in and out from the USA to Cuba and return, leading a people to people and cultural exchange. For maximum comfort onboard the vessel we accommodate only 12 guests while the vessel has space for 20. For a casual, relaxed and enjoyable dive pattern, we provide three skiffs with only four divers per team. With a nightly presentation about photography and expeditions around the world.


 Back to Menu


Trip Overview

Photography Master Class Overview

Imagine a place where you can spend the morning diving healthy, robust reefs over flowing with Caribbean reef and nurse sharks, the afternoon in the sunlit mangroves photographing crocodiles, and the sunset interacting with silky sharks at the water’s surface. This may sound like a location only to be seen in your dreams, but it is very much real and will surpass your expectations. This is a typical day in Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina, or Gardens of the Queen. Apex predators abound in this marine life haven, an idyllic spot that has been protected from unsustainable coastal development, overfishing, and aggressive tourism for the last 60 years. If you would like to experience this jewel of the Caribbean while perfecting your big animal photography techniques, join us in Jardines de la Reina for our Shark and Crocodile Photography Master Class with Amanda Cotton and Ron Watkins.

Sampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort Moalboal

When you decide to take photos of apex predators, you are no longer just snapping captures of your dive trip, but you are engaging in conservation photography. It is wildlife photography for the purpose of furthering public understanding and environmental conservation. Both sharks and crocodiles are greatly feared, misunderstood, and unappreciated. The brutal practice of shark finning claims the lives of tens of millions of sharks annually for use in shark fin soup, while crocodiles, despite being covered by CITES, are still often illegally taken and fall victim to the trade in exotic skins. By creating images that emphasize the beauty and uniqueness of these animals, each one of us can play a part in changing people’s minds all over the world about the true nature and importance of these creatures. By participating in this Master Class, you will not only have the privilege of sharing the water with sharks and crocodiles, but will also develop the tools you need to capture images that can change minds, attitudes, and maybe even behaviors.

Sampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort Moalboal

This unique master class expedition is limited to 16 guests and will provide you with access to the expertise of two master photographers: Amanda Cotton and Ron Watkins. In order to ensure the best experience possible, we made special arrangements to have three skiffs instead of the usual two to shutlle divers between different dive sites. This makes the ride more comfortable, giving you more space for your gear and the chance to shoot images from the boat. Noel Fernandez, Cuban dive guide extraordinaire and accomplished photographer, knows every dive site in Jardines like the back of his hand and he will be leading the expedition. Free Nitrox will also be provided to extend your bottom time and give you more time to shoot the numerous and beautiful subjects of Gardens of the Queen.

Sampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort Moalboal


Brief: By Amanda Cotton

Cuba is a remarkable diving destination full of splendor and mystery, but its most glorious attribute is its abundance of shark species and the numbers. What an incredible haven for Caribbean reef sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks and more. There are a few places where a diver can experience sharks up close on every single dive, regardless of dive site, Cuba offers this. It is because of this fact that I am thrilled to be teaching a workshop where participants can systematically and reliably capture images of different species of sharks, in different environments and shooting scenarios.

Gardens of the Queen sets the stage to allow divers ample opportunity to practice shooting different species of sharks in low light/nighttime and dusk, on seascape/ reef, in schools or large numbers, and in ambient and deep reef environments. This gives photographers the chance to practice a wide variety of underwater photography techniques including wideangle, ambient light, strobe filled, and even macro settings.

Photographers will capture images after detailed instructions for the optimum style for each particular dive site, followed by critique and instruction on improvement and daily post production/photo editing sessions.

Participants are invited to get involved in each session both in the water and in the classroom as much or as little as they desire. One-on-one and customized assistance will be provided for all individuals.


 Back to Menu


Dive Overview

Gardens of the Queen is the perfect place for this co-sponsored Master Class. The abundance of large, toothy subjects is obviously a plus, but the water conditions are flawless for our purposes. The waters of Jardines are warm, blue, calm and clear, the precise parameters necessary for honing your photography skills. It is easy to concentrate on your subject and be creative when you never get cold and don’t have to worry about poor visibility or heavy currents.

Sampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort Moalboal

Cuba is a remarkable diving destination full of splendor and mystery. Its most glorious attribute is its abundance of sharks in both volume and species diversity. It is a protected hotspot for Caribbean reef sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks and more. There are few places where a diver can experience these animals up close on every single dive; regardless of dive site, Cuba offers this. Amanda Cotton and Ron Watkins are thrilled to be teaching a workshop where participants can systematically and reliably capture images of sharks in different environments and shooting scenarios.

See our Cuba 2017 Trip Report here.

Sampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort Moalboal

Sampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort Moalboal



After Diving the Gardens of the Queen with Amos and Amanda last year, it was evident just how special this marine sanctuary in Cuba truly is. The fantastic conditions and abundance of sharks, crocodiles, tarpon and other marine life allowed us to do multiple dives in similar situations and try out new techniques and come up with creative ways to capture the essence of the Gardens. The knowledge sharing with the trip leaders and the guests was exceptional and we encouraged everyone to try new methods of capturing the sharks and crocodiles after reviewing images. Two of my most special memories of the trip for me was photographing a very active school of silky sharks at dusk on the surface and facing off with a large crocodile in the mangroves with spectacular sun light and visibility. This is not your typical Caribbean diving destination and reminds me more of what it was like for me to dive in the Caribbean over 20 years ago.


 Back to Menu


About the Trip Leaders

Ron Watkins

Ron Watkins is a professional photographer, writer, explorer, trip leader at BlueWater Photo and photography instructor specializing in underwater and topside nature photography. Through his imagery, Ron is committed to raising awareness of the challenges facing our fragile ecosystems and threatened marine life in hopes of promoting conservation.

Whether helping his clients capture a once in a lifetime photo of a transient pod of orcas in the Galapagos, crocodiles in Cuba, giant Humboldt squid in the Sea of Cortez, or rare salmon sharks in Alaska, Ron always has a focus on safety, organization, education, conservation and adventure.

Ron most recently received the prestigious Underwater Photographer of the Year, Our World Underwater, World Shootout and Ocean Art photography competitions.


Amanda CottonsAmanda Cotton is a professional underwater photographer, an avid scuba diver and ocean enthusiast. Her goal is to help the general public embrace the beauty below the waves, in hopes that with awareness comes concern. Amanda runs a design/media company, A COTTONPHOTO Photo Creative Works LLC, and also enjoys working with like-minded organizations that genuinely care about the planet and its inhabitants. Amanda is a member of many prestigious organizations and has received numerous photography awards with her images being featured in major publications and news sources worldwide. Amanda is a wide-angle specialist with many years of experience photographing sharks and other big marine animals, making her an ideal trip leader for the kind of diving available in Cuba.


 Back to Menu


Trip Schedule


SATURDAY 12/30 - ARRIVE Santa Clara.

> We will pick you up and bring you directly to the Jucaro, 2 1/2 hours drive where the Avalon fleet is operated from. 

> As soon as everyone is onboard, the vessel will depart on the 5 to 6 hours cruise to the Garden of the Queen.

DAY 2-6


> Breakfast, lunch and dinner (included) and 22 dives (6am to 9pm) 4 dives per day X 5 days and 2 dive on Friday Jan. 6 

> Meet with marine experts to gain insight into the conservation measures that Cuba is taking to preserve their delicate aquatic ecosystem in the Gardens of the Queen. “Jardines de la Reina was declared a Marine Park in 1996 – and with the support and management of Avalon, along with the Research Center for Coastal Ecosystems in Ciego de Avila and the Fisheries Control Department, this area has been preserved for future generations as an intricate network of untouched marine ecosystems that have been regarded by many knowledgeable scientists and organizations as a bench mark of the original status of coral reefs as found by Christopher Columbus in the early years of his discovery.


FRIDAY 01/05 

> After Breakfast we make two or three dives today time permitting and depart the garden , for arrival on the next morning to Jucaro dinner onboard.



> Breakfast (included) (8am) 

> Depart the vessel and the crew at 09:30 


> Suggestion - Havana extension is possible under private arrangements.

Sampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort Moalboal


 Back to Menu


About the Avalon II

The new Avalon II is a one year old, 120’ long vessel that can accommodate 16 people in eight ensuite double cabins. Fully air conditioned, the boat has a large diving deck, good rental diving gear, Nitrox, a parlor, dining room, and bar. Even a Jacuzzi is waiting for us on the top deck. Meals are superb with pasta, pizza, Cuban style and European dishes and salads combined with plentiful fresh tropical fruit like guava, pineapple and pa-paya. English speaking Dive guides, lead by Cuba master diver Noel.



Payment & Booking

Payment Schedule

A deposit of 33% of the total trip price is required to secure space on the trip. Full payment is due no later than 90 days before departure. We reserve the right to sell any space that is not paid in full by 60 days before departure.


Got Questions? Ready to Book?

Call Bluewater Travel at 310-915-6677 or email and let them book your dream vacation at the best price!


 Back to Menu


Underwater Gallery

Sampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort Moalboal
Sampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort MoalboalSampaguita Resort Moalboal