Many people know Venice, Italy for its romantic gondolas. But many don’t know that they can get the gondola experience in Southern California! Gondola Getaway is a gondola experience through the canals of Long Beach around Belmont Shore. Families and children alike will have a wonderful, relaxing time at this unique venue.
Back in the 1920s, the canals used by the company today were built to resemble the iconic Venetian canals and staffed with gondolas. The gondolas back then helped show the local properties in a unique and fun way. In 1981, company founder Mike O’Toole was a USC student who knew of the history of the Long Beach gondolas and canals and started working out the details of his own business. After he graduated the following year, he decided to initiate the business, and thirty-four years later Gondola Getaway is still going strong. Currently, the company runs the first and largest American gondola fleet of twelve gondolas.
What You Will See
We had a great experience and considered this to be a hidden gem of Long Beach. The water was smooth the day we went, and our gondolier was Fabio, a Sicilian young man who talked to us a lot as he practiced his English.
Fabio detailed how the gondolas can quickly tilt at faster speeds and how it takes a lot of skill and technique to row a gondola properly.
We saw several interesting sights as we journeyed through the canal.
First, we saw a hydro bar/peddle bar, a floating bar where patrons could peddle as they drank to move around the canal.
Fabio pointed out the oldest house on the block, a home formerly owned by the Hersey family.
Surprisingly,Belmont Shore had lots of people doing various sports like kayaking, surfing, and swimming the day we visited. Everyone we passed by was incredibly friendly. We even saw a lab catching a toy in the water while wearing a life jacket!
After the trip, Mike gave us a picture of us in the gondola. The owner also told us a fun fact! Every year, for the past 31 years, O’Toole has taken his team of gondoliers from CA to Venice, Italy to participate in the twenty-mile-long Vogalonga race, usually early in summer. This way, the gondoliers can see where the practice started, learning how it is done in Italy so they can bring back authentic techniques to the states.
Other Unique Features
Guests can request the Message in a Bottle service for an additional $20.
This service means the gondolier will take any given message, put in in a wine bottle, and “find” it during the trip to read aloud. While advertised to couples, this can be a fun event for parents and kids as well.
Visitors can also request the Brunch on a Boat service for $40 per person. Guests ride the gondola as they dine on various Italian foods such as meats, cheeses, and pasta salads. Those interested need at least eight people in their party to request the brunch, with a maximum of twelve.
For those who love pizza, Gondola Getaway also offers a pizza cruise for $40 per person. Travelers get to ride a private gondola set up with a table, plates, and table cloth. Kids and parents can enjoy fresh pizza from Domenico’s Ristorante as well as salad and garlic bread. Like the Brunch of a Boat, this option is available to parties between eight and twelve people.
Location, Cost, and Hours
The Gondola Getaway is located near the resort area of Belmont Shore in Long Beach, California. The boats run from eleven AM to eleven PM, seven days a week. Visitors can pay $130 for a four-person gondola, paying $20 for each additional person. They can also reserve the large “Carolina” gondola for $413 which seats seven to fourteen guests.
Autism Travel Tips:
- If one’s trip ends later in the day, the staff offers guests blankets. This option is useful for kids who deal with temperature sensitivities.
- Guests should arrive fifteen minutes before their departure time.
- Parents should make sure kids don’t lean over the side of the gondola.If kids don’t know how to swim parents should ask for a life jacket for them.
- The ride typically lasts about an hour. Families can request a shorter route if their kid is antsy.
- Space on the gondola is tight, so parents of children who might have a problem with this should prepare their kid.