History - Storia di Gondola Getaway

Gondolas were first introduced to Naples Islands in Long Beach in 1903.  They were obtained from the Chicago World Fair. They were used to tour potential land buyers through the new canals of the recently designed Naples Islands. Over the years of development, the Gondolas became just a memory of the early days.  In 1982, a Local boy, Michael O’Toole, who was born and raised on Naples Islands, was just finishing up his College years at the University of Southern California.  For his final senior project, he was tasked with coming up with a unique business and show it running throughout the semester.  Michael decided to go back to the roots of his hometown and for the project, start a Gondola business on paper.  Upon graduation, Michael decided to try the business out in the real world. He obtained an old boat that was being used as a rose garden in a local front yard on the Island.  He repaired it, reshaped it, got it to float and The Gondola Getaway began in 1982!  In those early days it didn’t seem it would be possible to row people around for up to 8 hours a day.  He fashioned and electric motor and a steering oar, along with a striped shirt and straw hat and off he went into the “sunsets.’  Soon Michael decided to go to Italy to see and learn exactly what it was that he was replicating over 7,000 miles away.  He worked briefly in a boatyard (Squero) to learn more about the ancient design and also learned how to row the Gondola in the traditional (Voga Veneta) style. Upon return, he and his partner at the time, redesigned the boats with a “two oar” design.  Michael and David had both grown up surfing and rowing dories, so understood how to row with two oars and were able to teach local guys and gals to row in this style. In fact, the first hired Gondolier was Angie Frost, a local girl that grew up sailing with Michael.  He trusted her the most to handle boats on the bay. In 1984, the boys went back to Venezia to view a famous race, the Regata Storica.  They were so enamored with the Venetian boat racing concept that upon return, they designed the “Caorlina,” practiced the art of Voga Veneta, and returned to Venezia in 1985 to participate in the “Vogalonga.’  The regatta is a 20-mile marathon style rowing race that had over 2,000 participants.  The team of 6 were the only American team in the race.  Michael and a crew has returned now every year since then, still as the only American team! 2018 was the 33rdyear in a row of Gondola Getaway participation. Through the years we have designed and built Gondolas here and imported boats from Venezia.  We are the first and largest fleet of Venetian boats in America.

    Original 2 oared gondolas
    Custom American built one oared Gondolas
    Custom Venetian designed, locally built 14 passenger Caorlina’s
    30 ft Sandolo Buranello
    25ft Venetian built Sandolo Regata
    38 ft Venetian built Gondola
    34 ft Venetian built Puparin
Come see and feel the “soul” of the Gondola Getaway.  It is our 36 years of building a Gondola fleet here in Long Beach that gives us our experience, our unique fleet and our personality.  Our boats, gondoliers and enchanting canals of Naples Island are sure to satisfy your romantic desires. 

The Vogalonga Regata

Back in 1983, while visiting Venezia on a fact finding, boat building mission, we were inspired while viewing the famous Regata Storica.  Gondola racing was a big thing and we were invited to come back and participate as the only American team the next year.  We came back to Long Beach and built a boat for us to practice in.  We trained a six-man team to row “Voga Veneta” (the Venetian style of rowing) and went back to Venezia in 1985 to participate in the 30-kilometer marathon through the Venetian lagoon.  We have since gone back every year, still as the only American team and 2019 will be our 34th year in a row of participation!  As a team we have rowed over 1,000 miles through the canals and lagoon of Venezia.  This consistent participation in this event is what gives Gondola Getaway its Heart and Soul. During our week-long adventure each year, we eat, drink, row and live like Venetians.  We are in the lagoon daily and spending time with the old school Venetians, bringing back stories and experiences to inject into our operations at the Gondola Getaway.  If you have any questions about Venezia, Gondolas or anything Venetian.  Give us a call and we will share our latest experiences.

The Festa Della Sensa

The first dates back to May 9th, 1000 in Venezia.  The festival celebrates the ceremony of “The Marriage to the Sea.”  The Sensa is meant to reconfirm the Venetian Republics commitment to the Sea.  The Mayor and High Priest actually hold a wedding ceremony where a golden ring is tossed into the Sea.  The Ceremony is preceded by a parade of boats and followed by a rowing regatta and feast. Since 2016, The Gondola Getaway and The Long Beach/Venezia Friendship city has recreated this annual event here in Long Beach.  We actually do the same event replete with a marriage to the Sea and a Golden Ring tossed into the sea. This is followed by a regatta and then a huge Pasta feast where all the local Italian Ristorante participate in a Pasta cook off…. The website will update on dates of these two events, so you can see how you can participate in these two ‘VERY VENETIAN EVENTS.” ENJOY SOME PAST PICTURES OF THE TEAM IN VENEZIA AND THE SENSA HERE IN LONG BEACH
Michael O Toole