There’s a pretty mutually scoffing debate that goes on among Venice visitors, about whether a gondola ride in Venice is really something worth doing.
One side argues that it is so iconic to ride in a gondola in Venice, that your visit just isn’t complete without doing so. And in reality, if you google “Venice, Italy” right now, most of the top images that come up have a gondola in them, some how, in some way. Tell someone you visited Venice, and one of the first questions will be asking whether you rode in one. The canals of Venice are inherently part of the mystique and lore of the city. While the vaporetto (water-bus public transportation system) has become the primary transportation on these canals, I highly doubt any of you dreamed of going to Venice and riding the vaporetto. Unless you’re weird, which I suppose I shouldn’t rule out.
On the other hand, time and time again, travel articles talk about how the gondola rides are a scam, are too expensive, and are just tourist traps. Save your time, save your money, do something more interesting. And… in reality, they have a point, too.
Years ago, on my first visit to Venice, we took a gondola ride that departed from just north of St. Mark’s Square, at Bacino Orseolo. Yep, it was pricey. And yep, I came away with the distinct impression from our tip to tip parade of gondolas inching through the strictly choreoraphed route, that I had just stepped off a Disney ride. But does anyone in this gondola look disappointed?
I had taken that ride during a one-day stop in Venice on a 5-city trip through Italy with family. We did it because we just couldn’t leave Venice without having done so, and we knew what we were getting in to. We had a blast together, and we walked away happy. (Ok, that may have had something to do with the bottle of prosecco we passed around, and the fact that the someone (not me!) in our party burst into the red solo cup song as we went.)
That being said, when I returned to Venice with my hubby, I knew I only wanted to repeat a gondola ride if it was really important to him, and/or I knew I could arrange something a little more personal. The researching began, and after much reading, I booked a private, romantic gondola ride with Alex Hai.
Alex arranged to meet us in Campo Fantin, in front of La Fenice, the Opera House. It was a very short walk to the Gondola, where we were helped in, situated with our bottle of Prosecco, and we set off.
Instead of one short loop through one section of Venice, with only a few minutes actually in the Grand Canal, Alex’s ride was an hour long. We rode through quiet side canals where we were the only floating traffic. Then we would come into the Grand Canal, and the hubbub that is, and glide by for a while, then dip into a side canal, and repeat.
The hour-long ride easily covered more than four times what our little tour did years ago, and at no time did I feel like I was on an amusement park ride. It was soothing and beautiful and varied, without any of the tourist trap feeling.
I do think a gondola ride is just one of those things that makes a visit to Venice complete. If you are with me on that, do a little pre-planning, and enjoy something a little more personal.
Gondola Ride Tips:
- Take a camera.
- Take sunscreen & sunglasses, the reflection off the water will get you.
- Especially on toward late-afternoon or evening, it can get a chill in the shade. A sweater isn’t a bad idea.
- Be respectful of the gondola. The gondolier buys their own gondola and is responsible for all care of it, Any damage will likely come out of your gondolier’s pocket.
- The gondolier is responsible for your safety, and this is still a boat ride. Be safe, and listen to any direction you are given.
- If you pre-book and communicate with your gondolier, read through any notes they send you. Some have restrictions on shoes and/or other things you can bring with you.
This is Alex Hai’s website with lists of tours, prices, and contact information.
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