Gondola Getaway reopens to passengers after two-month closure

The gondolas—a near 40-year fixture on Long Beach’s Naples canals—are officially back with Gondola Getaway’s announcement, Wednesday, that the business has reopened to passengers.

Customers will be able to enjoy the romantic, traditional Italian experience of being serenaded by a gondolier while floating through the canals but, unlike the past, they will now have to pay upfront to “ensure a contactless visit,” since bookings will only be accepted over the phone.

Founder Michael O’Toole, who for about a month offered canal residents some entertainment as well as a sense of hope by sending his gondoliers out in passengerless boats to sing on the water, said the anxieties he had about reopening Monday have disappeared and that since making the official announcement, Wednesday, “the phone has been ringing nonstop ever since.”

“The phone started ringing immediately and gave me the comfort of knowing they’re still out there, and they still want to get outdoors and they still want to go for gondola rides,” O’Toole said. “That was very heartening, and that literally happened today. So it feels normal, it feels like it’s going to get back on track sooner rather than later.”

While O’Toole was able to keep six of his usual crew of 25 gondoliers employed for about a month, he believes he will be able to bring back 20 of his employees by this weekend and all 25 by next weekend.

O’Toole said that when, last Friday, small boat rental outfits such as those that rent kayaks became eligible to reopen, his business was lumped in with larger charter boat companies that weren’t given the green light to reopen, so he made a few phone calls to city officials.

“I wanted to make sure small businesses didn’t get left behind, and I had been, so I got it changed,” O’Toole said. “They came up with small charter requirements and that opened up a door for about 30 more businesses. If you’re a unique, small business, you really have to stand up and fight because it’s very easy to get lost in the fray of the broad stroke. You have to state your case.”

Riding in a gondola is “a great way to shake things off, to breathe real air and still feel completely safe,” O’Toole said. “If they’re worried about crowds, they won’t find them here. They built these boats socially-distanced a thousand years ago.”

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.