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Gig Harbor's authentic Italian gondola is the best way to tour the city

John has been a gondolier for 16 years, rowing through Southern California before making his way to Gig Harbor, where he decided to open his own business in 2015. His two trips to Venice inspired him to create a truly authentic experience. His gondola, Nelly, is as Venetian as it gets, as is the red and white striped outfit he’ll greet you in before your ride. (Image courtesy of Gig Harbor Gondola).

With its lush green forested land and peaceful bay surrounded by 21st century waterfront homes, the charming maritime community of Gig Harbor certainly doesn’t resemble Venice, Italy.

However, if you spend some time by the water, you might hear the faint sounds of a classic Italian song being crooned or catch a glimpse of an authentic gondola slowly moving across the harbor. If you do, wave hello to John, the sole proprietor of the Gig Harbor Gondola.

John has been a gondolier for 16 years, rowing through Southern California before making his way to Gig Harbor, where he decided to open his own business in 2015. His two trips to Venice inspired him to create a truly authentic experience. His gondola, Nelly, is as Venetian as it gets, as is the red and white striped outfit he’ll greet you in before your ride.

Nelly is one of the few actual Venetian gondolas in the country, and she’s spent time in Venetian waters as well. The old world details are noticeable when you step inside, and everything has been perfectly balanced to help with the weight distribution between the passengers and the gondolier.

John offers two options, a one-hour half harbor cruise and a 90 minute full harbor cruise. As he rows (miraculously never getting winded), he’ll tell you about Gig Harbor’s history, the lighthouse, and the gossip on some of the sprawling houses that line the waterfront (hint: some of them were an absolute steal). It’s easy to see why he chose this serene little city to raise his family, and his love of the area is apparent.

Your gondola cruise comes with plenty of blankets to keep you comfortable (the gondola service is open year-round), cups and ice if you need them, and a savory snack of cheese, crackers, and meats. You’re also more than welcome to bring your own food as well as beverages (Prosecco, anyone?). You can also expect to hear a beautiful Italian melody on your trip, sung by John himself.

Gondola rides start at a very reasonable $85 for two people for an hour-long cruise, $115 for a 90 minute ride. The gondola will hold six, and each additional person costs $20. Young children are welcome to join you — children under five ride free, and John will have a life jacket ready for them.

The Gig Harbor Gondola is an excellent and unique way to explore the harbor, and it makes for a great reason to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. At a time when Tacoma’s popularity is exploding and the population is expanding, it’s nice to escape to a nearby city that still feels quiet and somewhat secluded. After your ride, you can keep things authentic with freshly made pasta at the nearby Il Lucano Ristorante Italiano or check out the long-standing Tides Tavern.

There’s never a bad time to book a gondola ride, but John highly recommends booking a late summer sunset cruise. Call 253-432-0052 or email him at gigharborgondola@gmail.com to schedule.

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