Just when Venice, Italy has come out of the pandemic and into social distancing, now the reality of heavier tourists is setting in. Venice has set new passenger capacity limits for both the large and the small gondolas.
You and your significant other have arrived in Venice and you want to go on a gondola ride. Taking a gondola ride can be a special voyage that should be experienced when in Venice. When I was in Venice many years ago, the small gondolas went out three at a time with this configuration:
- Gondola #1 had six passengers,
- Gondola #2 had four passengers, an accordion player and a vocalist,
- Gondola #3 has six passengers.
Our cruise began and ended on the Grand Canal and meandered their way through the lesser canals where people live. I remember residents opening their windows and waving when they heard the vocalist singing his way through the canals. The days of the vocalist and musician may have ended. Depending on the weather, cruising in the Grand Canal can be bumpy at times.
Those slender and pointy boats powered by human gondoliers come in two sizes:
- Large “da parada” gondolas that were designed for 14 passengers and
- Small gondolas that were designed for 6 passengers.
Gondolas are powered by a “gondolier” standing at the stern (rear) of the gondola. The gondolier pushes the gondola through the shallow water canals using a long oar to both power and steer the boat. Most gondolas are operated by family-owned businesses passing the gondola oar from one member of the family to a younger member. Gondoliers must pass a rigorous exam which includes Venitian history and language studies to obtain a license. Venice has licensed 433 gondoliers with another 180 as substitute gondoliers. The large gondolas cross the Grand Canal and the small gondolas cruise the lesser canals.
It’s not social distancing. To be blunt, tourists have gotten heavier over the years causing the gondolas to ride lower in the water. There have been times when either the gondola has taken on water or the gondolier had trouble navigating through canal traffic.
“Over the last 10 years or so, tourists weigh more — and rather than having them step on a scale before they get on, we are limiting the number,” according to Andrea Balbi, the president of Venice’s Gondola Association.
Raoul Roveratto, president of the association of substitute gondoliers — a group representing less experienced gondoliers — didn’t mince his words in a statement to La Repubblica newspaper. “From some countries, it’s like bombs loading on and when (the boat) is fully loaded, the hull sinks and water enters,” he said.
Like with seating on airliners, people are getting larger. Now that additional girth has caused gondoliers to reduce passenger capacity for safety reasons. If you get a knowledgable gondolier, your cruise can also be a private history lesson that will enhance your canal experience.