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March 13th, 2015 at 8:00 am

Ventura County Gondola rides

“Romantic” and “gondola” are words that always seem to find each other. If you’ve been wanting to find yourself and your sweetheart gliding along in one of Venice’s storied ornamental vessels but don’t have enough Euros to get to Italy, how about Oxnard?

Ventura County has just one gondola operator: Gondola Paradiso in Channel Islands Harbor. Any day or night of the week, owner/gondolier Mark Schooling will take up to six passengers on a 50-minute ride through what he describes as the “best-looking waterway in Ventura County,” the one winding through the upscale Seabridge community.

Schooling started Gondola Paradiso in 2014 after 16 years of handling the flat-bottom boats for several operators that are now his competitors further south. Business has been flowing steadily. “Our Valentine’s day volume tripled this year over last, so that’s a good sign,” he said.

It’s $90 for the first two passengers and $20 for each additional rider. Blankets are available on board, or you can bring your own, as well as any beverage you like. An ice bucket, cups, and wine opener are provided, but bring your own ice or snacks. Cruises start daily at 11 a.m., and the last departs at 9 p.m.

You also can request a “message in a bottle” for an additional $25. The sender emails the message in advance, Schooling prints it on nice paper with a decorative font, and then puts it in a corked bottle. During the cruise, the bottle magically appears in the water for the unsuspecting recipient to open. “They’re really surprised to receive a birthday or anniversary message from the person they’re riding with,” he said.

Other riders have pulled more elaborate surprises.

“One gentleman proposed with umbrellas,” Schooling said. “He had each letter of the proposal on umbrellas, and gave them to his and her families, who were waiting on a pedestrian bridge. We came around the corner and there was the bridge with the open umbrellas lined up on it, spelling out ‘Will you marry me?’ We stopped under the bridge, he got the ring out, showed it to her, and proposed in front of both families. It was pretty neat.”

As for being serenaded by the gondolier, Venice-style?

“Singing is not guaranteed, but we make an attempt to do so for every cruise,” Schooling said. “The gondolier always sounds better after the passengers have had a bottle of wine.”

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