Plying the 'Canals' of San Diego

It's not Venice, Italy, but it's cheaper than going there, and the gondolas are authentic.

Gondola di Venezia in San Diego has been offering cruises around the yacht harbor off Shelter Island and along beaches near Point Loma since February, according to company president Douglas Bothwell.

Since then, dozens of lovebirds have gotten engaged and there have been a couple of weddings on board the company's two gondolas, which carry six passengers each.

The one-hour cruises, available 5 p.m. to midnight daily, cost $62 per couple; each added guest is $17. Hors d'oeuvres or dessert is provided, along with glassware. Passengers bring their own beverages. A sound system broadcasts Italian music, from arias to accordion pieces, on most rides. But one of the firm's five gondoliers sings on the boat, in Italian no less.

The 36-foot-long wood gondolas, Bothwell says, are "perfect reproductions" of those that ply Venice canals. They were made in the United States, but the brass work was cut in Venice.

Bothwell's company, founded in 1993 in Seattle, is unrelated to another company, Gondola Getaway, that offers similar cruises on Naples Island near Long Beach. Bothwell is building two more boats in San Diego for use starting next summer. Reservations: (619) 221-2999.

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