Mike O’Toole started the Gondola Getaway in 1981 as a marketing project at U.S.C.. Upon graduation in 1982, Mike obtained an 18-foot replica of a Gondola that at the time was being used as a rose garden for a home on Naples Islands. It was old yellow that was once the old Hearsey Duck Hunting Club. Mike rebuilt it and started operating cruises from Seaport Village behind the Jolly Roger. The business was a one-boat operation with the office being the small telephone like booth out by the now 1000 ft. dock. In the beginning years, the dock was a half sunken 25 ft. piece of wood that would be ankle deep on a good surge, meaning the gondolier would have to be barefooted at all times. From the start cheese, salami, and bread was served on a one-hour cruise through the canals of Naples on board an electric powered Gondola.
Yes, in the beginning electric motors were used to propel the Gondolas for the simple fact that it didn't seem possible to row a boat for up to 8 hours with up to 6 people. Mike really thought he had the Italians beat by being able to just stand back and steer the Gondola while the motor pushed him and his passengers along.
Business had begun to grow and the decision was made to expand the fleet and look for a business partner that would share the same love for the water and boats that Mike did. David Black, who had grown up in Naples with Mike surfing, sailing, and swimming through Alamitos Bay was a prime candidate. Both Mike and Dave had grown up through Naples elementary, Rogers Junior High School and then Wilson High School where they both did some traveling on their own. Then Dave went to Cal State Long Beach and Mike went toUniversity of Southern California.
The partnership began with the building of second Gondola using the skeleton of an old Lifeguard dory, which again was once found on Naples Islands. With only an old picture of a Gondola tacked up on the fence of David's parents house, they reconstructed the bow and stern and installed seats and another electric motor, still sold on American technology over Venetian ingenuity.