Why you Should Skip a Gondola Ride in Venice:
Take a Rowing Lesson Instead!
What's the first thing you think of when you hear Venice, Italy?
Gondolas and streets of water, right?
Of course taking a gondola ride is at the top of everyone’s list when on vacation in Italy. I am here to tell you to skip the gondola ride! We went one step further (and better) and learned HOW to row a traditional Venetian boat - the batela coda di gambero.
Learning how to row a batela is absolutely a MUST to add to your Venice travel plan.
Because this experience was one of the top highlights of our European vacation I simply had to share with you! Let me know if you decide to do this rowing lesson - I’m sure our children are going to insist we do this again on our next vacation to Venice!
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Wes and I knew that traveling to Venice with our children (ages 8 and 10) had to include a gondola ride. The kids know a little of Venice from movies - “The Italian Job” is one of our favorites! - and so I think they kind of assumed that a ride in a gondola was going to happen. Because that’s what you do when you travel to Venice, right?!
But I wanted more. I researched and found a fantastic non-profit organization, run by women, that teaches you how to row. SOLD!
I immediately made a reservation with the organization: Row Venice.
Before our Rowing Lesson
You absolutely want to make a reservation ahead of time. Don't risk it and wait until you're there...especially if you're traveling in the high season.
We paid at the time of booking, which is ideal for me because the more I can pay ahead of time the better I feel within our travel budget! Don't forget to bring cash for gratuity.
Give yourself plenty of time to find the meeting point.
I cannot even explain to you how far and fast we ran to make it to the meeting point for our rowing lesson. The GPS said it would take us about 30 minutes to get there from our Airbnb. So I made us leave an hour before our scheduled departure. I was determined to NOT be those Americans who couldn’t navigate Venice and be late.
Well….ha ha! We ended up being those Americans!
Thirty minutes into our walk we arrived at the destination the GPS led us to and it was the WRONG LOCATION!!!
I immediately checked my email and copied the GPS coordinates they had so carefully listed in the instructions. (I had just typed in their company name into the maps app...I knew better and I did it anyway).
By this time we had 15 minutes to make it. The GPS said we were a 20 minute walk away! If you’ve been to Venice and used your phone to navigate you know that it’s not as simple as you would think.
We ended up RUNNING because we continued to make wrong turns which put us further and further behind. I was so upset because I didn’t want to be rude. I had already called the office to let them know we were on our way. Thankfully we were the only ones on the tour so we were not holding anyone up!
We finally made it - 15 minutes late and completely out of breath!!! So...learn from our mistake. Use the coordinates they give you in the emailed instructions. There’s a reason they do so! Even still….leave 30 minutes earlier than you think!
Rowing Through Venice
We started the lesson while still tied up which was nice to get us adjusted to being in the boat. The two women instructing taught us how to position our feet and hands to have better balance while standing. Learning how to hold and move the oar through the water was also something we practiced while still tied up. I am SO glad they take the time at the beginning of the lesson to go over these skills while still secured to the wall!
We chose an early morning lesson that began at 8:30. We wanted to do that to avoid the heat of the sun in the middle of the day. Apparently that is rush hour - something we didn’t consider!
The women kept talking about how busy the traffic was. Obviously we don't know any different so I thought it was totally fine. The traffic consisted of all the morning deliveries, trash boats, etc. That just made the experience more authentic to us….we loved seeing that side of Venice!
Wes and the kids went first. They did such a great job! It was so nice having two instructors to help. Anytime they saw that the oar was too close to another boat or we had to pass a boat too closely they would help us take our oar in and navigate us into the clear.
We made our way out into a larger body of water. This is where Wes and the kids learned to row while standing on the end of the batela! I was too nervous to stand that high on the end of the boat!
Why this Activity is a MUST for any Venice Vacation
The authenticity of rowing a traditional Venetian boat is worth more than you pay for this activity!
A standard gondola ride is about only about 20 to 30 minutes and costs about 80 Euro.
The rowing lesson we took lasted an hour and a half! Although the cost was more (140 Euro for the four of us) I felt that the hands-on experience gave us a much better perspective.
The kids truly loved it and when you were not the one rowing you could sit back and take in the sights of Venice from the water….so magnificent!
We are so glad we decided to skip the gondola ride and try a more authentic activity for our family!