A ride around Irving’s Lake Carolyn and the Mandalay Canal comes complete with a singing gondolier. Photo courtesy Gondola Adventures

Gliding across Lake Carolyn in Irving, I sip a flute of sparkling cider while watching suburbia unfold around me. Runners whiz by, apartment dwellers lounge on balconies, a man and his Great Pyrenees stroll along the sidewalk—the dog curiously staring at me. There’s even another man with his phone out, taking photos of me as I float by, making sure to walk across a small bridge to get a shot as I make my way underneath. Normally I’d be alarmed at the staring but seeing as I’m in an authentic Venetian gondola complete with a singing gondolier in the middle of a Dallas-Fort Worth urban lake, I get it.

I’m on a ride with Gondola Adventures, traveling through Lake Carolyn and the Mandalay Canal. My guide, Tom Young (who goes by the name “Tom Cruise” while in lake-navigation mode), is outfitted in a traditional gondolier ensemble complete with the red-and-white-striped shirt and straw hat. A bass guitarist and the Joey Ramone in a Ramones tribute band, Young breaks into song in between playing light rock from a tablet. He tells me being able to sing is part of this gig. Between the tunes, gondola, surrounding cityscape, and narrow canals we weave through, it feels as if I’m almost in Venice…almost.

Gondola Adventures began in Newport Beach, California, in the early aughts when Greg “Gondola Greg” Mohr and his wife, Elisa, sold their yacht charter company to focus on building a gondola business. The yacht fleet included a gondola, which Mohr learned to row, igniting his love for the light, flat-bottomed boats—he even proposed to Elisa on one. After selling the yacht charter company, gondolas became the main attraction, and in 2002, the Mohrs began looking for ways to expand their gondola empire. A friend looking to be part of the expansion told them about Lake Carolyn in Irving, so they came to Texas to scope out the scene. “I couldn’t believe there weren’t boats here,” Mohr says. “I pitched [gondolas to] a room full of people, and that was the beginning of our long-term relationship with Texas.”

Over the next 15 years, the Mohrs traveled back and between Texas and California and officially made a permanent move to Texas in spring 2023.

The Mohrs were drawn to Lake Carolyn’s collection of canals, finding them perfect for an authentic gondola experience. “It has a small network of canals going off of one side, and there are waterfalls feeding into the lake, plus beautiful bridges,” Mohr says, adding one must follow traditional gondola etiquette. “It’s important to have bridges, because you have to kiss under every bridge.”

Typically, Gondola Adventures caters to couples celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions, but they also see their fair share of proposals, and even the occasional “I’m sorry” cruise. Winter has two of their busiest holidays: Christmastime, when the canals sparkle with lights, and Valentine’s Day—the “Super Bowl of gondolas” and the busiest day of the year, Greg says. “We call in all of our guys, and everyone has a full schedule.”

Mohr is president of the Gondola Society of America and he trained in Venice as a gondolier, but he did not build the gondolas in his fleet, which consists of 14 vessels that include traditional Venetian-built wooden gondolas, American-built fiberglass gondolas, motorized gondolas that can hold larger groups, covered gondolas for rainy days, and the Stargazer, which is framed with artificial flowers and perfect for romantic trips.

Gondoliers will even coordinate a message in a bottle for riders, where they secretly drop the bottle in the water, row back by, and have the guest—usually someone getting proposed to—pick up the bottle out of the water and read the sweet message inside. Aside from these lovey-dovey moments, Gondola Adventures gets a share of Galentine’s Day requests plus birthday rides and other celebrations for friends (up to 10 people can be in the gondola, but fleets are available upon request).

Cruises can be booked via the company’s website, and various themed options are available year-round, many with meals including breakfast, lunch, and dinner cruises with sandwiches, calzones, pasta, pizza, and other Italian fare. Guests are allowed to bring their own wine, beer, or champagne aboard. “It’s the ultimate waterfront table with an everchanging view,” Greg says.

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