Know Your NOLA: 16 years, 600 proposals and 2 hurricanes: the story of NOLA Gondola

You think you know a place, especially City Park, until you've seen it from the seat of an authentic Italian gondola.

by Mary Staes
February 14, 2019

It’s got an air of mystery when it passes you: a lone gondola gliding through the waterways of City Park. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of it at Big Lake; other times, you can see it going through the sculpture museum.

You think you know a place, especially City Park, until you’ve seen it from the seat of an authentic Italian gondola.

Robert Dula, who’s been guiding the gondola through the park for the last eleven years, talked about being the only gondolier in the Gulf South and the interesting way he saved his boat from two hurricanes:

Are you from New Orleans?
“I grew up in Lafayette.”

Can you tell me about your boat, Bella Mae, and how you started?
“She was hand built in Venice, and I’ve been doing this almost 16 years. I started out originally in Pensacola in 2004, and five months later Hurricane Issac hit. I lost my home, lost my place of business, and saved Bella Mae by sinking her. I took everything out, filled her full of cement blocks, and sank her underwater. She sat underwater for about 24 hours until the storm passed. I dove down, took the blocks out, and up she rose.
“I moved here in March 2005, and six months later Hurricane Katrina hit. I sank her behind the New Orleans Museum of Art, and she sat underwater for a month. When I finally got to come back home, a friend of mine had a trailer and he helped me get her. We transported her back to Lafayette and fixed her up.
“After that, I moved back to Florida and set up in Sandestin, spent a year at the resort there. Left there and moved up to Huntsville, Alabama, to a swanky outdoor mall with an Italian there and stayed there for three years. That didn’t work out so I called up the park one day and asked if I could bring the boat back here. That was almost nine years ago. Ever since then, I’ve been rowing merrily down the stream.”

What keeps you here in City Park?
“Its a wonderland, I often refer to it as the hidden gem of the city. You’ve got the lagoons, you’ve got the wildlife, the art. A combination of all those things just makes it a really magical place.
“From the water, it’s completely different. The passengers sit back on very comfortable Italian leather seats and sip on their wine, champagne or grape juice. I do all the work and you just kick back. I have some music playing in the background, usually. I’ve got some Andrea Botticelli or I mix it up with some Aaron Neville cause I’m a Louisiana boy. The ride is almost an hour long and there’s nothing quite like it.”

What made you want to be a gondolier?
“It’s more of a calling, not a job. I became fascinated with gondolas as a teenager after I saw Roger Moore’s James Bond in the movie ‘Moonraker,’ zipping through Venice is a souped-up, high-performance gondola. I told my mom that one day I was to get a boat like the one 007 had. My mom thought I was a little nuts. Many years later, I made the dream come true, and this is what I was put on the big rock to do.”

You’ve had almost 600 proposals on board the gondola, can you tell me about a unique one?
“They’re all unique! Sometimes I still get goosebumps. I had a young couple from Missouri, and their proposal happened in the sculpture garden. She was surprised and crying. A few minutes later, a two-pound bass jumped out of the water and hit him smack in the face. It was flopping around in his lap. Come to find out he’s a big-time bass fisherman so he said that was the best sign he could have gotten.”

You can book NOLA Gondola rides online and find out more about Dula’s business by clicking here.

NOLA Gondola Llc
Getting there
Big Lake Trail, New Orleans, LA 70124, USA
More Info

Mary Staes is Digital Content Lead for Very Local. She works with our freelancers and crafts content for our social media platforms and website. Before Very Local, she worked with CBS affiliate WWL-TV as a web producer and weekend assignment editor for about 4 years. She has also handled broadcast coverage for 160 Marine Reserve training facilities while she served as an active duty Marine. As a native New Orleanian, she takes being "very local" to heart. She loves being intertwined with the culture and figuring out how there are less than two degrees of separation between us all, whether...

More Local Stories

Top 407: the best hot dogs in Orlando

We tried Chicago Dogs, Spicy Chili Dogs, Buffalo Dogs, Reuben Dogs, and more across the Orlando area to find the best hot diggity dogs.

A guide to must-do summer events in New Orleans

Now that we’re back outside, let’s take a look at the events to do in New Orleans for the summer.

What’s On the Menu?: Greenville Food Trucks

What’s On The Menu Greenville is serving up barbecue, Latin, vegan and Thai food from mobile kitchens on wheels. Find out what’s cooking inside these fantastic Greenville food trucks.

Eat Play Stay Orlando: Sanford

On this episode of Eat Play Stay Orlando explore what’s new in the Northern part of town. Sanford has a plethora of breweries, bars, and delicious dining options to choose from.

Hometown Tragedy: The Pike County Massacre

On this episode of Hometown Tragedy: Missing in Milwaukee, we’ll explore what happened to Jerica Banks, her children, and how it impacted their community.

Six New Orleans parks that are perfect locations to celebrate 4th of July

Head to one of these six New Orleans parks to celebrate Independence Day in the city.

Cheap Date Orlando: Punk Rock & Pooches

Two Orlando couples shop vintage, search for the perfect slice, visit a post-apocalyptic saloon, and take the stage on blind dates in Orlando.

Fit and Fab: Free summer workouts in Boston

Cover photo courtesy Getty Images Looking to get fit for the summer? Still wary of COVID-19 or just looking for some sunshine while you sweat? Here are some Boston free summer workouts across the city so you can keep moving all season long! Seaport Sweat May 2 to Sept. 29 Boston’s biggest free workout series…

What’s On the Menu?: Farm-to-table

The farm-to-table movement brings locally grown foods to your plate. Not only will enjoying farm-to-table meals allow you to indulge in fresh, nutritional, seasonal dishes, but farm-to-table dining helps the environment and supports the local economy.  Check out these delicious farm-to-table restaurants in Greenville, South Carolina on the latest episode of What’s On the Menu?. …

A guide to some of the best Black-owned brunch spots in NOLA

Gather the crew together, make those reservations, and celebrate all things Black at brunch. 

Getting around the dreaded ‘box’ during Mardi Gras

It’s the black hole of Carnival season, literally.

Mardi Gras: Here’s your DIY guide to making a costume

Consider this your guide to sewing, gluing and glittering your way to Mardi Gras DIY costume glory.

Looking for a Dong Phuong king cake but can’t get to the East? Here’s a list of places that have them.

Live on the Westbank but still want to get a Dong Phuong king cake? No worries.

Handmade Halloween: Making your own costume is half of the fun

There are plenty of resources for your own DIY costume, and it won’t be the cheesy pom-pom gumball machine either.