Quirky roadside attractions like Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, less than an hour north of Tampa, are a part of Florida’s storied past and also its future. Weeki Wachee means “little spring” or “winding river” in the Seminole language, yet this park is much more than those two terms.
At Weeki Wachee Springs, the water bubbles up from the aquifer at a consistent 74 degrees Fahrenheit. It is so remarkably clear that you can see the limestone walls more than 100 feet away through the glass windows of the theatre.
Inside the theatre located some 20 feet below the water’s surface, human mermaids have been performing for more than 63 years. The lead mermaid, Marcy, reported recently that new recruits spend a full year in apprenticeship. During that time, the new recruits practice performing the two shows with the other cast members and also practice breathing through specially designed tubes underwater. The experienced veterans also learn to drink out of a bottle and eat an apple.
In time, some mermaids learn to hold their breath for as long as two minutes. In addition to mastering exceptional breath control, these performers are true athletes, clearly fit and strong. They must contend with the loss of body heat during the 30-minute programs. While we Floridians are often quite picky about the temperature of the water we prefer for swimming, these mermaids are swimming in water that is 24 degrees cooler than human body temperature! I know I couldn’t do it!
During the three daily show times, two different programs are presented. The first and third programs are based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid.” My favorite is the noon American-themed show, which features synchronized swimming routines. It’s easy to forget that the current here is flowing at five miles per hour because the performers are so graceful.
Such is the allure that in this part of Florida, where little girls grow up believing both in Santa Claus and in mermaids, and now there’s even a Mermaid Calendar to help promote the enchantment.
The charm at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park endures. This unique spot, the only place in the world where human mermaids perform, is quite easy to reach, especially from the Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan area.
When you go, check the website for days and hours of operation, which vary according to the season.