~ VISIT FLORIDA
Just 45 minutes north of Tampa and two hours west of Orlando, deep in the forests of Spring Hill, you can watch mermaids dance under the water, meet one, or even go to camp and learn how to be one. Because as the headline of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park boasts, it’s ‘the only city of live mermaids!’
Read on to discover more about these divine divas of the deep.
~ Carrie McLaren for VISIT FLORIDA
Back in the day
One of Florida’s oldest and most unique roadside attractions, “Weeki Wachee” -- which means “little spring” or “winding river,” in the language of the Seminole Indians who named it -- was borne from a natural wonder united with a man’s ingenuity.
Nature is responsible for the stunning spring, which bubbles up over 117 million gallons of clear, fresh 74-degree water each day. The spring’s basin is 100 feet wide, and it so deep the no one has ever found the bottom.
Newton Perry, a swimmer and dive instructor, is responsible for the crazy, fortuitous dream of having mermaids perform in the spring, as well as having the smarts and drive to make his dream a reality.
In 1946, Perry discovered Weeki Wachee. He saw promise in the spring-- full of junked refrigerators and cars – and managed to overlook its remote location, which was home to a great many alligators and black bears and very few humans.
Next, Perry invented a method of breathing underwater from a free-flowing air hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor, which made it look like someone was thriving twenty feet underwater with no breathing apparatus.
He had an 18-seat theater built into the limestone, submerged six feet below the spring’s surface, so viewers could peer directly into the waters of the ancient spring.
And then he set about finding his mermaids, pretty girls who he trained do aquatic ballets, as well as perform feats like eating bananas and drinking Grapette underwater.
The first show opened 1947, when traffic was so sparse that the girls would sprint to the road in their bathing suits when they heard cars coming to lure drivers into the parking lot.
Yet the attraction thrived, ranking among the nation’s most popular tourist stops in the 1950s, and receiving worldwide praise for its mermaid shows, orchid gardens, jungle cruises, Indian encampment and new beach.
When American Broadcasting Company (ABC) purchased Weeki Wachee in 1959, its heyday began. ABC built a 500-seat theatre, nestled in the side of the spring 16 feet below the surface, and developed elaborate props, lifts, music, and story lines for the underwater shows.
Young women from all over the globe longed to become one of the glamorous mermaids, and came from as far away as Tokyo to try out for the privilege. As many as half a million people a year came to Weeki Wachee, including Don Knotts, Arthur Godfrey, and even Elvis.
Weeki Wachee’s glory faded over the years, but in 2008, it became one of Florida's state parks, and the dream was reborn. Today, fresh paint sparkles from the walls of the Mermaid Villa, the gift shop is brimming with treasures, and the mermaid theater has been restored.
The town of Weeki Wachee is still improbably tiny, and boasts a population of only four people, including the mayor, who happens to be a former mermaid. But the shows at the spring are as magical as ever, and the park boasts a full slate of activities. Check out the offerings you can discover at Weeki Wachee today.
~ Peter W. Cross and Parick Farrell for VISIT FLORIDA
The show goes on
It’s like a bit of magic to watch the mermaid shows. Bubbles, fish, turtles and the occasional manatee share the water with the stars of the show, the mermaids. Colorful, graceful, and beautiful, they dare you to disbelieve.
Once a mermaid, always a mermaid
Once monthly, former mermaids, some as old as 70, don their tails and slip into the 72-degree water to perform. These nostalgic shows feature performers from the 50s to the 70s. It’s as if the spring mysteriously restores their youth; back in their natural element, the sirens become graceful and beguiling again. Catch a show while you can; park management says that once the former mermaids hang up their fins for good, the legacy shows will end.
~Kevin Mims for VISIT FLORIDA
Make a splash
Florida's only spring fed waterpark, Buccaneer Bay features a sandy beach, flume rides, beach volleyball, Lil' Mates Cove, lazy river, and more. While the swimming area is open all year, the water slides, kiddie pool, and lazy river are seasonal.
If there’s anything more exciting than watching mermaids, it’s learning how to be one. Weeki Wachee’s 'Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp' lets you experience underwater ballet training sessions as well as the responsibilities of being a mermaid. Junior Mermaid Camp is perfect for younger swimmers. It teaches basic ballet moves underwater, lets your child participate in a mermaid show as a dry performer in the underwater theater, and even includes a mermaid makeover. A junior lifeguard camp and junior ranger camp round out the offerings.
The river delivers
Discover the wildlife of Weeki Wachee River on a Riverboat Cruise. Your experienced boat captain will ensure your trip is educational and fun.
Get up-close-and-personal with some of Florida's native wildlife, including alligators and snakes, in Weeki Wachee’s Animal Shows.
Get the paddling you deserve
Rent a canoe or kayak from Weeki Wachee Springs Paddling Adventures by Cape Leisure to explore the pristine river and discover its wildlife.
Your kids can send their favorite mermaid a hand-written letter asking mermaid-related questions. The mermaids will send back an autographed picture, and will read each letter and the videoed response on their Facebook page, Twitter page and YouTube channel.
When You Go…
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
6131 Commercial Way
Spring Hill, FL
Want to see more? Watch the video.