Florida Travel: See Real Mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs
By Lauren Tjaden
When the satiny blue curtain rolls up in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park’s submerged 400-seat auditorium, it’s a mesmerizing scene. Fish float and swim through the gin-clear water of the natural spring, framed by a landscape of rocks and swaying plants. A cascade of air bubbles rises on one side. While the narrator introduces the story you can hear the audience chatter in the background.
A minute into the performance, mermaids appear from the bottom of the spring, a bit of magic. You can’t take your eyes off of the smiling, beguiling creatures, their hair arcing around them in halos, their tails curving behind as they spin and twist. The chatter goes silent.
Welcome to the world-renowned Weeki Wachi Mermaid Show, an old-Florida attraction that costs a pittance and delivers a blockbuster experience.
Here's where to discover more about the show; the mermaids and how you can connect with them; Weeki Wachee’s other attractions and experiences; and even how you can put on a tail and join in a mermaid camp.
You’re invited to celebrate the tradition of the world-famous Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park as they perform their version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.
In this classic tale, the Little Mermaid comes face to face with her prince as she celebrates her birthday.
Longing to have legs like him, she makes a deal with the sea witch, exchanging her exquisite voice for what she wants.
A ferocious battle ensues between the prince and the malevolent sea witch, as the prince fights to save the Little Mermaid’s voice. The prince, and love, prevail.
In the show, you’ll see the Mermaids of Weeki Wachee perform underwater feats from the past six decades, including eating and drinking underwater; enjoy several musical numbers; and learn about historical information (via video); and the technical aspect of the show.
- The mermaids perform daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., weather permitting.
- Portions of the show may be scary to young children.
- For the safety of the underwater staff, mermaid performances can be delayed or canceled due to weather-related issues. This includes, but isn’t limited to, lightning in the area and temperatures below 50 degrees at showtime.
Named by the Seminole Indians, “Weeki Wachee” means “little spring” or “winding river.” Every day, more than 117 million gallons of clear, fresh 74-degree water gurgle up from the spring’s subterranean caverns. It’s so deep that its bottom has never been found.
In the spring’s depths, the current is powerful enough to knock the mask off of a Scuba diver’s face. Where the mermaids perform, 16 to 20 feet below the surface, the current runs a robust five miles an hour, making it a notable achievement for a mermaid just to stay in one place.
Arising from the spring, the Weeki Wachee River wends its way 12 miles until it merges with the Gulf of Mexico.
Diving Into the Past
A Florida classic since 1947, Weeki Wachee’s mermaid show is the creation of Newton Perry, a former U.S. Navy man who trained Navy Frogmen to swim underwater in World War II. In 1946, Perry scouted out Weeki Wachee for his new business. It was nothing to brag about.
Brimming with the remains of rusted refrigerators and abandoned cars, the spring was sited on U.S. 19, at the time, an insignificant two-lane road. It was hardly a promising tourist destination; the other roads were dirt; the area’s population consisted mostly of alligators and black bears; and amenities like gas stations and grocery stores didn’t exist.
After clearing the junk, Perry investigated underwater breathing hoses and came up with a way to breathe underwater from a free-flowing air hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor, instead of from a tank strapped to the back. Using the air hose, a person could give the appearance of thriving twenty feet underwater with no breathing apparatus.
Perry built an 18-seat theater into the limestone, set six feet below the water’s surface, so viewers could look right into the natural beauty of the ancient spring. He found some pretty girls and trained them to swim with air hoses; drink Grapette, a non-carbonated beverage; eat bananas underwater and do aquatic ballets—all while smiling broadly.
On Oct. 13, 1947, the first show at the Weeki Wachee Springs underwater theater opened. In those days, cars were scarce along U.S. 19. When the girls heard a car coming, they’d bolt to the road in their bathing suits to lure drivers into the parking lot, just like sirens of ancient lore beckoned sailors to their sides. Then they’d leap into the spring to perform.
By the 1950s, Weeki Wachee had become one of the nation’s premier tourist stops, earning worldwide acclaim. Movies like Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid were filmed there. Attractions included the mermaid shows, orchid gardens, jungle cruises, an Indian encampment and a new beach. The mermaids took etiquette and ballet lessons.
Weeki Wachee’s zenith began in 1959, when the spring was purchased by the American Broadcasting Co. (ABC) which aggressively promoted it.
ABC built the current theater, seating 400 and situated 16 feet below the spring’s surface. ABC also developed themes for the underwater shows, with sophisticated props, lifts, music, and storylines like Underwater Circus, The Mermaids and the Pirates and Underwater Follies. The mermaids performed Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Snow White and Peter Pan.
In the 1960s, girls arrived from as far away as Tokyo to try out for the honor of becoming a glamorous mermaid. The mermaids performed eight shows a day to sold-out crowds. As many as half a million people a year came to see the Weeki Wachee mermaids, who wore one-piece suits and were treated like Florida royalty.
Celebrities that included Elvis Presley, Don Knotts, Esther Williams and Arthur Godfrey came to watch the mermaid shows.
The legacy continues today, with the city of Weeki Wachee incorporating in 1966, putting the tiny city of Weeki Wachee on maps and state road signs, and adding features like Buccaneer Bay in 1982.
Be the Mermaid
When you watch the mermaids perform, bending their bodies in impossibly graceful curves and smiling through the water, they’re the embodiment of beauty and allure. What little girl, or grown woman for that matter, doesn’t have the thought that she would like to be a mermaid too? And what little boy wouldn’t want to be the prince that glides through the water and wins the mermaid’s heart?
Thanks to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, you can live the fantasy. Try on a tail in the Junior Mermaid Camp, available to kids ages seven through 14; or if you’re a more mature water nymph, make a splash in the Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp, for adults 30-years-old and up.
Both are popular two-day weekend camps where you’ll learn what it’s like to be a Weeki Wachee mermaid performer, with instruction in the ballet moves that the mermaids employ and training sessions in 15-feet of water with a watchful instructor.
In the camps, you’ll learn the daily responsibilities of being a mermaid and what it takes to put on a show. The instructors are the best anywhere: all are former mermaids who volunteer their time.
Things to know:
- If you’re uncomfortable swimming in the spring, reconsider this camp.
- Camp participants won’t breathe off of the park’s air hoses. This requires SCUBA certification, first aid, CPR and several months of training, as well as being 18 years of age.
- Participants will be swimming in approximately 15 feet of water. Trained underwater performers will be with participants at all times, and areas exist to hang onto.
- Camp sessions are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. The camp quickly fills with no waitlist.
Visit the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park online for more information as well as camp dates. You can register and pay online. Due to the high demand, no refunds are offered, and there’s no carry over to the following year.
All money raised benefits the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. If you have any questions regarding the camp, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet the Mermaids
Check out the Mermaid Roster to get a personal glimpse into the lives of the show’s stars.
You can investigate Mermaid Paisley to find out her guilty pleasure is Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Ice Cream; discover Prince Anthony is from Spring Hill and has a celebrity crush on Anne Hathaway; and learn that Mermaid Gianna’s dream job would be to become a police officer and that her dream vacation destination is Italy.
Do mermaids get cold when they’re putting on shows? How hard is it to become a mermaid? Do mermaids need help getting on their tails?
Children under the age of 17 can get first-hand answers to these and any other mermaid related questions they have, thanks to Tail Mail, sponsored by Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park—and promoting literacy and penmanship has never been more fun.
Have your child handwrite a letter to their favorite mermaid (or Prince), asking about the environment they swim in or anything else mermaid related. To help find a favorite, you can Visit the Mermaid roster for a list of Weeki Wachi’s current mermaids. You’re welcome to include drawings, but please don’t choose more than one mermaid or Prince to write to. Be patient for a response, as the mermaids are popular pen-pals.
The wait is oh-so-worth-it.
Each child will receive an autographed picture of their favorite mermaid. The mermaids will read each letter, with their videoed response posted on the park’s Facebook page and Twitter page.
Make sure to include the following in the letter:
- Name of the child
- Age of the child
- Email address or phone number in the event the park needs to contact you
All letters can be mailed to:
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Attn: “Tail Mail”
6131 Commercial Way
Weeki Wachee, FL 34606
And There’s More!
While the mermaid show takes center stage at Weeki Wachi, that’s just the beginning of the park’s attractions. This intriguing natural playground is home to the deepest freshwater cave system in the country and abundant protected wildlife. It encompasses Buccaneer Bay Waterpark, complete with two scream-like-a little-girl waterslides that finish in the springs; and offers kayaking and a boat tour down the river. Check out Weeki Wachee Springs State Park for more information.
When you go
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
6131 Commercial Way
Weeki Wachee FL 34606
Hours: Open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Fees: $13 for adults, $8 for children ages 6 to 12. Ages 5 and under admitted free.
Visit Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park to learn about mermaid camps; volunteering; and donating; or check out their galleries.