Ah yes. Weeki Wachee Springs, the quintessential Florida roadside attraction. This has Florida written all over it; kitschy, tacky, delightfully weird.
Believe it or not, this is a solid representation of Florida tourist attractions in Florida B.D. (Before Disney). Most of them have dried up and disappeared, but not Weeki Wachee Springs. Why? Because they have a secret weapon: mermaids.
But before we get into that, let’s talk history.
It all started in 1947 with visionary Newt Perry, a Florida native from Ocala. He spent most of his formative years swimming, teaching swimming, competing in swimming, etc… In the 1920s, the American Red Cross even used Perry for a model in a number of their aquatics safety manual photos. Here’s Newt in 1924:
Eventually, he decided to turn Weeki Wachee Springs into a tourist attraction.
An 18 seat theater was carved down into the limestone rock next to the springs (later increased to 50) to create an underwater aquarium type viewing area. The theater is below the waterline and separated from the spring by glass. Perry then added some breathing hoses so the performers never have to break the surface to catch a breath. Genius.
It’s also said he put on the first show.
Anyway, eventually mermaid shows were added—beautiful women dressed up in elaborate mermaid costumes and the show is still going strong. Here’s a couple black and white Weeki Wachee photos:
I took this day trip on a cold November day. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Weeki Wachee offers much more than a mermaid show.
First, it is technically a state park. So it’s kinda fun that mermaids are paid state employees. But being a state park it means there is state park, outdoor type of activities to do, such as catching a ride on the boat tour that took me down Weeki Wachee River. The guide pointed out a bald eagle nest and we saw a couple manatees, which we Floridians are crazy about. So I was pretty pumped.
There was also an animal show and at the end the audience was invited to pet a baby alligator. There is also a water park, Buccaneer Bay, which is built into the spring. Have you ever taken a water slide down into natural spring? I thought not.
The highlight, though, is the mermaid show. There are several shows throughout the day. The one I attended featured mermaids swimming in circles while holding each other’s tales, dancing underwater to pop songs, and finished with Lee Greenwood’s Proud To Be An American followed by the unveiling of the American flag underwater by a mermaid. If that doesn’t say patriotism, I don’t know what does.
Before your visit be sure to check out the Weeki Wachee website. Lots of good info there, plus pictures/bios of the current mermaid lineup, which is awesome. Also, be sure to get there on time if you plan on going on a holiday, during the weekend, or during tourist season. On this particular morning on which I am writing this, there is a notice on the Weeki Wachee website that they have reached capacity and have closed entry to the park, even for those who have a pre-purchased ticket. If you are like me, and go off-season on a weekday, you will virtually have the park to yourself. Unlike what is seen here:
I’ll leave you off with this picture…
Doing it on the cheap…
Since this is a Florida state park there are not really any good ways to do this on the cheap, other than buying your tickets with a cash back or rewards credit card. Occasionally, Florida has a day were they wave all state park fees. Next time they do, I’ll be sure to post it to the blog.
Enjoy your visit!
Location: 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606
Admission: Adult $13.00 | Child (Ages 6 – 12) $8.00 | Children 5 and Under FREE | Parking FREE
Hours: 9:00am – 5:30pm, 365 days a year