Weeki Wachee State Park: In Search of the Mermaid
About two hours from Orlando, is this retro park that is worth the visit of the adventurous. For those who are looking for a bit of old Florida. For those that love mermaids and for those that want something to remember.
Weeki Wachee State Park is a lot more than the typical state park. This is a state park built on a crystal clear freshwater spring and exists to honor the mermaid. The park was a huge hit in the 1940’s when it was created. Movie stars would stop in, movies were filmed there—it was a place to go.
Over the years, it is apparent that the hip crowd has been replaced by local families- but the allure of the mermaids still remain.
I love the olden days—so being at Weeki Wachee makes me feel like I am alive in the 1950’s.
The whole park is built around watching a mermaid show that at one time was pretty revolutionary. The above video is from the Florida State archives and shows the mermaids practicing back in the olden days. Now, they wear mermaid tails.
They have built a submerged amphitheater into the side of the natural spring (something that would never happen today with all of our environmental protection laws). Just walking into the amphitheater is neat—the water is crystal clear and there are turtles and fish swimming around. It feel like you are looking into a giant aquarium.
And then the mermaids appear. (The mermaids are under water…the water is just so clear!)
Of course, we all know that mermaids aren’t real….(or are they?) But the show does a great job of helping you forget that. The mermaids swim, dance, eat, drink–all underwater. They never go to the surface for air–but take drags of air from airhoses that they hold with them. It must be so difficult to learn to smile, keep your eyes open and wide, sing, and eat….all while not sucking any air down your lungs.
One really cool aspect of the park is the fact that the mermaids of the past get to come back and do their own shows. It just really shows how special the park was to these women that they would come back 30, 40, 50 years later to keep swimming like a mermaid. We caught part of one of these shows and I was amazed. The women didn’t have the tight, toned bodies as they did in their youth–but they were out on full display, being mermaids. It was pretty amazing to see.
The park isn’t all mermaid either. They have a boat ride that goes about a mile down the river (fed by the spring) and they point out wildlife along the way. It takes a long time to get on the boat…..so if your time is limited I would skip it. Or, try to go there first. Get on the boat and get it out of the way. We waited over an hour for the boat ride and wished we would have spent more time at the water park.
Water Park? Yep!
They have a small water park that is fed from the spring as well. There is no need for chlorine. The water is pumping out of the spring at 100,000 gallons per minute. Over 1 million gallons of water is pumped from the aquifer EVERYDAY!
The water park consists of four slides (built on wooden frames), a small kiddie play area, a nice large place to swim in the spring, a lazy river (there is a fee to rent the tubes), and a dock floating in the middle of the spring to dive off of. The lines are fairly short on the slides. We spent the afternoon there and the kids had a blast. Most of the time, they wanted to just jump and dive off the dock but they all were brave and went down the slides multiple times.
Here is the thing: If you are going to Florida and are looking for the theme park experience—this is not it. Weeki Wachee is kitschy, retro and a bit weird. BUT, to me it is perfect. It is a place that you won’t soon forget. and how many other places in the world have real life swimming mermaids, a crystal clear aquifer fed spring? It is a complete throwback to another era.
If you go with the right frame of mind, I think you will love it. And, it makes me sad to think that over time as people get more cynical and demanding and less adventurous and excited–the park will eventually close. So, make some sandwiches, grab some sodas and spend a summer day at Weeki Wachee. Tell your friends and families—tell everyone you know.
This park exemplifies a simpler time, a simple and laid back life. Let’s help it stay around for a good long time.