Jo Beth , my traveling companion, had long been a fan of Weeki Wachee. She told me she had gone to watch the mermaid shows as a kid, and was enchanted. The shows have been going on for nearly 50 years and continue to be as popular now as they were in the 1940's. The beautiful white mermaid statues inside and outside the park give it the atmosphere of a real underwater city.
Weeki Wachee Springs Waterpark is Florida's only natural spring family waterpark. Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, approximately 45 minutes north of Tampa, on U.S. 19 at the Intersection of State Road 50, the park is set on 200 tropical acres that features a wilderness river cruise, Petti-Goat Junction (a live pygmy goat petting zoo), water rides and flumes, volley ball courts, white sand beaches, and of course, the famous underwater live mermaid shows.
is a Seminole Indian word meaning "little spring" or "winding
river" . The Weeki Wachee River flows 12 miles through pristine wilderness
and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The actual spring is a surfacing
point of an underground river; it measures 100 feet across and pumps out
170 million gallons of 98.7 percent pure water every 24 hours. The year
round temperature of the water is a comfortable 74.2 degrees.
Besides the many other compelling attractions in the park, the Weeki Wachee Mermaids are really what makes this place famous. Young women (and a few men) dressed as legendary mermaids/mermen perform shows in the natural spring water that are viewed by the audience from an underwater theater.
Who thought of this crazy mermaid idea anyway?
Back in 1946, an ex-navy frogman and swimming instructor named Newton Perry, purchased the land that is Weeki Wachee and built an underwater theater. Perry conceived the idea of "hose breathing" and perfected it at Weeki Wachee. In 1947, he presented the first live underwater mermaid show to the public. Since then, ownership of the park has changed, but the mermaid shows live on!
The mermaid show that was being shown when I visited, and is still there now, is called Merllennium. It's a mermaid "variety show" that features a range of eras from a gal in a 1950's poodle skirt drinking a Coke underwater, to the peace loving 60's, to the present day.
The mermaids breathe through hoses, when needed, while performing underwater. The hoses are painted a florescent color so they can be seen by the performers. Part of the training of becoming a mermaid is to learn how to breathe underwater and all merpeople must be at least 18 years of age and SCUBA certified. There's usually a clan of 7-10 merpeople who perform 3-5 days a week with others on call.
How much gold do the mermaids gather? Richard Fujimoto, 20, a merman and announcer and guide for the shows told me, "You do this because you really like performing, not for the money. The pay progresses as you go along; there's trainee, novice and then full-fledged merperson," Fujimoto explained.He's been there a few years and loves it.
The show was great . It was strange and wonderful. (I can barely hold my head underwater in the bathtub for 10 seconds without coughing, never mind dancing around and smiling!) You watch the show from the underground theater through 3 inch thick panels of acrylic. The Merllenium show last about a half hour and later in the day there's "The Little Mermaid" children's performance.
But mermaid shows aren't the only attraction. There's also a cool little petting zoo called Petti-Goat Junction where you can pet pygmy goats and have them eating right out of your hand. The goats are very friendly and happy for snacks and the attention.
Another great attraction is The Wilderness Cruise (included in the price of admission). I saw, up close, animals and birds, indigenous to Florida that I had previously only in seen in books. Wildlife like wood storks, egrets, cormorants, blue and white herons, otters, ospreys, and raccoons greeted us with open paws and wings. (Partly because the captain of our ship kept throwing fish and other goodies at them.)