Just an hour north of Tampa is an underwater attraction that has enchanted visitors for generations. Featured on an episode of The Simple Life and in British rock band Supergrass'”Low C” music video, Weeki Wachee Springs – known to many as “home of the mermaids” – is a small-town amusement park that maintains its appeal without commercializing itself.
“This park has been here for 60 years and represents real Florida,” said John Athanason, marketing director for Weeki Wachee Springs.
According to Weeki Wachee Springs’official Web site, WeekiWachee.com, the park was founded in 1946 when former Navy SEAL Newton Perry – who used to train SEALs to swim underwater in World War II – saw entrepreneurial opportunity within the undeveloped land of Weeki Wachee. He cleared debris and experimented with underwater breathing hoses, inventing a method of breathing underwater using a free-flowing air hose instead of a tank. Shortly thereafter a theater was built into the spring and submerged six feet under water so viewers could enjoy the natural beauty of the spring up close – without getting wet. The theater went on to be used for underwater ballet-style shows that eventually evolved into the mermaid shows Weeki Wachee Springs is known for today.
“The mermaids are our most popular feature. They are recognized worldwide and when you think of Weeki Wachee Springs, you think of the mermaids,” Athanason said.
There are two mermaid shows held each day. The mermaids entertain crowds with songs and skits while swimming with Florida wildlife, including turtles, fish and manatees. There are no tanks or aquariums. The mermaids swim in the spring’s natural water to 20 feet below the surface while taking breaks to breathe through air hoses. According to RoadsideAmerica.com, Weeki Wachee sometimes recycles Disney films into its mermaid shows. After the shows, families line up to pose for pictures with the mermaids.
The mermaid shows aren’t all Weeki Wachee has to offer. The park also features educational animal shows – one focused on birds and the other on reptiles – as well as a riverboat ride that takes visitors down the Weeki Wachee River.
If visitors are looking for a way to cool off and enjoy the spring for themselves, they can head into Weeki Wachee Springs’water park, known as Buccaneer Bay.
“Buccaneer Bay provides us with the most people and is probably our biggest money maker,” Athanason said.
According to WeekiWachee.com, the water in the spring stays at 72 degrees year-round. Visitors can enjoy the water by taking a dip and lying on the sandy beach or floating down the river in tubes. Waterslides are available for adults and children, and there are volleyball nets, picnic areas and a tiki lounge set up throughout the park. Access to Buccaneer Bay is included in the price of admission of Weeki Wachee Springs.
Unlike many water parks, Weeki Wachee is open all year. Even though it gets too chilly to swim during the winter, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the springs. Weeki Wachee Springs hosts special events throughout the year, such as “Wild n’Wicked Nights!” around Halloween, which includes a special Halloween mermaid show and a train ride for kids.
An art show showcasing local artists is held during the fall, and in the winter the 27 acre-wide park hosts an annual Christmas Festival with a special holiday mermaid show and a petting zoo for children. There is also a dog show in October and monthly shows performed by former Weeki Wachee Springs mermaids.
Weeki Wachee Springs regularly offers canoe and kayak rentals, scuba diving lessons and special summer camps for children like junior lifeguard camp and mermaid camp, outside of the cost of general admission.
“The junior lifeguard camp is for children between the ages of 8 and 14 who want to learn all of the skills that lifeguards use,” said Erin McCarthy, a third-year lifeguard. “We teach them basic CPR and first aid, and they follow us around at our posts to gain hands-on experience as to what being a lifeguard is really like.”
Admission to both Weeki Wachee Springs and Buccaneer Bay is $21.95 (plus tax) for adults and $15.95 (plus tax) for children aged 3-10. Children age 2 and under are admitted for free. There are also season passes and group rates available for groups of 20 or more. For more information, visit the Weeki Wachee Springs Web site at Weekiwachee.com.