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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mermaids Are Real in Weeki Wachee

It's been 20 or more years since I've watched a special on the Travel Channel on the mermaids of Weeki Wachee. For those of you who don't know, this is in Florida and it's a kitschy roadside attraction that's been a landmark since the 1960s. I was so interested in these ladies who could stay underwater and do tricks and swim like mermaids that it was put on my life list of things to see. I had no idea where Weeki Wachee was, but since we were doing a fall trip to Florida, I decided to look at it on the map. I was amazed that it was somewhat on the way from Orlando to St. Petersburg, so we planned to use our day driving between the two to make a stop there. 

There's nothing much that sets Weeki Wachee apart from other small Florida towns. It's bigger than I expected and had quite a few big box stores, but right at the edge of town you'll see big signs for the "Live Mermaids" turn-off. Had you not known it was there, you'd probably think it was a little odd. There's no missing this attraction though. 

When we rolled up, there were hardly any cars in the parking lot, but walking up, it was hard to understand why, as the beautiful fountain in the front was very beautiful and welcoming. I was really excited to get inside. Unfortunately, much of the park was under construction, which was not specified on the website, and the activities inside didn't run as often as the schedule available before we arrived. This didn't deter me though, because I was here to see mermaids. 

We had just missed the first mermaid show, so we decided to see what else was available. Usually, there is a beach and small waterpark that you can visit, but they were refurbishing that. For a straight $13 admission price, that seems pretty cool to be included. There was also an animal show, which I was not about to leave without seeing. It ran about 20 minutes and the guy running it brought out several animals native to the Florida area and was highly knowledgeable and funny. It was a great show for kids and even I learned some things. At the end, you have the chance to touch an alligator, which I eagerly waited for with a few of the kids. They're very soft, but you can feel the power in their tails, even a small one like the one you see above. 

One of the big draws of Weeki Wachee is the included river boat tour down the Weeki Wachee River. It runs all day and lasts around 20 minutes. On the boat you will see fish and beautiful scenery. You may also see gators, manatee, kayakers, eagles and other cool stuff. 

We were lucky to catch a glimpse of a pair of bald eagles. How awesome, right?

The water is crystal clear and you can see almost everything in it.

There are a few places to sit and get something to eat. The Galley was the one open when we were there, so in between shows we went inside and ordered a drink and some nachos while we relaxed, looked at a map to see what was in between Weeki Wachee and our final destination and if there were any discounts we could use on the rest of our trip. There's a decent variety of foods, drinks and desserts available at the Galley at reasonable prices. When it's warm out, there's also outdoor seating.

We couldn't pass up a fun photo op, especially when it was becoming a mermaid! How can you not? I'm not saying we make great mermaids, but it was hilarious and we had a good time doing it and goofing off.

And then it was time for the mermaid show!

The mermaid theater was small, but could seat several hundred people. All seats are good and have the ability to see everything going on in the water. While you wait, you can enjoy videos of the older shows that have been performed there, including the original shows in the 60s.

Because we were visiting in the off-season, the show was fairly short (around 20-30 minutes) and only featured two ladies and a man. You can see the mermaids perform in tails and also in other costumes. In between the separate themed performances, you learn (and see) how the "mermaids" are able to rise, sink and stay in one place while underwater. They tell you about the tank, the air hoses and the changing station (kind of like the backstage area where the mermaids change outfits). Then you are treated to some of their visual tricks, like drinking a bottle of soda while underwater.

The skill it takes to be a Weeki Wachee mermaid is pretty involved. I could never do it, but then I'm not great at underwater things and am not fond of things like diving. It's impressive seeing them do their shows while not freaking out and not getting tangled in their breathing hoses. Here's a quick video of the mermaids in action:

Even though I was disappointed with the length of the show, I can't complain since I was the one who visited during the off-season. We were blessed with little to no crowds throughout the park though, which I doubt would happen anytime during the summer. It's something I can cross off the list of awesome things I've wanted to see in life and I would even go back again. For the price of admission, I'd definitely recommend it, especially if you're traveling with little kids who would be amazed by seeing a "real live" mermaid. At the end of the show, they can visit with a mermaid and get their picture taken with her.

Have you been to a cheesy roadside attraction that you loved?

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