Long before Disney World became the staple of Florida's tourism industry, there was Weeki Wachee, the City of Live Mermaids. Since opening its doors in 1947, Weeki Wachee has attracted thousands of roadside visitors - and aspiring mermaids - from all over the world.
Set on 538-acres and home to the deepest naturally-formed spring in North America, this state park is best known for its live Mermaid Shows, where "half-fish, half-human" performers swim and dance in an underwater theater built 20 feet below the spring's surface. It was built by former Navy man Newton Perry who invented a new way of breathing underwater and taught it to some girls who were willing to perform while submerged. It takes rigorous training to become a full-fledged mermaid. Candidates from all over the world as far as Tokyo come to Florida in hopes to fulfill their dreams of becoming a mermaid.
Although the park's popularity peaked in the 60's, today's Mermaid Shows are equally whimsical, offering a glimpse into the old charms of Florida's rich heritage. Just as in the original shows, today's mermaids use free-flowing air tubes for oxygen and, with an array of glittering props, present underwater renditions of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" as well as the complete history of Weeki Wachee Springs.
The geological backdrop is no less stunning than the synchronized song and dance; the theater sits above subterranean aquifers that pump over 170 million gallons of freshwater per day. Though the natural pumping system keeps the water at a cool 74 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, the current at the depth of the theater is a steady 5 miles per hour, making it difficult for the mermaids to swim in one place!
If that's not enough, you can marvel at Weeki Wachee's old Cypress trees (by way of the River Boat Cruise or your own kayak), or head next door to Buccaneer Bay, Florida's only spring-fed water park. And don't expect anything less charming in the surrounding town of Weeki Wachee: With a population of 12, it's known as one of the nation's smallest cities and, of course, is proudly run by a mermaid-turned-mayor.
Know Before You Go
45 minutes North of Tampa and 2 hours West of Orlando, at the intersection of State Road 50 and Hwy. 19.