By Don Gworek
Weeki Wachee Springs is a classic roadside Florida attraction famous for its mermaids, who perform synchronized ballet moves 20 feet underwater while breathing through special air hoses hidden in the scenery. When it opened 63 years ago there were only three major roads through the state. US 1 on the East Coast, US 27 through Central Florida, and US 19 on the West Coast.
The attraction’s most popular years were approximately 1960 to 1975. Eight shows a day were performed to sold out crowds. As many as half a million people a year came to see them. The mermaids were treated like royalty wherever they appeared in Florida and stars of those days, including Elvis, Don Knotts, Esther Williams and Arthur Godfrey, stopped by to see them perform live.
As Florida tourism changed and the turnpike and interstates became the major roads, traffic patterns changed and the show lost some of its popularity.
Today, in addition to being an official state park, Weeki Wachee is one of the nation’s smallest cities, with a population of nine, including its mayor, Robyn Anderson, a former mermaid.
The park’s two most popular features are the water park – roughly the size of the new Coco Key Water Resort on International Drive – and the mermaid shows. Families will often slip away from the waterslides to watch the mermaids.
For the park’s 50th anniversary in 1997, a call went out to the many former mermaids to return home and perform again. The gathering was extremely popular. It was also a treasured experience for the mermaids to be able to perform again. Former mermaids continue to return to Weeki Wachee, some even get to perform for their grandchildren.
Through the years of Weeki Wachee, girls have yearned to become mermaids.
Join us as Tammy Middleton interviews both current and former mermaids to learn what it’s like to be a Weeki Wachee Mermaid.
Following standing-room only performances at both Ripley’s Aquariums in 2009, the mermaids of Weeki Wachee will be returning this summer. The mermaids will appear at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, July 23 through 25 and at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tenn., Aug. 6 through 8, 2010.
Weeki Wachee Springs is located in Spring Hill, Fla. at the intersection of S.R. 50 and Hwy. 19 – 45 minutes north of Tampa and two hours west of Orlando. For more information, visit weekiwachee.com